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Reviews

Best Merchant Services

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Nowadays credit and debit card payments are the norm. So not accepting them makes you weird. If you’re in that boat, we researched the best merchant services out there and we found Helcim to be best for most businesses. You get affordable services whether you’re large or small, and freelancers get detailed attention from this provider. And it’s mobile-friendly, so you can take payments from anywhere.

The Best Merchant Service for Most

Helcim Logo

Helcim

Best For Most

Get incredibly low rates with Helcim’s interchange-plus pricing. Plus, get the hardware and software you need to process payments online or in-person.

Helcim makes processing payments easier and faster. It’s an affordable, fast, and reliable solution that works whether you have a physical location or conduct all your business online.

Set up an online store, send out invoices to customers, and turn any device into a terminal. Helcim gives away so much value for a minimal expense. And it’s extremely flexible and easy to get started with, so there should be no concern for users who have never had to lean on this type of software before. You’ll get exactly what you need from a merchant services provider at an easy-to-swallow price.

The 7 Best Merchant Services to Consider: 

  1. Helcim – Best for most
  2. Square – Best flat-rate merchant services
  3. Payment Depot – Best for interchange-plus pricing
  4. Payment Cloud – Best for high-risk industries
  5. Stripe – Best merchant services for online sales
  6. Dharma – Best for quick-service industries
  7. PayPal – Best for low-volume businesses or personal use

When Does it Make Sense to Invest In Merchant Services?

If you want to process credit or debit cards and other digital payment forms, you have to use merchant services.

Nowadays most consumers don’t carry around cash, Apple Pay, PayPal, and other electronic payment methods is the trend, so if you can’t take payments this way investing in merchant services as soon as you can is a good idea.

With that said, merchant services aren’t just for brick-and-mortar businesses. They’re an essential part of ecommerce and online transactions as well, including both invoicing clients and selling products. 

And if you already sell online, you may be able to get better processing rates by switching to one of the providers in this review. 

The good news is that there are several free options on this list if you aren’t interested in paying a monthly fee, if you only process one-off payments, or if you’re just getting started. 

However, with free merchant services (Square, PayPal, and Stripe), you have to pay higher processing fees for every transaction, which include a small percentage of the total amount plus a flat fee—i.e. 2.9% + $0.30. 

So, you essentially don’t have to invest anything until you process your first payment. 

But you can upgrade to a premium subscription-based merchant service to fork over much less per transaction and get access to more advanced features. 

As such, it makes sense to upgrade to when you have a steady stream of payments and can justify the added monthly expense. 

#1 – Helcim — Best for Most

Helcim Logo

Helcim

Best For Most

Get incredibly low rates with Helcim’s interchange-plus pricing. Plus, get the hardware and software you need to process payments online or in-person.

If you’re a small, or midsize business looking for merchant services, Helcim is your best bet. And is incredible for freelancers that are mobile or don’t have a physical location but want to take payments with a credit or debit card.

It’s affordable, flexible, and built to help simplify payment processing. 

Whether you need to accept payments in person, send invoices to clients, set up subscription plans, or create an online store, this merchant service provider offers everything you need to get paid. 

Furthermore, you can turn your computer, tablet, or mobile device into a virtual terminal, so you don’t necessarily need any new equipment to accept payments. It makes getting start super easy and with new technology that is what most people need.

Yes, it’s true, you can use your phone to accept payments. However using the Helcim card reader hardware, offers you incredible flexibility, meaning you can be anywhere and process a payment. ApplePay, chip, swipe or go old school and type in the pin. Either way, you can professionally accept payments on the go or moving around your bar or restaurant.

But if you have a small businesses and are not interested in purchasing new hardware Helcim is a excellent choice.

Plus, it’s effortless to use and seamlessly integrates with accounting software to simplify your payment and accounting processes. 

On top of that, you also get a ton of powerful features, including:

  • Developer API for custom integrations
  • Secure payment info storage
  • Interchange plus pricing
  • Mobile and desktop apps
  • International processing
  • PCI-DSS compliance
  • 1-2 day deposits
  • No hidden fees
  • Automatic volume discounts

And you don’t have to worry about long-term contracts, either. 

