This article is part of a larger series on Payments.
If you own a small business, setting up your website or online store to accept credit cards online is a crucial step in growing your sales and customer bases. In the second quarter of 2022, ecommerce sales made up 14.5% of all retail sales, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and that number is only expected to increase.
Here’s how to accept credit card payments online in five steps.
Step 1: Choose a Payment Processor
The first step in accepting credit card payments online is choosing a payment processor. Look for competitive processing fees and a solution that is compatible with your website or ecommerce platform. While you won’t find a reputable processor to accept credit payments online for free, there are low-cost options available.
Here are our top user-friendly choices for accepting credit cards online and what they are best for:
- Square: New or new-to-online businesses needing an easy, immediate, and affordable solution
- PayPal: Adding a user-friendly checkout to any site
- Stripe: Online startups and anyone wanting a custom online checkout
- Payment Depot: Growing and established businesses looking for the cheapest option
- Shopify: Ecommerce or online retail businesses
- Stax: High-volume businesses wanting recurring billing, virtual terminal, and invoicing tools
- Helcim: Automatic sales discount for growing online businesses
Square, Stripe, and PayPal are three of the most popular online payment options. To learn more about which is right for you, read our Square vs Stripe vs PayPal comparison.
All of the solutions on our list include at least merchant services and payment gateways. Many also offer tools to build a website. For example, Square and Helcim have free tools to build an online store or checkout page. Meanwhile, Shopify lets businesses create a full ecommerce site.
A few of the providers, like PayPal, Square, Stripe, and Stax by Fattmerchant, even offer user-friendly invoicing tools to accept payments through email invoices. Others, including PayPal and Shopify, let you add Buy Buttons to any site.
If you’re unsure which solution is right for your business, take this quick three-question quiz for a personalized recommendation:
Answer a few questions about your business, and we'll give you a personalized product match.
Step 2: Set Up Your Online Payment Processor
To accept credit card payments online, you need a tool to collect customer data and a way to process the payments. Most ecommerce businesses do this through a website.
Depending on your hosting service and platform, you will have different payment options available. For example, if you have a WordPress site, you can use a shopping cart plug-in with PayPal and/or Stripe to accept credit card payments. If you don’t yet have an ecommerce website, you can build one with Helcim, Shopify, or Square Online.
Businesses that want online credit card processing generally need the following:
- A website or ecommerce platform for customers to go to when making purchases
- A secure payment gateway to accept credit cards and encrypt the payment
- A merchant account to process online payments
Below, we walk through how to use each payment processor to accept payments online. Select a processor from the dropdown menu to learn more about it:
Square: Accept Credit Cards Online Immediately
Square is great for businesses that want to accept credit cards online because it is free and fast to set up. Plus, it has affordable processing fees for new businesses and a free point-of-sale (POS) system for accepting in-person payments. Overall, Square is the best fit for small and startup businesses that want a solution that has no monthly fee, minimum transaction requirements, or an application process.
How to Accept Credit Cards Online With Square
Square makes it easy for small businesses to accept payments online by offering a few different solutions, all with no contract. Businesses can create a free website through Square, connect Square payments to one of their ecommerce partners like WooCommerce, BigCommerce, and Wix, or use Square application programming interfaces (APIs) to add Square Checkout to their custom website.
To accept credit cards online with Square, follow these steps:
- Sign up for Square Payments: It’s free to create an account, which includes a basic POS system for in-store and mobile sales and invoicing software. And businesses only pay a 2.6% plus 10 cents per transaction payment processing fee. There are no software fees or monthly minimums to use Square’s payment processing features.
- Create a Square Online store: You can create a basic ecommerce site for free with Square Online or invest in a paid plan for a more customizable site. Square also has options for checkout pages and selling on social media channels. Learn how to create a website with Square Online through our step-by-step guide.
