The Best Retail Credit Card Processing Companies

Retail credit card processorDespite the increasing popularity of eCommerce, retail businesses are alive and well in the Twenty-first Century. Customers still need to shop for groceries, go out to a restaurant for dinner, and take their car to their mechanic to have the oil changed. For just about any brick-and-mortar business where the customer comes to you, you’ll need to be able to accept credit cards as a form of payment. Payment by credit or debit card has become increasingly popular over the past two decades – to the point where it’s somewhat unusual to see a customer pay with cash or a personal check anymore.

Accepting credit cards means having to get a merchant account. Unfortunately, the merchant account provider industry has a well-deserved reputation for high fees, long-term contracts, and poor service after the sale. They’re also well-known for hiding those expensive fees deep in the fine print of their contracts, and employing shady sales representatives who put tremendous pressure on merchants to sign up for an account, while conveniently failing to disclose the true cost of the accounts they’re selling.

It doesn’t have to be this way. When an industry gets a bad reputation like this, it opens up an opportunity for fair, ethical companies to come in and disrupt that industry by offering a better value. Believe it or not, there are some excellent companies out there who will treat you much better than most of the traditional merchant account providers. We’ve identified six account providers who offer a combination of products and services that are ideal for brick-and-mortar retail businesses. All of them have consistently been rated 5 out of 5 stars here at Merchant Maverick. No, that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect merchant account provider, mainly because some companies are better suited to different types of businesses than others. Nonetheless, you really can’t go wrong with any of the companies profiled below.

How We Chose:

There are many things to look for in choosing a merchant account provider, regardless of whether you’re in the retail or eCommerce sector (or both). Still, retail businesses have specific needs when it comes to credit card processing. The most important need is in the area of hardware. While an eCommerce merchant may never physically handle a customer’s credit card and can literally run their business from a laptop, a retail business is going to need at least one credit card terminal. If your business is large enough, you might need more than one. A point-of-sale (POS) system can also be very handy, whether it’s a dedicated POS device or a tablet-based system. Mobile payments are another capability that could be important, depending on the nature of your business.

We’ve identified the following criteria in evaluating our best retail merchant account providers. All the providers listed below scored very high on each of these criteria. Here’s what we looked at:

  • Hardware. At a minimum, you’re going to need a credit card terminal. While most traditional merchant account providers will lock you into an expensive, four-year terminal lease, the companies we chose will either sell you a terminal outright or allow you to rent one for a reasonable fee. Some of them will even provide you with a free terminal as long as you keep your account open. You’ll also want a terminal that’s EMV-compliant, and possibly with NFC capability as well so you can accept contactless payment methods such as Apple Pay. Depending on the nature and size of your business, you may or may not need a POS system or a mobile payments capability. If you do, all of the companies listed below will have you covered.
  • Sales and advertising. Traditional processors tend to treat their websites solely as an advertisement aimed at enticing you into contacting one of their sales representatives. Their sites are filled with vague promises about how great their services are, but with little or no information about pricing. When they do talk about their processing rates, they often use a sales gimmick of only quoting the lowest possible qualified rate, without mentioning that most of your transactions will be processed at a much higher rate. Account fees are rarely disclosed, although some companies try to fool you by only talking about the fees they don’t charge you, but without mentioning all the other fees you’ll still have to pay. A good merchant account provider should disclose the costs associated with their services, or at least discuss the variables that go into pricing. Luckily, all of our top providers have excellent, informative websites that lay out in detail what you’ll be paying.
  • Pricing. With any merchant account, pricing comes in two categories: rates and fees. Rates refer to the processing rates you’ll pay to process each transaction. Fees are the amounts you’ll pay on either a monthly or annual basis to maintain your account. While it’s perfectly reasonable to expect to pay some fees to keep your account up-to-date, many processors have gone overboard with nickel-and-diming merchants for every possible service they provide. In some cases, “junk” fees are charged where the merchant doesn’t even receive any benefit from the provider (i.e., PCI non-compliance fees). Our best merchant account providers offer processing rates that are based on either an interchange-plus pricing model or a subscription plan. The best providers in the industry also offer low, reasonable fees. They won’t charge you for things like setting up your account or providing a paper statement each month. They also won’t penalize you with an expensive early termination fee if you close your account before your contract expires. For a more in-depth look at rates and fees, see our Complete Guide to Credit Card Processing Rates and Fees.
  • Contracts. For many years, the standard practice in the processing industry has been to sign merchants up for a three-year contract, with an automatic renewal clause that extends the contract for additional one-year periods. Contracts also included an early termination fee, which would be imposed if the merchant closed their account before the contract term ended. The effect of these provisions was to make it very difficult to close your account and switch to a competing provider without incurring a substantial penalty. Merchants have been understandably unhappy with this arrangement for many years, and the industry is finally starting to come around. Our top retail providers will set you up with a month-to-month contract, and none of them will charge you an early termination fee. While you’ll be free to close your account without penalty at any time, you probably won’t have much reason to do so unless you close or sell your business.
  • Customer support. This is yet another area where traditional merchant account providers don’t have a good reputation. While most providers claim to have a 24/7 telephone line available for support, the huge volume of merchant complaints regarding customer service suggests that it doesn’t always work very well. Long waits on hold and not being able to reach someone who can actually solve a problem are common complaints. After-hours support is even worse, with calls usually being routed to an overseas call center staffed by representatives who frequently lack the training or authority to solve a problem. However, you won’t have these problems with our top providers. All of them have a reputation for providing top-notch customer support and service. Unlike most traditional providers, they also offer a knowledgebase on their websites to help you diagnose (and possibly solve) common problems on your own.

