This article is part of a larger series on Payments.
Merchant services allow businesses to accept credit and debit card payments. In addition to the merchant account, 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 flexible payment solutions for in-person and online transactions.
In our evaluation, the best merchant services for small businesses are:
- Square: Best overall
- Helcim: Cheapest for established businesses
- Payment Depot: Best for no percentage markup
- Stax (Formerly Fattmerchant): Best for invoicing or recurring billing
- Chase Payment Solutions: Best merchant account through a bank
- Dharma Merchant Services: Best for transparent pricing and eco-friendly business practices
- PayPal: Best for occasional sales and online checkout
- Stripe: Best for online credit card processing and integrations
- QuickBooks Payments: Best for QuickBooks users
- Payment Cloud: Best high-risk merchant account
Best Merchant Services Compared
2.6% + 10 cents
2.9% + 30 cents
Interchange + 0.3% + 8 cents
Interchange + 0.5% + 25 cents
Interchange + 8 cents
Interchange + 15 cents
Interchange + 8 cents
Interchange + 15 cents
2.6% + 10 cents
2.9% + 25 cents
Interchange + 0.15% + 8 cents
Interchange + 0.2% + 11 cents
2.29% + 9 cents**
2.99% + 49 cents
2.7% + 5 cents
2.9% + 30 cents
2.4% + 25 cents
2.9% + 25 cents
*QuickBooks subscription required, which starts at $30 monthly
**Through PayPal Zettle
Interchange rates are the fees charged by the card-issuing bank to process card transactions. Average interchange rates are typically around 1.8%, although they vary widely based on the type of transaction and card. Learn more about interchange rates.
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If you need hardware, see our guide to credit card readers. Meanwhile, if you’re an established business looking to save on processing fees, you may be interested in our guide to the cheapest credit card processing companies.
Square: Best Overall for Individuals & New Businesses
Square is an all-in-one merchant services provider, meaning it can process payments in-store and online as well as via mobile, virtual terminal, invoice, and even quick response (QR) code payments. The simplest merchant account provider to get started with, Square is free to use except for pay-as-you-go transaction fees. Easy, low-cost, and flexible merchant services, combined with the best free POS software, makes Square 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 credit card payment app. While many of the other merchant services on our list are frequently featured in our guides, Square usually earns the top slot in multiple categories.
Since Our Last Update
In 2021, Square introduced Square Banking, which offers checking, savings, and loans for small businesses. Businesses using Square Merchant Services and Square Banking can access funds from sales instantly through a Square Business Checking account, which also comes with a debit card. This addition makes Square competitive with Chase Payment Solutions as in both cases Square and Chase can serve as both the processor and acquiring bank, meaning you have access to your funds much faster. Visit Square Banking to learn more.
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, a virtual terminal, invoicing software, reporting, and more.
Square Payment Processing Hardware
Helcim: Best & Cheapest Merchant Services for Established Businesses
Helcim is an all-in-one merchant account provider. Similar to Square, it comes 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. Like Payment Depot and Stax by Fattmerchant, Helcim offers interchange-plus pricing, which is great for businesses doing heavy volume.
Unlike the others, it has no monthly fee and offers automated discounts as you scale. Helcim’s free software, interchange-plus pricing with no monthly fee, and transparent volume discounts make it the best and most affordable choice for established businesses.
Since Our Last Update
In 2021, Helcim did away with its $20 monthly fee, giving it an edge over Payment Depot in our evaluation of the cheapest credit card processing companies. In March 2022, Helcim launched Helcim Bank Payments, allowing merchants to accept ACH and electronic funds transfer (EFT) payments.
Competitive interchange-plus pricing, along with ecommerce tools, makes Helcim a great choice for retail businesses, especially those that want to sell online.
However, Helcim does not work with high-risk businesses, such as cannabidiol (CBD) or vape shops. If you need a high-risk merchant account for your storefront, PaymentCloud might be your best choice.
Helcim also has a strict approval process that favors established businesses. If you are just starting out, process infrequent payments, or are a seasonal merchant, consider choosing Square instead—it has no application or approval process.
Helcim has a single card reader option that can be used for countertop or mobile sales. The Helcim Card Reader costs $109, includes a free countertop stand, and is shipped for free in two to three business days.
