This article is part of a larger series on Payments.
A recurring payment—also referred to as a subscription payment, recurring billing, or automatic payment—is an electronically processed payment that repeats according to a preset schedule. Businesses often set these up to collect fees for memberships, subscriptions, lessons, and services. The recurring payments process also requires customers to sign a one-time authorization form.
The easiest way to accept recurring payments is with an all-in-one payment processor or merchant account that handles the payments but also has software to manage the billing process and security features to protect your customers’ information. Learn more about merchant accounts.
The best payment processors for recurring payments are:
- Helcim: Best overall recurring payment platform
- Square: Best for small businesses needing a free POS system
- PayPal: Best invoice and subscription solution for online businesses
- Wave: Best (and free) recurring invoicing and accounting software for individuals
- Stripe: Best for online startups managing international or in-app payments
- Stax (Formerly Fattmerchant): Best traditional merchant account for recurring billing
- PaySimple: Best all-in-one platform for managing subscriptions and memberships
Select a processor below for specific details on how to set up recurring payments:
- Limited back-office integration
- Not ideal for low-volume merchants
- Reports of poor customer support
- Monthly fees: $0
- Recurring billing/invoice fee: $0
- Card-not-present fee and card-on-file: Interchange plus 0.15% + 15 cents to 0.50% + 25 cents
- American Express transactions: Interchange plus 0.10% + 10 cents
- ACH fee: 0.5% + 25 cents
- Chargeback fee: $15 refundable
- Payments accepted: Credit and debit cards, ACH, Apple Pay, and Google Pay
- Multiple invoice types: Estimates, recurring invoices, card-on-file recurring billing, progress-based invoices, and multi-package invoices
- Automated features: Automatic charging based on customer’s stored payment information, payment reminders, and auto card update
Helcim Feature Update: Helcim now offers a free credit card processing service called the Fee Saver. The system can automatically determine which zero-cost program can be used based on location and card brand. It has also recently launched a new smart standalone point-of-sale terminal that can be used for tableside, curbside, and other mobile payments.
How to Set Up Recurring Payments With Helcim
Helcim provides its users with detailed guidance on how to use the platform, including subscription management. It starts with creating a subscription plan, followed by adding a subscriber to a plan either manually or through an invoice.
- High card-on-file processing fees
- ACH only for single payment invoice
- Custom rates available
- Monthly fees: $0
- Invoice monthly fee: $0–$20
- Recurring Billing and Card-on-file processing fee: 3.5% + 15 cents per transaction
- Invoice fee: 3.3% + 30 cents per transaction
- ACH processing fee: 1% per transaction, minimum $1
- Chargeback fee: $0
- Payments accepted: Credit and debit cards, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Square Pay
- Multiple invoice types: Estimates, recurring invoices, card-on-file recurring billing, progress-based invoices, and multipackage invoices
- Automated features: Reminders for upcoming and overdue payments
How to Set Up Recurring Payments With Square
Square’s PCI-compliant payment system allows your customers to store their credit card information as a card-on-file in Square’s secure payments vault. Customers can enter this information via a link from your emailed invoice, or you can enter this on their behalf using your Square POS system or the virtual terminal in your online dashboard.
Recurring payments are triggered by Square’s invoicing function. When invoices are run—either individually or in a batch—any card-on-file customer payments are automatically charged. Customers are then notified of the payment via email with a “paid” invoice receipt.
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The entire process is quick and requires minimal setup or ongoing management. Being invoice-based, Square’s recurring payments make it easy to process regular payments plus add-on charges as needed. Added fees can be entered as a separate invoice or combined with regular recurring charges—whatever fits the billing need.
Visit our step-by-step guide to sending Square invoices for more information.
- Monthly fee for subscriptions
- ACH and card-on-file payments only available through Braintree
- Not the best for multichannel businesses
- Monthly fees: $0
- Virtual terminal (Payflow) fee to process invoice and recurring payments: $10–$40/month ($10 plus optional $30 for recurring payment tool)
- Invoicing/recurring payment processing: 3.49% plus 49 cents per transaction
- ACH processing: 0.75% capped at $5 (with Braintree)
- Chargeback fee: $20
- Payments accepted: PayPal payments, PayPal Credit, Venmo, credit and debit cards, eWallet payments
- Automated features: Sends reminders and payment notifications and automatically retry failed transactions
How to Accept Recurring Payments With PayPal
There are two main ways to accept recurring payments with PayPal: invoices and subscriptions. Either way, the first step to accepting recurring payments is to open a free PayPal business account. PayPal also provides lower fees for nonprofits, which can be helpful for nonprofits setting up a subscription donation program.