With these criteria in mind, here’s a more in-depth look at our favorite merchant account providers for retail businesses:

Dharma Merchant Services

Dharma Merchant Services review

While most merchant account providers stick with fairly conservative, business-like names for their companies, Dharma Merchant Services goes in the opposite direction, adopting a Sanskrit term found in several Eastern religions that roughly translates to “right way of living.” More than just a fancy name, it accurately describes Dharma’s unconventional approach to merchant accounts and credit card processing. Dharma allows you to buy your equipment outright, and only charges a very reasonable monthly account fee after that. Interchange-plus pricing is used exclusively, and contracts are month-to-month.

If you just need a basic credit card terminal, Dharma will sell you the popular Verifone Vx 520 terminal for $299. This rugged, wired terminal accepts magstripe and EMV cards, as well as Apple Pay. While you can find it for a lower price online, Dharma’s terminal already comes programmed with the software load to work with your Dharma merchant account. If you buy elsewhere, you’ll have to pay a $100.00 reprogramming fee to have the software installed on your terminal. Dharma also offers more fully-featured terminals, some with wireless capability. If you could benefit from a POS system, they feature the Clover Mini, one of our favorite POS systems for small businesses. Mobile payments are also supported using Clover Go, which comes with an app and a choice of either a plug-in or contactless reader.

Dharma’s rates and fees are simple and clearly spelled out on their website. All transactions are processed using an interchange-plus pricing model, with card-present transactions being charged interchange + 0.25% + $0.10 per transaction. A flat $10.00 per month account fee is all you’ll pay for a basic account. Some features cost extra, such as the Clover Go mobile payments service (another $10.00 per month), and a wireless terminal data plan ($20.00 per month). Incidental fees (such as chargebacks and Address Verification Fees) are all listed on their website.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, there is one catch: Dharma is a fantastic deal for merchants processing over $10,000 per month in credit card transactions, but it’s not cost-effective if you’re processing less than that. For smaller retail businesses, Dharma recommends Square as a more affordable alternative.

PROS:

  • Full range of terminals, POS systems, and mobile payments solutions for retail businesses
  • Simple, transparent interchange-plus-only pricing
  • No additional fees or long-term contracts
  • Excellent customer service and support

CONS:

  • Not the best fit for businesses processing less than $10,000 per month

For more information about Dharma, see our complete review here.

CDGcommerce

cdgcommerce-logo

CDGcommerce is another excellent choice for retail businesses. While many of our favorite providers have only been in business for about ten years or so, CDG first started up back in 1998. Like Dharma, they offer a very simple pricing structure, with transparent processing rates and minimal fees. With month-to-month contracts and excellent customer service, they’re a top choice for any retail business.

Ordinarily, we recommend that you buy your own terminals rather than leasing them from your merchant account provider. CDGcommerce is the exception to the rule, although what they offer isn’t a lease. While they don’t charge you for your terminal, you’ll have to pay $79 per year for terminal insurance. This is a fraction of what most terminal leases cost, and also ensures that your terminals always have the latest features and software upgrades. If you’d rather buy your own terminals, they’ll re-program them to work with your CDGcommerce merchant account for free. Wireless terminals are also available, but you’ll have to pay an additional $20.00 per month for the wireless data plan, and an extra $0.05 per transaction in processing fees.