If you process less than $25,000 per month, you can expect to pay interchange + 0.30% + $0.08 per transaction. Even at the lowest tier, you get significantly better rates than most other options on this list. 

With that said, if you process between $25,000 and $50,000 every month, you only have to pay interchange + 0.25% + $0.07 per transaction. So, as you start to process more transactions, you can save even more. 

With interchange included, Helcim’s average credit card processing rates hover around 1.92% + $0.08, which is significantly lower than Square, Stripe, or PayPal. 

Sign up now at Helcim!

#2 – Square — The Best Flat-Rate Merchant Services

Square Logo

Square

Best Flat-Rate Fees

Get started processing payments online or in-person with no monthly fees. Plus, get flat-rate transaction fees with no surprises or hidden costs and a free card reader for your phone. Alternatively, choose from dozens of top-notch POS and terminal options for in-person sales.

Fees with merchant services are unavoidable. So, it makes sense if finding a provider with a predictable rate structure is a top differentiator in your mind.

Square is the best flat-rate option out there. There aren’t any hidden or monthly fees, but you will experience higher processing rates. 

However, there are no surprises. 

You always know exactly how much you’re going to pay for every transaction with no fluctuations or interchange rates to keep in mind. And you don’t have to pay extra for MasterCard purchases, unlike other merchant services out there.

With that said, Square offers services and solutions for all types of payments in nearly every industry, including invoices, ecommerce sales, in-person sales, and card-not-present transactions. 

So, regardless of how you sell, Square has you covered with a nearly instant setup process, simple and powerful software, and predictable, transparent pricing. 

Not only that, but it’s also an industry leader in payment processing hardware

So, it’s an excellent choice if you want to upgrade to something better or if you don’t already have what you need. From a complete point-of-sale system to an essential card reader, you can easily get top-of-the-line equipment to make payments a breeze. 

Square’s mobile magstripe card readers plug into your phone’s headphone jack or charging port and your first one is 100% free. This essentially turns your phone into a virtual terminal. 

But if you need something a bit more robust, like a physical terminal, you can get one for $299 or $27 per month over 12 months. Alternatively, you can purchase a complete POS register system for $799 or $39 per month over 24 months. 

Plus, with Square, you also get a ton of features and benefits, including things like:

  • Turn your computer into a register
  • Create payment links and buy now buttons
  • Monitor your business’s performance
  • Offer e-gift cards
  • Accept touch-free payments
  • Schedule paid appointments
  • Create, customize, and track invoices
  • Key in payment information remotely
  • Access your funds the next business day

So, despite the service being free to use (aside from processing fees), you still get a wide range of features and everything you need to accept payments. 

In-person sales via Square POS are 2.6% + $0.10 per transaction. E-commerce transactions and invoice payments are 2.9% + $0.30. And virtual terminal purchases are 3.5% + $0.15. 

Sign up for a free account to start processing payments today!

#3 – Payment Depot — The Best Merchant Services with Interchange-Plus Pricing

Payment Depot Logo

Payment Depot

Best Interchange-Plus Pricing

Get the lowest processing rates in the industry by cutting out the middleman with Payment Depot’s nearly-wholesale subscription plans, no long-term contracts required. Plans start at $49 per month with interchange + $0.15 transaction fees.

Instead of charging high transaction fees, Payment Depot offers a paid monthly subscription model. Simply pay a monthly fee and enjoy wholesale processing fees as long as you’re a subscriber. 

On the highest tier, you can pay as little as interchange + $0.05 per transaction. 

Which is incredibly low compared to the industry standard of 2.9% + $0.30! However, keep in mind that you do have to pay a monthly fee. 

And to get that insanely low rate, you have to pay $199 per month, which isn’t cheap or accessible for most small businesses. But there are other lower-cost tiers available with competitive processing fees. 

So, it’s a great choice if you’re a midsize or large business looking for a better way to process payments and keep more of your revenue. 

With that said, the lowest tier is $49 per month, with a processing rate of interchange + $0.15. So, it’s also a great deal for small businesses making less than $25,000 per month if you can justify the monthly payment. 

Speaking of keeping more revenue in your pocket, one of Payment Depot’s customers even saves an average of $800 in processing fees every month. 

