A payment gateway is a customer-facing platform that allows merchants to securely accept credit card payments online or in person (mobile). In fact, the most popular payment gateways are actually payment processors, and many modern providers already offer free or affordable payment gateway solutions with a merchant account.
The best payment gateway offers easy integration and compatibility with most payment processing platforms, along with competitive transaction processing fees. But because not all businesses are the same, the challenge is finding the right payment gateway to match every merchant’s needs.
We evaluated dozens of options to find the seven best payment gateways plus three runners up with unique features:
- Best and most versatile: Authorize.net
- Best and cheapest for growing businesses: Helcim
- Best for free in-person and mobile setup: Square
- Best for integrations and customizations: Stripe
- Best for free & fast funding: Chase Payment Solutions
- Best add-on for ecommerce: Payflow by PayPal
- Best for international sales: 2Checkout (Verifone)
- Best for medical/educational services and nonprofits: Payline
- Best for CBD (cannabidiol), tobacco, and other high-risk merchants: PaymentCloud
- Best add-on for voice commerce: Amazon Pay
Top Payment Gateways Compared
Enter your monthly sales volume to get an estimate of monthly payment processing fees for each of our recommended gateways.
Authorize.net: Best (& Most Versatile) Payment Gateway
- Has a monthly fee
- Does not sell terminals, POS hardware
- Imposes a chargeback fee
- Lacks native one-click payment tools
What we like:
Authorize.net is one of the most popular payment gateways, seamlessly integrating with most of the payment processors, merchant service providers, and point-of-sale (POS) systems in the industry. It supports almost all types of payment methods, including PayPal. Additionally, it has PCI compliance and offers competitive online rates for both small and growing merchants.
You can choose from two plans—Authorize.net can be a pure payment gateway, letting you choose your own merchant service, or you can select the all-in-one plan, which provides payment processing at a flat rate. Both plans have a monthly fee.
Helcim: Cheapest for Fast-growing Businesses
- Limited business integrations
- Not compatible with high-risk merchants
- Expensive mobile card reader
- Application process geared toward more established businesses
What we like:
Helcim is our all-in-one payment platform of choice for fast-growing businesses with large-volume sales or inventories. It offers a payment gateway API feature, which allows real-time card payment authorization, data capture, voids and refunds management, and recurring payments. It is also easy to set up, so you can add this gateway to any existing website, shopping cart, or accounting system and start accepting payments in no time.
While it’s impossible to accept online payments absolutely free, Helcim’s rates come closest to ensuring that you always pay the cheapest fees possible. Helcim also offers an automated free credit card processing program for merchants that also accept ACH payments. Learn more about zero-cost online card processing.
- Monthly fee: $0
- In-person processing fee: Interchange plus 0.15% + 6 cents to 0.4% + 8 cents
- Online processing fee: Interchange plus 0.15% + 15 cents to 0.5% + 25 cents
- Chargeback fee: $0–$15
- ACH payments: 0.5% + 25 cents, $5 per return
- Virtual terminal: Included
- Card readers: $109
- Terminal: $349
- Interchange-plus pricing: Helcim charges a volume-based service fee on top of the actual interchange and card network costs. This pricing model makes it possible to get the lowest rates possible every month automatically, depending on your monthly sales, without having to constantly negotiate for fees.
- International payments: Helcim can process overseas credit card payments. There are no additional fees for currency conversion, as the transactions are subject to your customer’s card network rates.
- Data management: Helcim’s full payment gateway API allows you to securely manage your business data all in one place with over 80 API actions available, including accessing and updating product catalogs and retrieving credit card and bank information.
- Dispute management: Helcim comes with a dispute management dashboard that lists chargeback details, statuses of claims, and a link for uploading supporting documents. You can also filter the view depending on dispute status, response due date, and more.
- Zero-cost processing program: “Fee Saver” is Helcim’s zero-cost or free credit card processing program. Merchants accepting ACH payments with Helcim can choose to enable Fee Saver for each transaction. When used, the system automatically detects the type of free credit card processing program available to use based on the card type/network and business location. Customers can choose to pay with ACH instead of a credit card to avoid the fees.
