Merchant services allow businesses to accept credit and debit card payments at a point-of-sale (POS) system, online, or through invoices. Technically, there is no way to accept card payments for free. However, there are merchant service and payment service providers with no setup fees, contracts, or monthly fees and more affordable alternative payment options.
The best free merchant accounts are:
- Square: Best overall free merchant account
- PayPal: Best free merchant account with One Touch payments
- Helcim: Best free merchant account for storefronts
- Chase Merchant Services: Best free traditional merchant account option
- Stripe: Best free merchant account for online businesses
- QuickBooks Payments: Best free merchant account for existing QuickBooks users
- Wave: Best free merchant account for invoicing
Why is there no such thing as free credit card processing? You may see some companies advertise “free,” “no cost,” or “zero cost” payment processing, which means passing the costs along to customers. Read more about no cost payment processing.
There is no such thing as free payment processing because card-issuing banks and card associations (like Visa) set non-negotiable rates. Learn more about credit card processing fees.
This guide on free merchant accounts is geared toward new businesses and individuals. Established businesses will find lower-cost options in our guide to the cheapest credit card processing companies.
How We Evaluated Free Merchant Accounts
Although there are no “free” merchant accounts, we only considered companies that don’t have monthly fees, startup costs, and monthly minimums or lock you into a contract. These requirements alone really narrowed our list. From there, we evaluated merchant accounts and payment processors based on chargeback fees, transaction fees, types of payments you can accept, deposit speed, application length, customer support hours, and more.
Finally, we looked at the overall transparency of each company’s pricing structure, affordability, reputation, and customer reviews, as well as integrations. Based on this evaluation, Square received the highest rating, with a score of 4.44 out of 5.
Click through the tabs below to see our specific evaluation criteria:
30% of Overall Score
Of course, price is the most important factor for evaluating free merchant accounts. We only considered systems that offer a free plan or have no monthly or startup fees, don’t require a contract, and do not have a tiered-pricing model (as these can be unpredictable and hard to budget for). From there, we awarded points to processors that don’t have monthly minimum requirements, cancellation fees, or chargeback fees.
25% of Overall Score
We prioritized systems that process a wide variety of transaction types, with each system earning points for handling in-person/POS transactions, ecommerce checkout, invoicing, virtual terminal, automated clearing house (ACH) and echeck, and card-on-file payments. A system that can handle many different types of transactions is often the most flexible solution, and ideal for businesses on a budget.
25% of Overall Score
Points were awarded to processors with same- or next-day deposits, flexible hardware options, speedy application and sign-ups, extended customer service hours, and cloud reporting. We also awarded points to merchant accounts that come with any free software programs or business management tools, such as a POS app, invoicing capabilities, customer portals, dispute management dashboards, etc.
20% of Overall Score
Here, we rewarded systems that have transparent pricing models that are easy to budget for and use with stable/reliable processing and intuitive interfaces. Because payment processing directly impacts a business’ cash flow and financial health, we also considered the overall popularity and reputation of each company. Finally, we awarded points to systems that integrate with popular small business software such as accounting tools, POS systems, and ecommerce platforms.
Square: Best Overall Free Merchant Account
Square is a free payment processing and POS solution. Unlike traditional merchant accounts that require an application and approval process, anyone can sign up for Square and receive the same processing rates. Square’s low startup costs and processing rates, sleek interface, and advanced POS features make it the best free merchant account for small businesses.
Square earned a 4.44 out of 5 in our evaluation of free merchant accounts. Square earned high marks because it does not have chargeback or cancellation fees, can be used to accept an array of in-person and online payments, offers many affordable hardware options, and comes with a suite of free business management tools.
Limited customer support and ACH and bank payment options and reports of account stability issues prevented Square from earning a higher score. However, Square is also one of our top picks for best overall merchant services.
See our guide on Square Pricing and Fees for detailed pricing information.
Square Payments Features
- Free POS and mobile payments app: Accept all major credit and debit cards, including contactless payments like Apple Pay and QR codes, offline mode, tipping, digital receipts, automated customer directory, and inventory tracking.
- Free Square Online account: Create a free website for ecommerce, events, donations, online ordering, appointment booking, or a simple checkout page.
- Free invoicing software: Create and send estimates and invoices, track payments, send reminders, and get notifications when invoices are viewed or paid. ACH payments are available through Square Invoices. Set up recurring invoices and auto-billing. Manage everything online or through Square’s dedicated invoicing app.
- Free business management tools: View sales reports, manage customer data, track orders, and manage all sales channels (POS, mobile, online, and invoicing) in one place through your Square Dashboard.
- Add-ons and upgrades: Industry-specific POS software, payroll processing, team management, email marketing, advanced ecommerce, loyalty programs, and gift cards are available for a fee.
- Chargeback protection: Square has a dispute management system that notifies businesses of any chargebacks and provides space to submit any supporting documents. A hold will be placed on your account for the amount in question until the bank rules one way or the other. But, Square does not charge any additional fees.
