Best credit card processing service
Online card processing is an essential tool for most internet businesses, but with a wide number of options available, the sheer choice can seem rather daunting. Most services offer the same basic features, such as subscription payment options, processing in multiple currencies, and global payments.
However, beyond that, there can be multiple considerations when it comes to picking the right payment processing gateway. Some decision makers might be most concerned about fees, some might be more focused on integration, and others may look for additional features to build into.
Juggling all these various requirements can be tricky, but by being aware of the main credit card processing options – what they offer, and how they differ from each other – the decision can be made easier. So that’s exactly what we’re breaking down here, with our roundup of the five best services on the market right now.
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Well-known for good reason
PayPal has become the ubiquitous payment portal for many online businesses due to the simple reason that it’s so easy to use. PayPal has made integration into payment gateways simple for major e-commerce platforms, often requiring little more than a couple of clicks and an email address – often the most complex part of setting up PayPal processing is copying and pasting a supplied API key to get started.
There are no monthly fees for the small business product, Web Payments Standard, with transaction fees of 1.9% to 3.4%, depending on sales volume. Although many shopping carts are built to accommodate PayPal from scratch, it can even be used as a standalone service for taking individual payments from clients, just by pasting a payment button code into an email. Subscription payments are also available by default.
PayPal also offers additional features to grow into, such as taking in-store payments through a card reader. With no hidden costs or monthly charges, PayPal is one of the most accessible options for startups and small businesses.
A flexible option which is easily integrated
2Checkout is commonly used for the card payment needs of startups and small businesses because it’s often easy to use and integrate into existing shopping cart platforms. In many ways 2Checkout works in a similar manner to PayPal, and a lot of small businesses can often be found offering PayPal and 2Checkout together as alternative payment options.
There are no monthly fees, but transaction fees can vary according to how the service is used. They can be anything from 3.5% for ordinary online sales up to 6% for digital product sales, though again these can be reduced according to sales volume. Additionally, 2Checkout does have add-ons available for tax and handling purposes, which could simplify bookkeeping.
International online payment gateway
Worldpay is another well-known payment gateway for processing credit card payments online, but has also expanded into a range of offline payment options. Worldpay comes with built-in fraud alert tools that can flag suspect orders, thus allowing you to reject them without direct harm to your business. The caveat, of course, is that it remains an individual decision as to whether to accept or ignore the flags, and it can take some experience to recognize the difference between likely false alarms and blatant fraudulent orders.
One manner in which Worldpay has differentiated itself from competitors is by its selection of in-store payment options, providing not just the choice of a card reader, but alternatively a tablet for taking orders, or even a Worldpay checkout till with barcode scanner.
Since it was bought out by Vantiv in 2017, Worldpay’s fees have become more customized and perhaps less transparent, but expect to pay a monthly fee on top of transaction fees. Also, be aware that Worldpay may be offered on a contract, which means that you must continue the service through the contract period, or else pay a termination fee.
Competitive service with smart additional tools
Authorize.net has a couple of different platforms on offer. The All-in-One option allows for credit card processing without a merchant account, and comes with a monthly charge of $25, with transaction fees starting at a competitive 2.9%.
However, Authorize.net is perhaps more famous for its merchant account gateway, and while that option retains the monthly fee, transaction fees are reduced in a big way if you go this route. Note that once you sign up for a merchant account you will be charged for it – whether you are actively using it or not.
There are additional tools offered by Authorize.net, some of which are included by default, and some which will incur additional costs. Fraud screening tools are included as standard, as is the ability to dynamically change and adjust subscription billing.
There are also advanced Customer Information Management tools available, such as the ability to automatically update a customer’s charge card details, and allow multiple payment methods and billing addresses for a single customer.
Like most other major payment platforms, Authorize.net can often be found as an add-on for e-commerce platforms for easy integration.
Offers the potential for some serious efficiency savings
Sage Pay is a credit card payment gateway that has the added benefit of being able to integrate into Sage’s accounting software. Like most big payment processors, generally speaking it can be easily integrated into existing e-commerce platforms.
Sage Pay also offers telephone processing and direct card processing for in-store usage, as well as providing merchant account integration. Sage Pay effectively has a whole suite of services that can work for startups, as well as small corporations and larger enterprises.
The ability to integrate directly with Sage Accounts is probably the biggest selling point, as this can significantly simplify bookkeeping and financial recording, helping to save on accounting costs. The ability to work directly with a merchant account also means a big reduction on transaction fees.
There is a monthly fee to pay according to sales volume, which begins from $25 per month. However, considering the potential for efficiency savings through simplified accounting, this can seem more like an investment than a cost. No options for cashback credit cards though.
Compared to the other credit card processors present here, Stripe is very much the new kid on the block. However, the advantage there is that it hasn't had to evolve through various legacy technologies, but has instead jumped straight in to work with the latest.
The benefit here is a flexible cloud-based payment system which offers not just payment processing and fraud prevention, but also business intelligence through an analytics package Stripe calls Sigma. However, Stripe doesn't just offer online payment processing, but can also offer a Stripe terminal for taking payments in a bricks and mortar store.
The online payment processing service itself comes with no monthly fees, just a charge of 2.9% per transaction, plus a 30c processing fee. This is competitive with similar payment gateways. However, that's just the initial and basic charge level, and discounts may be available if you contact sales.
As an additional note, as well as credit card processing, Stripe also provide a company startup package which they call Atlas. This service requires you to set up a Stripe account, after which they'll register a LLC for you in Delaware, as well as set you up with a bank account and all payment processing, on top of which they include an EIN with the IRS. There's also a support community to help provide advice about running your new business.
How to choose a credit card processor
In simple terms, here are two main options when it comes to choosing a credit card processing service:
- general processing
- merchant account
The difference between the two is key to deciding which is the best option for you.
The General Processing option means that the credit card processor effectively acts as a middleman between you and the banks. They take care of all transactions and authorizations, as they move money from the customer's bank account to your processing account.
This is generally a good option for start-ups, small businesses, and relatively low-volume sales, ie, thousands rather than tends of thousands in turnover per month.
For this general service expect to pay transaction fees of between 2.5% - 3.5% for online purchases, though this can go higher for keyed in credit card payments you might take over the phone or in store. There may also be higher transaction fees for digital purchases.
The Merchant Account option means that the credit card processor still acts as a middleman - but while they take care of transactions and authorizations, they move money directly from the customer's bank account to yours. This offers a couple of key advantages:
- lower transaction fees
- no with-holding of funds
The first applies because the processor doesn't need to authentic funds themselves, as this is done by the bank you have your merchant account with. This means you pay only interchange fees which tend to be around a few cents per transaction, which is usually far cheaper than the percentage-based fees for general processing.
And because the money goes directly into your merchant bank account, it means that you don't have to wait around for funds to (Eventually) clear for withdrawal - some general processing services can insist on withholding for between a few days to a few months, in order to cover themselves against fraudulent transactions and chargebacks (which is where the customer disputes the payment and their credit card company forces a refund).
Of course, there is a cost to the merchant account option - usually a monthly fee of around $30 per month. This makes it much more ideal for companies who have a high turnover or high-value transactions, so that the monthly fee works out as much cheaper than a transaction fee of a few percentiles.
However, the big drawback of merchant accounts is that banks can be still distrustful of new companies and online sales, regarding them as riskier than normal retail shopping, so don't be surprised if you're expected to prove your worth - and trust value - over a couple of years before this option is made available to you.
Even still, some providers will offer both types of service, so you can start with their general processing platform, then upgrade to a merchant account later, if needed.