The best credit card processing services make it simple and easy to take payments online, either directly through a website or via email requests for payments.
Credit card processing services have become an essential part of business transactions, both online and offline, and the ability to take credit card payments could make or break your business.
While there are Point of Sale (PoS) software systems designed for bricks and mortar card processing, it's online where many merchants gain the most advantage, especially when setting up or expanding an ecommerce software platform.
This is especially because banks were slow to provide online payment services, allowing younger companies such as Paypal to disrupt the market, and eventually lead it.
However, with so many different business applications now provided by the cloud, it could be an advantage to use a credit card processor that doesn't offer the cheapest rates but will offer savings through other ways, such as by integrating with accounting software.
Additionally, there are two main options with credit card processing services: one being a simple credit card processor with all fees paid per transactions, or alternatively a merchant account solution which comes with a monthly fee but offers far cheaper processing on a per item basis.
Whichever type you're looking for, here we've covered the best credit card processing services for online transactions.
- We've also featured the best tax software.
Best credit card processing services at a glance:
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 depend 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.
- Read our full PayPal review.
Sage payment processing 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. However, considering the potential for efficiency savings through simplified accounting, this can seem more like an investment than a cost.
- Read our full Sage review.
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 percentage charge per transaction, plus a small processing fee, which 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.
- Read our full Stripe review.
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 and competitive processing fees.
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.
- Read our full Authorize.net review.
PaySimple credit card processing offers a suite of products and services that are well-suited to the smaller business owner. Having been in existence for around 15 years PaySimple has refined its business and now offers the ability for companies to process payments in flexible ways, as well as automated billing and adding in customer marketing options to complete the picture.
PaySimple is a practical solution because it delivers options for accepting payments online, in-person and via mobile, which means if you’ve got a small business it covers all bases within one package. A free 14-day trial certainly makes it worthy of inspection.
PaySimple states on its website that it has no contracts and no cancellation fees, which is always a bonus if you’re a small business that has to be careful with its cashflow.
There are various fees, such as a monthly fee on top of processing fees, plus other fees for additional features if you require them. It’s a good idea to head to the PaySimple website and look up their Starter pricing page, as well as the more expensive Standard pricing pages.
- Read our full PaySimple review.
Helcim is a Canadian credit card processing company and merchant services provider to small businesses. The company has grown a lot over the years and now boasts $2.5 billion in annual processing, handles 15 million transactions per year and keeps no less than 6000 merchants ticking over nicely.
On its website Helcim points out that its credit card processing features transparent pricing and there are no hidden fees. In fact, Helcim has streamlined its payment systems so you can enjoy month-to-month processing power irrespective of how many cards you end up processing.
On signing up for an account you’ll be able to start a new merchant account application. Another bonus with the Helcim setup is that you can rent equipment on a month-to-month basis, or if you prefer just purchase everything you need outright.
- Read our full Helcim review.
Clover credit card processing systems come in a wide variety of options, with the company offering point of sale products both directly or via one of its partners. The business provides solutions for taking payments over the phone, remotely and contactless. It is, in effect, a one-stop point-of-sale solution and is therefore suited to business of all types and sizes.
Clover is cloud-based and also has a whole selection of hardware that will enable you to process credit card payments in a physical environment as well as remotely. Terminals are available in a variety of sizes and configurations.
You'll need an account in order to be able to use its products and services, and once you’ve signed up you have a Clover merchant account along with the Register Lite plan. That allows you to start processing payments without purchasing a device from them or needing any other hardware.
The benefit of using a Clover device is that you get access to more tools and functionality, plus customer rewards and promos.
- Read our full Clover review.
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.