How To Accept Credit Card Payments Online
There is a lot to consider when it comes to taking credit cards online for your business. Whether you are starting a brand new business or you want more ways to connect with your customers and make ordering easier, we have you covered in this post. We’ll guide you through the decision-making process and then offer several types of payment processors for you to consider so that you can find just the right fit. But first, let’s ask these basic questions and get you on the right path!
Other Featured Options:
- Durango Merchant Services: Durango, one of our favorites for the high-risk category, offers individual merchant accounts with very fair pricing, and contract terms
- Stripe Payments: Stripe is a third-party processor that focuses on providing developer-friendly solutions that allow you to create the payment flow you want, with your branding front and center
Read more below to learn why we chose these options.
Before You Start Taking Credit Card Payments Online, Ask Yourself These Questions
When it comes to taking credit cards online, you’ll want to first understand where you’re coming from before you start shopping around. When you understand what you’re looking for, you can start to spot if a solution would meet your most basic needs, and then work from there.
So before we dive into options, here are some questions to consider:
- Do you need a lot of site customization? The more customization you need (both in your site and in the payment flow), the more you’ll need to either outsource a developer and web design team or take the time to do it yourself. With the options we share with you below, however, you can probably get by without having to touch code at all if you don’t want to.
- Do you already have a website? If yes, do you like your website? Would you rather abandon it for a better site with more features? If you already have a site and don’t want to go through the effort of creating a new one to sell a handful of products, adding payment buttons or using one of the many plug-ins might be the easiest option. Of course, you don’t need a website to accept payments online. We’ll talk about all of these options more below.
- What’s your budget? When it comes to numbers, you need to look at both upfront costs and monthly (or yearly) costs. How much can you spend at the outset, and how much do you expect to be able to afford on a monthly or annual basis? Keep in mind that the more technically-advanced your website, the more you can expect to pay to build and maintain it. Likewise the more inventory you have the more you can expect to pay. If you decide to go the custom route or you end up hiring a developer, don’t forget to add these into the costs of payment processing, too. The great news is that as far as selling online, you might be able to get away with adding a payment button to your existing site, only selling on social platforms or using a lower-tier website plan on (e.g., Shopify and Square). There are many ways to keep your costs down. We will explore different options in this post, so keep reading!
- How comfortable are you with handling security features? If you want to sell online, security is really important. That means ensuring your site is PCI compliant. The more involved you are in the payments process and the more sensitive information your website handles, the more of a burden you are taking upon yourself. Fortunately, many payment processors and other software providers offer solutions to keep your customers’ information secure and reduce your PCI burden. In many cases, you may not need to do anything because the sensitive data is all tokenized or hosted elsewhere!
Once you’ve got the answers to these questions and a list of the features you need and want, it’s time to start looking at your options. One of your primary considerations should be finding a payment processor.
Everything You Need To Know About Accepting Credit Card Payments Online
Whether you’re offering digital goods, subscription services, or retail products, look for a payment processor or shopping cart software that caters to your industry, so you don’t have to find creative workarounds. Many solutions are generalized for a broad array of merchants, but they also offer add-ons and integrations to tailor the end result. If you end up falling into a high-risk industry, however, you’ll want to focus on traditional merchant accounts that offer high-risk industries fair pricing.
Also keep in mind that selling digital products is not allowed on Facebook and Instagram, so if you sell anything downloadable, you can scratch social selling off your list right away. And for those of you who just want an easy way to bill your clients or customers, invoicing might be the ticket, and you don’t need a website at all!
Let’s take a look at some different ways you can sell, and then we’ll explore some specific options for you.
