The Best Merchant Accounts For Canadian Small Businesses (& 2 Names You Should Avoid)
It’s as challenging to run a business in Canada as it is in the United States and not just because of the cold weather. Being able to accept credit and debit cards is every bit as important as it is elsewhere, but Canadian merchants suffer from a particular shortage of high-quality merchant services providers. While some reputable American providers also do business in Canada, there simply aren’t all that many home-grown providers from which to choose.
It shouldn’t be this way. Regulation of the processing industry is generally more consumer-friendly in Canada than in the United States. For this reason, some providers that operate in both countries offer better service to merchants north of the border. The Canadian government has promulgated a Code of Conduct for the Credit and Debit Card Industry in Canada. It establishes a set of best practices and ethical guidelines to ensure that merchants get treated fairly. While compliance with the Code isn’t mandatory, peer pressure within the industry has resulted in most Canadian providers publicly pledging to abide by it.
Another unique issue faced by Canadian merchants is that EMV-compliant terminals are not designed to be re-sold or re-programmed. We usually recommend American merchants buy their terminals outright as the best and most cost-effective way to outfit their businesses with processing equipment. However, the inability to resell an EMV terminal in Canada means you’ll want to look for an alternative. Many Canadian payment services providers offer month-to-month terminal rentals. These rentals differ from leases in that you won’t be locked into a noncancelable long-term contract, and you won’t be responsible for every single lease payment as soon as you sign up. Check out our article, Don’t Fall Into The Trap Of Leasing Credit Card Machines & Terminals: 4 Smart Alternatives For Getting Payment Processing Hardware, for more details on why leasing is never a good idea.
This article will give you an overview of the best merchant services providers in Canada. Because different types of businesses have different needs, we’ll cover providers that are best for low-volume businesses and those that are a better all-around choice for more-established companies. Finally, we’ll briefly cover the two worst merchant services provider we’ve found operating in Canada, with an emphasis on why they’re so bad. You’ll want to know in advance what to look out for, and there are plenty of providers out there that have features you’ll want to avoid. As always, we recommend that you thoroughly research any provider you’re thinking of doing business with before you contact their sales team. Aggressively negotiate where it’s appropriate, and try to get quotes from several different providers before making a decision. Most importantly, review all contract documents thoroughly before you agree to sign up for an account.
Read more below to learn why we chose these options.
Table of Contents
- 5 Considerations For Choosing Payment Processing In Canada
- The 4 Best Merchant Services In Canada
- Honorable Mentions: Looking For One Of These Merchant Services In Canada?
- Dishonorable Mentions: The Worst Merchant Accounts In Canada
- Canadian Payment Services FAQ
- Which Canadian Credit Card Processing Company Is Right For Your Small Business?
- In Summary: The 4 Best Merchant Services In Canada
5 Considerations For Choosing Payment Processing In Canada
Canadian businesses need most of the same things out of their payment processors as businesses everywhere else. When choosing a payment processor, you’ll want to consider the following:
- Payment Types: A payment processor isn’t much good if it doesn’t do what you need it to. While most payment processing companies in Canada will process Visa and Mastercard, less common payment types may not be supported. This is doubly important if you’re doing business across international borders, where local payment types may differ.
- Cost: You don’t want to pay any more for your payment processing service than you have to. More importantly, you’ll want a processor with a transparent payment scheme so that you know what you’re paying in the first place. On that note, we recommend processors that offer interchange-plus pricing.
- Contracts: As important as price is, your contract’s terms are also extremely important. Unless your business is considered “high-risk,” you should avoid companies that lock you into a contract with termination fees. Month-to-month is the way to go.
- Customer Service: There’s nothing more frustrating than not getting the payments you’re expecting deposited into your account…except having that happen and then having to navigate substandard customer service when you’re trying to resolve the issue. Don’t take good customer service for granted.
