While ecommerce and online ordering has stolen the show, there are still instances where you’ll need to accept an order over the phone or by mail. A virtual terminal lets store owners manually key in credit card numbers when they receive phone or invoice orders.
Secure virtual terminals are available from almost any payment processor, and they require no special equipment. Transaction fees are higher than in-person transactions, though—it’s usually 2.9% plus 15 to 30 cents per transaction.
The best virtual terminals are:
- Square: Best overall virtual terminal for small businesses with occasional or steady sales
- Payline Data: Best for medical businesses, educational services, and nonprofits wanting low rates
- Payment Depot: Best for high-volume sellers that don’t mind a monthly fee in exchange for lower rates
- Shopify: Best for ecommerce sellers needing to accept phone or mail orders
- QuickBooks Payments: Best for invoicing and for QuickBooks users
- PayPal Payments Pro: Best for freelancers and tradespeople who need a simple system, plus businesses that do sales across borders
- Dharma Merchant Services: Best for B2B sales
How We Evaluated
We’ve looked at dozens of payment processors that offered virtual terminals and narrowed them down to the best 10 for virtual terminals. From there, we took a close look at the pricing, toolset, and ease of use for each. What you’ll find here is the cream of the crop, offering the best value for the price while being easy for most managers and employees to work day-by-day.
We found Square to be the best virtual terminal for small businesses. It beat the competition for pricing and has excellent sales and inventory features. Its fees are higher than most, but it offers free tools and can grow with your company.
Click through the tabs below for a breakdown of our full evaluation criteria:
30% of Overall Score
In addition to transaction fees, we considered additional charges for accessing the terminal, chargeback fees, and merchant accounts. Because it lacks a monthly fee, Square took the lead for the best price, followed by Payline Data.
25% of Overall Score
These cover payment types, recurring billing, inventory and customer management, and chargeback protection. We gave greater weight to invoicing and chargeback protection, which is why Payline Data and Payment Depot scored high. Square has more individual features, which earned it the highest score in this area. Shopify can do it all but at an extra cost.
25% of Overall Score
We looked for mobile apps, dispute management, and in-person payments. We also considered when customer service was available. It’s no surprise that PayPal, Square, and Shopify were the easiest to use.
20% of Overall Score
This score takes into account usability as a whole, from affordability to stability of the software, account freezes, processing limits, and whether it integrates with other applications. Finally, we included input from real-world users. Overall, every product scored high, although QuickBooks and PayPal ranked best here.
Square: Best Overall Virtual Terminal
Square is an excellent choice for a small business, from the hobbyist to the shop with a store and an online store—even restaurants and salons. You’ll find a variety of tools, from a free POS to payroll (paid plans). Of all the products we’ve reviewed, here and elsewhere, it encompasses the most aspects of small business life—and does it well. In addition to offering the best virtual terminal, Square also offers some of the best solutions for POS software, merchant services, salon and spa software, and mobile payment processing.
With 4.4 out of 5 in our review, Square was well ahead of the pack in scoring. It topped our scores for feature set, checking off our full list of tools for handling one-time and recurring bills, managing customers and inventory, and taking payments. It’s easy to use on both web and mobile, although the limited customer support hours brought down its score in ease of use.
The downside to Square’s extensive feature set, especially for those businesses that do high-volume sales, is the transaction fee, which is the highest on our list, followed by QuickBooks. If you have consistent good sales, do a price comparison against Payline Data, Payment Depot, or Dharma, which do interchange-plus pricing. Payline Data, for example, has a monthly calculator. As you consider costs, however, keep in mind all the tools Square provides that you may otherwise have to pay for.
- Keyed-in (virtual terminal) transaction fees: 3.5% + 15 cents
- In-person (swipe, dip, tap) transaction fees: 2.5% + 10 cents
- Invoice transaction fees: 2.9% + 30 cents
- Ecommerce transaction fees: 2.9% + 10 cents
- ACH/bank transfer fees: 1% with $1 minimum
Square comes with free POS software for handling inventory and managing customers, which play into the virtual terminal, so you can itemize sales, calculate taxes, input discounts, and save customer information. Most of the other virtual terminals on our list are much simpler, requiring you to manually input the items and the price unless you tie it to a POS system.
