Top merchant processors now offer fully compliant, free credit card processing programs that are easy to set up and automate.
This article is part of a larger series on Payments.
Free credit card processing, also known as “zero-fee” or “zero-cost” processing, refers to the process of passing some or all of the fees associated with payment processing along to your customers, so your business is essentially paying nothing to process credit card payments.
While this expense-cutting strategy was unpopular in the past because it places a burden on customers, the rising cost of accepting credit card payments is making merchants reevaluate. Merchant processors have also improved their service to offer compliant free credit card processing programs.
The following are the top free credit card processing merchant processors:
- Helcim: Best for invoicing
- CardX: Best for compliance
- Dharma Merchant Services: Best for B2B and large-volume businesses
- eHopper: Best for businesses that also need point of sale (POS)
- PaymentCloud: Best for high-risk merchants
Free Credit Card Processing Solutions Compared
Free Credit Card Program
Non-Credit Card Payment Method
Types of Free Credit Card Processing
Businesses can pass costs along in three ways:
This is when the merchant offers a discounted price for customers paying in cash. You see this often at gas stations, which might charge a higher per-gallon price for credit card payments than cash purchases. Read our guide to cash discounting.
This is when merchants add a fee at checkout for customers wanting to purchase items remotely with a credit card. The convenience fee is usually a fixed amount, regardless of the transaction amount and the products the customer purchases.
This is when the merchant passes the credit card payment processing fees onto the customer by adding them to the transaction cost. However, many merchant account providers and payment processors have policies against this. Merchants are expected to post signages in their physical or online stores to let customers know of their surcharge policy. Most surcharge fees amount to less than 5% of the total transaction. Read our guide to credit surcharging.
Helcim: Best Zero-cost Processing Program for Invoicing
Helcim offers a zero-cost payment processing solution called Helcim Fee Saver. It is unique in such a way that the system automatically detects the type of free credit card processing program to use for each transaction based on the business location and the card brand being used. Every Helcim merchant that also uses Helcim’s ACH payment processing service gets access to the Fee Saver with a toggle switch to set zero-cost payment processing on or off for every transaction.
However, the Helcim Fee Saver is only available for remote payments like invoicing and payment links. It also does not process debit card transactions—only ACH, as an alternative to credit card payments. Learn more about ACH payment processing.
- Monthly account fee: $0
- Domestic ACH fee: 0.5% + 25 cents, capped at $6/transaction
- ACH return fee: $5
- Credit card reader: $109 (mobile reader), $349 (standalone POS terminal)
- Standard credit card processing fees:
- Card-present fee: Interchange plus 0.15% + 6 cents to 0.4% + 8 cents
- Card-not-present fee: Interchange plus 0.15% + 15 cents to 0.50% + 25 cents
- American Express transactions: 0.10% + 10 cents
- Recurring billing and invoicing: Helcim offers advanced tools to create, send, and track customer billing and invoices. It comes with a product catalog that allows you to customize invoices with product line items, and even add free trials for subscriptions.
- Customer portal: Part of Helcim’s customer and subscription management feature is the customer portal that allows you to provide your customers with the option to sign up for an account and manage their own payment details.
- Fraud management: The Helcim merchant portal comes with the Fraud Defender. This program estimates transaction risk based on factors such as IP address, shipping and billing location, and card security code.
- Dispute resolution: Helcim also provides a dispute resolution management feature that helps merchants respond and track chargeback claims directly from the merchant portal.
CardX: Best for Free Credit Card Processing Compliance
CardX stands out as the best free credit card processing solution in terms of compliance and automated surcharging. In fact, it is this provider’s leadership in surcharging compliance that made Mastercard choose CardX as its official surcharging partner. CardX works continuously with state lawmakers to make sure that the system’s features are always up-to-date with regulations on credit card surcharging. CardX offers a full-service surcharging setup—including pre-programmed card terminals, fully compliant disclosures, and merchant training.
We love CardX’s online payment processing features. However, CardX does not have a product catalog function, nor does it support invoice and billing customizations, so you won’t be able to add line items and view the invoice before you send them out. Its card terminals also do not support any POS integration.
- Monthly fee: From $29 for $0–$120K sales volume
- Debit card transaction fee: From 2.91% for virtual terminal transactions
- Card terminal: From $29/month
- Automated surcharging: The CardX payment technology is designed to automatically detect the type of card being used for the transaction and know when to apply (or not apply) a surcharge.
- Virtual terminal: The CardX merchant portal comes with a virtual terminal that allows you to accept one-time payments over the phone, via email, or through live messaging services.
- Online checkout: Lightbox is CardX’s secure online checkout solution. It can be customized and added to your website or sent directly to your customers as a payment link. Apart from CardX’s automated surcharging technology, Lightbox also comes with Mastercard’s click-to-pay checkout functionality.
- Reporting: CardX reporting is a feature-rich functionality that allows you to track all sales transactions and batch settlements. It can be filtered and customized based on a range of categories including locations (for merchants with multiple establishments). The reporting functionality is connected to the CardX customer directory to add and edit customer information.
Dharma Merchant Services: Best for B2B & Large-volume Businesses
Dharma Merchant Services is a traditional merchant account services provider that offers free credit card processing through the MX Merchant payment gateway called MX Advantage. It comes with built-in customer management, online reporting, mobile processing, virtual terminal, and online checkout links. And because it operates within the MX Merchant ecosystem, Dharma allows merchants to apply free credit card processing to nearly all types of payment methods including invoicing and level 2 and 3 data processing (used for government and B2B purchases).
Unlike CardX, Dharma merchants will have to purchase the expensive card terminals outright. And while it provides the most free credit card processing payment method in our list, there are additional monthly fees for accessing some MX Merchant software for other payment types.
