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The Best Payment Gateway Providers For Online Businesses

A payment gateway can form the backbone of an integrated payment system that tracks all of your transactions, including both retail and online sales.

    Frank Kehl
  • UPDATED

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

You probably already know that if you want to be able to accept payments over the internet, you’re going to need a payment gateway. This is simply a software application (usually web-based these days) that accepts customer payment data, encrypts it, and routes it to the appropriate payment processing network for transaction processing. Payment gateways are essential for eCommerce, but they’re also very valuable for in-person transactions as well.

A payment gateway can form the backbone of an integrated payment system that tracks all of your business’s transactions, including both retail and online sales. Payment gateways go hand-in-hand with merchant accounts (or an account with a payment service provider (PSP)) to allow you to accept a transaction, submit it for processing, and receive the proceeds from the sale in your business bank account.

This article will examine and recommend a few of the best payment gateways for small businesses currently in the marketplace. We’ll also point out some important features to help you comparison-shop. Some of the gateways we discuss come free with a payment processing account, but others you buy yourself and connect to a merchant account provider. Whichever one you pick in the end, we hope that this article helps you make that decision.

Learn More About Our Top Picks

CompanySummaryNext StepsSummary
Authorize.Net

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Best for accepting a wide range of currencies.
Best for accepting a wide range of currencies.

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Stripe Payments

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Best flat-rate pricing.
Best flat-rate pricing.

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Amazon Pay

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Best for Amazon sellers.
Best for Amazon sellers.

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2Checkout

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Best for online transactions.
Best for online transactions.

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Braintree Payment Solutions

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Best for eCommerce.
Best for eCommerce.

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Read more below to learn why we chose these options.

How To Choose A Payment Gateway Provider

There are two ways to add a payment gateway to your credit card processing system. The most common – and easiest – method is to use an integrated approach, where your merchant account and payment gateway are both provided by your merchant services provider. This method eliminates most compatibility issues and often costs less overall. However, your choice of payment gateway will be limited to whatever services your provider offers, and the gateway itself might not have a robust feature set or extensive customization options.

It’s also possible to utilize a non-integrated approach, in which you obtain your gateway and merchant account separately from different providers. This approach was more common during the early days of eCommerce when many traditional merchant account providers didn’t offer a payment gateway. While that’s no longer the case today, a non-integrated approach can still be a good choice if you need specialized gateway features that your merchant account provider doesn’t offer. Be sure to research potential compatibility issues before trying this approach. Also, be aware that getting these two separate services from different companies will usually be more expensive overall.

Regardless of which approach you use, our best advice is to focus primarily on selecting the best payment processor for your business, rather than letting your choice of payment gateway drive your decision on which merchant services provider to sign up with. The exception would be if your business has unique needs in terms of gateway features and you have the technical skills to cobble everything together on your own.

The 5 Best Payment Gateways For Small Business

Below are our recommendations for the best online payment gateway providers for small businesses. We picked them for their feature sets, compatibility with other systems, and price.

  • Authorize.Net
  • Stripe
  • Amazon Pay
  • 2Checkout (now Verifone)
  • Braintree

1. Authorize.Net

Authorize.Net



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Pros

  • Broad support for multiple payment methods and currencies
  • Strong security and fraud prevention features
  • Month-to-month billing with no long-term contracts

Cons

  • Pricing is expensive for merchants who sign up with the company directly
  • High flat-rate pricing for the optional merchant account
  • Data portability is unusually difficult and expensive

You can directly set up payment processing with Authorize.Net, but the company is better known for its feature-rich gateway that can integrate with other merchant account providers. If you wish to use Authorize.Net, we recommend signing up through your merchant account provider. The provider can typically give you a better discount for using the gateway.

