These 8 Cheapest Credit Card Processing Companies Will Save Your Small Business Money
Business owners today know that it’s more important than ever to be able to accept credit cards. Customers are increasingly carrying little or no cash, relying instead on credit and debit cards for most of their purchases. If you’re an eCommerce merchant selling online, taking “plastic” in one form or another is just about your only option. Unfortunately, you usually can’t accept credit cards unless you have a merchant account, and merchant accounts aren’t free. In fact, they can be very expensive – especially for a small business – if you choose the wrong provider.
The credit card processing industry is bewildering, especially for a first-time business owner. There are dozens of companies providing processing services, and each of them offers different processing rates, fees, and contract terms. A provider that qualifies as a good deal for a very small business might be prohibitively expensive for a larger one, and vice versa. Naturally, merchants want to cut through the confusion and get a quick answer to the question, “Which one is the cheapest?”
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There’s nothing wrong with wanting to save money, especially for a new business that has to count every penny. However, if you look up “cheap” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, you’ll note that while cheap can mean “charging or obtainable at a low price,” it can also mean “of inferior quality or worth.” If you’ve ever been disappointed with a product purchase when you thought you were getting a good deal, you know that these two definitions often go together.
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Other Featured Options:
- Payline: Payline has an affordable option for low-volume businesses. There’s only a $10.00 monthly fee, and no annual fee. Transactions cost interchange + $0.10 per swiped transaction ($0.20 per keyed-in transaction), plus a percentage markup rate that varies from 0.25% for debit cards to as high as 1.91% for keyed-in credit cards.
- Chase Merchant Services: Chase now offers month-to-month billing with no long-term contracts or early termination fees as a standard feature. However, you might have to agree to a three-year contract if you include a “free” credit card terminal with your account.
- Shopify: eCommerce merchants have unique needs and will probably prefer a solution that’s geared more toward them. Shopify provides just about every feature you might need to run an online business, including credit card processing.
Read more below to learn why we chose these options.
Types Of Providers
With the advent of new, low-cost providers, there are now two broad categories of companies providing credit card processing services. These include traditional (or full-service) merchant account providers and payment services providers, which offer credit card processing but without some of the features of a full-service merchant account. It’s very important that you understand the difference between the two.
Payment Service Providers (PSPs)
Payment service providers can process your credit card transactions, but they don’t provide you with a unique merchant ID number for your business. Instead, your account is aggregated together with accounts from other merchants. This lowers the cost for things like monthly account fees and PCI compliance, but it also means that your account is much more vulnerable to being suddenly frozen or shut down at the slightest hint of fraud. Getting your account working again is complicated by the fact that most PSPs provide little in the way of one-on-one customer service. For a very small business, a PSP may very well be more affordable than a full-service merchant account, especially since you won’t have to pay so many recurring fees just to keep your account open. Be aware, however, that you’ll constantly be running the risk of suddenly losing access to your account and not being able to accept credit cards at all with a PSP. If your business processes a high number of credit card transactions on a daily basis, the loss of business you’ll incur if your account is frozen is quite high. Popular PSPs include PayPal, Square (see our review), and Stripe Payments.
Traditional Merchant Accounts
Traditional merchant accounts include several features you won’t find with most PSPs. The primary distinction is that you will be assigned a merchant identification number that is unique to your business. This number automatically identifies you to processors, issuing banks, and credit card associations. While it might not sound like much, having a unique merchant ID number helps to lower the risk of fraud and improves the stability of your account. While you still might have to endure a hold on funds for an unusually large transaction, the chances of your account being completely frozen for no apparent reason are much less than they are with a PSP. Merchant account providers also offer a host of ancillary services, including PCI security scans, customizable payment gateways for online payments, support for ACH (eCheck) payments, and many others. These bells and whistles don’t come cheap, of course. You’ll pay more in monthly fees than you will for an account with a PSP. However, you’ll also pay lower processing rates, especially if your merchant account provider offers interchange-plus pricing. For many medium-sized and larger businesses, a full-service merchant account will actually be less expensive than a PSP.