- Integrate with an ecommerce site: Square Payments also integrates directly with popular ecommerce platforms, including WooCommerce, Wix, BigCommerce, and Magento. This is a good option if you sell in-store with Square and also want to grow a sizable ecommerce store. Square can also be added to any custom website through Square’s open API.
- Load your products and start selling: If you’re creating a new site through Square or an ecommerce platform, load the products you want to sell on your site, including product photos, product descriptions, and pricing. If you’re setting up to take payments with Square’s API, drop the code in your existing site to set up a payment.
You can also use Square to send and process online invoices and recurring payments, as well as phone or mail orders through its virtual terminal.
PayPal: Customer-friendly One-touch Online Payments
PayPal is the best way to accept credit cards online for businesses that want to increase conversions with a one-click button at checkout. In addition to traditional credit card payments, PayPal allows businesses to also accept PayPal Credit and Venmo payments.
These one-click checkout options are very customer-friendly. Online shoppers who opt for PayPal checkout don’t have to enter credit card or shipping information manually, as it’s populated automatically by PayPal.
Online shopping has high cart abandonment rates, and eliminating the steps customers need to take during checkout can help decrease abandoned carts and increase sales.
How to Accept Credit Cards Online With PayPal
With PayPal, you can set up a hosted checkout, add PayPal to your existing site, integrate with most ecommerce platforms, or stick Buy Buttons on any blog or webpage—making it a flexible solution. PayPal is unique because it can be combined with other payment processing solutions if you want to accept PayPal payments but want to use another credit card processing service.
There are three ways businesses can use PayPal to accept credit cards online, each of which requires you to sign up for a free account first.
With a PayPal Ecommerce Partner
PayPal works with several ecommerce platforms, including Shopify, BigCommerce, and Magento. PayPal customers that build ecommerce sites through one of these platforms can receive a discount and connect a PayPal checkout seamlessly. Many sites have app and plugin marketplaces where you can install PayPal with just a few clicks and little technical know-how.
On a Custom Website
PayPal Payments Pro offers a fully customizable checkout solution for accepting all major credit cards, debit cards, PayPal, and Venmo online payments. This is a full online checkout solution you can add to any website.
With a PayPal Button
Businesses can add a PayPal Buy Now or Pay Now button to checkout to provide a simplified checkout solution. To do this, you’ll need to log in to your account and navigate to the PayPal button page.
- Select the type of button you want.
- Enter payment information, including the name of the product you’re selling, any tracking or ID numbers, pricing, and currency.
- As an optional step, you can add product options and different pricing, customize the look of your button, and override default tax and shipping information.
- When you’re happy with your button, copy and paste the HTML code onto your website or pages where you want the button to appear.
Like Square, you can also use PayPal to create and send online invoices and collect phone and mail order payments through a virtual terminal.
Stripe: Create Custom Online Checkouts
Stripe is a payment processing system that allows businesses to accept credit card payments online and is designed to handle more complex payment situations like subscriptions, recurring fees, and storing card data. It is a great, secure way to accept credit cards online for businesses that want to create a custom solution.
Additionally, Stripe is an international company, operating in 39 countries and accepting over 135 currencies, making it a good fit for any business looking to cater to international customers. Apart from small businesses, Stripe powers ecommerce giants like Amazon and online brands like Glossier.
How to Accept Credit Cards Online With Stripe
Stripe has a suite of APIs that allow businesses to choose how they want to accept credit card payments online. Here are three ways that businesses can accept credit cards online with Stripe.
Use a Pre-built, Hosted Checkout Page
You can use Stripe Checkout with any site and customize it to match your brand’s settings. This checkout page includes address auto-complete powered by Google, real-time card validation, and third-party autofill, plus Google Pay and Apple Pay checkout. Here’s how to set it up:
- Sign up for and log in to your Stripe account.
- Redirect your website’s current or default checkout to a Stripe Checkout Session.
- Set up your payment success page.
- Add all the necessary code to your website’s backend.
- Test the checkout process from the frontend.
