A virtual terminal allows online store owners to manually enter and process credit cards for phone and offline orders on a payment provider’s secure website. We looked at the most popular options and rising stars and decided to review Square, PayPal, and Payline. These companies covered the range for small businesses in terms of ease of use, versatility, cart integrations, and price. Read on for our comparison and review of these three options, as well as our top recommendations.
Best Virtual Terminal for Brick & Mortar Stores: Square
Square takes our number one spot because a top-notch virtual terminal is just one of the many stellar features you get with this all-in-one payment and sales management suite. Square is quick to set up and free to use; you only pay their fixed, straightforward credit card processing fees. Square does it all, but you can pick and choose just what you need: virtual terminal, retail point-of-sale (POS), online invoicing, recurring payments, mobile selling, and ecommerce tools that even include a free online store.
Best Virtual Terminal for Online Businesses: PayPal
If you sell online, you likely know of or already use PayPal, but did you know they have a tidy virtual terminal built right in? Like its many online payment tools, adding the virtual terminal to your account is a snap. And if you don’t accept credit cards yet, PayPal’s virtual terminal can solve that too, no bank application, gateway, or upfront costs needed. You get paid faster with PayPal than with most other providers, too.
Virtual Terminal Comparison Table: Square vs. PayPal vs. Payline
|Pricing for Payments Processed via Virtual Terminal|
|3.5% + 15¢ per transaction|
No monthly fees
|3.1% + 30¢ per transaction|
Add to any PayPal account for $30/mo
It’s included in the Payments Pro level $30/mo fee
|Interchange + .65% & 30¢ per transaction
No monthly fees
|Ease of Setup/Use|
|Certified PCI Compliant Payment Processor|
|Supports Multiple Payment Needs |
*Need a separate merchant account for:
|Ecommerce Website Integrations|
|Includes a free ecommerce website, plus integrates with 5 Top ecommerce platforms, WordPress shopping cart plugins, and countless others via API integrations||Nearly every ecommerce platform and online selling solution||More than 50 ecommerce platforms and WordPress shopping cart plugins, plus countless others via API integrations|
|Online Support & Tutorials|
|Excellent startup tutorials and a comprehensive online help center||Excellent startup tutorials and a comprehensive online help center||Good startup guides and help center with support tickets. Ecommerce integration info is rather technical.|
Phone & Email Account Support
6am - 6pm PT
Phone & Email Account Support
5am - 10pm PT
6am - 8pm PT
Phone & Email Account Support
Online Ticket Support 24/7
How We Evaluated the Companies
All modern, web-based virtual terminals function along similar lines. You access them via your payment provider’s secure website, enter customer billing information plus any shipping or order info needed, and hit process. Bam! Payment complete.
But most virtual terminals require traditional merchant accounts, and these can come with lengthy applications, security requirements, mystifying fees, and early termination penalties. What small business owner wants to deal with all that? Instead, we searched out virtual terminals offered by payment providers with a track record of being small business-friendly. And would you believe it? We found some real gems from names you likely know and trust.
A virtual terminal is just one of many ways most small businesses run payments. So we also made sure all of our top picks support various selling methods that cover however, and wherever, you sell. Read on to see how our top picks shine in terms of price, ease of use, and security, plus other important factors like ecommerce integrations, retail point-of-sale, mobile selling, and more.
Best Virtual Terminal for Brick & Mortar Stores: Square
Square is a dream system that combines payment, sales, customer, and inventory management for small retailers. Its versatile in-store POS system is almost legendary, and is the system that many competitors try to emulate. Add to that top web store integrations, mobile payments, online invoicing, recurring payments, and — yes — a virtual terminal, and Square is a seamless solution that meets all selling scenarios. PayPal matches these payment options, but doesn’t deliver it in an overall management suite like Square.
Like our other top picks, Square offers a fully secure, PCI-compliant virtual terminal for what they call keyed-in credit card payments. This means you simply log onto your Square dashboard and enter, or key-in, your customer’s payment information and any shipping or order details needed. Then you can print or email a receipt and go on with your workday. The sale and payment is seamlessly recorded into your daily tally.
One area where Square and our other top pick, Payline, pull ahead of PayPal’s virtual terminal feature is price. Both include a virtual terminal as a core feature at no added cost. With PayPal, you can add a virtual terminal to any account, but it’s a $30/mo fee. However, PayPal Payments Pro includes the virtual terminal, but this service level is $30/mo, anyways. So either way, a PayPal virtual terminal will cost you a $30/mo fee, plus the transaction fees. But for online sellers especially, PayPal’s entire suite can make it worthwhile.