|Tired of credit card processing fees? Paymentcloud specializes in payment processing services where you pass the transaction fee on to the customer when they choose to pay with a credit card. |
The Cheapest Credit Card Processing Companies In 2020
Before we delve into specific providers, there are two important points that you need to understand:
- The company offering the lowest processing rates or fees isn’t necessarily the cheapest. The total percentage of the credit card sales you’ll have to fork over to your merchant account provider isn’t an easy thing to calculate in advance with any precision. Variable processing rates and hidden (or at least unanticipated) fees can easily result in you paying much more than you thought you were going to for processing. Companies offering flat-rate pricing fare much better in this regard, as their simple pricing structure makes it relatively easy to estimate your monthly processing costs.
- The “cheapest” processor isn’t necessarily the best one for your business. While you naturally want to be able to accept credit cards while paying the least amount of money for the privilege, companies offering the lowest rates often cut corners in other aspects of their service to make those low rates possible. Poor customer service, for example, is a common problem among the least-expensive processors. If you want the best overall, you might also check out our top picks for small business credit card processing.
With that said, here’s our list of the cheapest credit card processing companies this year.
1. Payment Depot
Payment Depot is a merchant account provider headquartered in Orange, California. The company has been in business since 2013 and is best known for its use of subscription or membership-based pricing, a spinoff of the interchange-plus model. While it isn’t the only provider in the industry to offer this type of pricing, Payment Depot’s reputation for open, honest sales practices and excellent customer support put it ahead of many of its competitors using this relatively new pricing model.
So, how does it work? Most providers offering interchange-plus pricing will charge “interchange + markup” rates, with the markup including both a small percentage of the sale and a per-transaction fee. You’ll also incur several monthly and annual fees for individual services, such as PCI compliance and account statements. In contrast, Payment Depot’s model combines all your recurring fees into a single subscription fee ranging from $49.00 to $199.00 per month, depending on which plan you choose. You’ll also pay lower processing rates with the elimination of the percentage markup. Your rates will be the interchange rate, plus a per-transaction fee that varies between $0.15 and $0.05 per transaction, depending on your pricing plan.
Payment Depot accounts are month-to-month, but you can also save money on your subscription fees by paying them annually instead of monthly. Annual subscriptions are protected with a 90-day satisfaction guarantee, so merchants who are not satisfied with their service within the first 90 days will be refunded their membership fees (not interchange fees or transaction fees, of course). This is a fair, reasonable offer, and should give you some peace of mind.
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We like Fattmerchant (see our review) for every business type, but it really shines for eCommerce and card-not-present merchants. One of our favorite things about this company is its subscription pricing model. With this fee structure, you’ll pay a 0% markup over standard interchange fees, alongside a small per-transaction fee ($0.06 – $0.15 per transaction, depending on your rate plan and the transaction type) and a larger monthly fee ($99). Don’t let that monthly fee discourage you. The truth is that the 0% markup saves most small businesses so much money that it more than pays for the monthly fee. This is especially true for eCommerce and other card-not-present businesses because Fattmerchant does not charge an inflated markup on these accounts. Just about every other merchant services provider, even our favorites, charge a lot extra for phone order and eCommerce businesses. Because you don’t pay a percentage mark up on your processing volume, you save more as you process more. This is exactly how the markup process should work, in our opinion.
Still not convinced that it’s worth it? Well, Fattmerchant adds even more value to your account with high-quality invoicing and billing tools, customer management, virtual terminal, POS app, inventory management, detailed reporting analytics, and more. It’s a growing platform that is constantly improving and adding new features, so the value you get from the service will only grow over time. Even now, the tools Fattmerchant offers rival the offerings of the ever-popular Square Payments service. Robust invoicing and billing tools are the stand-out solutions of this service.
So whether you run a standard retail business, an online store, a phone order business, a professional service provider, or just about any other seller, we recommend Fattmerchant as a good place to start your search. It’s our top all-in-one payment processor pick because of its versatility, predictability, reliability, and value for a wide range of business types.
For more information about this company, see our in-depth Fattmerchant review.