PayPal: Best Free Merchant Account for One Touch Payments
PayPal is an electronic payments company that offers low-cost, user-friendly payment processing for individuals and small businesses. PayPal has a sleek mobile POS app and extremely competitive payment processing rates, with even lower rates available for nonprofit organizations.
PayPal also has One Touch checkout technology, which functions similarly to Apple Pay at checkout—customers don’t need to enter any payment or shipping information, which allows for a much faster checkout experience. This technology, combined with PayPal’s wide-reaching name recognition, can lead to higher conversion rates for your online store.
In our evaluation of free merchant accounts, PayPal earned a 4.20 out of 5, the second-highest score after Square. PayPal offers affordable mobile and online transaction fees, plus a free mobile POS app and invoicing software. Plus, PayPal’s online payments can work with just about any website or software. However, PayPal requires a monthly subscription for virtual terminal and ACH processing, has a $20 chargeback fee, and offers limited customer support.
- Free POS and mobile payments app: Accept all major credit and debit cards, contactless payments including Apple Pay, PayPal payments, QR code, invoices, create a product catalog, view sales reports, add multiple users, send digital receipts, and accept tips.
- Online transactions: Install a free online checkout on just about any website or create a custom or branded checkout ($30 per month). Accept all major credit and debit cards, PayPal, PayPal Credit, QR code transactions, and Venmo payments.
- Invoicing: Create and send invoices for free, accept credit and debit card payments, plus PayPal and PayPal Credit payments. Save customer information, send reminders, accept international payments, schedule recurring invoices, and accept partial payments or tips. Manage all of this online or through the PayPal Invoicing app.
- Chargeback protection: PayPal has automated fraud detection and a seller protection program. When a customer files a chargeback, PayPal charges you a $20 fee, unless the transaction is protected by PayPal’s Seller Protection program.
Helcim: Best Free Merchant Account for Storefronts
Helcim is a merchant service provider that distinguishes itself from its competitors with its built-in volume discounts and interchange plus transaction fees. It comes with free POS, inventory, invoicing, customer management, and ecommerce features. The system can easily be adapted for a wide range of industries including retail and subscription-based service businesses.
That said, we find this provider best suited for retailers. While its interchange plus pricing scheme makes per transaction cost comparatively low, Helcim’s auto applied volume discount favors businesses with larger monthly transactions. Therefore, it’s the busy retail businesses that will find the most value-for-money with Helcim’s free suite of management tools.
In our evaluation, Helcim earned an overall score of 4.09 out of 5, particularly for its competitive interchange pricing and free multichannel sales tools. On the other hand, the system’s limited integration and incompatibility with low-volume small businesses kept Helcim from earning a better score.
- Free POS and mobile payments app: Helcim allows you to accept credit and debit card payments, including EMV and NFC transactions. Electronic fund transfers (EFT) or ACH payments are also available.
- Online transactions: Use Helcim’s free online store builder to create your own hosted website or simply add a Helcim-hosted payment page on your current website.
- Invoicing: Helcim includes a free invoicing tool to create customized invoices. Accept payments over the phone with a virtual terminal, via email or SMS with a link, or a “buy now” button. For recurring payments, automate recurring invoice creation, offer subscriptions, trials and prorated fees, and accept membership registrations with a “subscribe” button.
- Chargeback protection: Helcim’s user dashboard includes a tab for chargebacks that displays a summary of any open dispute. This allows you to respond to the dispute immediately and use the platform to submit documents supporting your claim. Helcim reimburses users for winning a chargeback dispute.
Chase Merchant Services: Best Free Traditional Merchant Account
While Chase is a big name in the banking industry, it has also acquired key subsidiaries to become one of the most versatile merchant service providers in the market. To small businesses, cash flow plays a vital role in growing their business, and as both a payment processor and an acquiring bank, Chase can give users faster access to their funds, especially if they have Chase Business Checking accounts. It offers both same-day and next-day funding options depending on the type of merchant account.
Chase also includes key POS and inventory integrations so users can run their business efficiently from a single platform even while on-the-go. The system supports in-person, online, and mobile sales, with a secure payment processing system backed by its strong banking infrastructure. It is simply one of the best choices for business owners who prefer a traditional merchant account.
Chase Merchant Services earned an overall score of 4.0 out of 5, standing out for its breadth of payment options, POS integrations, and most importantly, the speed to which it makes funds available for its users. However, the need for improved seller protection tools and customer service quality prevented Chase from earning a higher score.
Chase Merchant Services Features
- Free POS and mobile payments app: Accept all major chip cards, contactless cards, PIN debit cards and select mobile wallets like Apple Pay. Chase also allows check and remote acceptance via phone or mail, as well as tip payments, adjustments, and reporting.
- Online transactions: Build your online store in minutes and start taking payments from your website, virtual terminal, or mobile app. You can also set up a “buy now” or “subscribe” button to accept recurring payments. Use one of Chase’s more than 140 integrations including Shopify and WooCommerce.
- Invoicing: Create custom invoices or recurring billing. Automate invoice generation and set a schedule to send out your invoices while providing your customers with flexible payment methods.
- Chargeback protection: Chase offers an online dispute management system for an extra fee. This allows users to immediately receive notification of chargeback disputes and promptly respond before the account is debited.