The Helcim Card Reader can accept contactless, chip, and swipe payments, including contactless and PIN debit payments. Its hardware connects to any device—Mac, PC, smartphone, tablet, or iPad—and connects to the free Helcim POS app. Although there is no built-in receipt printer, Helcim supports email receipts.
To learn more about pricing, features, and contract terms, read our full Helcim review.
Payment Depot: Best Merchant Services With No Percentage Markup
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.
Payment Depot is also one of two interchange-plus processors on this list that does not add a percentage markup—just a flat fee of 8 cents for card-present transactions and 15 cents for card-not-present transactions. Stax has a similar pricing model and only charges flat fees. However, Stax’s monthly fees are much higher, starting at $99 per month.
Since Our Last Update
Recently, Payment Depot lowered its minimum monthly fee from $79 to $59, making it a more competitive option for small businesses. However, it’s important to note that the monthly processing limits on Payment Depot’s plans are a lot lower than they were before, meaning medium-sized businesses processing $20,001 to $50,000 per month will pay higher monthly fees than before.
This change also coincides with Stax’s acquisition of Payment Depot. While there have been no official press releases, the logo on Payment Depot’s website is updated and its Terms of Service now list Stax as the merchant service provider.
Payment Depot’s flexible model with affordable pricing makes it one of the cheapest credit card processors for small established businesses, including retailers, restaurants, salons, auto shops, medical practices, and B2B companies.
Payment Depot Hardware
Payment Depot has a wide selection of card readers available, including mobile and countertop solutions from popular brands like Clover, Poynt, and SwipeSimple. Those hardware items have quote-based pricing. However, Payment Depot also offers free countertop terminals to qualifying customers as noted below.
Free Hardware Offer
Just like its new parent company, Stax, Payment Depot also offers free Dejavoo terminals to qualifying customers. There are still no long-term contracts or early termination fees. If you cancel with Payment Depot, you just need to return the hardware. Eligible hardware products include:
- Dejavoo Z8 Terminal
- Dejavoo Z11 Terminal
- Dejavoo QD4 Desktop POS
Connect this reader to your mobile device via Bluetooth to accept swipe, chip, and contactless payments.
Handheld reader for swipe, chip, and contactless payments. Requires Clover POS subscription.
First Data FD150
Dejavoo Z11 Terminal
Accept swipe, chip, and contactless payments. Includes basic POS functionality via free SwipeSimple account.
Accept swipe, chip, and contactless payments, plus Dynamic Currency Conversion. Has three USB ports for connecting peripherals.
Accept swipe, chip, and contactless payments. Large screen ideal for capturing signatures.
Clover POS Systems
Clover Mini LTE
Clover Station POS
Clover Station Pro
Compact countertop POS with inventory and customer management features. Wide array of add-ons and apps available. Requires Clover POS subscription.
14-inch high-definition (HD) touch-screen display with receipt printer and cash drawer. Customizable POS with fingerprint log-in for staff. Requires Clover POS subscription.
Similar to Station POS, with the addition of a customer-facing display. Clover’s newest, largest, and fastest POS. Requires a Clover subscription.
Other POS Systems
Poynt Smart Terminal
Dual touch-screen terminal with customer-facing display. Built-in QR and barcode scanner and thermal receipt printer. Built-in customer management and QuickBooks integration.
Cloud-based touch-screen POS with inventory and reporting features, plus many other tools including tax and employee management, order-ahead, and sales associate assignments.
To learn more, read our full Payment Depot review.
Stax (Formerly Fattmerchant): Best for High-volume Billing & Invoicing
Stax (Formerly Fattmerchant) is a popular merchant service provider with dedicated solutions for small and large businesses as well as SaaS platforms. Similar to Payment Depot, Stax offers membership-based interchange-plus pricing. However, Stax’s monthly fees are higher, starting at $99, and the pricing plans are targeted more toward growing small businesses processing at least $20,000 per month.
Aside from targeting larger businesses, Stax is also different from Payment Depot and other traditional merchant accounts on this list because of the proprietary software options it provides.
