Merchant services allow businesses to accept credit and debit card payments. Many merchant service providers also offer payment processing tools such as payment gateways, virtual terminals, point-of-sale (POS) systems, and card-reading hardware. The best solutions offer competitive rates, month-to-month contracts with no cancellation fees, and an array of flexible payment solutions for in-person and online transactions.
The best merchant services for small businesses are:
- Square: Best all-purpose merchant service account for small businesses and individuals
- Payment Depot: Cheapest credit card processor
- Fattmerchant: Best for growing businesses with invoicing or recurring billing
- Chase Merchant Services: Best traditional merchant account offered through a bank
- PayPal: Best for occasional sales, online checkout, and nonprofits
- Stripe: Best for online startups and B2B companies
- Helcim: Best for brick and mortar retailers
- PaymentCloud: Best high-risk merchant account
Which Merchant Service Provider Is Right for You?
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How We Evaluated Merchant Services
We considered dozens of payment processors, narrowing our list down to eight solutions to evaluate in-depth. We evaluated each solution based on pricing and contract terms, types of payments each solution can handle, accounts features including deposit speed and customer support hours, and our personal evaluation of each processor.
Click through the tabs below for our full evaluation criteria:
25% of Overall Score
We awarded points to merchant account providers that don’t require contracts and offer month-to-month or pay-as-you-go billing. We also prioritized providers that don’t charge hefty monthly fees, cancellation fees, or chargeback fees. We also only included providers that offer competitive and predictable flat-rate or interchange-plus pricing.
25% of Overall Score
The best merchant accounts can accept various payment types—including POS and card-present transactions, mobile payments, contactless payments, ecommerce transactions, ACH and e-check payments—and offer free virtual terminal and invoicing solutions for phone orders, recurring billing, and card-on-file payments.
25% of Overall Score
We prioritized merchant accounts with free 24/7 phone and email support. Small businesses also need fast deposits, so payment processors offering free same or next-day funding earned bonus points. Finally, we considered whether each system has affordable and flexible hardware options and offers any business management tools, like dispute and chargeback management, reporting, or customer management.
25% of Overall Score
We judged each system based on its overall pricing and advertising transparency, ease of use (including account stability), popularity, and reputation among business owners and sites like Better Business Bureau. Finally, we considered how well each system works with other popular small business software, like accounting, point-of-sale, and ecommerce solutions.
Square is an all-in-one merchant services provider, meaning it can process payments in-store, via mobile, online, virtual terminal, and even invoice payments. Square is the simplest merchant account provider to get started with, is free to use except for transaction fees, and offers the best value for new and small businesses. Besides being the best all-purpose merchant account, we also recommend Square as the best free merchant account, and best for small restaurants.
As soon as you create your free Square account, you can accept credit card payments, record cash and check sales, process invoices, set up an online checkout or ordering system, and accept contactless payments. The real benefit of choosing Square as your merchant service provider is Square’s full suite of business management tools included in your free Square POS software, including customer management, online store, virtual terminal, invoicing software, reporting, and more.
Payment Depot is a merchant service provider with a membership pricing model that offers payment processing at extremely competitive rates. One membership with Payment Depot includes interchange-plus pricing for card-present, online, virtual terminal, and mobile payments.
Unlike most credit card processing companies, Payment Depot makes no distinction between online and in-person payments. The pricing is the same, and both kinds of payments are included with every membership.
This flexible model with affordable pricing makes Payment Depot one of the cheapest credit card processors for small established businesses, including retailers, restaurants, salons, auto shops, medical practices, and business-to-business (B2B) companies.
Fattmerchant is a merchant service provider with a subscription or membership model where businesses pay a higher monthly fee and low transaction fees. While this model is most economical for growing businesses processing more than $15,000 monthly, Fattmerchant also has a pay-as-you-go model for businesses processing under $80,000 annually. This model does not have a monthly fee and charges a flat 2.9% transaction fee.