Square: Best for Free Point of Sale
- Locked into Square Payments
- Limited customer service hours
- Frequent complaints of payment holds and frozen accounts
- Not compatible with most high-risk merchants
What we like:
Square is a favorite among reviewers at Fit Small Business because it can do so much so well. As a payment gateway, it offers its online payment tools at no extra cost. It supports easy-to-use shareable links and “Buy Now” buttons, and its virtual terminal comes with all the features you would expect from more sophisticated solutions like Stripe. Square’s mobile card reader can also be connected to your computer with a Square dock so you can accept keyed-in, tap, and chip payments.
- Monthly fee: $0–$60
- Card-present processing fee: 2.6% + 10 cents per transaction
- Keyed-in processing fee: 3.5% + 15 cents per transaction
- Online/ecommerce rate: 2.9% + 30 cents
- ACH processing fee: 1% with $1 minimum
- Rapid Pay fee: 1.75%
- Chargeback fee: Waived up to $250
- Virtual terminal: $0
- Card readers: From $49
- Terminals: From $299
- 30-day free trial
- Priced for solopreneurs and startups: If you are only an occasional seller, such as a hobbyist, the free software and lack of monthly fees make it among the most affordable.
- Versatility: The ease of use and great mobile app means you can use it in-store or on the go. It has a virtual terminal for phone orders, a free website/online store, and invoicing for freelancers and B2B. (Others on this list charge for one or both of these features.)
- Free POS with inventory management: While many payment gateways on this list offer POS systems, Square’s is among the most complete with inventory, reports, and some customer management functions.
- Mobile app and card readers: Square tops our list of the best iPhone credit card readers. Users praise the ease of use and functions. Most complaints are about held funds or frozen accounts rather than the app.
- CBD Merchant Program: Square supports certain types of CBD merchants, allowing some high-risk merchants access to Square’s POS and gateway payment processing tools
Square is our best POS system for small businesses. It is also among the leading credit card readers, best salon POS, and top-recommended POS for restaurants. Square also tops our list of best merchant services, so it makes sense that it scores high for payment gateways. It works for mobile, desktop, tablet, and POS systems.
Stripe: Best for Integrations & Programmability
- No native POS
- Service fee for invoicing and recurring billing payments
- Requires some technical expertise
- Limited hardware options
What we like:
Stripe is a terrific payment gateway for businesses—from startups to Fortune 500 firms. Its vast number of integrations (660+) make it a great choice for online, international, and B2B payment processing. However, it also made our list because of its programmability. Stripe’s API and SDK tools are some of the best on the market, making it a great choice for a business wanting to incorporate Stripe payments into its software or mobile app.
Learn how Stripe compares with our top payment gateway choice, Authorize.net.
- Monthly fee: $0
- In-person processing fee: 2.7% + 5 cents (card-present), 2.9% + 30 cents (touchless)
- Online processing fee: 2.9% + 30 cents per transaction
- Keyed-in processing fee: 3.4% + 30 cents
- Invoicing service fee: 0.4% with 25 free invoice processing per month or 0.5% per invoice, depending on plan
- Recurring billing service fee: 0.5% per month or 0.8% per invoice, depending on plan
- Discounts for volume sales, multi-products
- Chargeback fee: $15
- Virtual terminal: $0
- Card readers: $59
- Billing and subscriptions: Stripe has a free invoice function for up to 25 payment requests per month. It also makes it easy to design a billing system for one-time or recurring payments. You can set up flat rates, multiple pricing, and usage rates (such as for electricity). It integrates with websites, mobile apps, and CRM systems.
- Integrations: Stripe was designed to be easily integrated and has over 660 partners and interfaces in accounting and finance, marketing and sales, operations, payments, and ecommerce. In addition, it has excellent SDK and API functions for creating your own integrations. In fact, Stripe processes over 250 million API requests per day.
- International sales: While we like 2Checkout best for international sales, Stripe is no slouch. With Stripe, you can accept payments in over 135 currencies. It charges extra for processing international credit cards in person, however.
Chase Payment Solutions: Best for Free & Fast Funding
- Some payment methods require a Chase banking account
- Imposes a chargeback fee
- Complaints of cancellation fee
- Mobile POS has login issues
What we like:
Associated with one of the largest banks in the world, Chase Payment Solutions is a direct processor that offers merchant services to SMBs. While it is possible to enroll in Chase Payment Solutions with a different business banking service, you get the best value (and fastest payouts) when you also enroll in Chase Business Checking.