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3. National Processing
For the merchant running a small business, looking to save on costs but still sign up for a full-service merchant account, the best option is National Processing (see our review). The company has a great reputation, with few complaints and quite a bit of praise from customers – something we don’t often see with merchant account providers.
National Processing offers three interchange-plus rates, depending on the nature of your business:
- Retail: Interchange + 0.20% + $0.10 per transaction
- Restaurants: Interchange + 0.15% + $0.07 per transaction
- eCommerce: Interchange + 0.30% + $0.10 per transaction
- eCheck (ACH): $0.24 per transaction
National Processing is a great service for businesses that want low rates from a reliable company. If you’re hoping for a massive free software suite like Square offers, with POS, analytics, and such included, you might not find what you’re looking for. Keep in mind, however, that you could easily end up saving enough money with National Processing to buy all that software and more from whichever provider you want. Low costs and overall versatility make National Processing a great option for many businesses.
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4. Square Payments
Everyone has heard of Square (see our review) by now. With its free Square Reader, app-based payment system, and simple pricing structure, it’s one of the most popular processing services on the market for small businesses. Square’s pay-as-you-go system allows businesses that ordinarily couldn’t afford a merchant account to accept credit cards.
Square’s Most Popular Services
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|Free, general-purpose POS software and reader for iOS and Android||Easy integration with popular platforms plus API for customization||Specialized software for more complex retail stores||Specialized software for full-service restaurants|
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Retail businesses love Square for its low-priced card readers, which replace traditional credit card terminals with a smartphone-based system that’s both affordable and mobile. In addition to a card reader, you’ll need the free Square app, a smartphone, and an Internet connection. Square’s original card reader is free, and you’ll receive one when you open your account. However, it can only read magstripe cards and requires a headphone jack to function. Most users will want to shell out a few extra bucks for a newer, EMV-compliant reader. The Square Contactless and Chip Reader is only $49.00 and supports both EMV and NFC-based payment methods. It also uses Bluetooth to connect to your smartphone or tablet – no headphone jack required. If you’d prefer not to be dependent on your smartphone for processing, Square also offers more sophisticated hardware options. Square Terminal ($299) and Square Register (starting at $799) provide a host of additional features and offer true point-of-sale (POS) functionality.
Square’s pricing structure used to be very simple, but it’s gotten more complicated as the company’s hardware features have expanded. Nonetheless, it’s still pretty simple, with a basic flat-rate structure that offers consistent, predictable pricing. There are no monthly fees whatsoever for a basic account, and none of the types of “hidden” fees that traditional merchant account providers like to tack on. While some advanced features require a monthly subscription, these are entirely optional, and most businesses probably won’t need them. Here’s an overview of Square’s most common processing rates:
- Square Point of Sale (With Mobile Card Reader): 2.6% + $0.10 per card-present transaction
- Square Register: 2.5% + $0.10 per card-present transaction
- Square Terminal: 2.6% + $0.10 per card-present transaction
- Square For Retail POS: 2.5% + $0.10 per card-present transaction
- Square for Restaurants POS: 2.6% + $0.10 per card-present transaction
- Square Appointments (Individual User): 2.6% + $0.10 per card-present transaction
- Square Appointments (For Teams): 2.5% + $0.10 per card-present transaction
- Keyed-In and Card on File Transactions: 3.5% + $0.15 per transaction
- eCommerce Transactions & Invoices: 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction
This all sounds great – and it is – if you’re a small business owner that has to watch every penny and can’t afford to shell out a significant amount of money every month just to have a merchant account. For a larger business, however, Square’s pricing actually isn’t the best deal available. Flat-rate pricing is deliberately on the high side because it has to cover all the other services that most providers bill you for separately. At a certain point (roughly over $5,000 per month in processing volume for most users), you’re actually better off going with a full-service merchant account provider that offers interchange-plus pricing. Yes, you’ll have to pay those pesky account fees, but your processing rates will be so much lower that you’ll save money overall.
