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5 Best Ways To Accept Credit Card Payments Without A Merchant Account (2024)

Need to accept credit card payments without a merchant account? Learn what third-party payment processing is and the pros & cons of our top 5 vendors.

    Frank Kehl
  • Last updated onUpdated

  • Chris Motola
  • REVIEWED BY

    Chris Motola

    Senior Staff Writer

Advertiser Disclosure: Our unbiased reviews and content are supported in part by affiliate partnerships, and we adhere to strict guidelines to preserve editorial integrity.

Traditional merchant accounts can be expensive and time-consuming to set up, so many small businesses are looking to accept credit cards without setting one up. Popular payment service providers (also called third-party payment processors) like Square and PayPal make it cheap and easy to start accepting payments with a relatively simple signup process and standardized per-transaction payment processing fees.

Keep reading to learn how to accept credit cards without a merchant account, the best payment service providers for taking credit cards, and when it makes more sense to get a merchant account for your business.

If you need more options, check out the best credit card processors for small businesses.

Learn More About Our Top Picks

CompanyBest ForNext StepsBest For
Square

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  • Best for in-person payments
  • $0-$60/month/location
  • 2.5%-2.9% payment processing fee
  • Best for in-person payments
  • $0-$60/month/location
  • 2.5%-2.9% payment processing fee

Visit Site

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Shopify Payments

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  • Best for easy eCommerce setup
  • $29-$399/month
  • 2.4%-2.9% payment processing fee
  • Best for easy eCommerce setup
  • $29-$399/month
  • 2.4%-2.9% payment processing fee

Visit Site

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Stripe Payments

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  • Best for advanced eCommerce features
  • $0/month
  • 2.7%-2.9% payment processing fee
  • Best for advanced eCommerce features
  • $0/month
  • 2.7%-2.9% payment processing fee

Visit Site

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Venmo

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  • Best for individuals taking occasional card payments
  • $0/month
  • 1.9%-3.49% payment processing fee
  • Best for individuals taking occasional card payments
  • $0/month
  • 1.9%-3.49% payment processing fee

Visit Site

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PayPal

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  • Best for low-volume merchants
  • $0-$30/month
  • 2.99%-3.49% payment processing fee
  • Best for low-volume merchants
  • $0-$30/month
  • 2.99%-3.49% payment processing fee

Visit Site

Read More

Show Fewer Options

Read more below to learn why we chose these options.

What Is A Merchant Account?

A merchant account is a special bank account that temporarily holds money from credit and debit card transactions. Once transaction processing is complete and your provider has taken out its fees, the remaining funds are transferred to your business bank account.

This approach comes with several advantages and disadvantages:

Pros

  • Unique Merchant Identification Number (MID) for each merchant
  • Lower risk of sudden account holds, freezes, or terminations
  • Can be less expensive overall at higher processing volumes than third-party processors

Cons

  • Extensive underwriting process is required before approval
  • Often includes numerous additional monthly and annual fees
  • Usually more expensive than payment service providers for low-volume businesses

How To Accept Credit Card Payments Without A Merchant Account

To accept credit card payments without a merchant account, you can use a payment service provider such as PayPal or Stripe. Payment service providers, also called third-party payment processors, combine all their merchants into a single large merchant account, eliminating the need for a time-consuming and paperwork-intensive underwriting process before your account can be approved. This approach also cuts down your provider’s account maintenance costs significantly, allowing it to pass some of the savings onto you.

Note: With a payment service provider, you won’t have your own separate merchant account with a unique Merchant ID Number.

Signing up with a third-party processor has its pros and cons, including:

Pros

  • No extensive underwriting process is required before approval
  • Usually includes no additional monthly or annual fees
  • Usually less expensive than traditional merchant accounts for low-volume businesses

Cons

  • Higher risk of sudden account holds, freezes, or terminations
  • It can be more expensive overall at higher processing volumes than a traditional merchant account
  • May lack advanced features or customization options available with a merchant account

5 Best Options To Accept Credit Card Payments Without A Merchant Account

Your best options to accept credit cards without a merchant account are payment service providers, which offer short-term contracts, low monthly fees, and transparent payment processing fees.