When creating a subscription, you’ll need to enter the type of product or service and choose how you want the subscription billing cycle to work—subscribers can pay the same rate each cycle or a variable rate based on the quantity of a product.
You’ll then create a subscription plan description and set pricing and tax settings. You can also choose to add on a setup fee. Then, choose how to bill customers, pick payment frequency, and set free trials. After you’re done setting up the product and pricing information, you can add “Subscribe” buttons to product pages, blog posts, and marketing emails.
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You can create, send, and manage recurring invoices with a PayPal Business account. From the user dashboard, create a new invoice and select a recurring option under the “Frequency” dropdown. You can create and save contacts, products, and services. Plus, you can add your business logo and information for a more professional look.
After adding recipients and products, choose tether to allow partial payments and tips. Add any relevant notes (like shipping or return information) and attach files, such as work orders or estimates.
Most online customers regard PayPal as one of the most trusted ways to process online credit card payments. Read our guide on how to accept credit card payments online.
- Slower, two-day payout time
- No phone support
- Higher fees for American Express transactions
- Monthly fee: $0
- Credit card processing fee: 2.9% + 60 cents
- American Express processing fee: 3.4% + 60 cents
- ACH / bank payment fee: 1% ($1 minimum)
- Chargeback fee: $15
- Automated features: Payment receipts, past-due reminders, send out recurring invoices, charge clients based on a set schedule, and invoices sync with accounting
- Mobile app: Invoicing and receipt scanning app for iOS and Android
How to Accept Recurring Payments With Wave
The first step for accepting payments with Wave is to create a free Wave account. Once you’re signed up, you can choose to create individual invoices or set up a recurring invoice, including options to save your customers’ payment information. There are also options to build payment plans.
From the dashboard, you can see at-a-glance invoices that are past due, outstanding, unsent, or upcoming and when your next payout is. Like Square and PayPal, Wave can also be used to create and send estimates that can then be converted into invoices.
- Takes longer to set up and requires technical skill to maintain
- In-app payment features require coding
- Limited CRM and virtual terminal features
- Monthly fee: $0
- Card-not-present processing fee: 2.9% + 30 cents per transaction
- Keyed-in processing fee: 3.4% + 30 cents per transaction (for first-time recurring payments and card-on-file)
- ACH debit payments: 0.8% capped at $5
- Recurring payments service fee: +0.5%–0.8% per transaction
- Invoicing: +0.4%–0.5% per transaction
- Chargeback fee: $15
- Payments accepted: Credit and debit cards, e-wallet, ACH, echeck, and over 135 currencies
- Flexible billing logic: Charge per seat, metered pricing based on use, multiple membership options, pricing tiers, flat rate, and flat rate plus overage charges
- Automated features: Payment and past-due reminders, card updater for new numbers and expiry dates, retry failed payments, membership renewals, and prorated billing
How to Accept Recurring Payments With Stripe
Stripe recurring payments can work with most ecommerce platforms and blog sites. In fact, many online subscription box marketplaces like Cratejoy seamlessly integrate with Stripe as their primary payment solution.
Using Stripe, you can quickly attach subscription payments to most ecommerce platforms using its automated integrations. Or, you can create pop-up membership or subscription forms that easily embed in your blog or website pages, and even in emails and online apps.
Like the other online recurring payment solutions on our list, Stripe saves your customer’s payment data in their PCI-compliant virtual vault to ensure security. Plus, Stripe can send e-receipts to notify customers that their automated payment has been successfully processed.
- High monthly fees
- Not a good fit for small or occasional sales
- No same-day funding option
- Monthly fee: $99–$199
- Card-present processing: Interchange plus 8 cents
- Card-not-present processing: Interchange plus 18 cents
- Chargeback fee: Not disclosed
- Payments accepted: Credit and debit cards, ACH, and echeck
- Automated features: Automatically charge customer payment information stored on-file according to pre-set schedules, send payment reminders, update expired card information, and sync with QuickBooks accounting
How to Accept Recurring Payments With Stax
Stax Pay is Stax’s payment processing service for small businesses. When setting up an invoice or recurring payment, you have the option to create a single invoice or a recurring transaction. If you want to set up a recurring payment or invoice, simply navigate to the invoice tab in the Stax Pay dashboard. From there, you can create a new invoice, enter the price you want to charge, and specify the invoicing or automatic payment frequency schedule for clients with their card on file.