CDG also offers POS and mobile payment solutions. Their Harbortouch Echo with the CDG POS+ app is a fully-featured POS system that’s an excellent choice for retail merchants who need something more powerful than a simple credit card reader. It can be rented for $49.00 per month, plus the $79.00 per year equipment insurance fee. For mobile payments, CDG offers the ProcessNow smartphone app and a free plug-in card reader. While there’s no additional fee for this service, the current card reader is magstripe-only.

Like Dharma, CDG only charges $10.00 per month for a basic merchant account. That’s it. There are no PCI compliance fees, no annual fees, no monthly minimums, etc. They don’t even charge for Address Verification. If you want, you can also add the optional cdg360 security package. This service gives you $100,000 in data breach/theft protection, PCI-DSS vulnerability scans, customized security alerts, and a few other features. It’s a good investment.

CDG offers interchange-plus pricing exclusively. Retail and mobile payments are charged at interchange + 0.25% + $0.10 per transaction. If you’re a non-profit, you’ll get a 0.05% discount.

CDGcommerce provides excellent customer service and support via telephone, email, and live chat. While they don’t receive complaints very often, they’re the only company we’ve seen where the CEO has personally responded and offered to correct the problem.

PROS:

  • Affordable terminal and POS equipment rentals
  • Exclusive interchange-plus pricing
  • Month-to-month billing with no long-term contracts or early termination fees
  • Excellent customer service

CONS:

  • Mobile card reader doesn’t support EMV or NFC payments
  • Only available to US-based merchants

For a more detailed look at CDGcommerce, be sure to check out our full review.

Fattmerchant

fattmerchant-logo

Fattmerchant is a newcomer to the merchant account industry, starting up in 2014. Focusing on transparency and lower costs for merchants, the company offers several subscription-based pricing plans. Under these plans, you’ll pay a higher monthly fee, but you won’t pay any markup percentage on your processing costs. With a high enough processing volume, this can lead to significant savings in overall costs over traditional interchange-plus pricing plans. Your monthly subscription fee also covers things like PCI compliance, eliminating most of the additional fees that traditional processors like to add to your bill.

With Fattmerchant, you’re encouraged to buy your own terminals, and they’ll re-program them to work with their services for free. They also offer EMV-compliant terminals and POS systems with some of their pricing plans. For mobile payments, Fattmerchant uses Vantiv’s mobile app and card reader. Unfortunately, the card reader doesn’t have EMV capability yet.

Fattmerchant offers a choice of three subscription-based pricing plans. Monthly costs are $69, $79, and $99, respectively. With the $69 plan, you’ll pay interchange + $0.25 per transaction in processing fees. The $79 plan lowers your processing rates to interchange + $0.15 per transaction. The $99 plan lowers them even further, down to interchange + $0.08 per transaction. As you might have guessed, the bulk of your monthly subscription fee goes to covering the markup that traditional interchange-plus pricing plans charge. If your processing volume is high enough, you could save quite a bit in processing charges with one of these plans. On the other hand, it’s probably not cost-effective for low volume or seasonal businesses. Fattmerchant doesn’t charge PCI compliance fees, batch fees, or statement fees, as these are all covered by your monthly subscription fee.

While Fattmerchant claims that there are no contracts, what they really mean is that there are no long-term contracts. Their merchant accounts are billed month-to-month, and there is no early termination fee if you close your account.

Overall, Fattmerchant offers an intriguing alternative to traditional merchant accounts. Their processing rates are extremely low, although this is somewhat offset by the high monthly subscription costs. You’ll want to run the numbers and compare your current processing costs to what you’d pay with them to see if their plans make sense for your business.

PROS:

  • Subscription-based pricing offers very low per-transaction processing costs
  • Month-to-month billing with no long-term contracts or early termination fees
  • Excellent customer service

CONS:

  • Not cost-effective for low-volume businesses
  • Mobile card reader doesn’t support EMV or NFC payments

For more information, see our complete review here.

Helcim

Helcim review

Helcim has long been our favorite Canadian merchant account provider, and they offer the same high-quality service and transparent pricing to US-based merchants. Their website (both the US and Canadian version) is one of the most informative ones we’ve seen of any merchant account provider.