How To Set Up Credit Card Payments On a Website
A website is a pretty integral part of selling online (but it’s not 100% necessary – we’ll look at some alternatives in the next section). As mentioned above, the first question to consider is: Do I already have a website? Then ask yourself: Do I like that website, or would I rather start over completely? Fortunately, there are solutions for both of these scenarios. For existing sites, you can implement payment buttons or seek out a plug-in or extension that supports eCommerce
Using Third-Party Apps On Your Existing Or New Site
If you’ve used a site builder such as WordPress, Weebly, or Wix, it’s fairly simple to implement online payments. Simply check out the site builder’s available third-party apps, extensions, and plugins. You won’t need much technical expertise to get these apps working for you, so it’s one of the simplest solutions if you already have a site you love.
Payment Buttons To Sell Online
The other way to add payments to an existing site is to look for a payment processor that supports payment buttons. Shopify (see our review) offers a range of packages but if you are just in the market for a payment button, you can get by with the cheapest offer of Shopify Lite. The plan also includes access to Shopify’s mPOS app and the ability to sell on Facebook (we’ll talk about that option in the next section, too.)
While adding payments to an existing site is incredibly convenient and often requires little work, you won’t get quite as many tools as you would with a hosted eCommerce software solution. Which brings us to the best solution if you would rather build a new site or have no website to start with: shopping cart software.
Building A New Site With Shopping Cart Software
eCommerce software apps, sometimes called shopping carts or shopping cart software, are hosted, all-in-one solutions to online sales. Adding an eCommerce feature to an existing website requires you to choose a platform, buy the domain, and pay for hosting, but with shopping carts, you’ll get everything in a single package: online sales and product management, hosting, and sometimes even the ability to buy a domain name directly.
Typically, shopping carts will also help you centralize control of sales across multiple channels so that if you sell on social media, on eBay, or through another channel, you can handle order fulfillment through a single platform. That even includes buying postage (at a discounted rate) and printing the shipping labels. Some shopping carts will offer marketing tools or integrations with marketing platforms, as well as integrations with point of sale systems.
Generally speaking, even if a shopping cart doesn’t offer all of the features you want, you can search the app market for available extensions and integrations to get what you need. It’s worth researching the available add-ons as well as the native software features.
How To Process Credit Cards Online Without A Website
Most people equate taking payments online with having a website. That is the most common option, but you don’t actually need your own website. Let’s talk about a few of the alternatives for how to accept credit cards online.
Creating Online Invoices
Generally speaking, invoicing software is cloud-based, so you can access it anywhere. You can customize invoices and send them via email or generate a shareable link to the invoice. But unlike old-fashioned invoicing, these invoices include a link to pay directly in the invoice. Your customers follow the link, enter their payment details, and bam! You get paid much quicker.
Selling On Social Media
It wasn’t all that long ago that the idea of being able to buy products directly through social media channels was novel and experimental, but nowadays you can create your online shop through Facebook, Instagram, and buy-able pins on Pinterest!
Shopify stands out as a very good solution to do this because, while its core offering is an online shopping cart, it offers a “Lite” plan that includes access to its mPOS app, buy buttons for a website, and an integrated Facebook store with automated tools to make the process easier. If you want to more information on selling your goods via social media, check out our posts How To Sell On Instagram With Shoppable Posts and Shopify Facebook Stores: The Cheap & Easy Way To Sell Online.
Accept Credit Card Online With These 7 Great Processors
Below, I’ve highlighted what I think are the best options out there in credit card processing, and things to consider about each company. Keep in mind there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, so be sure to check out our full reviews so you can get a complete picture of each option.
Square is a powerhouse of tools and low-cost features, which is why I put it on the top of the list. Without even having a site, you can send a payment link and take online payments or set up recurring billing with their invoicing feature. If you do want to set up an online store, they even offer a free site to get you started. Granted, your options and space are limited with the freemium option, and your domain name is nested with Square, but you can’t beat free if you just need something simple!
Of course, Square offers paid online store options, too, with various features and storage limits, and they are all very reasonably priced. As far as the aesthetics of a Square site, they all look modern with drag-and-drop customization options within your choice of templates. If you need to customize your site, Square offers free developer tools at your disposal, too, so you certainly aren’t bound to the template options.