One area where PayPal and Payline handily beat Square is plug-and-play ecommerce integrations. Both connect with a huge number of online store platforms. This may not matter to some brick-and-mortar retailers, but it’s good to know if you’re thinking about expanding into online sales. That said, Square cleanly integrates with several top ecommerce platforms, plus offers a free built-in online store. You can connect Square to virtually any online store via their API connections too, but it takes developer-level skills.
As an overall payment service with a great virtual terminal for phone, fax, or mail-in orders, Square is our top choice for small brick-and-mortar retailers, and for those who combine in-store, mobile, and online sales.
Best Virtual Terminal for Online Businesses: PayPal
When balancing all of the above criteria, PayPal is the clear winner for online sellers. Its virtual terminal is yet another way PayPal makes it easy to get paid however, and wherever, you choose to do business.
Simply log into your PayPal account and click on your Virtual Terminal tab. There, you can quickly enter billing, shipping, and order details as needed, then complete the payment in one click. After processing the payment, you can print and email the receipt as needed, and even print a packing slip to accompany an order.
Virtual terminal payments are processed and added to your PayPal balance immediately, just like any other PayPal payment. This is the first area where PayPal pulls ahead of our other top picks. Unlike the others, PayPal’s funding is immediate. The others can take from one to a few days to deposit funds.
Like our other top picks, PayPal’s virtual terminal runs on a PCI-compliant platform. Nothing is ever stored or saved to your own computer system or data files. This is a great feature that protects customer data and reduces your security headaches. You just need to destroy any printed credit card data, like a fax or mail-in form, after entry to ensure security. A shredder will take care of this nicely for you.
PayPal also trumps the other two in that it’s the only payment service of the three that accepts PayPal and other card payments within one account. This is something to consider since according to Nieslen’s Online Buyer Insights, online stores, on average, see a 44% higher conversion rate when PayPal is offered as a payment option. You can use another credit card processor and still accept PayPal on your website, but then you have to track multiple payment accounts. However, PayPal’s fees can be higher than our other top picks, so the savings may be worth juggling two payment accounts.
Like Square, PayPal covers every payment need online and off, which is another reason for its popularity. Websites, virtual terminal, email payments, mobile selling, recurring payments, pay-anywhere buttons, online invoicing, and even in-store point-of-sale (POS) needs, PayPal does it all. Its main downside compared to the others is the $30/mo. fee. But if you already use PayPal Payments Pro, then you’re already paying the fee and adding the virtual costs nothing more.
Best Virtual Terminal for Higher Volume Sellers: Payline
Of our three top picks, Payline is the only one that’s not an all-in-one solution. At its core, Payline is a traditional merchant account provider. But it goes a step further by partnering with the Network Merchants payment gateway to provide a seamless online payment solution. This includes a secure, PCI-compliant virtual terminal with your Payline account.
Of our three top picks, Payline is the hands-down winner for price. It uses an interchange-plus pricing plan which is one of the better-priced credit card processing options out there. If you’re not familiar with how credit card services work, we have an article that explains it all in detail here.
In short, Payline takes the base interchange rate that the credit card companies (Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express) charge, and adds a small percentage. That’s the plus part of the equation. There’s also a per-transaction fee. But that’s it, no monthly fees, no separate gateway fees. You only pay a percentage of your charges plus a fee for each transaction.
Payline’s secure virtual terminal is part of its online payments solution. With it you have, of course, a virtual terminal that lets you enter and process phone, fax, or mail-in orders, just like PayPal and Square. Like Square, you have to wait for funds to clear and deposit. Here, PayPal’s immediate funding pulls ahead. Payline’s online solution also integrates with a huge number of online stores. Here, it beats Square and nearly matches PayPal.
But that’s all you get with your online account. If you want to process in-person payments using a mobile swipe device or using an in-store point-of-sale, you need a separate merchant account. This adds a bit more to your bookkeeping tasks each month, but it’s not the end of the world. They do this so you can have a lower rate on these transactions versus your online and virtual terminal sales.
It’s fair to note that both Square and PayPal also charge a lower rate for in-person mobile and store payments, and all conveniently under one account. But they’re not as low as Payline. So if you sell in some volume, or just need a virtual terminal and nothing else, you can see significant savings going with PayLine over the all-in-ones. However if single-account convenience trumps cost, then PayPal or Square are worth the extra money.
In-Depth Review: Square vs. PayPal vs. Payline
Price is the area where our top three virtual terminal picks differ the most. And it’s hard, no, impossible, to apply a blanket statement that price-wise, choice A, B, or C is best for any specific business. It really depends on your sales volume and transaction size.
Since most payment processors charge a percentage of the sale plus a per-transaction fee, both the dollar value and the number of sales factor into your processing costs.