Like most Square products, the virtual terminal is free, easy to set up, and user-friendly. Plus, it’s fully integrated into Square, so inventory gets updated, and changes in your online store are also reflected in the virtual terminal. If you integrate with QuickBooks or other accounting software, the information from the virtual terminal is tied in as well. The free mobile app comes with a card reader, so you can take advantage of the lower in-person rate.
In addition to features, it stands out in chargeback protection, by waiving chargeback fees of up to $250 each month. Square itself does not charge fees, but other payment processors, such as PayPal or the financial institution in question, may. Payline Data and Payment Depot have comparable chargeback programs.
What Square Is Missing
If you do high-volume sales, then Square may be cost-prohibitive, even when taking into account POS software and membership fees charged by some payroll providers. We suggest checking into Payline Data, Payment Depot, and Dharma Merchant Services. In addition to virtual terminals, some offer free POS software with specific membership plans.
Square does not deal with high-risk businesses. None of the solutions on this list are ideal for high-risk, though Dharma will accept certain high-risk businesses. For other high-risk merchant account providers, check out our recommendations here.
Finally, if you already have a merchant account or payment gateway, they won’t integrate with Square. These may come with their own virtual terminal, though they might be simplistic.
Payline Data: Best Virtual Terminal for Medical, Nonprofit, Educational Services
Payline Data services a wide range of businesses but has a particular focus on the medical industry, with HIPAA-compliant tools, ACH transfer, and special pricing. It also has special considerations for nonprofit and educational services. Like Payment Depot, Payline also offers strong fraud and chargeback protection.
With 3.99 out of 5 in our evaluation, it earns much of its score on the strength of Payline as a payment processor. While the virtual terminal works as well as most and can handle invoices and recurring payments, it is not as fully featured as Square or Shopify. It incurs a monthly fee but offers interchange-plus financing, which makes it a better deal than most for high-volume businesses.
Payline has a monthly membership fee of $20, in return for which it offers low interchange-plus pricing. The virtual terminal costs an extra $10 per month. Payline has a free one-month trial.
For online and virtual terminal sales, it charges interchange + 0.4% +20 cents. (Compare this to Payment Depot, which has only a 7 cents to 15 cents transaction fee but a higher monthly membership.)
Payline stands out from the rest, however, in its special pricing for medical facilities, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions.
- Transaction fee for medical: interchange + 0.2% + 10 cents
- Transaction fee for nonprofit, educational: interchange + 0.1% + 10 cents
Payline Data Features
Payline’s focus on medical, nonprofits, and educational services goes beyond reduced rates. The virtual terminal is HIPAA-compliant to protect patient data, something we did not see in other virtual terminal software. It also has invoicing software. Nonprofits and educational services can benefit from the ACH transfer capability and recurring billing, something most of the other products lack or charge extra for. Nonprofits also get a free hosted payments page.
Payline uses Verifi for chargeback protection. In addition to data to help you discover fraudulent transactions, it alerts you to chargebacks faster and gives you 72 hours to resolve the dispute before it becomes a chargeback.
The Payline Data website says it provides payment processing for high-risk businesses; however, according to a Payline rep, it actually refers out high-risk merchants to Payment Cloud and SMB Global, both of which made our list of the best high-risk merchant services.
Payline Data offers virtual terminals through CardPointe, NMI, Transax, and Authorize.net. All provide tokenization and PCI compliance. Some offer customer management and allow for subscriptions, recurring payments, and electronic invoicing.
What Payline Data Is Missing
Payline does not handle international sales. For this, consider PayPal, or for interchange-plus pricing, look at Dharma Merchant Services.
Its customer support hours are limited: 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Central time, Monday–Friday. The online support consists of a brief FAQs page with no how-to guides.