Our choices for the best payment service providers include:

Compare The Best Ways To Take Payments Without A Merchant Account

Ideal For Monthly Fee Credit Card Processing Fees Contract Required
Square Retail, restaurant, service businesses $0-$60 2.5%-2.9% Monthly
Shopify Retail businesses $29-$399 2.4%-2.9% Monthly/annual
Stripe eCommerce-only businesses $0 2.7%-2.9% Monthly
Venmo Additional payment method for sole proprietors $0 1.9%-3.49% Optional
PayPal Additional payment method for businesses $0 2.29%-3.49% Monthly

Square: Best For In-Person Payments

Total Rating 4.8
Fees & Rates5.0

Products & Services4.7

Contract4.3

Sales & Advertising Transparency5.0

Customer Service4.9

User Reviews4.9



Get a free card swiper from Square at no cost when you create a free account. Claim your card reader.

Pros

  • Month-to-month billing
  • Predictable flat-rate pricing
  • Very affordable card readers and terminals
  • Very cost-effective for small and seasonal businesses

Cons

  • Account stability issues
  • Not available to most high-risk industries
  • Can be expensive at high processing volumes

Square Terminal handheld POS system, Square Register, and Square iPad stand.

Square Terminal handheld POS system, Square Register, and Square iPad stand.

Why We Chose Square For In-Person Payments

We believe that Square is the most affordable and feature-rich mobile payment processing solution, especially for businesses that require POS terminals. The company offers industry-specific POS systems for retail, restaurant, and service-based businesses along with flat-rate payment processing.

The company offers both free and paid plans that include advanced features for an additional monthly subscription fee. The advanced features are very cost-effective when compared to other payment processors that come with POS software.

Related: Read our Square For Restaurants review if you're looking to implement one of the best restaurant POS systems at your business.

Square Pricing

Square includes the following costs:

  • 2.5%-2.6% + $0.10 for swiped/dipped/tapped transactions
  • 2.6%-2.9% + $0.30 for online transactions
  • 3.5% + $0.15 for keyed-in transactions
  • No monthly minimum
  • No PCI compliance fees
  • $0-$60/location/month depending on your POS software plan

Note: Square’s flat-rate pricing works best for relatively low-volume businesses, but can be more expensive than a merchant account at higher payment processing volumes. If your business grows above approximately $5,000/month in credit and debit card sales, you should consider transitioning to a full-service merchant account.

Square Features

Square was one of the first third-party payment processors to offer a way to accept credit card payments in person. The original mobile processing system has evolved into a fully-featured platform for POS, payments, and more products by Square for small businesses.

Major features include:

  • EMV and NFC-compatible mobile card readers
  • Square Terminal for in-person sales
  • Square Stand iPad-based POS system
  • Free Square Online Store for all Square users
  • Virtual terminal for keyed-in or in-person transactions
  • Numerous secondary services (invoicing, inventory management, etc.)
  • Industry-specific POS software plans

Related: Check out our Square For Retail review for more information on retail inventory management and online sales and our guide to Square hardware for more details on Square’s hardware offering.

Get Started With Square

Read our in-depth review

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Shopify Payments: Best For Easy eCommerce Setup

Shopify Payments

Total Rating 4.6
Fees & Rates4.7

Products & Services4.5

Contract5.0

Sales & Advertising Transparency4.6

Customer Service3.7

User Reviews4.4



Pros

  • Predictable flat-rate pricing
  • Compatibility with PayPal and Shop Pay app
  • Excellent eCommerce store customizations
  • Multicurrency payments supported
  • Free POS app included with online stores

Cons

  • Requires monthly subscription fee
  • Add-ons often necessary
  • Account stability issues

Shopify online store checkout page using Shopify Payments to accept payment

Shopify online store checkout page using Shopify Payments to accept payment.