As such, it’s a great choice for new businesses needing a checking account, a business credit card, and more. It serves companies in the US, Canada, and Europe (but can handle international sales) and has a large number of integrations and partnerships.
- Monthly fee: $0–$15 (for business checking account)*
- Card-present processing fee: 2.6% plus 10 cents
- Keyed-in processing fee: 3.5% + 10 cents
- Online processing fee: 2.9% + 25 cents
- Rapid pay: $0
- Automated clearing house (ACH) processing fee:
- Real time deposits: 1% (capped at $25), non reversible
- Same-day deposits: 1% (capped at $25), reversible
- Standard deposits (1-2 business days): $2.50 for the first 10 transactions, 15 cents for additional, reversible
- Chargeback fee: $25 to $100 per transaction, depending on the dispute volume
- POS system: $0
- Virtual terminal: $0
- Card readers: $49.95
- Terminal: $399
*Some payment processing services require a Chase business checking account that comes with a $2,000 monthly minimum balance or else a $15 service fee.
- Same-day deposit free: With the Chase QuickAccept app, you can have transactions sent to your Chase bank account on the same day at no extra charge. Most of the payment gateways here take one day or longer, while Square charges 1.5% per transaction for same-day deposits.
- Chase banking: You need a Chase Business Complete account to access faster payouts and the QuickAccept mobile app. This package includes a checking account, a credit card, quick check deposit services, Zelle, and more. Some features are subject to extra fees and conditions. Chase is one of our best checking account for small businesses, leading checking accounts for LLCs, and top-recommended banks for small businesses.
- Mobile: Chase’s mobile checkout includes a simple POS system, which features inventory and reports. The biggest complaint concerned problems logging in. If you need a better mobile application, see if one of our top mobile POS apps integrates with Chase.
- Customer insights: Chase Customer Insights is a powerful business analytics tool that provides merchants with actionable insights from customer data with the help of Chase’s massive merchant-acquiring and card-issuing data. It comes free with every Chase Payment Solutions merchant account.
Payflow by PayPal: Best Add-on for Ecommerce
- High add-on fees
- Complicated fees
- Monthly fee required for virtual terminal and ACH processing
- Lacks B2B payments processing
- Potential for frozen funds
What we like:
It’s almost impossible to talk about online payments without PayPal, a household name. In fact, PayPal is highly trusted by shoppers, so much so that adding a PayPal checkout option to your site can help reduce shopping cart abandonment. Its standalone payment gateway, Payflow, can accept 25 currencies in more than 200 countries, so it’s also a good option for international businesses. However, 2Checkout and Stripe can work with more currencies and countries.
- Monthly gateway fee: $0–$25
- Monthly recurring billing: $10
- Monthly fraud protection: $10
- Payflow fraud protection per transaction: $0–10 cents
- Payflow transaction fee: 10 cents
- In-person processing fees: 2.29% + 9 cents
- Online card processing fees: 2.99% + 49 cents
- Keyed-in processing: 3.49% + 49 cents
- Monthly virtual terminal: $0 to $30
- Cryptocurrency conversion fee: 1%
- Card reader: $79 ($29 for first reader)
- Terminal: From $199
- Chargeback fee: $0–$20
- International payments processing: PayPal accepts 25 currencies through its payment gateway.
- Hosted checkout: PayPal is one of the most trusted online payment processors providing hosted prebuilt and highly customized checkout pages. It’s easy to set up and integrate, allowing you to start accepting payments in minutes.
- Social media selling: Create a “Buy Now” or “Pay Now” button with PayPal’s payment button generator. You can paste the link on Facebook, Twitter, and most online marketplaces.
- Chargeback protection: Basic chargeback protection is included with PayPal’s payment gateway, but you can also add advanced fraud protection and seller protection.
- Recurring billing payments: PayPal’s invoicing app allows you to automate recurring invoice management. You can create and send invoices and accept card payments, eChecks, and PayPal-exclusive payment methods.
2Checkout (Verifone): Best for Global Sales
- Weekly payout
- Expensive flat-rate fees
- Lacks mobile payment
- Chargeback fees determined by a formula
What we like:
2Checkout (Verifone) made our list of payment gateways because of its international scope (200+ countries and 100 currencies). However, what makes it especially good for global sales is that it can act as the merchant of record, taking care of not only payment processing but also sales tax management and compliance. It’s also highly integratable, with over 120 ecommerce integrations.