Besides high processing rates, Square has a few other drawbacks. We’ve already mentioned that your account is much more likely to be frozen or terminated unexpectedly, but what makes this situation worse is that Square’s customer service isn’t so great. The company didn’t even have telephone support for several years after it launched, though it does now. Unfortunately, it’s only available during business hours, and the large number of complaints about it suggests that the quality of support you’ll receive if you call in with a problem is inconsistent at best.
But is it really the cheapest way to go? Well, it depends. For a very small business that doesn’t have a high processing volume, Square’s lack of account fees and predictable pricing can make it very affordable. On the other hand, a larger business with a high processing volume will end up paying much more under those flat-rate prices than it would with an interchange-plus pricing plan.
Square keeps costs low by aggregating accounts together rather than issuing each user a unique Merchant ID number. Because of this, you won’t get a true full-service merchant account. The trade-off is that there’s a much higher chance that your account will be frozen or terminated without notice if fraud is suspected. This might be a minor inconvenience to a retail business that mostly deals in cash and only occasionally takes credit cards, but it’s catastrophic to an eCommerce business where cash isn’t an option.
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No account setup fees. No PCI compliance fees. No gateway fees. No monthly minimums, either. There’s a lot of things that CDGcommerce (see our review) doesn’t charge you for, making them a very affordable option for small businesses and those just getting off the ground. They also offer month-to-month contracts with no early termination fee, so in the unlikely event that you aren’t happy with their service, you can close your account without penalty.
So, what do you pay for? Besides processing charges, you’ll only have to pay a low monthly account fee (typically around $10.00). This gets you both a full-service merchant account and a payment gateway. You can select either CDG’s own proprietary Quantum gateway or Authorize.Net. Either way, there’s no fee for using the gateway, and no additional per-transaction processing fee.
We don’t recommend leasing a credit card terminal, but CDG has a program that’s very different from traditional leases and is actually a good deal. For only $79 per year (for terminal insurance), CDG will provide you with a terminal and keep it updated. This works out to $6.58 per month, a fraction of what most terminal leasing companies will charge you. If you need a wireless terminal, you’ll also have to pay $20.00 per month for wireless data and an additional $0.05 per transaction in processing fees.
CDGcommerce has recently updated its pricing plans to make it easier to find the right plan for your business. Although specific processing rates are no longer disclosed on their website, the following information is available about each plan:
- Simplified Pricing Plan: This plan is designed for small businesses processing between $1,000 and $10,000 per month in credit/debit card transactions. You’ll have a single flat rate to pay for transaction processing, as well as a single monthly account fee. This plan includes a “free” credit card terminal (the $79 annual terminal fee still applies), a free virtual terminal, and miscellaneous services such as customer tracking, loyalty promotions, invoicing, and scheduling features.
- Interchange-Plus Pricing Plan: Designed for merchants processing between $10,000 and $200,000 per month, this plan features interchange-plus pricing, a low monthly account fee, and the same additional features as the Simplified Pricing Plan. Additionally, you’ll also receive a $100,000 data breach protection plan and a complete set of PCI compliance and security tools and solutions.
- Wholesale Membership Plan: This plan is available to larger business processing over $200,000 per month, and features membership pricing via a prepaid annual subscription. All other features of the Interchange-Plus and Simplified Plans are also included.
Note that you’ll need to obtain a quote from the company for specific rates and fees that are available to your business. With very low account fees and competitive processing rates tailored to your business, CDGcommerce offers a great combination of price and value. If you’ve been using Square or PayPal and want to upgrade to a full-service merchant account, they’re an excellent option.
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6. Payline Data
Payline Data (see our review) covers all the bases for small business transactions, from mobile and online payments to in-store sales. They offer easy-to-understand pricing plans that are very affordable, especially for low-volume sellers, and the company’s website fully explains all of the extra features and their associated costs, so you know upfront what you’ll have to pay. Payline also stands out from the crowd for its corporate philosophy of charitable giving and support for non-profits through discounted pricing and its “Commercial Co-Venture” program.