Why We Chose Shopify Payments For An Easy eCommerce Setup Process

We believe that Shopify provides an excellent out-of-the-box eCommerce platform for entrepreneurs who want to start an online business but don't want to spend too much time or effort on technical details. Setting up Shopify Payments is easy to do. The payment processor comes with all Shopify accounts, and all you have to do is activate it.

Shopify's easy-to-use interface helps merchants build a professional-looking website, with or without a coding professional. It also connects to Shopify POS software, which is built specifically for omnichannel retail businesses.

Related: Read our Shopify review for more information on Shopify's eCommerce store builder features.

Shopify Payments Pricing

Shopify charges the following prices to use Shopify Payments:

  • 2.4%-2.7%/transaction
  • 2.4%-2.9% + $0.30/transaction
  • $5-$399/month subscription plans
  • $49 Shopify Tap & Chip Reader
  • Additional fees apply for optional services

Note: The higher-level plans offer substantially lower payment processing rates and better retail inventory and shipping management features.

Shopify Payments Features

Shopify is a very popular eCommerce platform that includes all the features you’ll need to set up an online business and start selling from your website. While you can use Shopify with just about any merchant services provider, Shopify Payments integrates directly with the Shopify platform and is very well-suited to fledgling eCommerce businesses.

Key features include the following:

  • Omnichannel payments platform with online store, social media, and online marketplace sales
  • Several easy-to-install software apps available
  • Integrated security and PCI compliance services
  • Affordable EMV and NFC-compatible card readers available
  • Shopify POS software available to offer in-store shopping and online shopping with in-store pickup
  • Strong international website building and shipping features
  • Compatibility with PayPal Express without having to pay extra transaction fees
  • Compatibility with the Shop Pay app, which allows customers to save payment information for later, track packages in real time, and pay for items in installments
  • Extensive developer tools

Related: Read our Shopify POS review for more information on how you can use this retail POS system to create a hybrid shopping experience for your customers.

Get Started With Shopify Payments

Read our in-depth review

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Stripe Payments: Best For Advanced eCommerce Features

Stripe Payments

Total Rating 4.7
Fees & Rates4.7

Products & Services4.5

Contract5.0

Sales & Advertising Transparency5.0

Customer Service4.5

User Reviews4.1



Pros

  • Extensive developer tools and customization options
  • Predictable flat-rate pricing
  • Low-code features available
  • Excellent international sales features

Cons

  • Needs technical skills to implement in most cases
  • Account stability issues
  • Not available to high-risk businesses

Customizable Stripe payment link

Customizable Stripe payment link to be emailed to a customer.

Why We Chose Stripe For Advanced eCommerce Features

For eCommerce or omnichannel merchants, Stripe offers the most sophisticated platform you can find, but you'll most likely need either a developer or coding skills to take full advantage of all the capabilities it offers, such as branding your checkout flow or setting up a unique payments platform for B2B customers.

Stripe is one of the few providers we've found that combines transparent, small-business-friendly pricing with the kinds of advanced features you'd normally only find with a full-service merchant account.

It's a great choice for almost any online business, regardless of size or processing volume. It's also perfect for international businesses, as it's available in most major countries around the world, supports a variety of local payment methods, and can process multicurrency transactions.

Stripe Pricing

Stripe pricing includes:

  • 2.9% + $0.30 per online transaction
  • 2.7% + $0.05 per in-person transaction
  • 1% + $0.30 per international transaction
  • 1% per currency conversion (if needed)
  • 0.8% per ACH transfer (maximum of $5.00)
  • No monthly fee
  • $15/incident chargeback fee
  • Additional fees for some optional services
  • Customized pricing available

Read our Stripe pricing guide for more information on customized pricing and paid Stripe add-ons.