Some of the hidden value with Square comes in the back-end reporting and add-on tools that make it a fantastic option if you’re starting small but you want room to scale. Because there are no credit checks with Square, and no individual merchant account contracts, you can get an account open and your website going usually within just the amount of time it takes to fill out the form. While Square has made it possible for many small businesses who otherwise wouldn’t stand a chance to start processing credit cards, there are some drawbacks. Third-party processors like Square, Shopify, and PayPal are usually less stable than traditional merchant accounts. If your account raises a red flag, for instance, you’re more likely to have an account freeze or hold on funds.
For more information on pricing and why we think Square is a great option for many businesses to start taking payments online, check out our Square Online Store Review.
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Shopify earns a top spot in its own right because the entire platform is built with the online seller in mind, and it does an excellent job. Shopify is an easy-to-use option with numerous integrations, attractive templates, and some advanced design tools that make it a very good value for the price.
Shopify offers payment buttons, including Paypal, and if you never want to have a site at all, you can sync your Shopify inventory with numerous platforms including Facebook Stores, Instagram Shoppable Posts, Amazon, eBay and more! If you are just dipping your toe into eCommerce, check out Shopify Lite which still powers your social and platform selling and comes at a very low monthly cost for you. As far as creating your online store, you’ll find everything on your dashboard. From setting up and syncing inventory, to creating your site, to a massive library of integrations, you’ll likely find all you need. It’s truly built for ease-of-use, which is why it remains one of the best platforms for eCommerce, period.
Shopify Payments is a third-party processor with Stripe as the back-end processor. You can bring on your processor if you already have one, but you’ll pay a bit extra per transaction to do so. While third-party processors like PayPal, Square, and Shopify Payments are very easy to sign up for and sometimes the only option for new businesses, there is a bit less account stability. Rest assured; the majority of small businesses won’t have any issues, but it’s still important to understand your contract and be aware.
Interested in the numerous possibilities with Shopify? Check out our full Shopify review to find out how we rate customer service, features, Shopify pricing plan, and much more.
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Helcim offers the stability of a traditional merchant account and an all-in-one platform. Helcim combines your online shopping cart, payment processing hardware, payment gateway, and merchant account in one offer.
The Helcim payment gateway includes all of the standard features you’ll need to accept online payments including recurring billing options, a card vault to store payment data securely, shopping cart integration, hosted payment pages, and a customizable payment gateway API. Additionally, their gateway tokenizes data to give you solid payment security that’s up to date with the latest global security standards.
Another benefit to Helcim is that unlike many traditional merchant accounts, they offer month-to-month billing that gives you much-needed freedom. We like that Helcim offers interchange-plus processing rates exclusively, which are more transparent that tiered rates, typically. However, because of its pricing structure, this option is best for businesses that process more than $1,500. Check out our full Helcim Review post to find out why we rated it 5-stars!
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4. Payline Data
Payline offers online businesses a free gateway to process cards, a free virtual terminal, as well as eCheck processing. Payline is also a traditional merchant account, which means you’ll have more account stability than you would with third-party processors, typically. Within this traditional model, you’ll often find hidden charges and contract terms that make it hard to get out, but that’s refreshingly not the case with Payline. There’s no early termination fee and they offer transparent interchange-plus pricing, with month-to-month billing. However, if you process less than $3,000/mo, you’ll likely find Square to be a better option as far as credit card processing fees.
Payline also serves eCommerce businesses that are considered high-risk industries, so we recommend checking them out if that’s you. They do not offer services to international merchants, however, so Durango is a better bet if you sell globally. For more information on Payline’s pricing, features, products, and more, check out our full Payline Data Review.
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PaymentCloud is a fantastic choice for eCommerce businesses and those who find themselves in the high-risk category. And with no monthly minimum for low-risk businesses and very few public complaints, it’s a vetted option we can get behind.