Authorize.Net has been around since 1996, so it has had time to build up the features that comes with the gateway. Here’s what Authorize.Net can do:

  • Accept all major credit and debit cards
  • Accept ACH and eCheck payments
  • Accept PayPal, Apple Pay, and Google Pay
  • Accept international transactions (but your business must be based in the US, Canada, UK, Europe, or Australia)
  • Offer advanced fraud protection tools

There are three ways to sign up with Authorize.Net, depending on whether or not you already have a relationship with a merchant account provider:

  • If you already have a merchant account but sign up with Authorize.Net directly, you are charged:
    • $25/month gateway fee
    • $25/incident for chargebacks
    • $0.10 daily batch fee
    • $0.10/transaction on top of what your merchant account provider charges (+ 1.5% for international transactions)
  • If you do not have a merchant account and wish to set one up through Authorize.Net, you are charged:
    • $25/month gateway fee
    • 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction
  • If you already have a merchant account and wish to sign up with Authorize.Net through your merchant account provider, you are charged:
    • Monthly gateway fee (typically lower than the $25/month that Authorize.Net charges if signing up directly)
    • Per-transaction processing fee (often $0.05/transaction or at least lower than the $0.10/transaction that Authorize.Net charges if signing up directly)

Authorize.Net is portable between merchant account providers. If you want to change from Authorize.Net to another gateway provider, however, it’ll be difficult and costly to download your customers’ payment data (which includes encrypted credit card numbers used in recurring billing).

Get Started With Authorize.Net

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2. Stripe

Stripe Payments



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Pros

  • Pay-as-you-go pricing with no setup or monthly fees
  • Transparent flat-rate pricing
  • No long-term contracts or early termination fees
  • Huge API library for developers

Cons

  • May be expensive for high-volume merchants
  • Elevated risk of account holds and terminations

Stripe is a payment service provider (PSP) that specializes in eCommerce. Since you can’t process eCommerce online payments without a gateway, a free payment gateway comes with your Stripe account.

You can also add or customize the gateway’s features through Stripe’s vast API library or supported third-party integrations. Stripe also supports data portability, so you can easily take your customer information with you if you decide to change providers later.

Stripe does not charge for:

  • Account setup
  • Monthly gateway fee
  • Additional per-transaction fee
  • Monthly ACH processing fee
  • Recurring billing

Stripe does charge for the following:

  • Credit Card: 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction
  • ACH: $0.8% per transaction, capped at $5.00
  • Chargeback: $15 per lost dispute

For additional pricing details, please refer to our full Stripe review. Stripe also supports other payment avenues, such as Bitcoin, Apple Pay, and Google Pay.

Since Stripe’s gateway is fully integrated with its processing service, we need to touch on one major drawback to using Stripe. Stripe is a payment service provider (PSP), meaning that you’ll have an aggregated account rather than your own merchant account with a unique merchant ID number. One inherent weakness of all PSPs is that there is a higher chance of experiencing held funds, or even having your account suddenly terminated with little or no warning. While the chance of this happening to you is still rather low, it’s something to consider if your business is particularly reliant on credit card sales to maintain an adequate cash flow.

For a detailed comparison between Stripe and Authorize.Net, check out our Stripe VS Authorize.Net matchup.

Get Started With Stripe Payments

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3. Amazon Pay

Amazon Pay



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Pros

  • No contracts — pay as you go
  • Great for sellers with Amazon
  • Brand recognition

Cons

  • Risk of account holds, terminations, and withheld funds
  • No brick-and-mortar payment support

Despite its name, Amazon Pay isn’t restricted to the Amazon website and Alexa. Amazon Pay uses the payment service provider (PSP) model to provide credit card processing services. Because Amazon Pay is for online payments, it comes with a free payment gateway.

While you can use Amazon Pay strictly on your website, most of its services are optimized or integrated with Amazon’s functionalities. For instance, to get an Amazon Pay account, you must sign up as an Amazon merchant because most of the processing is controlled through the Amazon Seller Central dashboard. Sales reports and chargeback claims are all viewed through this dashboard.