Fattmerchant also offers user-friendly Omni software that includes invoicing, recurring payment tools, ACH processing, Text2Pay, and reporting features. Omni software and the membership pricing model make Fattmerchant an ideal option for established or higher-volume businesses that process payments via invoice or subscriptions, for example, healthcare and wellness companies, field services like construction, and professional services such as lawyers offices.
Chase Merchant Services offers merchant services that are a great alternative for any business looking to work with a traditional bank, especially if your business accounts are with Chase. Having Chase as both the processor and receiving bank in transactions can provide speed and security by removing the intermediary.
Chase Business Checking customers really get the best value from using Chase as a merchant service provider. With a checking account, you can access Chase QuickAccept, a free mobile payments app that includes same-day deposits and dispute management. No application is necessary.
However, Chase is one of the largest processors in the US, and any business can apply to use its merchant services. Chase is one of the few direct processors that offer flat-rate fees for small businesses. Larger businesses can also negotiate competitive interchange-plus pricing.
PayPal is a household name offering user-friendly payment processing for online, mobile, and in-store sales. PayPal offers competitive flat-rate fees and is quick and easy to sign up for. It also has discounted rates for nonprofit organizations.
Plus, adding PayPal as a payment option can increase online store conversions and reduce cart abandonment because shoppers don’t need to type in payment or shipping information.
However, PayPal is not a traditional merchant account. This means business accounts can be flagged and frozen if the company deems anything suspicious, which is problematic for businesses relying on daily deposits. So, PayPal is a top-recommended option for low-volume and occasional sales or an additional payment option for online stores.
Stripe is a payment processor with sophisticated software and APIs ideal for online businesses and apps that want to create a custom checkout solution. Stripe’s pre-built integrations make it easy to connect a Stripe checkout to almost any website or software.
One of the best features of Stripe is the number of different payment types it can work with. Accept ACH and e-check payments, WeChat, Klarna, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and more. Configure subscriptions, recurring billing, or one-time payments for different checkout needs (like per-seat pricing, metered billing, coupons, free trials, pro-rates, overages, and usage-based fees). And, automatically update expired or renewed customer card information.
Stripe is an industry-leading payment solution used by startups and Fortune 500 companies. While it has competitive pricing for businesses of all sizes, you’ll get the most value out of Stripe if you have developer resources to configure and maintain a custom checkout.
Helcim is an all-in-one merchant account provider with free sophisticated sales solutions, including a fully-hosted online store, invoicing software, POS app, a mobile payment app, basic inventory tracking, hosted payment pages, and more.
Competitive interchange-plus pricing, along with ecommerce tools, makes Helcim a great choice for retail businesses, especially those that want to sell online.
Normally, we don’t recommend merchant accounts with monthly fees to smaller or new businesses. However, with Helcim, if you don’t process payments, your monthly fee is automatically waived.
As a popular merchant service provider, PaymentCloud specializes in high-risk accounts. If you are a high-risk business, for the type of products or services you sell or because of poor credit, PaymentCloud could be a good fit, even if other merchant account providers have turned you down.
Offering a “hard-to-place” program, PaymentCloud includes relationships with over 10 banks and a step-by-step application process to help you submit all the documents needed to get approved by one of their partner banks.
PaymentCloud does offer traditional merchant services in addition to high-risk accounts. However, high-risk payment processing is what PaymentCloud is best known for. In fact, many other merchant service providers refer high-risk businesses to PaymentCloud because of its excellent reputation in getting businesses approved.
Choosing the right merchant account provider can save your business lots of money in fees each month. The best payment processors are also easy to use, offer good value with business solutions, and integrate with popular software. Plus, merchant accounts should be transparent and reliable.
If you’re launching a new venture or have sales volumes of less than $20,000 per month, you can’t go wrong with Square. Its all-in-one simplicity, low flat-rates, and free POS business management tools make it practically unbeatable for most small business needs. Visit Square to create a free account.