PaymentCloud does not disclose its pricing, but that is not uncommon among traditional merchant accounts, especially those that deal in high-risk industries. We do know, however, that PaymentCloud offers both tiered and interchange-plus pricing. Tiered pricing can get pretty hazy and hard to predict, so we recommend pressing for that interchange-plus quote if you do give them a call.
As far as what makes them great for eCommerce, they use the popular Authorize.Net as their payment gateway, which can integrate with a wide variety of web builders and platforms. Authorize.Net has a healthy developer toolbox and an open API in the event you opt to customize. Additionally, Payment Cloud integrates with a large number of shopping carts if you chose to go that route including Shopify, BigCommerce (read our review), and 3D Cart (read our review). PaymentCloud also offers a virtual terminal, ACH and eCheck processing.
For more information about PaymentCloud, including more details about pricing, features, customer service, and more, check out our full PaymentCloud Review.
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Durango Merchant Services
Certain types of eCommerce businesses can pose a bit more risk, and if you are deemed high-risk, you still need a competent, trustworthy processor with fair rates. In comes Durango, one of our favorites for the high-risk category. Durango offers individual merchant accounts with very fair pricing, and contract terms. You’ll also get a dedicated account manager, which is a nice touch. Durango is beneficial for the high-risk business because it has partnerships with a wide variety of processors and banks, some of which are offshore institutions as well.
The drawback with Durango is that for all that dedicated service and high-risk accommodations, you’ll need to sign a three-year contract, and you might have an early termination fee if you need to close your account (not applicable in all accounts). The truth is that in the high-risk category, we see things get a lot worse with price gauging and nefarious, hidden fees, but Durango doesn’t do these things, and they are a great option to consider. So for things like CBD sales, international sales, and other high-risk categories, we definitely recommend you giving them a shot. For shopping cart integration, you can opt for their proprietary Durango Cart or a third-party integration with their gateway.
Yes, they do serve low-risk businesses, too! To find out more about why we rate Durango five stars for pricing, features, service, and more, check out our full Durango Merchant Services Review.
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As I mentioned before, Stripe is a third-party processor and it’s also the back-end processor of Shopify as well as huge brands like Lyft, Addidas, and Facebook. While many processors keep their branding front and center (think PayPal buttons), Stripe is more about providing developer-friendly solutions that allow you to create the payment flow you want, with your branding front and center. Stripe offers customization with extensive code libraries and tools you just won’t find anywhere else.
If you are looking for an easy out-of-the-box solution to get your site up and running, Stripe is probably not the option for you, however. Shopify (read our review) would probably suit your needs a lot better, and it’s actually powered by Stripe anyway.
What you will get with Stripe are a lot of features that empower customization including:
- Transparent pricing
- Libraries in every language
- Versioned API changes
- Test-friendly environment
- 24/7 live chat and phone support
- iOS and Android dashboard apps
- Options in added payment security through machine learning
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Common Questions About Online Payments
The world of payment processing can be overwhelming and there is a lot to consider. Here are the answers to a few common questions we come across here at Merchant Maverick.
1) Can You Accept Credit Cards Without A Merchant Account?
You do need a payment processor to accept credit cards, but not necessarily a merchant account. Things get a little hazy with terms, so stay with me. Technically, third-party processors do not provide merchant accounts, and understanding this difference can be really important when it comes to managing expectations. While it may seem like a small detail, third-party processors like Shopify, Square, and Stripe have a completely different business structure than merchant accounts like Durango, PaymentCloud, and Payline on our list above. So what’s the difference?