Payment Depot: Best Virtual Terminal for High-Volume Sales
If you do high-volume sales, then a payment processor with interchange-plus pricing can save you hundreds to thousands of dollars, even when considering a monthly fee. Payment Depot is our top pick for the cheapest credit card processing companies, and that includes virtual terminals.
We’ve also liked Payment Depot for general merchant services and restaurant payment processing. While it does not work for high-risk businesses or businesses outside the US, it is worth considering for any store or restaurant with high-ticket sales. It offers a choice of free third-party virtual terminals and makes our list on the strength of the payment processing.
Payment Depot earned 3.83 out of 5 in our evaluation. The virtual terminals generally don’t include inventory or customer management—check Square for that. Like most on this list, it loses points for not supporting high-risk businesses. However, chargeback protection is included in its membership price, and it fares well for ease-of-use, integrations, and reputation.
Payment Depot Pricing
The best thing about Payment Depot’s price is that there is no percentage markup. You only pay a flat fee of 7 cents to 15 cents per transaction, plus the interchange price that every processor charges. No other virtual terminal on our list does this. (Some, like Square, Shopify, and PayPal fold the interchange charge into their rates.) If you process high-dollar-value transactions, you could save thousands of dollars. It offers a calculator to help you determine how much you’re paying.
The plans run from $79 to $199 per month, depending on your monthly processing, and the transaction fee goes down with higher plans. These are the highest monthly fees, but plans include a free virtual terminal and some include equipment as well.
Payment Depot Features
Unlike most of the products on this list, Payment Depot does not have its own virtual terminal, but gives you a choice of several, depending on your plan. Usually, you get Authorize.net or SwipeSimple. For higher plans or specific situations, you may do better with PayTrace or NMI. Your sales representative will help you find the best one, along with recommending POS software and equipment.
Because of the choice of virtual terminals (something you also find with Dharma Merchant Services and Payline), the specific features will vary. However, Payment Depot itself integrates with QuickBooks, POS systems, and other software. It reprograms your POS equipment for free.
We give Payment Depot kudos for customer support. I sent a question via the contact form and got a call minutes later. The support person was friendly, helpful, and did not try to hard-sell me anything. Other FSB reviewers have had similar experiences, and the user reviews also call out the great service.
While we prefer Dharma Merchant Services for B2B sales, Payment Depot also offers credit card processing with Level 2 and 3 rates. It does this through PayTrace, and you need the $99 or $199 membership.
What Payment Depot Is Missing
Unlike the virtual terminal providers on our list that have straight rates, Payment Depot’s charges vary by interchange rate, which is determined by the financial institution issuing the credit. Thus, you may see variations in your credit card fees. This is also true with Dharma Merchant Services and Payline.
Payment Depot itself does not have a virtual terminal, POS software, or inventory management. Rather, it integrates with third-party systems, some of which it may provide free with higher plans. Nonetheless, consider that you will need to pay for such software if you go with this provider. Naturally, for the best virtual terminal system with a POS, we suggest Square.
Shopify: Best Virtual Terminal for Ecommerce including Online Sales, MOTO, and Dropshipping
The virtual terminal is incidental to Shopify, which concentrates on online sales. In fact, unlike the other virtual terminals on our list, Shopify requires you to use the Draft Order function of its software. It earns a place here because of the strength of Shopify itself for online sales, making it a good choice for mail order, dropshipping, and ecommerce businesses that want to add phone or email sales to their quiver.
If your business is mainly online, then Shopify is an excellent choice. We rated it 3.68 for best virtual terminals, but you’ll also find topping the charts for best ecommerce platform, best multichannel POS system, and best POS inventory system. While it offers nearly all the features we looked for, most are in the POS system or may require an add-on application, such as for accepting ACH payments or creating invoices. While it can analyze transactions for potential fraud, it does not offer chargeback protection. These qualities are what put Square ahead of it.
The virtual terminal is part of Shopify’s system, which, unlike Square, you need to pay for. The costs run from $29 per month for a basic online store to $299 per month for the Advanced Shopify that includes international pricing and advanced reporting and analysis. Shopify’s monthly price is offset, however, by deep discounts for shipping and lower transaction rates.