Stax offers invoicing, card-on-file payments, and recurring billing similar to Helcim, Stripe, and Square. What sets Stax apart are features like short message service (SMS) text-to-pay solutions, white-label customer portals, and robust reporting. These tools are ideal for growing businesses that primarily collect payments through online billing or invoicing, such as professional services.
Stax hardware is custom-quoted. A selection of BBPOS mobile readers, Z terminals, and PAX terminals are available. We have previously been quoted $100 for mobile readers, $175 to $300 for Z terminals, and $500 to $650 for PAX models. These are available for purchase for a one-time fee, or through monthly fees with protection plans.
Additionally, Stax offers free Dejavoo terminals to qualifying customers. This is the same offer as Payment Depot. If you cancel your merchant account, you just need to return the hardware (or you will be billed for the cost). Eligible hardware products include:
- Dejavoo Z8 Terminal
- Dejavoo Z11 Terminal
- Dejavoo QD4 Desktop POS
Contact Stax for more information.
Read our full Stax by Fattmerchant review for more information on pricing, hardware, features, and contract.
Chase Payment Solutions: Best Merchant Account Through a Bank
Chase Payment Solutions (formerly 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.
Since Our Last Update
Chase has rebranded from Chase Merchant Services to Chase Payment Solutions.
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. Square is starting to move into banking services as well, and PayPal, of course, lets you deposit into your PayPal accounts.
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, like you’d find with Payment Depot, Stax by Fattmerchant, or Helcim.
Chase Payments Solutions Hardware
Chase Smart Terminal*
Chase QuickAccept Mobile Card Reader*
Wireless, Wi-Fi-enabled credit card terminal with digital and email receipts, transaction search, and more.
Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection with 24/7 support. Color screens with tipping functions and built-in receipt printers.
Same as the countertop terminal, but with a mobile battery that can power 450 transactions between charges.
Use the Chase Mobile app and optional card reader to accept swipe, chip, and contactless payments on the go.
*Only available to Chase Business Checking customers because it includes free same-day deposits.
Read our Chase Payment Solutions review for more details.
Dharma Merchant Services: Best for Transparent Pricing & Eco-friendly Business Practices
Dharma Merchant Services is a merchant services provider that specializes in working with small businesses and is known for being very transparent and honest in its practices. Every single fee—even account closure fees—is listed on Dharma’s website. In addition to transparency and affordable pricing, Dharma is an eco-friendly company and, to date, has donated over $750,000 to nonprofits.
Dharma offers low-cost interchange-plus pricing and only works with low-risk merchants processing at least $10,000 monthly. Merchants processing more than $100,000 or 5,000 transactions qualify for volume discounts, which are also available on Dharma’s website. There are also special rates for restaurants with low average tickets.
Every Dharma account also includes a free MX Merchant account that includes a virtual terminal, mobile payment processing, online payment links, a customer database with card-on-file capabilities, and online reporting. Many other processors, including PayPal and Stax, charge extra monthly fees for access to features like virtual terminals, payment links, and card-on-file customer databases.
Dharma Merchant Services Hardware
Verifone Engage V200c Terminal
Ingenico Desk/5000 for B2B
Accepting swipe, chip, PIN, and contactless payments and print receipts. Compatible with B2B payments, level 2 rates, and multimerchant configuration.
Accept swipe, chip, PIN, and contactless payments. Print receipts and reports and connect optional customer-facing displays.
Swipe, chip, PIN, and contactless payments, including B2B card-present transactions. Hardwire, Wi-Fi, or 4G cellular connectivity.
Swipe, chip, PIN, and contactless payments. Compatible with MX Advantage to program surcharging.
Dharma has additional terminals available with external-facing PIN pads designed for accepting tips. Additionally, because Dharma is part of the TSYS network, it is compatible with many POS systems. You can also purchase Clover POS hardware, including Clover Flex, Mini, and Station, through Dharma.
Read our full Dharma Merchant Services review to learn more.
PayPal: Best Merchant Services for Ecommerce & Occasional Sales
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. PayPal alone makes this distinction and is often used with other merchant accounts like those on our list.
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 recommended option for low-volume and occasional sales or an additional payment option for online stores.
Additionally, PayPal has many different programs, each with different transaction fees and monthly add-ons, so pricing is not always transparent.