You have the option of sending recurring invoices that customers will need to click to pay or storing payment information on file and automating payments according to the set schedule.
Stax Bill is a cloud-based platform designed to simplify subscription billing management by automating your manual accounting and financial processes. Larger B2B SaaS using subscription-based business models can benefit from Stax Bill’s scalability to customize and automate everything from product management to revenue recognition accounting methods. This allows merchants to have more time to focus on running their growing business instead of managing accounts receivables. Monthly fees start at $199/mo.
Stax Bill Features include:
- Subscription Offering
- Accounting and Revenue Management
- Catalog Management
- API Integrations
- Invoicing and Recurring Payments
- Self-Service Checkout Site (Online Payments + Sign Up)
- Customer Facing Portal
- Message Customization
- Advanced Analytics + Custom Reporting Dashboards
- Security + Compliance
- Tiered (unpredictable) processing fees
- Monthly subscription fee
- Does not accept PayPal payments
- Monthly fees: $79.95
- Recurring payment processing fee: Starting at 2.54% per transaction (rates will vary)
- ACH and echeck processing fee: 1% + 30 cents per transaction
- Card on file service fee: $5 per month
- Chargeback fee: $25
- Payments accepted: Credit and debit cards, e-wallet payments, ACH, echeck
- Automated features: Automatically charge using stored customer payment information, send payment reminders, and update expired credit card information
How to Accept Recurring Payments With PaySimple
Recurring payments is a built-in feature of PaySimple’s online sales platform. With PaySimple, you get an array of online tools that let you accept and manage all sorts of customer registrations, memberships, and subscriptions. It also provides robust booking management tools, complete with prepayments and deposits.
Recurring payments can be initiated by your customer via online forms on your PaySimple registration or membership website. Or, you can create them yourself in the PaySimple dashboard on a customer’s behalf using the Manage Recurring Payments tab.
In the PaySimple dashboard, you can set up repeat billing schedules, manually process or refund payments, and manually initiate or cancel subscriber accounts. PaySimple will even prorate monthly billing amounts automatically.
How We Evaluated Recurring Payment Processors
The best recurring payment processor for you will really depend on the size of your business, the type of products or services you sell, and whether they require invoicing, subscriptions, memberships, or something in between.
For this guide, we tested each platform and evaluated recurring payment processors based on general pricing (including transaction fees and overall pricing transparency), the types of recurring payments they can handle, and general features like customer support and payout times. Plus, we considered the overall value each system offers, how easy it is to use, customer reviews, and our personal experience interacting with the product and customer support teams.
Helcim claimed the lead as the best choice for recurring payments, earning perfect scores for recurring payment features.
How Do Recurring Payments Work?
No matter which processor or invoicing solution you choose to manage recurring payments, the basic steps are the same: customers enroll in a subscription or recurring billing invoice, and you bill them at designated intervals. Ideally, you will save the customer’s payment information on file, so the charges are automated.
Most businesses that offer memberships, subscriptions, and recurring invoicing also set up options for automatic payments. This requires saving customer credit card information which requires an authorization form. Learn more about credit card authorization forms.
How Much Does It Cost to Accept Recurring Payments?
Recurring payment processing fees are typically a small percentage of the transaction total. Each payment provider sets its credit card processing fees; some tack on monthly account fees.
For example, Square charges 3.5% plus 15 cents per recurring payment, so a $100 charge costs $3.65 in fees. With Square, that’s all you’ll pay because Square has no other account fees. In contrast, Stax and PaySimple both charge monthly fees for recurring payments—but both providers have lower per-transaction fees for accepting credit card payments.
You’ll also want to consider other payment processing services or perks that these providers offer. Value-added benefits, such as Square’s free business management suite or PaySimple’s event booking management features, might be the deciding factor. Read our guide on credit card processing fees.