The company offers a full range of EMV-compliant Ingenico terminals at competitive rates. Terminals are available for as low as $199, while wireless and NFC-capable models cost more. Helcim encourages US merchants to buy their terminals outright – something we also strongly believe in. Because Canadian EMV-compliant terminals are not designed to be transferred or sold, an affordable month-to-month rental option (not a lease) is available for Canadian merchants. If you already have your own terminal, Helcim will re-program it for you for free (see their list of compatible terminals here).

Helcim also supports mobile payments through Elavon’s VirtualMerchant Mobile app and the MagTek aDynamo Universal Card Reader. The app is available for both iOS and Android. You’ll pay $30.00 per month for this service, but you get the same great interchange-plus rates as other retail users. Helcim estimates that you’ll save money over using Square if you process at least $2,500 per month. The first card reader is free, and additional readers cost $45.00 each. Unfortunately, the MagTek reader is magstripe-only and plugs into your smartphone’s headphone jack. There’s no EMV capability yet. The reader also won’t work with the iPhone 7 or some of the newer Android phones.

Helcim is one of the few merchant account providers in the industry to provide a complete breakdown of their fees and rates on their website. For retail accounts, a flat $12.00 per month is all you’ll pay in the way of recurring fees. If you want to add mobile payments (or go mobile-only), it will cost you $30.00 per month. There are no account setup fees, and PCI compliance is included in your monthly fee.

Helcim also uses interchange-plus pricing (they call it Cost+) exclusively. All retail and mobile (i.e., card-present) transactions are processed at the following rate: interchange + 0.18% + $0.08 per transaction. These rates are for merchants processing less than $50,000 per month. Above that, volume -based discounts are available that will bring your rates down even lower.

In addition to transparent, affordable pricing, Helcim offers month-to-month contracts with no early termination fee. They also have a reputation for providing excellent customer support and service, and their website-based knowledge-base is one of the best and most thorough that we’ve seen. The company is an excellent choice for large and small retail businesses alike.

PROS:

  • Terminals available for sale at affordable prices (no leases)
  • Very affordable, transparent fee structure
  • Cost+ processing rates
  • Excellent customer service and support

CONS:

  • Mobile card reader doesn’t support EMV or NFC payments
  • Mobile pricing not cost-effective for businesses processing less than $2,500 per month

For more information, see our complete review here.

Payment Depot

Payment Depot merchant services review

Another newcomer on the credit card processing scene, Payment Depot has only been in business since 2013. Like Fattmerchant, they offer a revolutionary subscription-based pricing structure that eliminates the markup normally charged for processing transactions and consolidates all the extra fees for maintaining a merchant account into a simple monthly fee.

Payment Depot uses First Data as their backend processor, an arrangement that has its advantages and disadvantages. Being able to access the resources and equipment of such a large processor without being bound by their long-term contracts is a definite plus. At the same time, First Data sometimes restricts which businesses can use their services, occasionally requiring an account reserve that Payment Depot can’t get you out of.

Payment Depot doesn’t lease any terminals or POS systems. If you already have your own terminal, they’ll reprogram it to work with their system for free. They also will sell you the Verifone Vx 520, a rugged and popular terminal that supports EMV and NFC payments. If you need a POS system, they sell several of First Data’s Clover products, including the Clover Mobile, Clover Mini, and Clover Station POS.

While they don’t provide much information about it on their website, Payment Depot also supports mobile payments through a partnership with SwipeSimple. The company has recently announced new Bluetooth-based terminals that are both EMV-compliant and also support NFC payments. That should keep you safe from obsolete equipment for a while!

Payment Depot fully discloses their pricing right on their website, so you can crunch the numbers and see if they’re right for you. All pricing plans are subscription-based, with four tiers available. Monthly subscription fees range from $29.00 for the Basic plan up to $99.00 for the Premier plan. This single fee includes all the extras that you normally pay for separately, including PCI compliance, IRS reporting, monthly statements, etc. While there are no additional fees, you’ll still be charged for per-occurrence items such as chargebacks.

Your monthly fee also includes the markup that you’d normally pay on a per-transaction basis under a traditional interchange-plus pricing plan. Thus, Payment Depot’s rates are very low and simple to understand. For the Basic membership plan, you’ll pay interchange + $0.25 per transaction. The higher tiers offer even lower rates, with the Premiere plan only charging interchange + $0.05 per transaction.

This sounds great – and it is – but there are still some limitations. Only the Premiere plan allows an unlimited monthly processing volume. The other plans have monthly caps that range from $20,000 for the Basic plan to $100,000 for the Best Value plan. Fortunately, Payment Depot will automatically bump you up to the next highest plan if you go over these limits.