- Means Of Payment: Some credit card processing companies in Canada specialize in in-person POS transactions, while others specialize in online transactions. While there’s a lot of overlap, you’ll get the most value out of a payment processor that has a specialty that aligns closely with how you conduct your sales.
The 4 Best Merchant Services In Canada
We believe that the following companies provide the best merchant services for small businesses in Canada.
Best for high-volume businesses but also good for just about any non-high-risk business.
Calgary-based Helcim is hands down the best overall merchant account provider available in Canada today. It’s also one of the best providers in the United States. Here are some of the highlights of its services:
Helcim offers more pricing disclosures on its website than just about any other provider in the industry, so your costs are predictable, and you won’t need to negotiate very much to secure the best possible deal for your business. It also includes some in-depth articles explaining how credit card processing works, including exposing many of the deceptive advertising tricks used by other providers.
With Helcim, fairness is the name of the game. Helcim charges affordable prices, though they have recently gone up slightly. Plus, it has one of the most transparent sales policies of any processor out there, Canadian or otherwise, as we mention in our post on the best credit card payment processing companies for small businesses. Everything is completely laid out on the table with crystal-clear fee disclosures, so you’re never again hit with a bill like a punch in the stomach. This type of fairness and transparency is what’s lacking in a lot of processors. Hopefully, the industry takes a cue from these folks.
Helcim’s transaction pricing starts at interchange fees + 0.30% + $0.08 per transaction (retail), and interchange + 0.50% + $0.25 per transaction (eCommerce), with volume discounts available. Interac transfers draw an additional fee of $0.09. There’s also a $20 monthly fee (the first month is waived), but you’re not locked into a contract.
- Exclusive interchange-plus pricing for all merchants
- Month-to-month billing with no early termination fees
- All-in-one payments platform
- Free Helcim Commerce Mobile app (iOS and Android) with $30 mobile card reader
- Monthly fee
- Not suitable for high-risk businesses
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2. KIS Payments
Best for businesses seeking account stability and strong one-on-one support.
A relative newcomer to credit card processing in Canada, KIS Payments has only been around since 2017. Headquartered in Nanaimo, British Columbia, KIS Payments is a small company that focuses on offering Canadian merchants a better deal than what they’ve had to accept from traditional processors.
Like many of our favorite providers, KIS Payments offers all merchants a month-to-month billing arrangement with no long-term contracts and no early termination fee (ETF). KIS Payments also provides interchange-plus pricing exclusively — regardless of your business’s size. These features make the company an excellent choice for small businesses that have grown beyond the point where using a payment service provider (PSP) makes financial sense and need the additional security and stability of a full-service merchant account.
KIS Payments also has an excellent reputation for providing top-notch, personalized customer support and service after you’ve set up your account. Merchants are assigned a dedicated account manager, meaning that you’ll always be able to reach someone at the company who truly understands your business’s needs. While the company’s website currently doesn’t offer many specific pricing disclosures, it does feature numerous verifiable testimonials from businesses that use its services.
- Exclusive interchange-plus pricing
- Month-to-month agreements
- Excellent customer service
- Limited pricing disclosure online
- There may be enrollment fees
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Best for low-volume businesses that want a comprehensive, user-friendly POS platform.
Square (vs. Moneris) is not an exclusively Canadian processor, but it serves smaller Canadian merchants quite well (more on Moneris in the Honorable Mentions section below). Unlike a traditional merchant account provider, Square is a payment service provider (or “third-party processor”). When you sign up, you get an aggregated merchant account that is shared with other merchants using the company’s service. You won’t have a unique merchant identification number for your business, but you also won’t have any monthly fees or a long-term contract.