PayPal changes its pricing frequently. Although PayPal overhauled a lot of its pricing in 2021, it has adjusted its rates several times already in 2022. The rates in this guide were posted in August 2022 and went into effect in September 2022. Check the PayPal website for current pricing.
Zettle Reader 2
Store Kit Mini
Store Kit Portable*
Store Kit Standard
$79 (first one $29)
Accept chip, PIN, and contactless payments. Connect to Zettle POS app via Bluetooth. Battery lasts 8 hours or 100 transactions. Optional charging dock available.
Includes card reader, stand, dock, and optional iPad for additional cost. Compatible with PayPal Zettle POS.
Includes card reader, portable thermal receipt printer, and extra thermal rolls. Need to connect the reader to a smart device via Bluetooth to access Zettle POS.
Includes card reader, dock, stand, smart printer, and thermal rolls. Optional iPad for additional cost.
*Out of stock at the time of publication.
Stripe: Best for Online Credit Card Processing & Integrations
Stripe is a payment processor with sophisticated software and APIs ideal for online businesses that want to create a custom checkout solution. Stripe’s prebuilt integrations make it easy to connect a Stripe checkout to almost any website or software. Besides PayPal, it’s the easiest to integrate for online sales.
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 such as per-seat pricing, metered billing, coupons, free trials, prorates, overages, and usage-based fees. You can also update expired or renewed customer card information automatically.
Stripe is an industry-leading payment solution used by startups and Fortune 500 companies. It tops our list of best international merchant accounts due to its cross-border and multicurrency capabilities and compatibility with 135-plus currencies.
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. This is especially true if you need to process in-person payments. While Stripe powers payment processing for popular small business software including Shopify, Lightspeed, and Wix, small businesses are better served by a plug-and-play payment processor for in-store or mobile sales.
However, this may change in the future as Stripe continues to invest in its no-code and hardware products.
Since Our Last Update
- Stripe acquired BBPOS, a popular card reader company, to accelerate the pace of its hardware creation.
- Stripe has launched global crypto payouts.
- It also launched new no-code Payment Link features including subscriptions, upsells, and more customizations.
- Effective November 2022, Stripe is imposing a keyed-in transaction fee of 3.4% plus 30 cents for virtual terminal and first-time subscription and card-on-file transactions.
Stripe Reader M2
BBPOS WisePOS E
Accept EMV chip, contactless, and mobile wallet payments. This battery-powered reader connects to your POS app via Bluetooth.
Android-based POS with a 5-inch display including PIN functionality. Connects to a third-party POS app via Wi-Fi.
The most important thing to note about Stripe’s hardware is that to use it, you must connect to a third-party POS app either through Stripe’s partner ecosystem or by coding your own solution. In contrast, every other payment processor on this list offers a more straightforward plug-and-play solution for mobile payments. This is one of the main reasons Stripe is best for online-only businesses.
If you want to use Stripe to accept in-person payments, see our guide to the best mobile payment apps for Stripe.
Read our full Stripe review for more details.
QuickBooks Payments: Best for QuickBooks Users
Since Our Last Update
QuickBooks has rebranded from QuickBooks GoPayment to QuickBooks Payments. Fees have also been updated since.
QuickBooks Payments has a lot of strong features and good rates. If you regularly process over $7,500 a month, you can apply for a discount of up to 40% on transactions. The other processors on our list that offer discounts usually do so at a higher volume.
QuickBooks also has a reduced rate for ACH transfers: 1% with a maximum of $10. Compare this to Square, which has 1% but a minimum of $1 and no maximum.
However, you must have a QuickBooks account to use this service, which means you will pay at least $15 a month no matter how much you process in sales. Keep in mind, though, that even if you use a different processor and want QuickBooks for accounting, you’ll still be paying this monthly QuickBooks fee. Learn more with our review of QuickBooks Online.
QuickBooks, along with many others on this list, rank among the best B2B payment solutions. It has Level 2 processing, which gets you cheaper rates for B2B transactions. It also has invoicing tools and lets you designate multiple accounts for deposits. Additionally, it has a longer deposit time than most on our list—usually two or three days.