You also have the option of doing the following:
- Add products and pricing information.
- Set up saved customer IDs for faster checkout and better data collection.
- Store and secure payment information for faster checkout.
- Have separate authorization and funds capture.
Create a Custom Form
Use a Partner Integration
There are dozens of platforms that have extensions or plug-ins for creating Stripe checkouts to accept credit cards on your website. Stripe’s partners include WordPress, Wix, Weebly, and Shopify. Stripe also has plug-ins for PrestaShop and WooCommerce, to name a couple. Visit the corresponding app or plug-in marketplace for a straightforward setup in a matter of clicks.
Because Stripe is built for developers and is meant to be highly customizable, you can adjust your online checkout at any point regardless of which setup method you choose.
Payment Depot: Affordable Way to Accept Credit Cards Online
Payment Depot is a merchant service provider with a membership pricing model that provides payment processing at extremely competitive rates for businesses that process more than $10,000 per month.
Whereas most processors charge a higher markup for online payments, Payment Depot charges the same transaction fee (interchange, plus 8–15 cents) for every type of transaction. This makes Payment Depot one of the cheapest credit card processors for small businesses.
How to Accept Credit Cards Online With Payment Depot
Businesses can use Payment Depot to accept credit card payments online through shopping carts, invoices, or registration forms. It does not have its own web builder or shopping cart features but integrates with most platforms, so it is easy to accept credit cards online.
Using Payment Depot to accept credit card payments online is done in three steps:
- Apply for a Payment Depot account: Fill out a form on its website, or call to get a free quote and submit an application.
- Set up your website: Once you have your Payment Depot account, you’ll need to set up your customer-facing website. Payment Depot works with popular ecommerce platforms like BigCommerce and WooCommerce. If you already have a site, Payment Depot integrates with Authorize.net, a fairly universal payment gateway that can connect to most websites.
- Connect Payment Depot to your website: Connect your website to Payment Depot credit card processing through Payment Depot’s seamless integration. As long as you choose one of Payment Depot’s platforms or gateway platforms, like Authorize.net and BigCommerce, this step will be simple.
In addition to online payments, you can use Payment Depot to accept credit cards in person, via mobile and POS, and through a virtual terminal.
Shopify: Accept Credit Cards Online With an Ecommerce Store
Shopify is a popular ecommerce platform that has built-in payment processing to accept credit cards online. It accepts all major credit cards, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Shop Pay—which has one-click checkouts. Businesses can also set up gift cards and subscriptions. Shopify is a terrific way for ecommerce businesses to accept credit cards online because it combines payment processing with ecommerce tools, like a drag-and-drop store builder, shipping solutions, and inventory management. It works well for new ecommerce or online retail businesses.
How to Accept Credit Cards Online With Shopify
Shopify is a popular ecommerce platform that makes it easy for small, medium, and large businesses to sell products and accept credit card payments all in one platform, with no outside service providers required.
Businesses can accept credit cards online with Shopify in two simple ways.
Launch a Shopify Store
- Create a Shopify store: Shopify has a step-by-step guide and checklist to get you started. It also has a 14-day free trial so that you can create and test your store before committing to a plan.
- Activate Shopify Payments: In your store settings, there’s a section called Payment providers. Click that section to set up Shopify Payments.
Integrate With a Third-party Payment Gateway
If you don’t want to use Shopify’s built-in credit card processing, you can also accept credit cards online using one of Shopify’s third-party payment processors, including Authorize.net, Chase, Worldpay, PayPal, and Cayan. Note that Shopify charges an additional transaction fee if you use a third-party payment provider.
In addition to accepting credit cards online, Shopify has all of the features a business owner would need to create a smooth and efficient ecommerce operation.
Stax: Flexible Online Payments for High-volume Businesses
Stax by Fattmerchant is a traditional merchant services provider that charges a few cents per transaction over interchange but with a higher flat monthly fee. Like Payment Depot, Stax’s unique pricing structure makes it a good fit for growing businesses that have a higher transaction volume and average sales amount because they would benefit from the lower per-transaction cost.