Square uses a fairly simple flat-rate pricing system, although the number of possible rates has grown quite a bit in recent years as it has expanded its offerings. Here’s a quick overview of the most common processing rates:
- Standard Point Of Sale & Appointments (For Individuals): 2.65% per transaction for credit cards, $0.10 for Interac Flash (debit) cards
- Square Appointments (For Teams): 2.5% + $0.10 per transaction
- Square Restaurants: 2.6% + $0.10 per transaction
- Keyed-In & Card-On-File: 3.4% + $0.15 per transaction
- Virtual Terminal: 2.65% per swiped transaction, 3.4% + $0.15 per keyed-in transaction
- eCommerce: 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction
Here’s something you can taunt your American Square-using friends about: Canadian merchants still get a flat percentage fee rate without a fixed fee on POS transactions. (2.65% in Canada, 2.6% + $0.10 in the US). I mention this because the “+ $0.10” part of this fee makes small transactions a lot more expensive.
Note that customized processing rates are available for businesses processing over $250,000 per year.
- Predictable flat-rate pricing
- Ideal for low-volume merchants
- No monthly fees
- Massive feature-set
- Account stability issues
- Not suitable for high-risk industries
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Best for online payment processing in Canada.
Although Square also supports online payments, eCommerce merchants will probably prefer a solution that’s geared more toward their unique needs. Shopify provides just about every feature you might need to run an online business, including being able to accept credit card payments in Canada.
The company offers a wide range of pricing plans, ranging from $9 per month for its bare-bones Shopify Lite plan to $299 per month for the Advanced Shopify plan. Merchants can choose between using either a third-party payment gateway in Canada or Shopify’s own Shopify Payments feature for credit and debit card processing. With Shopify Payments, you’ll have a very basic flat-rate pricing plan. Rates start at 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction for online transactions and 2.7% for in-person transactions. Discounts on these rates are available if you sign up for one of the company’s more expensive monthly plans. If you choose to use a third-party gateway to process your credit card payments, you’ll have to pay a Shopify transaction fee for each transaction in addition to whatever your gateway provider charges you. Shopify transaction fees start at 2.0% per transaction for the least-expensive monthly plans and can be as low as 0.5% per transaction for the most expensive plans.
In selecting which plan is best for your business, you’ll want to carefully evaluate the processing costs associated with each plan and how important the additional features are to your business. The Shopify Lite plan, for example, doesn’t include an online store or telephone customer support. You’ll be able to sell in person, via Facebook, or using “buy” buttons on existing websites, but that’s it. You’ll also have to rely on email and chat for any customer service issues that come up.
- Easy to use
- Advanced design tools
- Predictable flat-rate pricing
- Advanced design tools
- Add-0ns often necessary
- Additional fees
- Variable customer support
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Honorable Mentions: Looking For One Of These Merchant Services In Canada?
There are a lot of other available merchant services in Canada that are high-quality but missed being in our top contenders either because they’re better suited to large companies that can negotiate their rates more easily, or they have some limitations/specializations that make them more niche. If you’re looking for a large processor to provide the best service and lowest costs to your large business, we recommend Chase Merchant Services and Moneris Solutions. For small business owners, particularly eCommerce merchants, we recommend Stripe Payments and PayPal. While they aren’t homegrown companies, they come with a lot of name recognition and a reputation for quality service and fair prices.
Chase Merchant Services (Formerly Chase Paymentech)
For Canadian merchants running larger, more established businesses, Chase Merchant Services is a surprisingly good choice for such a large company. You’ll get a far more robust line of products and services than you will with a smaller provider, plus it’s a direct processor. Chase offers competitive rates and low account fees — something we don’t often see in a large processor.
As long as you buy a credit card/debit machine for your business in Canada, Chase will offer you month-to-month billing with no early termination fee (ETF). However, if you’d like to include a “free” credit card machine for your small business, you’ll have to accept a long-term contract that comes with an ETF. While we always recommend buying your own terminals, this is a reasonable trade-off as long as you’re comfortable committing your business to a multi-year contract.