Shopify has its own payment processor, Shopify Payments, and it charges you 0.5% to 2% per transaction if you don’t use it. Keep in mind, however, that other payment gateways often come with their own virtual terminals that will integrate with Shopify.
Shopify Pricing Plans
Fee for non-Shopify Payments
2.9% + 30¢
Up to 77%
2.6% + 30¢
Up to 88%
2.4% + 30¢
Up to 88%
Shopify is more than a virtual terminal—it’s a full ecommerce solution. Designed for online sales, it uses the Draft Order function as its virtual terminal. This is different from other virtual terminals and may confuse your employees at first. However, it’s easy to use, and is also where you can create invoices, something other processors like Dharma Merchant Services charge extra for.
While all the payment processors with virtual terminals on our list can process bitcoin, Shopify surprised us by being on several lists of top cryptocurrency payment processors. Security, ease of use, and low transaction fees were listed as reasons why it made the list.
Shopify gives you shipping discounts, a great asset for mail-order companies, and something no other virtual terminal solution offers. This makes it easier to automate sales and shipping. Plus, it connects to hundreds of dropshipping companies and has its own, Oberlo.
Shopify has fraud protection in the form of transaction analysis and fraud prevention. It uses machine learning to spot suspicious charges and bring them to your attention so that you can approve or refuse the order, preventing chargebacks from deliberate fraud. Most virtual terminals do not include this protection. However, it does not offer simple chargeback protection and charges $15 per chargeback. If friendly chargebacks are a concern, consider Square.
What Shopify Is Missing
Shopify’s terrific features are not without drawbacks. It can take longer to set up because you need to establish a full online store. This requires time and some tech-savvy, although users say its platform is user-friendly. Square is simpler, or if you only want a quick terminal for occasional phone orders, try Payline.
Like Square, Shopify Payments will not work with high-risk businesses like tobacco or CBD sales—and, according to a complaint on the Shopify community forum, online shoe sales. You will need a high-risk payment processor for that, many of which integrate with Shopify. Most will have at least a simple virtual terminal, or you can use Shopify’s.
QuickBooks Payments: Best Virtual Terminal for Invoicing and QuickBooks Users
Obviously, if you use QuickBooks, QuickBooks Payments, with its virtual terminal, is going to feed right into your QuickBooks accounting. This may make it a no-brainer for those companies that just need a simple virtual terminal for taking payments over the phone, such as in response to an invoice. In fact, the invoicing with its low fee makes it a great choice for B2B and other invoice-type sales. We did not find it as easy to work as say, Square, and QuickBooks’ help section is notorious in its difficulty to navigate. However, most users said they appreciated the convenience and that the QuickBooks Payments invoicing was not that difficult to learn.
QuickBooks earned a respectable 3.31 out of 5 in our review. Because you need to pay for QuickBooks, it took a hit for pricing. It did reasonably well for features, popularity, and stability of the software. Ease of use is where it fell most behind, in part for the help center, in part because it lacks fraud dispute management and support for high-risk companies.
QuickBooks Payments Pricing
In essence, QuickBooks Payments comes with a monthly fee, as you have to have QuickBooks to use it. QuickBooks plans start at $12.50 per month and go as high as $150. Of course, for this, you also get accounting software, something you might need, anyway, and a feature no other virtual terminal on our list provides. (In fact, many integrate with QuickBooks for accounting.)
The transaction fee is high but not as high as Square or PayPal. Take a look, however, at the additional per-transaction fee: 15 cents for Square vs 30 cents for QuickBooks. If you do a lot of small-price transactions, Square will be cheaper. If you do a lot of big-ticket sales, then consider Payment Depot, which only charges a small flat fee per transaction, with no percentage.
The ACH fee is among the cheapest: 1% with a maximum charge of $10. For this reason, we think QuickBooks makes the most economic sense for invoicing, including for B2B and large transactions that can be paid by ACH transfers.