With savings like that, the added monthly subscription fee is easily justifiable. 

However, saving money and getting better rates aren’t the only benefits of using Payment Depot. As a user, you also get:

  • Next-day deposits
  • Free equipment and hardware
  • Rate protection
  • Chargeback and risk monitoring
  • No cancellation or hidden fees
  • Breach protection
  • Dedicated account manager (on the top tier)
  • Various industry-specific solutions
  • 90-day money-back guarantee

You can also choose from multiple hardware options, sell through your online store, and turn your phone or computer into a virtual terminal to accept on-the-fly in-person payments. 

Sign up or give them a call to submit your application and get started!

#4 – Payment Cloud — The Best Merchant Services for High-Risk Industries

Payment Cloud Logo

Payment Cloud

Best for High-Risk Industries

Specialty merchant services for high-risk industries and businesses with high chargeback rates, low credit scores, longer-than-average fulfillment times, and more. Get everything you need to securely and reliably accept payments from anywhere, regardless of what or how you sell.

High-risk industries, like tobacco, firearms, bail bonds, gambling, and hunting often have a much harder time finding merchant services. 

Other business types, like career coaching, memberships, SaaS companies, MLMs, and even web design providers can also be considered high-risk. 

Why? Because they typically don’t process payments on a regular basis like other businesses do. Transactions are either sporadic throughout the month, or they all come through on the same day, as they would with SaaS or membership business models. 

And many traditional merchant service providers won’t work with high-risk merchants at all. However, the good news is you’re not entirely out of luck. 

Payment Cloud offers a specialty service built specifically for businesses like yours. 

Even if you’re not in a high-risk industry, you could be labeled as high risk if you experience high chargeback rates, have a long fulfillment period, or even a low personal credit score. 

As such, Payment Cloud offers solutions to help mitigate these risks and provides a secure way for your clients and customers to pay you in-person, online, or a combination of the two. 

They also offer mobile swiping systems, POS systems, EMV terminals, chargeback prevention tools, online shopping carts, retail solutions, and more. So, you can rest easy knowing your business is efficient, secure, and protected regardless of what and where you sell. 

On top of that, you also get a dedicated account manager to help you navigate payment processing and merchant services, so you don’t have to worry about going through it alone. 

Payment Cloud approaches each business as unique and includes white-glove service to users while helping them lay the strong foundation they need to see success in their industry. 

And your manager can help mitigate additional risks and chargebacks before they happen. 

Plus, the team has more than 50 years of combined experience, relationships with over 10 different banks, and an open line of communication with their customers. So, you know you’re in good hands. 

Their processing solutions include:

  • Overnight hardware delivery
  • No setup or cancellation fees
  • Wholesale rates
  • Easy, same-day setup
  • Next-day payments
  • 24/7 live customer support
  • Dozens of integrations

So, despite being labeled as a high-risk business, you can still get all the features, benefits, and functionality you need with Payment Cloud. 

With that said, Payment Cloud isn’t super transparent about its processing fees. Rather than openly sharing them online, you have to call and ask. However, once you sign up, your manager will work with you to get you the best rates depending on your history and risk level.

Fill out an application to get started today!

#5 – Stripe — The Best Merchant Services for Online Sales

Stripe Logo

Stripe

Best for Online Sales

Stripe is an industry leader for ecommerce sales, invoicing, checkouts, shopping carts, and more. Includes a full developer suite for custom UIs, no monthly or signup fees, instant account set up, and 2.9% + $0.30 typical transaction fees.

Stripe is one of the leading merchant services for online and ecommerce sales. They offer in-person tools, but their digital services—like online checkouts, shopping carts, and more—are where they shine. 

As such, Stripe’s an excellent choice for businesses of all sizes planning to sell mostly online. 

From online marketplaces like Amazon to ecommerce stores, subscription services, and digital invoicing, Stripe offers everything you need to streamline and optimize your online operation. 

Plus, you get an in-depth suite of developer tools with intuitive APIs so you can easily create your own customized merchant solutions. And you get dozens of built-in integrations, so you can streamline processes with the tools you already use to run your business. 

As such, customization has never been easier, even if you’re not an advanced developer. 