- Interchange-plus pricing offered to most merchants
- Month-to-month contracts with no early termination fees (except in some circumstances)
- Terminals available for sale or rent — no leases
- Next-business-day funding for Chase business checking customers
- Few complaints relative to its size
- “Free” credit card terminal requires a long-term contract
- Reports of mediocre customer service
If you’re running an eCommerce business, you’ve probably already heard about Stripe Payments. This innovative, technology-focused provider is a major player in the world of online commerce, powering businesses in the US, Canada, and many other countries around the world.
But is it a good choice for your business? As is usually the case, the answer will depend on a variety of factors. While Stripe offers the kind of pay-as-you-go billing model that’s appealing to small businesses, it also requires a fair amount of in-depth technical knowledge to take full advantage of the company’s many powerful features. If you know how to code and want to customize your business website to get it just the way you want it, then Stripe can be a great choice. However, for the majority of non-coding business owners out there, it doesn’t offer any real advantage over any of the other payment service providers (PSPs) that are available in Canada. Shopify Payments is powered by Stripe, allowing you to take advantage of many of Stripe’s powerful features without having to write the code yourself or hire a developer.
Stripe’s pricing structure is very similar to Square or PayPal, with online transactions costing a flat 2.9% + $0.30 each. There are no monthly fees for a basic account, although some additional features will require a monthly subscription fee. Like most PSPs, billing is on a month-to-month basis. There are no long-term contracts and no early termination fees to worry about.
One common complaint about Stripe over the years has been its underwhelming customer support. Like many tech-focused companies, Stripe has preferred to provide a robust online knowledgebase rather than focusing on live, in-person support. While this approach has the advantage of allowing customers to diagnose and resolve technical problems themselves, it hasn’t always been very effective. Fortunately, the company has recently responded to criticism of its customer support features by introducing true 24/7 support. You can now contact customer service representatives at any time by telephone or chat.
- An extensive feature-set for running and customizing an eCommerce website
- Month-to-month billing with no long-term contracts or early termination fees
- Predictable flat-rate pricing for small businesses
- Requires programming skills to take full advantage of advanced features
- Flat-rate pricing not suitable for medium-sized or larger businesses
PayPal is a household name in both the US and Canada. Hundreds of millions of people have a PayPal account today, although you don’t need one to make a purchase from a merchant using the company as their payment processor. For merchants, PayPal offers very predictable pricing, pay-as-you-go billing, and a month-to-month account with no long-term commitment. What it doesn’t offer, however, is a true merchant account where you’ll have your own unique merchant identification number. While it’s a great choice for a small eCommerce business that’s just getting started, larger businesses processing over $10,000 per month in transactions will probably want to switch to a provider that offers a true merchant account with interchange-plus pricing. Check out our post, The Best eCommerce Platforms For Small Businesses, for some recommendations.
PayPal’s pricing is generally in line with what other payment service providers charge. Online transactions cost 2.9% + $0.30 each, and virtual terminal transactions cost 3.1% + $0.30 each. Note that while the company doesn’t charge a monthly fee for a basic account, you’ll have to shell out $30 per month for its virtual terminal. With most providers offering virtual terminals for free, this won’t be an economical choice for most small business owners.
While the billing is generally pay-as-you-go, PayPal also charges the usual assortment of incidental fees that you might occasionally have to pay. These fees are all disclosed on its website, so none of them should come as a surprise.
The company provides an extensive assortment of online self-help resources with the intention of allowing you to troubleshoot any technical problems that might arise on your own. Of course, this won’t work in every situation. If you need to communicate with a live customer support representative, telephone and email options are available. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of complaints about the inconsistent quality of the company’s telephone support option.
- Pay-as-you-go billing with no long-term contracts or early termination fees
- No monthly fees (in most cases)
- Predictable flat-rate pricing
- An extensive line-up of products and features for eCommerce businesses
- Expensive virtual terminal option
- Inconsistent telephone support
- Flat-rate pricing not suitable for medium-sized or larger businesses
Toronto-based Moneris Solutions is an amalgam of the credit card processing components of the Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Montreal. It’s probably the largest of the credit card companies in Canada, or, at least, the largest one primarily headquartered there. Of course, being the biggest doesn’t mean being the best, and Moneris definitely has its shortcomings. However, overall, it’s a decent processor as long as you are willing to negotiate for the best terms you can get and read your contract documents thoroughly before signing up, so you won’t encounter an unpleasant surprise later.