- Monthly fee: $0
- Processing fee: 3.5% + 35 cents to 6% + 60 cents
- Online transaction fee: 3.5% + 35 cents
- Chargeback fee: Varies
- Hardware sold by third parties
- Shopper myAccount: 2Checkout has a unique tool, myAccount, for your customers. It lets them see all the items they’ve purchased using 2Checkout (i.e., from your store and others that use this payment gateway). They can make changes to personal information and payment methods and contact support.
- International sales: You can process sales for 200+ countries and 45 different payment methods in 100 currencies. This includes recurring billing and individual sales. The highest plan has global VAT and sales tax collecting and handling—something you won’t find with the other payment gateways in this guide.
- Award-winning coding: 2Checkout has won multiple awards for its platform and programming, including awards from review sites like G2. It was also a finalist in the 2021 CODiE Awards and 2021 Cloud Awards.
- Add-on tools: Like Square, 2Checkout offers several add-ons to upgrade your plan. However, these are more focused on payment processing than POS. You can get tools for increasing conversion rates and A/B testing, complex subscription management, renewal recovery (like updating expired cards), networking with over 50,000 affiliates, and dedicated customer support.
Notable Runners Up
The following payment gateway providers did not make our list but offer standout, noteworthy features:
Payline Data stands out from other providers in our list with its special pricing, ACH, and HIPAA-compliant tools, making it the best payment system for small business in the medical industry. It also provides similar attention to nonprofit and educational services. Payline Data offers interchange-plus pricing and zero chargeback fees.
It earned an overall score of 4.17 out of 5, getting perfect marks for contract and setup. However, it does not support high-risk businesses and can do better with customer support, particularly when handling frozen accounts. Consider Authorize.net as an alternative.
Not every payment gateway will work with high-risk merchants, and those that do often have higher rates and more problematic service. PaymentCloud offers great service and a true focus on this subset of the retail world. It does not disclose rates, which is common for high-risk processors, as the specific fees will vary for each business and the level of risk involved. However, the provider offers competitive setups, especially for its client type.
PaymentCloud earned an overall score of 4.13 out of 5 based on our evaluation criteria and (apart from Authorize.net) stands out for its good reputation of working with high-risk industries. In fact, it continues to rank No. 1 on our list of the best high-risk merchant accounts. PaymentCloud does not charge setup, annual, or cancellation fees—which is a plus.
We found Amazon Pay to be one of the easiest and most popular ecommerce credit card processing options. It’s an excellent add-on if you want voice commerce options for your customers, with its order with Alexa function making it stand out from competitors. Like PayPal, Amazon Pay accepts international payments, and its streamlined checkout can reduce cart abandonment while improving the customer checkout experience.
Amazon Pay scored 4.09 out of 5 for this update. Unlike most small business payment systems, it does not have a POS or mobile payment option and takes 20 to 30 days to approve merchant applications. If you need something for online sales now, consider Stripe, Square, and Authorize.net.
How Do Payment Gateways Work?
The payment gateway is a transaction processing platform that serves as an intermediary between merchant and customer. It captures the customers payment information and sends it through a system of authentication, verification, and approval (rejection) of a payment request. Most payment gateways are used for online transactions (on checkout pages of your website or payment form). Mobile POS payments also use the payment gateway technology.
Payment gateways generally work as follows:
- Customer fills out the checkout page or payment form with their payment details
- Once the customer hits “Confirm” or “Pay”, the information is encrypted and sent to the merchant’s bank for verification
- For card payments, the payment information is passed on to the card networks, for non card transaction like ACH, the data is sent to the ACH network for additional verification
- Afterwards, the customer’s payment request is sent to the customer’s card issuing bank for approval (for credit card transactions) or customer’s bank to confirm validity of funds (for non card transactions).
- The notice of approval (or rejection) of the customer’s request is then sent back to the merchant’s bank. Merchant receives the funds for approved transactions.
How We Evaluated the Best Payment Gateways
We examined the extensive lists of merchant services, payment processors, and payment gateways that we’ve researched over the years and narrowed them down to those that provide small businesses reliable and popular gateways at reasonable prices. Then, we evaluated the providers based on the quality of features, reputation, and ease of use.