- MX Advantage monthly fee: $25
- Additional MX Merchant tools monthly fees:
- B2B Processing App: $20
- Invoicing App: $10
- Merchant Insights App: $10
- ACH Processing: $25
- E Tab Online Ordering: $49
- Hardware: $295 Dejavoo Z11
- Customer management: Dharma’s customer management feature offers advanced customization tools that allows merchants to capture an unlimited number of customer records, save multiple payment details, track transaction history, and add custom fields such as customer preferences and spend profiles.
- B2B payments: The MX B2B app can be configured with a free credit card processing program. It comes with a virtual terminal that automatically fills in the required additional information to process level to and level 3 payments.
- POS integrations: Dharma works with TSYS and First Data (Fiserv) networks that primarily offer Clover. However, Dharma is also compatible with other POS systems for various industries such as Lavu, NCR Silver, Aloha, and Micros. It can also work with Shopify, Revel, and Talech with the help of payment gateway integrations.
- Reporting: The MX Merchant platform comes with built-in reporting capabilities that allow you to customize and filter data based on date, Merchant ID, transaction status, and more. The report displays the surcharge fee (if any) in a separate column on the payment grid.
eHopper: Best for Businesses That Also Need a POS
eHopper is a point-of-sale (POS) system provider that comes with an integrated third-party payment processing feature. It works with traditional merchant services providers such as TSYS, First Data, and Elavon that support most merchant processors offering zero-cost credit card processing programs. What makes eHopper stand out from other providers in our list is that it offers free POS, an ecommerce website, and even integrated card payment terminals to its merchants.
While eHopper states that it offers both credit surcharging and cash discounting, there is not a lot of information available about it on its website. Unlike CardX and Helcim, eHopper does not provide any details as to the automation and compliance tools in place for implementing these free credit card processing programs.
- Monthly fee: From $0 to $39.99
- Standard credit card fees: depends on the merchant processor
- Godaddy Payments
- Evo Payments International
- First Data
- North American Bank
- Hardware: Free Pax S300 (worth $299)
- Free POS software and hardware: One advantage of eHopper over Helcim and CardX is that it offers fully integrated POS software and hardware. This means that there is a unified reporting feature so merchants do not need to manually reconcile credit card transactions against sales recorded in the POS.
- Multiple integrated merchant processors: eHopper is primarily a POS software provider, but it did well in providing multiple integrated third-party merchant processors. This flexibility even allows eHopper to offer its POS system to some high-risk merchant account types.
- Ecommerce: eHopper comes with a built-in website builder that allows merchants to create their own integrated, cloud-based online store. It also gives merchants access to popular online payment gateways such as Stripe, Authorize.net, and PayPal.
- Omnichannel reporting: eHopper’s integrated in-person and online payments and POS software comes with omnichannel reporting features. This means merchants get real-time data on overall sales, inventory, customer information, and transaction history.
PaymentCloud: Best for High-risk Merchants
PaymentCloud offers a host of payment solutions for all business types and is known for its dedicated onboarding merchant support with in-house merchant account experts. While it provides traditional merchant account services to all merchant types, PaymentCloud is particularly popular for its high-risk merchant account services. High-risk accounts also qualify for the provider’s free credit card processing programs.
PaymentCloud charges monthly fees to access payment gateway and virtual terminal platforms. And like eHopper, this provider does not go into the details of its automation and compliance features. However, with PaymentCloud’s reputation for excellent merchant support, we expect nothing less than providing every assistance merchants need to establish full compliance.
- Monthly fee*:
- Merchant account: $10–$45
- Payment gateway: $15
- Virtual terminal: $15–$45
- Standard credit card processing rates*:
- Low-risk transaction fee: 2%–3.1%
- Ave. mid-risk transaction fee: 2.3%–3.4%
- Ave. high-risk transaction fee: 2.7%–4.3%
- Hardware: Varies, not disclosed
*Rates and fees provided by PaymentCloud
- High-risk merchant services: PaymentCloud is a popular high-risk merchant account services provider with 10+ banking partners and an extensive list of approved high-risk industries. It has in-house high-risk merchant account experts who assist business owners from application to setup.
- Payment gateway agnostic: PaymentCloud is compatible with most payment gateway service providers and can work in migrating merchants to a different payment gateway without experiencing any business downtime.
- Fraud protection: As a high-risk merchant account service provider, PaymentCloud comes with advanced fraud protection capabilities. It offers industry-standard fraud detection tools and can impose temporary payment processing halts on suspicious transactions.
- Chargeback protection: PaymentCloud comes with a direct integration with Chargeback Guru to provide merchants with chargeback management tools for detecting, responding, and tracking chargeback disputes.
How We Evaluated Free Credit Card Processing Solutions
We started with a dozen free credit card processing solutions offered by standalone merchant processors and popular traditional merchant account services providers. We then initiated a primary evaluation based on compliance where some lost points for unavailable or outdated information on free credit card processing on their website.
We then further evaluated each provider’s technology behind their free credit card processing program which includes automation, integration, and ease of use. Those with detailed documentation of how they implement their programs earned high marks, while premium points were awarded to processors that allowed us to hand-test their onboarding and payment processing tools. Finally, we scored for value for money and scalability essential for small businesses.
The five candidates above stood out and proved the best for key free credit card processing features and for specific payment types.
Where Is Cash Discounting & Credit Surcharging Legal?
There aren’t any significant laws or regulations against cash discounting. In the US, cash discounting is legal in all 50 states. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was passed in July 2010, and one of its stipulations allows merchants to provide incentives for all-cash customer payments.
Credit surcharging, however, is not legal in every state. This interactive map shows the statutes around credit surcharging per state. Set your mouse pointer on a specific state for details. Note that you will need to ensure that credit surcharging is legal in both your state and your customers’ state.