This article is part of a larger series on Payments.
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 that offer more affordable alternative payment options.
The best free merchant accounts are:
- Square Payments: Best overall free merchant account
- PayPal Business: Best for solopreneurs and occasional sellers
- Helcim: Best for growing storefronts
- QuickBooks Payments: Best for QuickBooks users
- Stripe: Best for online businesses
- Chase Payment Solutions: Best traditional merchant account
- Wave: Best for invoicing for solo professionals
This guide on free merchant accounts offers ideal solutions for startups and solopreneurs. For businesses with larger monthly sales volume, I recommend more cost-effective payment processors that offer low transaction rates in exchange for a monthly fee. Read our guide to the cheapest credit card processing companies to learn more.
Top Free Merchant Accounts Compared
Online Transaction Rate
Chip and Tap Card Reader Cost
2.6% plus 10 cents
3.5% plus 15 cents
2.9% plus 30 cents
$49 (first magstripe reader is free)
2.29% plus 9 cents (Zettle)
3.49% plus 49 cents
2.59% plus 49 cents
$79 (first one, $29, Zettle)
Average rate 1.92% plus 8 cents
Average rate 2.38% plus 25 cents
Average rate 2.38% plus 25 cents
2.4% plus 25 cents
3.4% plus 25 cents
2.9% plus 25 cents
2.7% plus 5 cents
3.4% plus 30 cents
2.9% plus 30 cents
2.6% plus 10 cents
3.5% plus 10 cents
2.9% plus 25 cents
2.9% plus 30 cents
2.9% plus 30 cents
Please note that all the providers in our list offer $0 monthly fees, startup costs, and monthly minimums and no long-term contracts.
Why is there no such thing as free credit card processing? Because card-issuing banks and card associations, such as Visa, set nonnegotiable rates. Learn more about credit card processing fees.
While you may see some companies advertise “free,” “no-cost,” or “zero-cost” payment processing, it just means passing the costs along to customers. Read more about no-cost payment processing.
Square Payments: Best Overall Free Merchant Account
Square Payments is a free payment processing and POS solution where anyone can sign up and receive the same processing rates. While not the lowest, Square’s transaction processing rates are competitive, especially if you consider the free POS and ecommerce tools available to its users. Its low startup costs and competitive processing rates, sleek interface, and advanced POS features also make Square a consistent pick for the best overall merchant services.
Square tops our list with an overall score of 4.61 out of 5. It is the only provider in our list that offers chargeback protection for up to $250 a month along with a suite of startup-friendly POS features, hardware options, and business management tools. However, limited customer support and reports of account stability issues prevented Square from earning a higher score.
Square Payments Features
- Free POS and mobile payments app: Accept all major credit and debit cards, including contactless payments like Apple Pay and quick response (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.
Learn why Square is an outstanding choice for new businesses in our Square Payments review.
PayPal Business: Best Free Merchant Account for Solopreneurs
PayPal Business offers low-cost, user-friendly payment processing for individuals and small businesses. It has a sleek mobile POS app with additional payment methods exclusive to PayPal users. PayPal’s One Touch technology creates a faster checkout experience that leads to higher conversion rates for your online store. Solopreneurs, hobbyists, and occasional sellers will find its rates and peer-to-peer payment tools an ideal solution.
For this evaluation, PayPal earned a 4.23 out of 5, falling behind Square overall in pricing. That said, PayPal offers affordable mobile and online transaction fees, plus a free mobile POS app and invoicing software. Its online payments also work with just about any website or software. However, it requires a monthly subscription for virtual terminal and recurring payments, has a $20 chargeback fee, and offers limited customer support hours.
- 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.
Read our full PayPal Business review to find out why PayPal is popular with small businesses.
Helcim: Best Free Merchant Account for Growing Storefronts
Helcim offers interchange-plus transaction fees and automatic volume discounts for sales above $25,000/month. It also comes with free POS, inventory, invoicing, customer management, and ecommerce features to launch a multichannel business easily. The system can easily be adapted for a wide range of industries, including retail and subscription-based service businesses but, after years of reviewing this software, I find this provider best suited for retailers.
In our evaluation, Helcim earned an overall score of 3.96 out of 5, particularly for its free multichannel sales tools and competitive interchange pricing that you won’t find in Square or PayPal. However, the system offers limited business integration and an expensive card reader. While its interchange plus pricing scheme makes per transaction cost comparatively low, Helcim’s auto-applied volume discount favors businesses with larger monthly transactions.
- Free POS and mobile payments app: Helcim allows you to accept credit and debit card payments, including EMV and near-field communication (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 short message service (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.
Do you want to know how Helcim can help your growing retail business? Read our full Helcim review.