Stripe Features

Stripe is the most advanced and customizable online payment platform in the industry but has also recently begun to expand into the retail sector as well. Here are the primary features it offers:

  • Integrated payments platform with customizable checkout interface
  • Extensive online shopping cart compatibility
  • 135+ payment methods available including digital wallets and local currency options available for 195 countries
  • Invoice, recurring billing, and one-click checkout flows
  • Advanced analytics and reporting tools
  • Strong set of developer tools for site customization
  • Stripe Radar anti-fraud detection service
  • Support for in-person payments via Stripe Terminal
  • Connections to the most popular POS systems and eCommerce platforms
  • Numerous secondary services are available

Get Started With Stripe Payments

Read our in-depth review

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Venmo For Business: Best For Individuals Taking Occasional Card Payments

Venmo


Visit Site


Pros

  • Lower in-person payment processing rates than competitors
  • No card reader required
  • No business bank account or EIN required
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • Customers must have Venmo accounts for lower payment processing fees
  • Merchant is responsible for tax reporting
  • Very limited business management features

Payment via Venmo app and QR code on mobile phone

Payment via Venmo app and QR code on mobile phone.

Why We Chose Venmo For Individuals Taking Occasional Card Payments

We like that Venmo (which is owned by PayPal) is a widely recognized peer-to-peer payment app with low in-person payment processing fees that make it easy for individuals to take occasional card payments on the go. Venmo offers business accounts but is not technically a third-party payment processor. All you need is U.S. residency status and a personal Venmo account, so most individuals can sign up for a business account. There are no business bank account or EIN (employer identification number) requirements.

Because Venmo has minimal inventory management, customer management, financial reporting, and software integration capabilities, we only recommend Venmo for individuals and very small businesses charging for services or singular items.

Note: To take online transactions, you need to sign up for either a PayPal Business account or use Braintree, which is a payment system owned by PayPal.

Venmo Pricing

Venmo includes the following pricing:

  • 1.9% + $0.10/transaction for payments made using the Venmo app and a QR code
  • 2.29% + $0.09/transaction for tap-to-pay payments
  • 3.49% + $0.49/transaction for purchases made online or in-app using the Braintree gateway or PayPal Checkout
  • Purchases limited to $2,999.99/transaction
  • Total purchases limited to $24,999.99/week (or $2,499.99 without identity verification)
  • Transfers to your bank account limited to $49,999.99/week (or $999.99 without identity verification)
  • Transfers to your bank account limited to $50,000/transaction for instant transfers
  • $14.99 Venmo QR code kit

Related: Read our Braintree review to decide whether this online payment system is suited for your small business.

Venmo Features

Venmo For Business accounts allow individuals and very small businesses to accept payments through Venmo’s peer-to-peer payments network, and includes the following features:

  • In-person payments using QR codes and the Venmo mobile app
  • Online payments using PayPal Checkout or the Braintree payment gateway
  • QR code kit available (includes printed QR codes in multiple sizes)
  • Venmo charity profile for nonprofits
  • Social sharing of purchases so your customers can show their friends what they’re buying

Note: Venmo is rolling out tap-to-pay features for Venmo business profile users. Once you have access to this feature, you can take card and digital wallet payments like Google Pay using your iPhone or Android device. No credit card reader is required.

For more information on how Venmo business accounts work and how to set one up, read our guide to Venmo For Business.

Get Started With Venmo

Read our in-depth review

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PayPal: Best For Low-Volume Merchants

Total Rating 4.2
Fees & Rates3.8

Products & Services4.2

Contract4.6

Sales & Advertising Transparency5.0

Customer Service4.1

User Reviews3.3



Pros

  • Trusted by consumers
  • Predictable flat-rate pricing
  • Extensive integrations
  • All-in-one payments system

Cons

  • Account stability issues
  • Inconsistent customer support
  • Does not accept high-risk merchants

PayPal button generator example.

PayPal buy button generator for selling individual items.

Why We Chose PayPal For Low-Volume Merchants

Despite its recent price increases, PayPal can still be a good option for many small businesses.

PayPal accounts don't come with long-term contracts or early termination penalties, and even the company's free service tier offers all the basic features an online business will need. Because of the pay-as-you-go nature of PayPal's fee structure, many merchants use it as a backup payment acceptance method in addition to their primary provider.

However, if you're thinking of using PayPal as your sole means of accepting credit and debit card payments, we strongly encourage you to take a careful look at the company's new pricing structure. While some of the processing fees are competitive with what other third-party processors charge, others are above industry averages and could cost you a lot of money if they apply to the types of transactions that you accept most frequently.