We chose Authorize.net as the best payment gateway. It’s also the only pure payment gateway, meaning it works with a multitude of payment providers and integrations. It’s often mentioned in conjunction with the best credit card readers, virtual terminals, and other software, as it is compatible with most other payment solutions. It has been on our previous lists of best payment gateways, this time earning the top spot.
Click through the tabs below for our full evaluation criteria:
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The best payment gateways have a quick application process, easy integration/setup with a merchant services provider, and don’t lock you into a contract. Authorize.net, Square, PayPal, Stripe, and 2Checkout all got perfect scores.
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How to Choose the Best Payment Gateway in 3 Steps
1. Create a list of merchant service providers that work best with your business model.
Businesses will need a merchant account to start accepting payments from a payment gateway. And since no business is created equal, not all merchant services and payment providers available can benefit all business types. To help you choose the best online payment processing system with a payment gateway, check out our recommendations for online payments, international payments, high-risk, B2Bs, and nonprofits.
2. Compare the payment gateway tools available against what your business needs.
Once you have your list of potential merchant service providers, start listing features that your business needs from a payment gateway. Do you need to accept alternative payment modes? Do you require invoicing? Compare your requirements against what your potential providers support and narrow down your list further based on the best match.
When choosing, be sure to look out for:
- Payment method options: Credit and debit cards, HSA and FSA cards, gift cards, ACH, Echecks, wire transfers
- Payment types: Via invoicing, recurring billing, stored-card payments, multicurrency, level 2 and 3 data processing
- Payment security features: Tokenization, encryption, fraud detection tools, PCI security
Most payment processors offer varied combination of payment types and payment methods so it’s up to you to identify which provider will compliment the way you want to accept payments.
3. Compare the monthly and transaction fees.
Now that your remaining potential providers all meet your payment gateway requirements, it’s time to look into the fees. By default, merchant and payment service providers charge monthly and transaction fees. Some even charge an additional monthly cost for certain services—including the use of their payment gateway.
Monthly account fees and transaction fees vary depending on the payment processor’s pricing structure:
- Payment gateway with no monthly fees: Often used by startups and small businesses on a budget. There are no monthly fees, no long-term contracts, but the transaction cost are based on a flat rate. Average card-present flat rate is around 2.6% while average online flat transaction rate is at 2.9%.
- Subscription-based payment gateway: This type of pricing structure is used mostly by high-volume or fast growing businesses. There are monthly fees that start at $4.99 to as high as $199 but the transaction cost are based on interchange plus rates that are much cheaper so businesses with large volume of sales end up with huge savings. Find out more about interchange fees.
It’s important to point out that the lowest listed pricing may not always be the most affordable for your business. Use payment processing calculators to help get you an estimate of monthly costs for each provider, as these take into account your business sales volume. Use our payment gateway fee calculator above or visit our recommendation for the cheapest credit card processors.
Once you have made your choice, you can start signing up for a merchant account. If you need help, download our free merchant account application guide to help you get started.
Best Payment Gateway Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
You will need a payment gateway if you want to accept payments online. This application lets you send a payment link to your customers where they can securely complete a transaction. A payment gateway is also used for accepting in-person card and digital wallet payments in your POS system.
Note that most merchant account and payment services providers come with a free built-in payment gateway service, so there is no need to sign up for one separately.
The cheapest payment gateway for small businesses is Square. It offers competitive flat-rate transaction fees with no add-on service fees for using its payment gateway and virtual terminal.
Payflow by PayPal is the cheapest ecommerce payment gateway in the market if you need simple payment gateway features. Square is also an affordable option.
For high-volume businesses, Helcim is the cheapest payment gateway option for both in-person and online payments with its interchange plus fees and zero monthly subscription.
Based on our evaluation, Authorize.net is the best payment gateway for small businesses. While not the cheapest, Authorize.net provides competitive fees with the widest range of payment features, compatibility with most merchant service providers (including high-risk merchants), and easy account setup.
Very few merchants, even the hobbyist or solopreneur, can get by without taking credit card payments. Fortunately, there is a wide range of payment gateways that work well with small businesses. Those that made our list are among the best for price, service, and POS or virtual terminals that help make it easy to take credit card payments.
Authorize.net earned top billing in this guide for its popularity, versatility, and integrations. It offers a full-service payment processing plan or can work as a gateway with the merchant provider of your choice. It charges a monthly fee, but if you need a reliable payment gateway, it’s worth considering. Sign up for an Authorize.net subscription today.