Costs of Accepting Recurring Payments With Our Recommended Processors
Monthly Account Fees
Invoice/ Recurring Payments Service Fee
Recurring Payments Transaction Fee
ACH Transaction Fee
Interchange plus 0.15% + 15 cents to 0.50% + 25 cents
0.5% + 25 cents
3.5% + 15 cents
1% (minimum $1)
3.49% + 49 cents
0.75% capped at $5 (Braintree)
2.9% + 60 cents (+ 0.5% for AmEx)
1% ($1 minimum)
2.9% + 30* cents
0.8% capped at $5
Stax Pay/ Stax Bill
$99/ From $199
Interchange + 18 cents
PaySimple Recurring Billing
$5 (for Card-on-file)
1% + 30 cents
*Stripe charges a keyed-in processing fee of 3.4% + 30 cents per transaction for first-time recurring payments and card-on-file
Who Should Use Recurring Payments
Invoice-based recurring payments are ideal for:
- Service providers: Lawn care, house cleaning, personal training, and childcare can process automatic repeat payments via single or batch invoices.
- Monthly tuition or lesson fees: Fitness clubs, music lesson providers, dance studios, and tutoring businesses can run invoices and automated payments on a monthly basis.
- Subscription services or club sales: Wine-of-the-month clubs and store loyalty programs can use recurring payments to automate monthly club sales or fees.
Online recurring payment solutions are ideal for:
- Subscription box businesses: Subscription box sellers use online websites and marketplaces to sell subscriptions, then automatically run recurring charges for subscribers before shipping scheduled boxes.
- E-learning academies: E-learning businesses make online course content and instruction accessible on an ongoing basis via an online checkout with scheduled recurring payments.
- Membership blogs with restricted content: Informational bloggers can manage access to members-only content using recurring membership payments.
- Online services: Recurring payments are what make all types of online services possible, including software as a service (SaaS), online advertising, gaming products, virtual service providers, and mobile apps.
If you’re selling anything online that auto-renews or requires periodic automatic payments, you’ll need a payment processor that can handle the recurring transactions. The easier you make it for customers to pay you, the better.
Benefits of Recurring Payments
There are two huge benefits to setting up a recurring payment model for your business:
- Saves time: Instead of manually setting up invoices or calling customers for payment, automatic billing can save hours of your or your employees’ time every billing cycle.
- Offers predictable revenue: Membership and subscription models offer businesses a more stable revenue stream than ad-hoc billing, as it’s easier to predict revenue when you know how much customers will pay in advance.
All the benefits are not just for businesses. Customers enjoy the convenience of a set-it-and-forget-it payment option, which is especially ideal for necessities or services they use consistently and would not want interrupted service on.
Recurring Payments Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Recurring payments are multiple automated payments received by merchants at regular intervals. Customers provide merchants with a written authorization to save their card on file and pull funds from the customer’s bank according to the agreed amount and schedule.
To manage recurring billing, recurring payments, or automatic payments, you need a billing software or application that allows you to create invoices, set up a recurring billing schedule, and track the progress of each payment. You may also want to consider using a payment processor with a built-in recurring billing feature in order to efficiently manage transactions from a single platform.
The providers on our list are some of the best payment processors in the industry with native recurring management tools.
Recurring payments are automatically repeated transactions, so this payment method is most useful for memberships and subscriptions. Customers authorize the merchant to save their credit card information for future use. Examples of recurring transactions include online learning subscriptions like Coursera and even memberships to charitable organizations like UNICEF.
Automatic payments can be any type of transaction pre-authorized by a customer—meaning the customer has allowed the merchant to save their credit card information and customers only need to confirm their purchase to be charged for a transaction. Credit card holders often set up automatic payments to pay for their credit card bill.
Meanwhile, a recurring payment is a type of automatic payment method where the customer authorizes a merchant to charge the former’s bank at regular intervals, often for the same amount, such as that of monthly subscriptions and payment plans.
A recurring billing arrangement is when a billing invoice is set to be sent to customers at regular intervals. These digital invoices are also embedded with a checkout button where customers can proceed with making a payment and even sign up for automatic payments.
Based on our evaluation, we recommend Helcim as the best overall recurring payment processor for most small businesses. Affordability and flexibility are the key reasons Helcim tops our list for the best recurring invoice payment provider. A free Helcim account includes card-on-file payments, invoicing software with automation tools, a sleek customer portal, and a mobile app to accept payments online or in person.