For retail or mobile businesses, Payline Swipe is the most affordable plan. There’s only a $10.00 monthly fee, and no annual fee. Transactions cost interchange + $0.10 per swiped transaction ($0.20 per keyed-in transaction), plus a percentage markup rate that varies from 0.25% for debit cards to as high as 1.91% for keyed-in credit cards. Processing hardware options include the Clover Go (see our review) mobile terminal ($70.00 + $11.00 per month) or the Ingenico iCT220 countertop terminal for $150.00. For mail-order or telephone order businesses, a virtual terminal is available for an additional $10.00 per month. The company’s Payline Connect plan is ideal for eCommerce businesses. You’ll pay just $10.00 per month for an account, plus an additional $10.00 per month for the use of the company’s proprietary payment gateway. Interchange-plus rates are set at interchange + 0.30% + $0.20 per transaction. Both plans include PCI compliance and American Express processing at no additional charge and feature month-to-month billing with no early termination fees. For larger businesses, lower rates are available through the company’s Enterprise Pricing program.
For more information, see our complete Payline Data review.
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7. Chase Merchant Services
Chase Merchant Services
Chase Merchant Services is the merchant services subsidiary of mammoth JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. Originally established in 1985, the company is headquartered in Dallas, Texas. A European office is located in Dublin, Ireland. The company is one of the largest processors in the United States, serving 480,000 businesses and processing over $1 trillion annually. Naturally, they function as an acquiring bank, able to establish merchant relationships and process their own transactions. This type of business entity is also known as a direct processor, as you won’t have to deal with any middlemen when using your merchant account.For such a large company, Chase has received remarkably few complaints from merchants. Their current total of 39 complaints with the BBB in the last three years represents a mere 0.008% of their customer base. This unusually low rate has been consistent throughout our last few review updates and is a good indicator that the company trains its sales force well and generally provides quality customer service after the sale.
Chase now offers month-to-month billing with no long-term contracts or early termination fees as a standard feature. However, you might have to agree to a three-year contract if you include a “free” credit card terminal with your account. While we’d prefer to see interchange-plus pricing offered to all merchants, those with a sufficiently high monthly processing volume should be able to negotiate for interchange-plus rates that are significantly lower than those quoted above.
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8. Shopify Payments
eCommerce merchants have unique needs and will probably prefer a solution that’s geared more toward them. Shopify (see our review) provides just about every feature you might need to run an online business, including credit card processing.
The company offers a wide range of pricing plans, ranging from $9.00 per month for their bare-bones Shopify Lite plan to $299 per month for the Advanced Shopify plan. For credit card processing, you can choose between using either a third-party payment gateway or Shopify’s own Shopify Payments feature. With Shopify Payments, you’ll have a very basic flat-rate pricing plan. Rates start at 2.90% + $0.30 per transaction for online transactions and 2.70% 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, 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, as well as 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.
For most merchants, the Basic Shopify Plan ($29.00 per month) is probably the best way to start. You’ll still pay the highest processing rates (or the highest Shopify Transaction Fees), but you’ll get an online store with unlimited products, 24/7 telephone customer support, and a host of other useful features. When your business outgrows the constraints of that plan, it’s easy to upgrade to the next-highest level of service. Shopify doesn’t impose any long-term contracts or charge any early termination fees. However, you can get a pricing discount of 10% by paying for one year (or 20% for two years) in advance.
For more details on all of Shopify’s numerous features, please see our complete review.
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How We Chose The Cheapest Processors
We used several criteria to determine which processors offered the lowest overall costs and the best service in most situations, including the following:
- Pricing: Since we’re profiling the cheapest processors in the industry, it should come as no surprise that pricing would be our top criterion. It isn’t that simple, however. Pricing can be very complex, and there are a lot of variables to analyze in making a cost comparison between one provider and another. Fortunately, flat-rate pricing is relatively easy to analyze, as there’s usually little or no variability in the processing rates. Interchange-plus pricing, on the other hand, is very complex, as there are a bewildering number of possible rates charged under the “interchange” portion of the processing rate formula. To get a better idea of just how complicated processing rates can be, check out our article, The Complete Guide to Credit Card Processing Rates & Fees.
