Best merchant services
Small businesses need to understand their customers, and clearly while cash used to be king when it comes to payments, the reality is that it no longer is. In a 2017 survey of over 1,000 consumers conducted by TSYS, 45% preferred debit cards, 33% go with debit cards, and paying with cash is a distant third place at 12%.
Therefore for your business to keep its competitive edge, you need to offer the payment options that your customers prefer, and that means debit and credit cards.
As a business, accepting cards for payment is streamlined by setting up a merchant account. A merchant account acts as an intermediary to navigate the complexities of payment processing, and ensures that you receive funds as quickly as possible, and helps to avoid your business being the victim of a scam.
Let’s take a look at the best merchant services available to bring your business up to speed to accept payments. In making our choices, we considered features, pricing, ease of use, and both professional and customer reviews.
- We've also highlighted the best payment gateways of 2019
A full service provider
Helcim offers an array of merchant services, including the obligatory credit card processing, merchant accounts, along with credit and debit terminals.
The company also distinguishes itself with multi-currency processing, and international card processing for businesses that operate overseas. As a show of confidence, Helcim is one of few companies that offers a 30-day free trial of its service.
The firm’s transparency when it comes to fees is appreciated, with the Retail plan costing $15 monthly, and the Online offering is $35 per month – although if you happen to be a business that does commerce in both spaces, there’s no bundle discount for taking both plans.
There are also additional fees that vary by volume. For example, a retail merchant with less than $25,000 in monthly volume pays a low additional 0.25% plus $0.08 per transaction.
A suite of services for the small business
Payline is a merchant service that promises to make it easy to accept credit card payments, and offers a variety of plans to suit any company's needs. It offers a variety of services including mobile, online, in-store, enterprise and integrated payments, and also Payline Medical for the healthcare field, and business loans as well.
Payline offers a Payline Gateway, that can be used as a plugin on a business website to accept payments, and also a ‘virtual terminal,’ that is used to manually enter payments received over the phone or through the mail.
Payline offers pricing based on the service. A swipe falls under Payline Start, which has a $10 monthly fee with an additional 0.2% per transaction, which now includes AMEX as well – note there is an additional $0.10 per transaction fee here.
For a keyed-in, or online transaction, Payline Connect is also $10 monthly, with a more expensive 0.3% plus $0.20 per transaction, with AMEX also included. With Payline Connect there’s a further option for the aforementioned Payment Gateway for an additional $10 monthly fee.
More than just accounting software
QuickBooks is another option worth considering, as the company has expanded from simply providing accounting software to the arena of online payment processing, and now full merchant services.
Options include a card reader for store purchases, phone payments, and online processing. What is especially useful is its direct integration into the QuickBooks accounting software, which means even POS purchases appear immediately in your accounts in real-time.
Charges are provided upfront and are relatively straightforward. There's a Pay-as-you-Go payment plan with no monthly fee, with transactions charged at 2.4% + $0.25 per swipe, dip, or tap, or 3.4% + $0.25 for keyed-in entries.
However, there is also a Pay Monthly subscription option available for desktop users, which costs $20 per month and reduces card swipe transactions to 1.6% + $0.30 and may especially benefit volume users. A free card reader is provided at sign-up for taking card payments, but if you'd also like to be able to deal with NFC payments from Apple or Android devices, you will need to buy the all-in-one card reader for $49.
A solution from the household name in online transactions
PayPal Merchant Services is the business version of the ubiquitous online transaction tool, and it claims to be in use with over 17 million firms.
It features the secure transactions that PayPal is known for including fraud protection and risk modeling, a customer service team, and allows a variety of payment methods including mobile and in-store credit cards. Logically, it also provides support for acceptance of PayPal from its 200 million account holders.
The service is better suited for a lower volume of transactions. This is because the fee structure does not require a monthly charge, and there are no long term contracts. However, the cost is 2.9% and $0.30 for an online payment, and 2.7% per US swipe, with an even higher cost for keyed sales.
The merchant service for the startup business
Square (previously known as Square Payments Processing) is a merchant service designed to “start selling fast”. It will attract smaller and new businesses starting out with its promise of quick setup, no long term contracts and no monthly fees, and even includes a free mag-stripe reader.
Square offers a robust feature set including being able to send invoices (even from a mobile device) to customers for payment, storing the card information for regular customers, plus support for third-party e-commerce platforms such as Wix and Ecwid. It also boasts the ability to take keyed-in payments directly via the Square Virtual Terminal without a card reader, and an offline mode for those occasions when an internet connection is not available.
Square further offers a variety of card reader hardware, beyond the free mag-stripe reader, such as paid devices that can handle card chips, and NFC payments.
The pricing is simple, with a single tier, and only transaction fees. For a “swipe, dip or tap,” the cost is a fixed 2.75%, and keyed-in transactions are a steep 3.5% plus $0.15 per transaction.
Other merchant services to consider
Transparent Merchant Services offers a wide range of payment services for a monthly fee which starts from $49.97 for up to 500 transactions per month. Although that might sound a little high, this comes with interchange-plus pricing, which means each transaction costs cents, and could especially benefit those businesses charging for higher-worth products or services.
Fattmerchant offers a comprehensive suite of merchant tools for all payment types and situations, and has an especially good POS offering. It does charge $99 per month, but transactions are charged at interchange fees with no mark-up. This cost-plus pricing model means no high fees even for phone transactions, so costs can scale really well with volume compared to other providers.
Flagship Merchant Services allows business owners to take credit card payments online, in store, on the go, or over the phone. There are a range of pricing models available, but unfortunately Flagship is not transparent about fees on its website. However, Flagship won't hold you to a contract term and you can cancel at any time.
Dharma Merchant Services promotes itself as a low-cost, low-fee merchant service that can provide credit card processing in-store and online with a POS, virtual terminal, and even a mobile app. While the company does list its processing fees on the website, cost for the POS terminal and card readers aren't provided so you'll need to ask directly about those.