PayPal Pricing

PayPal’s revamped pricing structure is now more complex. Here’s an overview of the primary rates and fees you should know:

  • 2.29% + $0.09 for mobile and in-person transactions
  • 2.99% + $0.49 for online sales (standard plan)
  • 3.49% + $0.09 for keyed-in transactions
  • 3.09% + $0.49 for virtual terminal transactions
  • 1.5%/international transaction
  • $0/month for PayPal Checkout
  • $5/month for PayPal Payments Advanced
  • $30/month for PayPal Payments Pro

For a more detailed breakdown of PayPal’s pricing, please see our complete guide to PayPal’s merchant fees.

PayPal Features

An early eCommerce pioneer, PayPal enjoys near-universal name recognition and offers a complete payments ecosystem for just about any type of business. Highlights of the company’s services include the following:

  • Credit and debit card payment processing
  • Support for localized payment methods
  • Contextual checkout buttons
  • Hosted checkout page
  • Virtual terminal available (additional fee applies)
  • Recurring billing available (additional fee applies)
  • Connections with popular eCommerce platforms

Get Started With PayPal

Read our in-depth review

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Payment Processing Rating Methodology

Merchant Maverick has been researching the payment processing industry since 2009. Our writers have reviewed hundreds of credit card processors, merchant account services, and mobile payment apps, evaluating each provider carefully on several different metrics.

When comparing different payment processing companies and applications to one another, we consider numerous data points. Our experts start by comparing credit card processing rates, the presence of additional fees, contract length, sales practices, and the presence or absence of additional features and services, like point of sale software. Each provider is judged on its own merits and how well it stacks up to industry standards; then it is weighed against the other providers on the list.

We spend an average of 10-15 hours researching and updating each one of our lists, making sure every company or application included meets our internal standards for quality and reputation. Any list of recommended payment processors on our site might contain a mix of standard merchant accounts, third-party payment processors, mobile payment devices, and high-risk payment processors, depending on what our expert feels is the best fit for certain scenarios or business types.

For additional details about Merchant Maverick’s review and rating processes, please refer to any or all of the following methodology pages:

15

Years reviewing payment processors

100+

Providers evaluated

25

Attributes and features assessed per vendor

40+

Years combined experience


How To Accept Credit Cards For Personal Use

In addition to payment service providers, peer-to-peer money transfer apps have made it easier than ever to send or receive a payment for personal or business transactions. Remember that all income must be reported to the IRS, even if you do not receive an IRS Form 1099-K. Here’s how the most popular services handle this issue:

Zelle

While Zelle is perhaps the easiest to use and most accessible peer-to-peer service available, it won’t be very helpful at tax time. Because it does not settle funds, Zelle maintains that it’s exempt from IRS income reporting laws.

Although you can set up a Zelle profile for your business, you won’t receive an IRS Form 1099-K for any transactions, regardless of the amount. You should also be aware that not all banks that use Zelle offer it for business purposes, and those that do may or may not charge fees for business-related transfers.

Square Cash App

Even if you’re not using Square as your third-party processor of choice, the Square Cash App can be a handy way to accept payments.

While you can download the app and set up an account for free, any payments you accept that are funded with a credit card will incur a 2.75% processing fee. You’ll also pay a 3% fee if you want to add money to your Square Cash account using a credit card.

Square also offers a Cash App Business Account for individuals looking to keep business and personal transactions separate. Like other peer-to-peer services, Square Cash App issues 1099-Ks for qualifying transactions.

Personal PayPal Account

While you can use your personal PayPal account for the occasional business transaction, you’d be solely responsible for accurately reporting your income to the IRS for tax purposes. You’d also miss out on all the additional features and services that PayPal offers to merchants.

Personal Venmo Account

Venmo offers peer-to-peer money transfers for both personal use and business use. However, Venmo only offers tax form management on Venmo For Business profiles.

Read our guide to filing small business taxes to prepare for tax season.