We’d also point out that many of the most egregious complaints about the company came from its American customers. While Moneris previously used to operate on both sides of the border, it sold its American division to Vantiv in late 2016. Today, Moneris operates in Canada only, and the quality of service there is notably higher than it was in the United States.
- Interchange-plus pricing available upon request
- Full range of hardware available for rent or purchase
- Extensive online knowledgebase
- Standard three-year contract with $300 early termination fee per location
- A poor reputation for customer support
- Use of misleading sales ploys (e.g., offering $300 gift card for signing up — with tons of strings attached)
Dishonorable Mentions: The Worst Merchant Accounts In Canada
We acknowledge that the ideal merchant services provider for one business might be mediocre for another. That said, some providers are rarely (if ever) ideal, or they require some serious negotiating to drag them into a competitive bracket. Most businesses are better off steering clear of these merchant services.
If you think you haven’t heard of Nuvei before, think again. The company was formerly known as Pivotal Payments until it re-branded itself in 2018. Nuvei/Pivotal Payments is the largest non-bank payment processor in Canada. While it may not be the absolute worst processor in the country, it’s the one you’re most likely to hear about or come into contact with. It also serves as a useful example of some of the shadier business practices that are common in the processing industry.
A big part of Nuvei’s problem is its continued reliance on independent sales agents to market its accounts. Independent agents have a terrible reputation throughout the industry for misleading and unethical sales practices. Independent sales agents receive little training and often get paid on a commission-only basis. So they are under tremendous pressure to make a sale and frequently fail to disclose important contract terms when trying to sell an account. Your best defense is to resist the pressure to sign up before you’ve had a chance to review your contract documents thoroughly and make an informed decision. This matters because Nuvei has both month-to-month contracts and six-month contracts (the longest allowable under Canadian law).
Fiserv (First Data)
First, a disclaimer: It’s pretty difficult to avoid Fiserv (the rebranded First Data) entirely, as it’s the back-end processor for many merchant services, including some of the best in the business. No, we’re talking about getting a merchant account directly through Fiserv.
The biggest issue with Fiserv is that it doesn’t scale down well to small businesses. Prices are set on a customer-by-customer basis, so it isn’t easy to compare your rates. The company is also somewhat notorious for piling on fees for everything from account setups to PCI compliance. Unless you have a high-volume business with a lot of leverage, you can probably get a better deal elsewhere.
Canadian Payment Services FAQ
Which Canadian Credit Card Processing Company Is Right For Your Small Business?
There aren’t nearly as many merchant account providers in Canada for merchants to choose from as there are in the United States. Nonetheless, there are still a few excellent providers available as well as a lot of merely average ones and even some genuinely terrible providers that you should avoid.
Small businesses that are ready to step up to a true merchant account can get the best prices through Helcim. For smaller companies that don’t need a full-service merchant account, we recommend Square as the best and most cost-effective choice. Larger enterprises might get lower processing rates from either Chase Merchant Services or Moneris Solutions. Shopify’s all-in-one solution makes it the best credit card processing company in Canada for eCommerce businesses.
If you’ve had experience with any of the providers profiled in this article, or you know of a great processor that we haven’t covered, please be sure to tell us about it in the Comments section below. Thanks!
In Summary: The 4 Best Merchant Services In Canada
- Helcim: Best for high-volume businesses but also good for just about any non-high-risk business seeking an all-in-one platform.
- KIS Payments: Best for businesses seeking account stability and strong one-on-one support.
- Square: Best for low-volume businesses that want a comprehensive, user-friendly POS platform.
- Shopify: Best for online payment processing in Canada.