With Amazon Pay, you can:

  • Take credit card payments while staying on your website
  • Collect donations
  • Set up recurring billing (customer must make the payment through their Amazon.com account)
  • Integrate with third-party shopping carts

Amazon charges:

  • 2.9% processing fee + $0.30 authorization fee per transaction (for domestic US transactions)
  • 3.9% processing fee + $0.30 authorization fee per transaction (for cross-border transactions)
  • $20.00 per incident chargeback fee

You won’t have to worry about the following with Amazon Pay:

  • No contracts
  • No account setup fee
  • No monthly fees
  • No PCI compliance fees

Your business’s bank account must be associated with your Seller Central Account to receive payments from Amazon. Amazon uses a mandatory reserve system. When you first start processing with Amazon, it will hold your payment for 14 days. After that, Amazon will hold funds for seven days before disbursing the funds to you on a rolling basis.

Because of its close integration with other Amazon services, any data stored with your Amazon Pay gateway probably isn’t portable. If you’re already an Amazon merchant, you might not mind this. But if you have philosophical objections to Amazon’s dominant market position, then Amazon Pay probably isn’t for you.

Get Started With Amazon Pay

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4. 2Checkout (Now Verifone)

2Checkout



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Pros

  • Predictable flat-rate pricing
  • Month-to-month billing
  • Broad support for international merchants

Cons

  • Cannot process card-present transactions
  • Frequent reports of held funds
  • Not available to high-risk merchants

2Checkout is a payment service provider (PSP) focused exclusively on online processing. As such, a free payment gateway comes with every account. 2Checkout currently does not support in-person processing at all, but this might change in the future because it was recently bought by the processing hardware maker Verifone.

2Checkout offers very strong international processing capabilities, as it can process payments from 234 countries and territories worldwide. 2Checkout accounts come with a large set of services, but it also has higher pricing to match all the extras you’ll get. Depending on your plan, you’ll get some or all of the following services typically found in other gateways:

  • Take payments in 234 countries & territories
  • Integrates with 120+ online shopping carts
  • Checkout page can be hosted by 2Checkout or integrated with your website
  • Recurring billing
  • Fraud protection tools
  • Online store builder

2Checkout offers three pricing tiers, plus a customized tier for high-volume accounts. The three basic tiers are:

  • 2Sell: 3.5% + $0.35 per transaction
  • 2Subscribe: 4.5% + $0.45 per transaction
  • 2Monetize: 6.0% + $0.60 per transaction

Note that these rates are significantly higher than the average processor’s rates. 2Checkout claims that the higher charges are reasonable because of the additional services each tier provides. Look at the services carefully before deciding if the pricing makes sense for your particular business.

In addition to the above, be sure to consider 2Checkout’s variable chargeback fees and cross-border fees before making a final decision.

It’s a little unclear whether or not your customer data stored with 2Checkout is portable if you wish to change processors. If you’re interested in using 2Checkout, be sure to ask about this issue.

Get Started With 2Checkout

Read our in-depth review

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5. Braintree

Braintree Payment Solutions



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Read our Review

Pros

  • Predictable flat-rate pricing
  • Easy to set up and begin accepting payments
  • Free, unrestricted data portability

Cons

  • Overpriced gateway-only option
  • Flat-rate pricing may be expensive for high-volume merchants

Braintree is a traditional merchant account provider that is owned by PayPal. Braintree is eCommerce-focused, so it provides a free payment gateway with every merchant account.

Merchants in the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and New Zealand can sign up for Braintree’s processing services. Payments can be accepted in over 130 currencies, including Bitcoin. Braintree will convert and deposit funds in USD for a 1% fee.

Braintree has no:

  • Account setup fee
  • Monthly fees
  • Gateway fee
  • Long-term contract
  • Early termination fee

Braintree charges a flat 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction for all online transactions. If you process over $80,000/month, you can contact the company for customized pricing. ACH processing is also available for 0.75% of the transaction and capped at $5. Users in the US can also pay with PayPal, PayPal Credit, and Venmo.