A Stax membership also includes its Omni software, which has a shopping cart functionality, customer management, and online review management. This—plus invoicing software, a user-friendly virtual terminal, and financial reporting tools—makes Stax a great solution for online payment processing of high-volume businesses.
How to Accept Credit Cards Online With Stax
With Stax, businesses can accept credit cards online through a virtual terminal for invoicing and billing or an ecommerce shopping cart for retail purchases.
Here are two ways to accept credit cards online with Stax.
Add Stax to Your Website
- Sign up for a merchant account: Before you can start accepting cards online, you need to apply for an account with Stax. It only works with United States-based companies and not many high-risk businesses.
- Set up your Authorize.net gateway: Stax works directly with a few payment gateway options, but the most popular is Authorize.net. This entire setup process is done through Stax, so you don’t have to contact a separate company to set up your payment gateway.
- Create a custom shopping cart: Stax lets you create a custom, branded shopping cart right on your website, so customers never leave your site during checkout.
- Connect with your website: Authorize.net has integrations with many popular ecommerce platforms and web hosting services like WordPress, WooCommerce, and Magento.
Use a Third-party Integration
Stax has pre-set integrations with Shopify, BigCommerce, 3dcart, Magento, and others. If you’re using one of these platforms, you can skip the step of setting up a separate gateway.
Stax also provides options for accepting countertop payments, mobile payments, invoicing, and ecommerce, all of which are PCI-compliant and integrate with many popular POS programs.
Helcim: Automatic Discounts for Growing Online Payments
Helcim is a merchant services provider that offers interchange plus pricing and built-in discounts for large-volume payment processing. Its fees are broken down into tiers based on sales volume and merchant rates are adjusted based on a three-month rolling total card processing volume average. There are also no long-term contracts or monthly fees, and chargebacks are refundable if you win the dispute.
Like Stax and Payment Depot, Helcim charges interchange plus rates and offers free access to its range of payment services—but the similarity ends there. With Helcim, you don’t need to pay for monthly subscription fees or apply for a subscription upgrade, but its transaction fees are slightly higher (Stax and Payment Depot offer wholesale interchange plus rates, plus a small per transaction markup). Automatic discounts are available to Helcim merchants processing at least $25,000 per month.
How to Accept Credit Cards Online With Helcim
Note that signing up for a Helcim account will only take a few minutes if you have all your business information. However, the entire application process is somewhat lengthy for startups and occasional sellers (check out Square and PayPal for fast approvals). That said, Helcim offers a wide range of online credit card processing services, such as payment buttons, invoicing and recurring payments, online checkout, and customer portals.
Here are the ways to accept credit cards online with Helcim:
Launch Your Own Ecommerce Store
Helcim lets you build your own desktop and mobile-optimized online store. It comes complete with product inventory management, shipping and pickup options, tipping and discount options, customer login system, and reporting and analytic tools. The online checkout function even includes cart review and guest checkout features.
Setting up your store is as easy as:
- Inputting your business information
- Adding your checkout details
- Configuring your store design
- Adding or syncing your products
Build a Hosted Payment Page
Helcim’s hosted payment pages are versatile and highly customizable without the need for complex coding. The payment page wizard lets you specify custom data fields with a few clicks so you control the type of information you collect, payment method and options, and the overall look and feel of your checkout. This online payment processing option is best suited for invoicing, rentals, online food ordering, shopping carts with “Buy Now” buttons, donation pages, and customer portals.
Work With a Third-party Software Integration
While third-party integrations with Helcim is quite limited, it does offer options that allow merchants to accept online credit card payments with a number of popular software, such as QuickBooks (accounting), Magento and WooCommerce (shopping carts), and Great Exposure (education marketing and recruitment billing system). Note that certain fees may apply when using these services.