QuickBooks Payments: Best Free Merchant Account for QuickBooks Users
QuickBooks Payments is the natural choice for small businesses already using QuickBooks as an accounting tool. QuickBooks users can send invoices, accept ACH payments, take phone orders, accept payments through a mobile app, and set up recurring billing. Most processors require a $10,000 to $20,000 monthly minimum to qualify for volume discounts, but QuickBooks offers volume discounts for any small business processing over $7,500 monthly.
For this evaluation, QuickBooks Payments earned an overall score of 3.94 out of 5 earning high marks for its user-friendly software and multiple options for in-person and online payments. Like Square, QuickBooks requires a subscription to its main product (QuickBooks Accounting), but Square offers a free subscription—while QuickBooks does not. This affected QuickBooks’ budget features scores and, along with high chargeback fees plus limited ecommerce integrations, prevented it from ranking higher in our roundup.
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 offers its own desktop POS software solutions, which are available for a one-time purchase. It also includes a built-in payment processing system with pay-as-you-go and monthly subscription options.
- Invoicing: Create and send customized invoices, manage billable hours, set up notifications, and reconcile automatically with QuickBooks accounting software.
- Online and ecommerce sales: QuickBooks Payments integrates with Shopify, BigCommerce, UltraCart, and WooCommerce.
- Business management features: Manage your business’s cash flow (including forecasting), set aside funds, use QuickBooks’ business banking tools, run basic reports, track income and expenses, and manage taxes.
Read our QuickBooks Payments review and learn how to use your QuickBooks account to run your small business.
Stripe: Best Free Merchant Account for Online Businesses
Often compared to Square and PayPal, Stripe offers basic and customizable online checkouts with instant setup and no application process. It can also manage subscriptions, recurring fees, and store card data with a range of customization options. Detailed online features, zero startup and monthly fees, and competitive processing rates make Stripe a solid choice for ecommerce businesses and business-to-business (B2B) sellers.
Stripe earned an overall score of 3.84 out of 5 for its robust and highly customizable set of payment solutions, security features, and 24-hour customer support. However, when I tested the system by trying to setup an account and found that while Stripe now offers basic checkout options, the set-up process is too complicated for simple mom-and-pop shops or occasional sellers. Slow deposit speed and limited business management tools also prevented it from scoring higher.
- 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 more than 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 frequently asked questions (FAQs). Premium, dedicated support is also available for purchase.
Do you want to know how Stripe can help boost your online business? Read our full Stripe review.
Chase Payment Solutions: Best Free Traditional Merchant Account
Chase Payment Solutions is a big name in the banking industry, and it has also acquired key subsidiaries to become one of the most versatile merchant service providers in the market. Chase can give users faster access to their funds, offering both same-day and next-day funding options, and supports in-person, online, and mobile sales with a strong banking infrastructure. It is one of the best choices for business owners who prefer a traditional merchant account.
In our evaluation, Chase Merchant Services earned an overall score of 3.66 out of 5, standing out for its breadth of payment options, POS integrations and, most importantly, the speed at which it makes funds available for its users. However, Chase fell short in transaction and budget features, particularly for charging extra to use stored payment and other business management tools. The need for improved seller protection tools and customer service quality prevented it from earning a higher score
Chase Payment Solutions 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 receive notification of chargeback disputes immediately and respond promptly before the account is debited.
Chase now offers more direct services for small businesses. Read our full Chase Payment Solutions review.
Wave: Best Free Merchant Account for Invoicing for Solo Professionals
Wave is a free accounting and invoicing tool for freelance workers, contractors, and small businesses. Like Square, it can create, customize and send invoices (even estimates) on your computer and from the mobile app, and offer a variety of payment methods, including adding a Pay Now button. However, Wave lets you track and manage your invoices with an accounts receivable (A/R) system integrated with your merchant account, which you can only do with Square through an accounting integration.
Wave earned a 3.53 out of 5, offering great value for solo professionals who accept payments through invoicing along with free accounting tools. However, 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. The lack of integration and limited customer support also did not help Wave in our rankings.
- 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 taking a photo of the receipt.
Learn how to use Wave for your small business. Read our full Wave review.
How We Evaluated Free Merchant Accounts
Since there are no “free” merchant accounts, we considered companies that don’t lock you into a contract or have monthly fees, startup costs, and monthly minimums, which considerably narrowed our list. We then tested each software ourselves to identify the most small business-friendly payment processors, evaluating for ease of account application, quality of services offered with its free plan, transaction fees, and payment processing.
We also looked at the overall transparency of each company’s pricing structure, affordability, reputation, customer reviews, and integrations. Finally, we considered the value of each provider’s paid plans and cost of add-on features in this update. Based on these criteria, Square received the highest rating, with an overall score of 4.61 out of 5.
Click through the tabs below to see our specific evaluation criteria:
30% of Overall Score
25% of Overall Score
25% of Overall Score
20% of Overall Score
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.
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—it 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 for a truly affordable, all-in-one payment and POS solution.