- Contracts: No one wants to be stuck in a long-term contract with an expensive early termination fee if you close your account early, but that’s what many traditional merchant account providers will offer you. All the companies profiled here – including both PSPs and full-service merchant account providers – generally offer month-to-month contracts. You can close your account and switch to a different provider any time you want, and with no penalty.
- Hardware: Unless you’re running an eCommerce-only business, you’re going to need some equipment to process your customers’ credit cards. Many of the companies profiled here offer a variety of EMV-compliant credit card terminals, POS systems, and mobile card swipers. Equipment is offered for sale at competitive prices – sometimes, it’s even free! You can also buy your own equipment and have it reprogrammed to work with your provider’s service. Note that Stripe is eCommerce-only, and PayPal only offers a mobile payment solution through their ancillary service, PayPal Here.
- eCommerce Support: Online sales continue to overtake traditional retail shopping, and all our profiled providers offer support for eCommerce. This includes both a payment gateway to send payment data to the processor and a virtual terminal to allow you to enter transactions on your computer or mobile device. Each provider also offers options for integrating your website with online shopping carts and developer tools for customizing the interface between your site and its services.
- Customer Support: While every provider offers customer support and service, some do a much better job at it than others. We looked for vendors that provided 24/7 telephone support, as well as an online knowledgebase that allows merchants to troubleshoot common problems on their own. As we’ve noted, some PSPs don’t provide very good customer support at all. That’s one of the trade-offs you’ll have to be aware of if you want to go with the “cheapest” option for credit card processing.
Remember, there isn’t a single processor out there that can offer the lowest costs to every merchant. What might be a very inexpensive solution for you might not be such a good deal for someone else. Also, paying the least amount of money for processing won’t be of much use to you if you have to worry about your account suddenly being frozen or shut down, or if the customer service behind your account isn’t adequate to solve technical problems for you when they arise. That said, here are our eight top choices for the cheapest credit card processing companies:
As you’ve probably noticed by now, pricing for credit card processing is a ridiculously complicated subject. With dozens of interchange rates and a wild assortment of fees, trying to figure out how much accepting credit cards is going to cost your business inevitably comes down to guesswork. While you can make a reasonable estimation based on your processing history and your business type, it’s not realistic to expect that you’ll be able to come up with a precise figure. Fortunately, the companies we’ve profiled here fully disclose their processing rates and fees, making the job of estimating your costs much easier.
We’ve only listed eight of the most popular and most affordable processors here, so be aware that the cheapest processor for your particular business might not be on this list. There are plenty of other providers out there who are also competing for your business!
Here are a few very general rules of thumb regarding merchant account pricing:
- If your business has a low processing volume, you’ll want to find a provider with low monthly and annual fees. One of the most appealing aspects of Square and other payment service providers (PSPs) is that they don’t charge any monthly fees. This is a great feature if your business is seasonal, or you only occasionally have a need to accept credit cards. Processing rates won’t be as important for low-volume merchants.
- If your business has a high processing volume, fees aren’t as important, and you’ll want to get the lowest processing rates you can find. Paying one or more monthly fees for a merchant account is an insignificant expense for a larger business, but higher processing rates can make a serious dent in your profits.
- Carefully analyze both the percentage rate and the per-transaction processing fee when evaluating rates. While you’d ideally like them both to be low, which one is more important will depend on your average transaction size. If you process a lot of smaller transactions, a $0.30 per transaction fee can add up quickly. On the other hand, if your transactions are usually larger, you won’t need to be as concerned with the per-transaction fee and should try to get the lowest percentage rate you can find.
All the companies we’ve profiled here provide excellent service at an affordable cost, but some are better suited to particular types of businesses than others. Square, for example, works best for very small retail businesses. Shopify, on the other hand, is a better fit for small eCommerce merchants. Full-service merchant account providers like CDGcommerce, National Processing, and Payline Data are more well-rounded. CDGcommerce and National Processing work best for smaller businesses, while providers such as Payment Depot, Fattmerchant, and Chase Merchant Services work better with larger ones. For a side-by-side comparison of some of the companies listed here (and a few other excellent providers), please see our Merchant Account Comparison Chart.