For example, let’s compare two retail stores who take orders over the phone using Square’s virtual terminal with the following fees:
3.5% of each transaction, plus 15¢ per transaction.
See how the per-transaction fee adds up if you sell many orders at a lower price, versus fewer high-priced orders? This is something to consider when comparing processing rates. The per-transaction fees might make a real difference in your business.
We’ll use this example for all three of our top picks so you can see how they stack up.
Square’s virtual terminal processing fees use the same type of flat-rate percentage/transaction fee as PayPal, but the rates differ. Square’s percentage is higher than PayPal, but their per-transaction fee is lower. Plus there’s no monthly fee for any of its services.
For virtual terminal payments, Square charges you:
3.5% of each transaction, plus 15¢ per transaction.
Here’s how Square’s percentage + transaction fee compares for our sample stores:
As you’ll see below, even though their percentage rate is higher, Square’s total fees are lower than PayPal in both comparisons. However, your business’s value-per-transaction likely differs from our sample. If you run fewer, but higher-value orders, PayPal can be cheaper than Square. So it always pays to compare using your own numbers.
Here are Square’s fees for its virtual terminal, plus what it charges to process other types of sales. You can see their full suite of payment services and costs here.
Like Square, PayPal’s virtual terminal processing fees use the same type of flat-rate percentage + transaction fee as PayPal. PayPal’s percentage is lower than Square, but their per-transaction fee is higher.
But remember, PayPal tacks on a $30/mo. fee for their virtual terminal unless you use PayPal Payments Pro. That plan also is $30/mo., but includes the virtual terminal along with several advanced ecommerce features that you may need. Either way, to use PayPal’s virtual terminal, it costs $30/mo., so we include that in our sample below.
For virtual terminal payments, PayPal charges you:
3.1% of each transaction, plus 30¢ per transaction.
Here’s how PayPal’s percentage + transaction fee compares for our sample stores:
With PayPal, the per-transaction fee really adds up for Store A. Tack on the $30/mo. fee, and PayPal is more costly than Square in both instances. However, if you already use PayPal Payments Pro for your online store at $30/mo., adding the terminal costs nothing more.
Here are PayPal’s fees for different types of sales under its Payments Pro plan, which includes the virtual terminal. See their full suite of payment services and costs here.
Payline’s pricing differs from Square and PayPal. As a more traditional merchant account, they use what’s called an interchange-plus fee. This adds a small percentage to the base rate that credit card companies charge. There’s also a per-transaction fee but, like Square, there are no monthly fees. Plus, unlike many other merchant account providers, Payline has no gateway fees for their virtual terminal. That’s why we like them!
The math is a bit different since we have to rely on the interchange fee which can vary depending on the card provider. But a good average to use for our test is a 1.9% interchange fee, plus Payline’s fees listed below:
For virtual terminal payments, Payline charges you:
Interchange 1.9% + .65% Payline fee = 2.55% of each transaction,
plus 30¢ per transaction.
Here’s how Payline’s percentage + transaction fee compares for our sample stores:
As you see above, Payline’s fees handily beat both Square and PayPal. The saving gap increases at even higher sales volumes. So, are you wondering why they’re not our top virtual terminal pick overall? There are two simple answers: Convenience and versatility.
Payline is a more traditional merchant account-type payment processor, not an all-in-one solution. You can have one account that supports both the virtual terminal and your online sales, but you need a separate one for mobile and in-store sales. Plus, they work with third-party providers for online gateways and card reader hardware, etc.
If you sell in lower volume, and sell a number of ways; say online, mobile, and in-store, managing different accounts and hardware using a provider like Payline can be tedious. This is where the all-in-one convenience of PayPal and Square can be worth the higher fee.
But if you process payments in volume, Payline is a great cost-saving option with low rates for all types of accounts, as you can see below and here.
Ease of Setup/Use
All three of our top picks score well on this criteria. Each features simple, intuitive virtual terminal screens that are easily accessed online.
Square’s virtual terminal is part of your Square account dashboard. Click on it, enter payment info, process, and you’re done. See it in action here.
PayPal’s virtual terminal has its own tab in your PayPal account screen. Click, enter payment info, process, and receive payment. Yes, it’s that easy. Run through it yourself here:
Payline’s virtual terminal is accessed by logging into their secure gateway website. There, you simply enter your payment data and hit process. Learn more here.
PCI Compliance & Security
PCI-compliant virtual terminals take the security worries off your shoulders. With today’s many secure, PCI-compliant options, there’s really no need for a small business owner to look elsewhere. If you’d like to learn more about the importance of using PCI-compliant providers and other business security issues, check out our article here.