The Braintree gateway comes with the following standard features:

  • Basic fraud tools
  • Encrypted vault for keeping payment card information
  • Recurring billing
  • Wide variety of third-party integrations

The Braintree data is portable, and you won’t need to pay any additional fees to export your data. However, if you switch to another merchant account provider, but wish to keep your Braintree gateway, this option will cost $49/month + an extra $0.10 per transaction processed over the gateway.

Braintree is very similar to Stripe in terms of costs and features. Check out our article, Stripe VS Braintree: Which Online Payment Processor & Gateway Is Right For You?, for a head-to-head comparison of the two.

Get Started With Braintree Payment Solutions

Read our in-depth review

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Understanding Payment Gateway Pricing & Fees

There are three types of fees you might encounter when using a payment gateway, including the following:

  • Setup Fee: This is a one-time fee to set up your payment gateway on your website and connect it to your payment processor’s network. Setup fees typically run about $25-$50, although they’re being phased out industry-wide, and most providers no longer charge them.
  • Monthly Gateway Fee: Most providers charge a monthly subscription fee for the use of their gateway (usually around $25/month). However, it’s becoming increasingly common for merchant services providers to not charge this fee if you use one of their gateways.
  • Per-Transaction Processing Fee: Many providers will charge an extra fee of $0.05-$0.10 per transaction for every sale processed over the gateway. You’ll usually see these fees if you take a non-integrated approach and get your gateway and processing services from different providers.

Many of these additional fees for using a gateway stem from the fact that eCommerce has only been around for about 25 years now, and there were many more security concerns back in the early days.

With integrated payment systems processing even in-person transactions over a gateway, there’s little reason today to charge extra for using one. At the same time, gateway providers have to charge you something for using their product, even if that cost is bundled in with your regular merchant services.

Also, card-not-present transactions are always going to incur higher interchange fees due to the limited options available to authenticate the buyer’s identity.

Do Free Payment Gateways Exist?

With the caveat that nothing is ever truly free in the payments processing industry, it is possible to get a payment gateway for your business without having to pay any of the additional fees listed above.

For small business owners looking to get access to a payment gateway for as little as possible, the best option is to sign up with a payment service provider (PSP) such as Stripe or Square, both of which are profiled above. PSPs typically operate on a pay-as-you-go basis, with no setup fees, monthly gateway fees, or additional per-transaction charges.

Higher-volume merchants that need the stability and additional features of a full-service merchant account will have a harder time finding a “free” gateway. While most merchant account providers no longer charge a setup fee to use one of their payment gateways, monthly gateway fees are still common.

One notable exception is CDGcommerce, which offers users a choice between its proprietary Quantum gateway, Authorize.Net, and several other prominent third-party gateways – all with no additional fees.

6 Essential Features For Credit Card Payment Gateways

At its core, a payment gateway is not an overly complicated piece of software. All it has to do is securely transmit payment information between your eCommerce website and your payment processor’s network. While you don’t need a gateway if you only process in-person transactions, it’s becoming increasingly common to process all transactions over a gateway as part of an integrated payments system that handles both online and card-present payments.

Most modern gateways come bundled with additional services and features. Below, we list a few that we consider fairly crucial when searching for the best payment gateway for your online business.