QuickBooks Payments Features
QuickBooks stands out in that the virtual terminal lets you decide right away where to deposit your funds—a great help if you have different accounts, such as when taking deposits to pay for equipment or supplies. You can also add memos or notes and even attachments. Most other virtual terminals are strictly cash-register-style.
Most of the payment processors on this list will accept ACH payments, but QuickBooks stands out in that it also enables you to process payment by checks. These payments take one to five days to process, depending on the financial networks. You can get next-day deposits on ACH payments.
Naturally, the big advantage to QuickBooks Payments is QuickBooks itself. A popular accounting software that has been around for two decades, it’s a reliable and stable program that integrates with hundreds of third-party applications, from POS to payroll to trucking management. You can find QuickBooks in our list for best payroll software, best invoicing software, best time tracking software, best B2B payment solutions, and more. Like Square, it can grow with your business needs; it just begins with accounting rather than point-of-sale.
What QuickBooks Payments Is Missing
Without an invoice or connection to POS software, QuickBooks’ virtual terminal is a “quick pay.” It lets you designate the customer, payment date, and type, and reference number. Naturally, Square, Shopify, and even PayPal offer more itemized POS-style checkouts. The rest may offer this capability, depending on your plan.
QuickBooks has several products, and the online help center is not well optimized. I have routinely had to ask the same question multiple ways to find an article with an answer and even then, had to be sure the article addressed the right type of software. Customer support is available, but sometimes, they, too, don’t give an easy answer. For example, one user noted that instead of telling them the two steps they needed to resolve an issue, they were sent a nine-page PDF. On the other hand, we’ve had great experiences with the help centers on Square, and Payline’s customer support is friendly, helpful, and quick to respond.
PayPal Payments Pro: Best Virtual Terminal for Individual Operators and Occasional Sales
PayPal is by far the most recognized payment processor in the world, with easy integrations that let you put a payment button just about anywhere. It makes our lists for mobile credit card processing, payment gateways, and merchant services. Anyone can use PayPal, but with PayPal Payments Pro, you can process credit cards, and this comes with a virtual terminal. You have the advantage of instant access to your funds through your PayPal account, which—while not as easy as a regular bank account—is still faster than any of the virtual terminals on our list. It also handles transactions in hundreds of currencies, including bitcoin.
We gave PayPal’s virtual terminal a score of 3.28 out of 5. It’s a simpler tool, lacking inventory and POS like Shopify or Square, although you will get these free with a regular PayPal account. It does have the advantage in international scope and its many integrations with other popular small business software. It takes a big hit for not processing ACH payments or having chargeback protection, although its dispute management program is strong. It may take on a high-risk client, but generally will not.
In the News:
PayPal is changing its fees on Aug. 2, 2021. Learn more on the PayPal website. The fees above reflect the anticipated increases.
PayPal charges $30 per month for use of the virtual terminal as part of the Payments Pro program. Compare this to Square, which offers similar tools (POS, payment processing) for free. Square has a higher transaction rate, however.
For keyed-in transactions on the virtual terminal, it charges 2.89% + 49 cents. The rates are higher than Payline, Payment Depot, or Dharma, who offer interchange-plus pricing but also charge a monthly fee, though Dharma’s monthly fee is lower.
PayPal processes international payments, and those rates are different. Refer to its pricing page for more details. It offers discounts for nonprofits.
Like with Square, when you sign up for PayPal, you have access to a lot of free tools, like its POS software, Zettle, and its mobile app. It’s also remarkably easy to add a PayPal button to online stores, social media, and more. It also has an application that lets your customers make payments rather than paying in full. Combined with the virtual terminal that comes with PayPal Payments, you have a system that can take payments in any currency and through any venue.
It’s a simpler terminal than you can find with Shopify, Square, or some of those offered by the interchange-plus pricing services like Payment Depot, Payline, or Dharma. It also does not seem to integrate with PayPal’s POS solution, limiting its ability for inventory tracking or itemizing sales. However, you still have access to these tools through PayPal and a multitude of other third-party apps.