Supports Multiple Payment Needs
For most small businesses, a virtual terminal is just one of many ways to receive and process payments. Each of our top picks supports a full range of selling options
Many small businesses use a virtual terminal to process payments for phone, fax, and mail-in orders received from customers who found them online. If you sell online, or plan to in the future, ecommerce integrations are an important factor in choosing the right virtual terminal for your business.
Of our three top picks, only Square provides a built-in online store with every free account. It’s a tidy way to start selling your retail store inventory online using just one system for everything.
Or, if you prefer to use a different online store solution, Square directly integrates with five top ecommerce platforms. You also can connect it to virtually every other major ecommerce platform via API integration. Learn more about that here.
From a simple PayPal button to a fully customized checkout page, PayPal’s Express, Standard, and Pro payment processing accounts integrate with virtually every ecommerce platform available today. See their full list of supported platforms here.
Payline’s virtual terminal runs on the Network Merchants gateway which integrates with a host of ecommerce platforms. See them all here.
Online Support & Tutorials
PayPal and Square both have excellent online resources and tutorials that answer every virtual terminal question and account setup need. Payline’s online resources are rather technical, however their account reps will walk you through the entire setup process via phone.
Square walks you through every step from account setup, to virtual terminal use, to adding and using any other payment method you need. See how to get started with Square here.
Payline has a very complete online help resources that answers any and all account setup and management questions. However, their virtual terminal and online gateway information is rather technical. If you like, their knowledgeable account reps will walk you through every step, from setup to daily use. See their online help resources here.
Each of our top picks offers phone and email support which includes account startup, setup, and troubleshooting.
All Virtual Terminal Options
Our top picks offer a range of services in addition to a virtual terminal. Though two of the three aren’t the least-expensive options, their time-saving features, reliability, versatility, solid integrations, and security can be worth the cost to anyone running a small business. But there are plenty of options out there, and many offer great virtual terminal processing prices plus meet other selling needs as well.
Here are all of the virtual terminal payment providers that made the cut in our reviews:
|Software/Service Name||What It is Best For||Description|
|Square||Retail Stores, Online & Multichannel Sellers||Square is the top-rated POS system for small retailers, with all-in-one payment processing for all types of selling, including a virtual terminal with every free account.|
|PayPal||Businesses or Service Providers taking all types of online payments||PayPal is the most popular all-in-one payment processing solution for online sellers and offers a virtual terminal with every business account.|
|Payline||Volume Sellers or Businesses needing a Virtual Terminal alone or with ecommerce payments||The lowest-priced solution of our top three, Payline offers a secure virtual terminal with its online payments accounts. A great choice for volume sellers and those needing just a virtual terminal.|
|PayJunction||Small and Mid-Sized Sellers and Services||Another all-in-one provider with terrific payment solutions, support, and rates, with a complete online terminal. This is a great option to consider too.|
|PaySimple||Service Providers, Memberships & Subscriptions||PaySimple has a terrific online payments, forms, and memberships system that allows you to accept all types of one-time or recurring payments online and via its virtual terminal.|
|QuickBooks||Businesses using QuickBooks||QuickBooks merchant accounts provides a virtual terminal for QuickBooks users with very competitive rates.|
|Authorize.net||Volume Sellers or Businesses needing a Virtual Terminal alone or with ecommerce payments||Authorize.net is one of the top payment gateways and offers a secure virtual terminal with good rates and a large number of merchant services partners to choose from.|
|Braintree||High Volume Sellers||A PayPal product, Braintree is an advanced payment gateway geared toward enterprise-level and international sellers.|
The Bottom Line
Virtual terminals are an ideal solution for anyone receiving payments via phone, fax, and mail, and are a great way for new businesses to start receiving payments. Most merchant services offer a secure virtual terminal for entering and processing payments, but what else do they bring to your growing business?
Small business owners have to spread their limited time amongst various daily tasks. Any hiccup in a key function, such as processing payments, can bring workflow to a grinding halt. So when considering your virtual terminal options, think about what you need now, and where you see yourself in six months. How about in one year? Traditional merchant account providers like Payline offer great rates, but you might need to manage separate accounts and deal with third-party hardware as you grow beyond a virtual terminal.
All-in-one providers tend to cost more than traditional payment processors. But they offer streamlined convenience with payment options and hardware that can be easily added as you grow. With all-in-ones like Square and PayPal, sellers can add new avenues for sales and payment processing in a blink, and manage it all within one account.
So take your time, run your numbers, and see which payment provider works best for your specific business. Then ask yourself what drives you more: low price or convenience? Once you know these things, you’ll have no problem choosing the right virtual terminal.