For example: How to Integrate with QuickBooks Online:
- Log in to your Helcim account
- From the dashboard, click on Integrations and QuickBooks Online Settings
- Click on Login to QuickBooks Online to get started. (You need to have an active QuickBooks Online account)
- Enter your QuickBooks Online login credentials once redirected to the QuickBooks Online Login page
- Click on Authorize
- You will then be redirected back to your Helcim account and set up your QuickBooks Online default settings
- Click on Save to apply the changes
Step 3: Increase Conversions With One-click Checkouts & Installment Payments
An average of 80% of online shopping carts are abandoned. One way to combat high cart abandonment rates is by creating an easy checkout process, including one-click checkouts with platforms like Google Pay, Apple Pay, Amazon Pay, and PayPal. Payment processors that specialize in online payments or retail (including Square and Stax) offer these kinds of one-click checkout options.
Other processors, like Shopify, offer their own one-click checkout solution (Shop Pay) in addition to Apple Pay and Google Pay. Shopify surveyed its own merchants and found that sites with Shop Pay have a checkout-to-order rate of 1.72x times higher than those going through regular checkouts without Shop Pay.
In other words, it’s not enough just to set up online payments—you need to optimize your checkout process so it’s convenient for your customers. In return, you’ll see a boost to your bottom line.
In many cases, particularly for retailers, shoppers expect the convenience of flexible payment terms in addition to one-click checkouts. More than 50% of consumers have used a buy now, pay later (BNPL) service—an 85% growth between 2020 and 2021. BNPL and interest-free installment payments are customer financing options that allow shoppers to pay over time.
Most popular small business website builders and ecommerce platforms work with customer financing solutions—like Klarna, Afterpay, and PayPal’s PayPal Credit or Pay.
Learn more: Best BNPL Apps for Merchants
Step 4: Secure Your Site
Once you’ve chosen a payment processor, set it up, and enabled one-click or customer financing checkout options, the next step is to double-check your payment security processes. At a minimum, you want to meet the requirements outlined in the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). This is known as the PCI standard.
The PCI Standard is a set of payment security guidelines all businesses accepting credit card payments need to adhere to. The standard was created by credit card companies and is enforced by the PCI DSS Council. Failure to maintain PCI compliance can result in fees. If fraud occurs while you’re not compliant, your business may be deemed at fault and you could be held financially responsible.
There’s a higher risk associated with online payments because the card isn’t physically present for the purchase, which poses a greater risk of fraud. So banks and credit card companies charge higher processing fees to cover the risks associated with processing online payments.
Regular occurrences of fraud and chargebacks will increase your processing fees (and potentially risk the status of your merchant account). Use a merchant account with built-in chargeback and fraud prevention or third-party software. Many online processors have features like address verification services (AVS) or machine-learning algorithms to help prevent fraudulent transactions from being approved.
Step 5: Find Ways to Lower Processing Fees as You Grow
For microbusinesses and occasional payments, services like Venmo for Business and Chase QuickPay have options to send and receive funds for free. However, most businesses will need a merchant account. For businesses processing under $5,000 monthly, Square typically offers the best value. For businesses over that threshold, Payment Depot is often the cheapest credit card processor.
As your business grows, continue to negotiate lower rates with your payment processor. Once you’re consistently processing $15,000–$20,000 monthly, you may qualify for custom rates.
Depending on your business type, you can also consider accepting ACH payments, which is one of the lowest cost-payment types. While standard online credit card processing fees are 2.9% plus 30 cents, ACH processing fees are typically 1%.
ACH transactions require customers to enter their bank information, so this payment type is typically best for recurring payments like subscriptions, ongoing services, and very expensive or high-end transactions.
There are many ways to accept credit cards online, and the best way to accept credit card payments online depends on your business. If you are a sole proprietor, a new business, or merely budget-conscious, a simple solution such as Square offers a user-friendly website builder, online store, virtual terminal, and invoice payments. Create a free Square account today.
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