What To Look For If You Want To Accept Payments Without A Merchant Account

Here’s a brief overview of the major features you should evaluate before selecting a third-party processor for your business:

In-Person Payments Features

To accept credit cards in person, you should get a credit card reader or terminal to swipe, dip, or tap the customer’s card. All the payment processors on this list offer credit card readers, while companies like Square and Shopify offer full POS register setups.

If you want to accept credit card payments without a credit card machine, use a QR code payment method from a provider like PayPal or use Square’s tap-to-pay feature available on iPhones.

Note: Taking payments with a card reader will always cost less than QR code or online payments. This is because the card itself is present and that makes the payment more secure.

Online Payment Support

You’ll need a payment gateway or virtual terminal to take payments online. A payment gateway is a service that connects your online store to your provider’s processing network. A virtual terminal is software that runs on your computer or mobile device, allowing you to manually enter credit card payment information or function as a terminal in conjunction with a compatible card reader.

Most major payment gateways today include a built-in virtual terminal feature. Most third-party processors provide a free virtual terminal as part of your account (with the notable exception of PayPal, which inexplicably charges $30/month for this rather basic feature).

Alternative Payment Methods

Customers are starting to expect alternative payment methods, including digital wallets (e.g. Apple Pay), ACH payments, and online invoicing. In some cases, alternative payment methods can also decrease your payment processing fees.

Third-party payment processors have responded to this demand by offering increased support for popular alternative payment methods. Identify which alternative payment methods are relevant for your business before choosing your payment processor.

Strong Customer Support

Customer support is an important factor in choosing your payment processor because you want to be able to contact someone if your account freezes or you run into trouble when you integrate your payment processor with third-party software. Look for payment processors with several modes of support (phone, email, live chat, etc.)

Also, look for a provider with good self-help articles so you can troubleshoot issues on your own before contacting customer support.

Should My Business Accept Payments Without A Merchant Account?

If you process below $5,000/month, we generally recommend that you accept credit card payments without a merchant account. Above that amount, we generally recommend a full-service merchant account as a more stable and less expensive option. However, the monthly processing volume requirement isn’t set in stone. You should also consider factors such as average ticket size, specific POS hardware or software needs, and whether your business is seasonal.

If you decide to use a payment service provider instead of a merchant account, we recommend the following best practices:

  • Do look for a provider that offers month-to-month billing with no long-term contracts
  • Do purchase your processing hardware (if any) outright rather than leasing a credit card machine
  • Do read all of your contract documents thoroughly before you sign up


  • Don’t choose a provider just because it promises the lowest rates
  • Don’t lie or misrepresent the nature of your business when applying for an account
  • Don’t forget to review your monthly processing statements to see how much you’re actually paying for your account

In addition to the providers we’ve reviewed above, check out our roundups of the best free credit card processors and the best online payment processors to explore other options for small business owners.

FAQs: How To Accept Credit Card Payments Without A Merchant Account

How can I accept a credit card without a POS machine?

To accept credit cards without a POS machine, use a mobile card reader that pairs with a POS app on your smartphone or tablet, generate a QR code that people can scan to pay online, or manually enter the card details into a virtual terminal or mobile app.

Note: Taking payments without a physical card reader costs more in payment processing fees. We recommend purchasing one to take payments in person.

How can I accept payments online without a merchant account?

You can accept payments online without a merchant account by using a third-party payment processor, such as Square, Stripe, or Shopify. Peer-to-peer payment services like Venmo can also be used to accept digital payments as well.

Can I accept a credit card without a business?

You can use peer-to-peer payment services like Venmo, Zelle, and the Square Cash App to accept credit cards without a business. It’s also possible to sign up for a Square account for personal use, even if you don’t have a business.

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Frank Kehl

Frank Kehl

Senior Staff Writer at Merchant Maverick
Frank has been writing about payment processing and business services since 2015. He is a retired Air Force officer and a former practicing attorney. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from The Pennsylvania State University and a Juris Doctorate degree from the Ventura College of Law, and currently resides in Paso Robles, California.
Frank Kehl
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