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, not least 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 in credit card processing for online transactions.
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:
- lower transaction fees
- no with-holding of funds
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:
- general processing
- merchant account
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.
Best credit card processing services at a glance
Best credit card processing services
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Credit card processing that delivers quick and easy transactions
PaySimple credit card processing is based out of Denver, Colorado, and 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. Also on its website, PaySimple highlights that credit card processing is 2.49% per transaction plus monthly fees along with $0.60 + .20% ACH / eCheck processing costs.
It’s worth noting though that there are other charges such as a monthly maintenance fee of $29.95 and numerous other fees for different back-end aspects of the site. 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.
An all-in-one merchant platform
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. This currently costs $15 per month Retail, $35 per month Online and $50 per month for a Retail+Online combination package. 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.
All in all Helcim is to be commended for offering such a flexible range of options and it’s clear that the company realises that the needs of businesses are many and varied. This is certainly better than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Clover is a point of sale and credit card processing service
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, which currently costs $9.95 a month. At the time of writing Clover’s monthly fees had also been waived for the first three months. 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 first month is also free.
If you get a Clover account and then acquire one of Clover’s hardware devices then the processing rates change. So, on-device payments are 2.7% plus 10 cents per transaction with the Register Lite plan and 2.3% plus 10 cents with Register. Payments taken virtually or entered by hand incur charges of 3.5% plus 10 cents. Additionally, the benefit of using a Clover device is that you get access to more tools and functionality, plus customer rewards and promos.