While this is an overall great deal for many businesses, it’s not for everyone. Payment Depot is currently only available in the United States. Also, they have a long list of prohibited businesses that essentially keep out any business in the high-risk category. Lastly, they usually won’t be cost-effective for very small or seasonal businesses.

PROS:

  • Subscription-based pricing offers very low per-transaction processing costs
  • Month-to-month billing with no long-term contracts or early termination fees
  • Offers a substantial discount for annual rather than monthly billing

CONS:

  • Only available in the US
  • Does not accept high-risk merchants
  • Not cost-effective for very small businesses

For more information, see our complete review here.

Pay Junction

PayJunction-logo-square

Pay Junction has been around since 2000, and they’ve developed a great reputation since then for low overall pricing and excellent service. Their main claim to fame is providing a paperless solution to transaction processing, using both a virtual terminal and their proprietary Smart Terminal card reader to send customers their receipts via email. For the merchant, this eliminates the need for paper copies of receipts, as all transaction data is stored in the cloud.

Pay Junction uses TSYS as their backend processor, but their terms are much better. All contracts are month-to-month, and there’s no early termination fee if you close your account.

The heart of Pay Junction’s payment system is a proprietary, web-based virtual terminal that connects to a payment gateway to process transactions and track sales. While many virtual terminals use a simple, magstripe-only card swiper that connects to your computer via USB, Pay Junction uses a proprietary Smart Terminal. This terminal can accept magstripe, EMV, and NFC-based payments. It’s even compatible with the Apple Watch. It’s available for free to qualified businesses if you provide two months’ worth of processing statements to verify your processing volume.

Pay Junction uses a modified interchange-plus pricing system. All credit card transactions are processed at interchange + 0.75%. There’s no per-transaction markup fee as there is with most interchange-plus plans. While the 0.75% is a little high, the lack of a per-transaction fee can result in substantial savings if your business processes a high number of sales tickets per month.

Account fees are also very simplified. As long as you’re processing over $10,000 per month, there aren’t any. There’s no monthly account fee, no PCI compliance fee, and no payment gateway fee. For businesses processing less than $10,000 per month, there is a $35 per month account fee that consolidates all of the above fees.

Pay Junction has a reputation for excellent customer service and support, and there are remarkably few complaints against them to be found on the internet. Their service works best for businesses that process over $10,000 per month and only need a single terminal.

PROS:

  • Free terminal for qualified businesses
  • Simple, transparent interchange-plus pricing
  • No account fees for businesses processing over $10,000 per month
  • Excellent customer service and support

CONS:

  • Not as cost-effective as other alternatives for businesses processing under $10,000 per month
  • No smartphone-based mobile payments option

For more information, see our complete review here.

Conclusion

Retail businesses come in all shapes and sizes, and every business has their own unique needs. What works best for an auto parts store might not be so good for a bookstore. All six of the merchant account providers we’ve profiled here offer much better service than traditional, bank-owned providers.

With all six of our top providers for retail, you’ll have affordable access to the credit card terminals and POS systems you need to run your business. You’ll also enjoy transparent interchange-plus pricing (except for Fattmerchant and Payment Depot, which use subscription pricing). Account fees are very low and clearly spelled out on each provider’s website. Best of all, contracts are month-to-month with no early termination fee, so you’re free to switch providers if you find a better deal elsewhere.

Most of our top retail merchant account providers cater to medium-sized or larger businesses, typically those processing over $10,000 per month. If your business is smaller than that, a basic account with CDGcommerce is still a viable option. For really small or seasonal businesses, you might want to consider Square as a low-cost alternative. Be sure to read our review of Square first, though, as there are some definite trade-offs between Square’s aggregated accounts and a full-service merchant account.

If you’ve had any experience with any of our top merchant account providers for retail, please feel free to leave a comment below. You can also compare most of our top processors head-to-head using our Merchant Account Comparison Chart.

Frank Kehl

Frank Kehl

Frank Kehl is an independent writer, editor, and blogger with an endless fascination for technology and gadgets. After a long and enjoyable career of traveling around the world as an Air Force navigator, he’s comfortably settled down in the wine country of California’s Central Coast. He enjoys reading, photography, hiking, and numerous other outdoor pursuits.
Frank Kehl
Leave a comment

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your Review

Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment may take some time to appear.
Please read the "User Review and Comment Policy" before posting.

Share