Furthermore, getting started is a breeze. It takes just a few minutes to sign up for a free account and configure your bank account settings. 

From there, you can start accepting payments immediately. 

Stripe currently supports over 135+ different currencies and local payment methods, making international sales easier than ever for everyone involved. As such, your customers can easily pay you using their preferred payment methods. 

Your account comes with a ton of intuitive and helpful features, including:

  • Hosted payment pages for easy online checkout
  • Completely customizable flows for developing your own UI
  • Flexible one-off or recurring invoicing
  • iOS and Android mobile apps
  • Machine learning fraud protection
  • Adaptive acceptance so you always get paid
  • Card, wallet, and bank payments
  • Comprehensive security measures

And the best part? There are no monthly fees associated with using Stripe. So, you get all of their powerful features for free. 

With that said, they charge 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. So, transaction fees are a bit higher than most of the other options on this list. But you get more powerful e-commerce functionality and features compared to other free options on the market.

Sign up for a free account to start processing payments with Stripe today!

#6 – Dharma — The Best Merchant Services for Quick-Service Industries

Dharma Logo

Dharma

Best for Quick-Service Industries

Built for businesses that handle high volumes of low-cost transactions every day, like bars, restaurants, cafes, and more. Get incredibly low processing rates of interchange + 0.15% + $0.07 and expert 24/7 technical support for just $20 per month. High-volume plans also available.

Dharma is a specialized merchant service provider for restaurants, bars, and other quick-service businesses with high volumes of low-cost transactions. 

What makes them the best choice? They believe you don’t deserve a hefty processing bill just because you make a lot of sales. As such, they offer reduced costs, so you’re not stuck paying thousands of dollars in transaction fees every month for $5 – $10 purchases. 

Furthermore, there are no long-term contracts and no early termination fees. Plus, you always get the lowest rates because they utilize interchange-plus pricing. 

Dharma offers even further reduced rates for merchants that process more than $100,000 per month. So, you get even better rates the higher your sales volume is. 

With that said, Dharma charges a $20 monthly fee. So, keep that in mind. 

However, you get a ton of excellent features and benefits with your monthly fee, including things like:

  • Various high-end hardware options to choose from
  • POS, countertop, and mobile hardware options
  • Virtual terminal capabilities for your phone or computer
  • Advanced online reporting and analytics
  • Unlimited online payment links for online ordering
  • Robust customer database
  • Payment information storage for quicker checkouts
  • Custom receipts and smart notifications
  • Next-day deposits

On top of your $20 monthly fee, you only have to pay interchange + 0.15% + $0.07 per transaction, which is a vast difference from the flat-rate merchant service providers on this list. 

Furthermore, they offer a robust support system, including tutorials, videos, guides, explanations, and 24-hour technical support for every single feature. So, you don’t have to worry about learning everything on your own. 

Sign up now to learn more and see if Dharma is right for you!

#7 – PayPal — The Best Merchant Services for Low-Volume Businesses or Personal Use

PayPal Logo

PayPal

Best for Low-Volume Merchants

PayPal is free to sign up for and incredibly easy to use with no monthly fees or minimum processing requirements. Perfect for low-volume, infrequent sales or personal use to pay family and friends. Processing fees are 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.

If you don’t process payments frequently or only handle them on a one-off basis, you don’t need anything fancy. As such, PayPal is an excellent, simple, and affordable option for low-volume businesses. 

There are no monthly, hidden, signup, or cancellation fees. Plus, there aren’t any minimum processing requirements. 

So, you can easily open an account and use it only when you need to. Freelancers are a great example of a low-volume business. They typically process a handful of payments every month, as opposed to hundreds or thousands of payments, like in the retail or quick-service industry. 

On top of that, it’s incredibly easy to use. You can sign up in a matter of minutes and start processing payments immediately. 

But don’t let its simplicity scare you away. They currently support 100+ currencies, debit and credit cards, local payment methods, and pay later options. Providing numerous options combined with PayPal’s familiarity may even help improve conversions and reduce cart abandonment.