In a nutshell, third-party processors aggregate all of their accounts rather than providing individual merchant accounts. Not creating individual accounts simplifies the process with no credit checks which makes getting an account very easy for nearly any type or size of business (except high-risk businesses). With a merchant account, on the other hand, you’d have a unique merchant ID number and a document with detailed underwriting around your account. Additionally, oftentimes traditional merchant accounts are only available to businesses that process higher volumes, which can cause a huge stumbling block for a smaller business that is just launching or an owner without established credit. That being said, third-party processors are less forgiving of certain red flags. That’s why I always recommend reading your contract, understanding the terms, and reading our post: How To Keep Your Payment Processor From Holding Funds Or Terminating Your Account: What Small Businesses Need To Know. Of course, there are pros and cons to each, which is why we’ve included a healthy mix of the two in the list above.
2) Can You Accept Credit Card Payments Online For Free?
If there is one thing you can take to the bank, it’s that nothing is ever free in the world of payment processing. It’s a good idea to have at least some basic understanding of how it all works, that way you’ll be more empowered overall. Interchange rates are determined by the card brands, not your credit card processors, and you’ll get charged this small percentage on every purchase no matter where you go. Above and beyond that, the processor incurs fees as well to bring you service, including the payment gateway, payment security, customer service, and oftentimes, reporting tools and other POS software as well. So, of course, the processor will also take a cut to cover its costs and make a profit. While there’s no free lunch, there are companies that bring much better value than others, and that’s what we look for when recommending credit card processing brands.
If you want to know how to determine your credit card processing fees, and how to know if you’re being overcharged, I recommend checking out our post: Knowing Your Effective Rate For Credit Card Processing Is The Best Way To Not Overpay For Merchant Services.
3) What’s The Easiest Way To Sell Online?
Another thing to consider is that if you want to simplify payment security and don’t mind your customers being briefly taken off your site to finish the sale, a payment button is a good option. Shopify offers payment buttons with their Shopify Lite plan, and these can be placed literally anywhere. With just a small section of provided code text that you copy and paste, you can put a payment button on a blog, landing page, product page — anywhere! For many merchants, slapping up a payment button is the easiest way for them to start selling. For others, it’s selling on social media, which we’ve covered above as well.
4) Are There Any Alternatives to Taking Credit Cards?
Credit cards are the go-to for accepting payments online, but they aren’t the only options. For starters, there are ACH bank transfers, which are generally less expensive for merchants to process. They’re often preferred in B2B environments, but some consumers favor them too. PaymentCloud, as well as Stripe, offers an ACH payment platform.
Are You Ready To Accept Credit Card Payments Online?
Whether you are a fledgling business owner with a fresh idea or you’ve been selling for years at a cash-only storefront, you have options. If there is any takeaway that you bring with you, it’s that there are opportunities for all skill levels, budgets, and visions. You certainly do not have to have a website to take payments online anymore, but making a website also has never been easier, either.
For more resources to support you on your journey, check out Everything You Need To Know About eCommerce Payments, How To Detect And Prevent Online Credit Card Fraud, and The Small Business Owner’s Guide To Alternative Payment Methods.
A Last Look At Our Top Picks
Summary - Square is a powerhouse of tools and low-cost features, allowing you to end a payment link and take online payments or set up recurring billing with their invoicing feature
Summary - Shopify's entire platform is built with the online seller in mind, providing numerous integrations, attractive templates, and some advanced design tools that make it a very good value for the price.
Summary - Helcim offers the stability of a traditional merchant account and an all-in-one platform, combining an online shopping cart, payment processing hardware, payment gateway, and merchant account in one offer.
Summary - Payline is a traditional merchant account provider that offers online businesses a free gateway to process cards, a free virtual terminal, as well as eCheck processing
Summary - PaymentCloud is a fantastic choice for eCommerce businesses, and offers businesses in the high-risk category no monthly minimum
- Durango Merchant Services
Summary - Durango, one of our favorites for the high-risk category, offers individual merchant accounts with very fair pricing, and contract terms
- Stripe Payments
Summary - Stripe is a third-party processor that focuses on providing developer-friendly solutions that allow you to create the payment flow you want, with your branding front and center