  • Security Features: Strong security features are the most important thing to look for in a payment gateway. At a minimum, your gateway should use end-to-end encryption and be fully PCI-compliant. Other security features to look for include tokenization support, AVS checks, and CCV checks. You should also seriously consider optional security features such as fraud analytics software (e.g., 3D Secure) and data breach insurance.
  • Support For Multiple Payment Methods: The more options you can give your customers to pay you with, the more likely they are to make a purchase. Your gateway should support as many payment methods as possible, including not only debit and credit cards, but also ACH transfers, digital wallets (e.g., Apple Pay or Google Pay), and local payment methods such as Alipay. Payment gateways can now also support cryptocurrency payments.
  • Multi-Currency Support: eCommerce websites tend to have customers from all over the world, and they all want to pay using the method most convenient to them. Be aware that you’ll have to pay an additional currency conversion fee for international transactions. You can learn more about international payment processing in our guide.
  • Recurring Billing Support: If you sell your services via a monthly subscription, you’ll need support for recurring billing. While this was traditionally a paid optional feature, it’s increasingly included as a standard feature with most payment gateways today.
  • Data Portability: If your customer payment data isn’t portable, it can be very hard for you to leave your payment processor for a competitor. Be sure to inquire about the ease and expense of exporting your customer data if you switch processors before you sign up with one.
  • APIs & Developer Tools: Ideally, you want your payment gateway to connect smoothly to the other software tools, such as inventory tracking, customer data management, bookkeeping, and others. This is why having a robust list of APIs and developer tools matters.

What Is The Best Payment Gateway For My Website?

One way to answer which payment gateway provider is best for your business is to examine what your business needs are today. Then, consider how those needs might expand as your business grows.

With payment gateways, you might want to find one that offers the flexibility you’ll need at the particular stage your business is at. If you’re still new, consider using a pay-as-you-go service to stay flexible. But if you have an established business, and know which features you’ll need and which features you’ll never use, it makes sense to focus on the payment gateways that provide the features you need for the best price. Always keep data portability in mind, though, so you can take your business elsewhere if that becomes necessary.

Questions? Comments? Experiences with the vendors on our list that you could share? Leave us a comment below!

And if you’d like to learn more about how to save money for your business, check out our article, 11 Credit Card Processors With The Lowest Fees & The Cheapest Ways To Accept Credit Card Payments.

Common Questions About Payment Gateways

How much does it cost to set up a payment gateway?

Payment gateway setup costs for merchants vary depending on the gateway. Some gateways that use third party payment processing have a pay-as-you-go model with no setup costs. Others may charge a one-time fee of $25-50. Some merchant account providers waive the setup fee as part of the account creation process.

What is the cheapest payment gateway?

The cheapest payment gateway is a relative matter. For businesses that do not have a large and steady volume of credit card payments, a pay-as-you-go gateway and processor such as Stripe is often the cheapest option. With higher sales volumes, a merchant account that waives gateway fees will provide the lowest rates and best value.

Which is the best payment gateway for high risk business?

High risk payment processing does not require a specialized gateway. Many high-risk merchant account providers offer the same payment gateways as other companies. However, high-risk processors do offer additional tools to mitigate risk, reduce or fight chargebacks, and keep cash flowing.

In Summary: The 5 Best Payment Gateways For Small Business

  1. Authorize.Net: Best for accepting a wide range of currencies.
  2. Stripe Payments: Best flat-rate pricing.
  3. Amazon Pay: Best for Amazon sellers.
  4. 2Checkout: Best for online transactions.
  5. Braintree Payment Solutions: Best for eCommerce.
Frank Kehl

Frank Kehl

Expert Analyst & Reviewer at Merchant Maverick
Frank Kehl has been researching and analyzing merchant services, payment gateways, and international money transfer services since 2015. He has a Bachelor of Science degree from Penn State and a Juris Doctorate from the Ventura College of Law.
Frank Kehl
View Frank Kehl's professional experience on LinkedIn.

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Merchant Maverick’s ratings are editorial in nature, and are not aggregated from user reviews. Each staff reviewer at Merchant Maverick is a subject matter expert with experience researching, testing, and evaluating small business software and services. The rating of this company or service is based on the author’s expert opinion and analysis of the product, and assessed and seconded by another subject matter expert on staff before publication. Merchant Maverick’s ratings are not influenced by affiliate partnerships.

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