QuickBooks Payments Hardware
QuickBooks Card Reader
$49; $79 with Power Stand
Accept EMV chip, debit, credit, Apple Pay, and Google Pay payments. Connects wirelessly to phone or tablet via Bluetooth for the QuickBooks GoPayment app. Stays charged for up to a week.
QuickBooks offers a single mobile card reader option that is compatible with QuickBooks’ GoPayment mobile app. Countertop pin pads are only available through QuickBooks POS.
You can also accept payments directly through the QuickBooks Online accounting software by sending an invoice or manually keying in the payment. Learn more in our tutorial on how to enter credit card transactions in QuickBooks Online.
See a full breakdown of pricing and features in our QuickBooks Payments review.
PaymentCloud: Best High-risk Merchant Account
As a popular merchant service provider, PaymentCloud specializes in high-risk accounts. If you are a high-risk business because of the type of products or services you sell or have 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 more than 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 account services. However, high-risk payment processing is what PaymentCloud is best known for. Many other merchant service providers refer high-risk businesses to PaymentCloud because of its excellent reputation in getting businesses approved.
PaymentCloud has many options for card readers and POS systems. However, PaymentCloud does not disclose specific models or pricing on its site. You’ll need to contact PaymentCloud for a specific quote.
If you’re migrating over to PaymentCloud from a different processor, PaymentCloud will reprogram your existing equipment if possible.
In general, PaymentCloud works with and offers card readers from the following brands: Ingenico, Verifone, MagTek, Clover, First Data, and Dejavoo.
While PaymentCloud does not publicly disclose pricing, we received estimates for both medium and high-risk businesses. See our PaymentCloud review for details.
Methodology: How We Evaluated Merchant Services
We considered dozens of processors, narrowing our selection down to 16 options. Then, we evaluated those 16 options across 22 data points divided into the categories of Pricing and Contract, Payment Types, Features, and Expert Score. From our evaluation, we selected the 10 top-scoring payment processors to feature in this guide.
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. Additionally, we prioritized providers that don’t charge hefty monthly fees, cancellation fees, or chargeback fees and only included providers that offer competitive and predictable flat-rate or interchange-plus pricing. We also awarded points to processors that offer volume discounts, and extra points if those discounts are transparent or automated.
30% of Overall Score
The best merchant accounts can accept various payment types, including POS and card-present transactions, mobile payments, contactless payments, ecommerce transactions, and 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
20% of Overall Score
Calculate Estimated Fees
Enter your typical monthly sales volume and average order value or ticket size to see how much you would pay each month with each processor, along with your effective rate:
Note: These rates are only estimates and do not include software fees, chargebacks, and hardware fees, nor do they account for keyed-in payments. For this calculation, we used average Visa interchange rates for in-person and online credit transactions. The amount you pay will vary depending on your customer’s payment method, the type of transactions you process, and your specific agreement with your processor.
Best Merchant Services Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is a merchant account?
A merchant account is a service that allows you to accept payments from customers. Business owners apply for a merchant account from a merchant services provider that has the technology to communicate financial data and transfer funds from your clients’ bank account to your own safely when completing a transaction.
Do I need a merchant account provider?
Generally speaking, all businesses need a merchant account but the type of merchant account varies with business size. An aggregate merchant account is best suited for startups, micro, and low-volume businesses because there is no lengthy application process, strict requirements, or hefty fees. The setup is quick and easy, and you can start accepting payments in minutes. Learn about free merchant account providers.
Meanwhile larger businesses like B2Bs and high-risk merchants can benefit from a traditional merchant account because it helps you protect your credit standing and provides better rates for large volume sales.
How do I find a merchant account provider?
There are a wide range of merchant account services providers in the market and you can find one that can match your specific business type and size. You will need to do your research but before that, it’s important that you are also equipped with all the payment processing requirements information for your business. Learn how to accept credit card payments for your business.
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.
Want help navigating your merchant account application?
Download our free merchant account application guide that walks you through the process, including tips for getting the lowest rates and contract clauses to watch out for.
You May Also Like…
- Learn about average credit card processing fees and what to expect
- Compare three of the most popular payment processors for small businesses: Stripe vs Square vs PayPal
- See the best payment processors for restaurants and the leading retail credit card processing companies
- Read our guides to the top mobile payment processors and the best card readers