Two of PayPal’s strengths, of course, are its international reach—200 currencies, with an international exchange—and how quickly you can access your funds. If you have a PayPal account or credit card, you will be able to use your profits in minutes. Transferring money to your bank takes four or more business days.
What PayPal Is Missing
There have been complaints by users that PayPal is quick to hold funds that it deems suspect, such as if you have a sudden increase in sales or go well beyond your average sales earnings. It’s also been known to freeze accounts without warning, a potentially disastrous thing for a business that depends solely on PayPal for processing.
PayPal charges nearly 50 cents per transaction in addition to the percentage. If your sales are generally small and frequent, you may find this more expensive than Square, and for high-volume sales, you’ll probably benefit from an interchange-plus payment processor like Dharma, Payment Depot, or Payline, who all charge a monthly fee as well but offer much lower rates.
Dharma Merchant Services: Best Virtual Terminal for B2B Sales
Dharma Merchant Services offers interchange-plus pricing, making it a good choice for high-volume sales. It also works with some high-risk industries, although its approval process is more involved than those in our list of the best merchant accounts for high-risk industries (most of which also offer virtual terminals). You’ll also find it on our list for the best credit card processor for large restaurants. We chose it for this list because of its popularity and how well it works for B2B sales.
Dharma uses third-party virtual terminals, some of which you’ll see with Payline and Payment Depot. We give it 3.15 out of 5 overall. It takes a hit for lacking inventory management (which you can find with Square or Shopify), but mostly because it is weak in fraud and chargeback dispute assistance. Every other service on our list offers one or the other. Nonetheless, the rates are great, the monthly fee reasonable, even with a terminal fee, and it offers Level 2 and 3 discounts for B2B charges.
Dharma Merchant Services Pricing
Dharma Merchant Prices are simple: There’s a monthly fee of $20, and transaction charges are interchange-plus. The virtual terminal and mobile processing are included free, and there’s a reduction for high-volume sales.
In addition, it can help you get lower B2B interchange rates through the MX B2B application, which can be half a percent lower than commercial rates. While this costs an additional $20 per month, it’s still a cheaper plan than Payline.
Dharma Merchant Services Features
For B2B services, Dharma merchant offers the MX Merchant system, with its B2B app. In addition to Level 2 and 3 pricing, it may be able to lower your rates further if you process over $6,500 in a sale and gives high-volume discounts for sales of over $100,000 per month. While many of our virtual terminals offer Level 2 or 3 pricing, it’s not a focus like it is with Dharma.
Dharma usually pays out in 24 hours. Compare this to PayPal, which pays immediately to your PayPal account but can take several days to transfer money to your bank. Most payment processors take one to two business days.
Dharma’s virtual terminals can support invoicing and recurring billing and manage customer information. Unlike Square or Shopify, it will not manage inventory.
Dharma processes ACH transactions, but charges an additional $25 per month, with a flat rate of 40 cents per transaction. Compare this to QuickBooks, which does not charge an extra monthly fee but has an upper limit of up to $1 per transaction.
What Dharma Merchant Services Is Missing
While Dharma Merchant offers tips for avoiding chargebacks, it does not offer a chargeback protection program, such as Square. Further, it charges $25 for chargebacks, which is among the highest price of those on our list.
Like most of the virtual terminals on our list, Dharma’s do not support inventory management. For that, consider Square or Shopify.
Dharma charges extra for ACH transactions, returns, reversals, and other fees. Be sure to read your contract thoroughly so you are not caught by surprise.
Virtual terminals are a great addition to any business, allowing you to take orders over the phone or by email. Most payment processors offer these for free or with a small monthly fee. The best handle multiple payment types, including cryptocurrency and ACH transfers, and have some form of fraud or chargeback protection that goes beyond PCI compliance.
Overall for small businesses, we like Square. It provides reasonable rates, has a free POS system and a virtual terminal, and is super easy to use. Plus, its wide range of products, including payroll, make it a solid choice for growing businesses. Best yet—it’s free to use! You only pay a by-transaction rate. Sign up for Square today.
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