Stripe: Best Free Merchant Account for Online Businesses
Stripe is a free payment processing system that allows businesses to create custom online checkouts with instant setup and no application process. In addition to basic checkouts, Stripe can manage subscriptions, recurring fees, and store card data. Stripe’s detailed online features, zero startup and monthly fees, and competitive processing rates make it a solid choice for ecommerce businesses.
In our evaluation of free merchant accounts, Stripe earned a 3.95 out of 5. Stripe offers a robust and highly customizable set of payment solutions, affordable ACH processing, and 24-hour customer support. However, Stripe’s complicated setup process and minimal mobile and POS payment processing options prevent Stripe from earning a higher score.
Stripe is not ideal for mom-and-pop shops or occasional sellers, as separate software and technical setup are required to accept in-person payments. However, if you’re a growing online business, Stripe offers an impressive and popular array of free and open-source tools to create the perfect online checkout.
- Stripe Payments: Use one of Stripe’s existing tools or create your own with Stripe’s application programming interface (API) guides and libraries. Send one-off invoices, store and save payment methods, create an embeddable checkout, and integrate with over 450 online platforms. Accept all major credit and debit cards, ACH, and bank transfers, plus accept international payments and Alipay.
- Stripe Terminal: Accept in-person payments with Stripe Terminal APIs and software development kits (SDKs). Unlike the other solutions on our list, Stripe requires separate POS software.
- Stripe Billing: Create subscription and invoicing solutions, add unlimited team members, and view revenue reports.
- Customer support: It offers 24/7 email, phone, and chat support. Stripe also has extensive support documentation and FAQs. Premium, dedicated support is also available for purchase.
QuickBooks: Best Free Merchant Account for QuickBooks Users
QuickBooks Payments is the natural choice for individuals and small businesses already using QuickBooks as an accounting or invoicing tool. With no additional monthly fee, QuickBooks users can send invoices, accept ACH payments, take phone orders, accept payments through a mobile app, and set up recurring billing.
Plus, QuickBooks offers volume discounts for any small business processing over $7,500 monthly. Most processors require a $10,000–$20,000 monthly minimum to qualify for volume discounts.
In our evaluation of free merchant accounts, QuickBooks Payments earned a 3.45 out of 5. QuickBooks’ user-friendly software and multiple options for in-person and online payments earned it a high score. Higher chargeback fees, QuickBooks Online’s subscription requirements, and limited ecommerce integrations prevented QuickBooks Payments from earning a higher score.
QuickBooks Payments Features
- Mobile payments: QuickBooks’ free GoPayment POS app can be used on any iOS and Android device to accept all major credit and debit cards, contactless payments, and checks. Transactions automatically reconcile with QuickBooks accounting.
- In-store POS: QuickBooks partners with ShopKeep for POS software.
- Invoicing: Create and send customized invoices, manage billable hours, set up notifications, and automatically reconcile with QuickBooks accounting software.
- Online and ecommerce sales: QuickBooks Payments integrates with Shopify, BigCommerce, Ultracart, and WooCommerce.
- Business management features: Manage your business’ cash flow (including forecasting), set aside funds, use QuickBooks’ business banking tools, run basic reports, track income and expenses, and manage taxes.
Wave: Best Free Merchant Account for Invoicing
Wave is a free accounting and invoicing tool for freelance workers, contractors, and small businesses. It’s different from the other options on this list because you can’t use Wave to accept payments in person or add it to an ecommerce website. However, it offers a great value for people who need to accept payments through invoicing. The software is completely free, there are no contracts or monthly minimums, and the whole setup process takes just a few minutes.
In our evaluation of free merchant accounts, Wave earned a 3.41 out of 5. Wave earned points for pricing, free software, ACH processing, ease of use, and transparency. However, no options for in-person or ecommerce payments, limited customer support, and lack of integrations prevented Wave from earning a higher score.
- Invoicing: Wave provides unlimited invoices and allows you to accept payments directly from the invoice and set up recurring billing and automated reminders. Invoices sync with its accounting software.
- Accounting: Wave features unlimited income and expense tracking and sales tax tracking. You can also generate financial statements, view reports on overdue payments, manage cash flow, connect unlimited banks and credit cards, organize expenses and income into tax categories, and view business health from your customized dashboard.
- Receipt scanning: Enjoy unlimited receipt scanning with Wave’s free iOS and Android mobile app, which integrates with Wave’s accounting software and works by just taking a photo of the receipt.
Although there are no true merchant services that are 100% free, there are many options that have no monthly fees, startup fees, or processing minimums and come with competitive pay-as-you-go transaction processing fees. Many of these options even offer free POS solutions, business management tools, invoicing software, or ecommerce integrations.
Square is our top choice for free merchant accounts because, in addition to having no application process, monthly fees, setup fees, and minimal hardware fees, Square has all the basic tools that you need to run a mobile, in-store, online, or multichannel retail business. It comes with a free, top-of-the-line mobile payments app and has other business solutions you can add as you go for a truly affordable, all-in-one payments and POS solution.