Furthermore, there are various free PayPal solutions for different situations, including:

  • Online invoicing plus invoice template generator
  • PayPal checkout for online stores and various POS solutions
  • Payment gateways and virtual terminals
  • Selling digital products, including payment and delivery
  • PayPal for developers to build a truly custom checkout experience
  • Embeddable ‘buy now’ buttons so you can sell your products anywhere

As a seller, you pay 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction, so it’s relatively high. But if you’re only accepting payments every once in a while, it doesn’t make sense to pay a monthly fee. Plus, you can always transfer money into your bank account for free. 

Transfers typically take 1-2 days, but you can expedite the process for a small fee. 

Sign up for a free PayPal account to get started today!

Methodology For Choosing The Best Merchant Services

Choosing between various merchant services isn’t an easy task, especially if you’re not quite sure what to look for. 

To help make things easier, we’ve put together a list of considerations to think about as you go through choosing the best merchant services for you and your business. 

Processing Volume

If you process just a handful of payments a month, you need something wildly different than a business processing millions of dollars across hundreds of thousands of transactions. 

For lower volume businesses, a free solution with higher transaction fees, like Stripe, Paypal, or Square, makes the most sense. However, higher volume businesses have a lot to grain by choosing a paid platform with more affordable transaction fees. 

We highly recommend estimating revenue for the next month as well as the number of transactions and where those sales happen (either online or in-person). From there, you can calculate the associated fees for each provider you’re considering. 

Doing so will help you determine which pricing model makes more sense for your business. 

Aside from that, some merchant service providers limit the amount of money you can process every month. 

Hitting these limits may mean canceling your account or forcing you to upgrade to a higher plan with higher monthly fees. However, that typically means you get better processing rates to balance out the increased subscription cost. 

As such, it’s critical to understand your processing volume before making any decisions. 

In-Person vs. Online Sales

Many businesses sell solely online, which mitigates their need for in-person transactions and POS solutions. As such, you won’t need to invest in hardware and can implement a much simpler online-only solution. 

However, if you sell in person, you need to make sure the merchant service provider you choose offers an affordable POS or terminal solution that fits your needs. 

You should also pay close attention to the hardware your provider offers to make sure they have what you need. Some providers offer free equipment, while others provide a selection of paid hardware. 

Furthermore, processing rates typically vary for in-person vs. online sales. 

So, don’t forget to consider the different fees associated with each type of transaction as you review each provider’s pricing and fee structure. 

Technical Support and Customer Service

Since there are so many moving parts associated with merchant services and credit card processing, it’s crucial to get the help you need when something breaks or goes wrong. 

Whether it’s a hardware issue or a bug in your software, you need to have easy access to someone who can help you resolve it as quickly as possible. As such, 24/7 customer service and technical support is a minimum requirement. 

Some only offer 24/7 phone support, which is completely fine. But you shouldn’t choose a merchant service provider you can’t get in touch with at any time of day. 

Furthermore, you should look for a self-service knowledge base on the provider’s website. This is a quick and easy way to get help with minor issues that don’t necessarily warrant picking up the phone or typing out a lengthy email. 

So, take a look at this before making your final decision. Make sure it’s fleshed out with enough helpful information. 

Keep an eye out for specific plans and providers that also provide a dedicated account manager to help you out. 

This is nice to have, but not a hard requirement since it’s typically reserved for high-risk and high-volume merchants. 

Helcim Logo

Helcim

Best For Most

Get incredibly low rates with Helcim’s interchange-plus pricing. Plus, get the hardware and software you need to process payments online or in-person.

Summary

Payment processing is an incredibly complex process that involves a ton of moving parts. 

However, the good news is that you don’t have to worry about understanding how it works since your merchant service provider does the heavy lifting for you. 

But that doesn’t mean you can or should choose the first provider you come across. 

You need something that meshes well with your business model, offers excellent customer service and technical support, and falls within your budget. 

To recap, our top recommendations include:

  1. Helcim – Best for small to midsize businesses
  2. Square – Best flat-rate merchant services
  3. Payment Depot – Best for interchange-plus pricing
  4. Payment Cloud – Best for high-risk industries
  5. Stripe – Best merchant services for online sales
  6. Dharma – Best for quick-service industries
  7. PayPal – Best for low-volume businesses or personal use

And don’t forget to use the methodology we talked about as you go about choosing the best merchant services for you, your team, and your customers. 


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