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The Best Credit Card Processing Companies For 2021

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

Trying to choose the best credit card processing company can be overwhelming. This is especially true when you are a new small business owner who has never even heard of a “merchant account” before — but the truth is that even seasoned CEOs can get dizzy while researching the payment processing industry. (Trust us, we’ve spoken to them.) There are so many processing companies, they all seem to be doing more or less the same thing, and they all have both glowing testimonials and terrible complaints. How are you supposed to choose the best company under these circumstances? Who can you trust?

We get it. We’ve been reviewing credit card processing companies for years. We hear from dozens of small business owners every day who are trying to answer the same question: Which merchant services solution is the best of my business?

And our answer is always the same: It depends.

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. But over the years, we’ve found that there are some good guidelines to follow. Using these guidelines, we’ve created this list of the best small business credit card processing companies, whittling down the field of providers to a manageable number. All of them follow some simple rules that we live by here at Merchant Maverick, which we’ll discuss in detail below.

Here’s a quick look at our list of the highest-ranking credit card processing companies for small businesses. (They’re great for medium and large businesses too, for the record.) Scroll down for in-depth discussions.

Learn More About Our Top Picks

CompanyBest ForNext StepsBest For
PaymentCloud

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Best for all new businesses and online sellers, best for flexibility
Best for all new businesses and online sellers, best for flexibility

Visit Site

Read More

Stax by Fattmerchant

Read More

Best for established businesses looking to save, best online reporting
Best for established businesses looking to save, best online reporting

Visit Site

Read More

Payment Depot

Read More

Best for mid-volume businesses, best value
Best for mid-volume businesses, best value

Visit Site

Read More

Square

Read More

Best for lower volume businesses (under $10K monthly), best for instant signup
Best for lower volume businesses (under $10K monthly), best for instant signup

Visit Site

Read More

Read more below to learn why we chose these options.

Our Methodology

When it comes to picking the best credit card company for your business, it helps to follow these four simple rules, which we relied on heavily to formulate our list of best credit card processors. You can use them in your search as well.

Rule 1: Transparency Is The Best Policy

For a credit card processor to make it onto our list of recommendations, there can be no hidden fees and no surprises. That’s why we insist that our featured merchant account providers use a pricing system that separates wholesale from markup cost (interchange-plus, aka “pass-through” pricing). The interchange fees are set by the credit card brands (Visa and Mastercard foremost) and are the same for every credit card processor. It’s the markup that really matters here. In addition to using this cost-plus pricing model, all of our top picks make in-depth fee disclosures upfront. Our top-rated processing companies will also meet or beat your current rate if it’s lower than their advertised price. And all new businesses are guaranteed a fair starting rate thanks to the standardized public rate disclosures.

Rule 2: No Pressure, No Commitment

We do not tolerate high-pressure sales tactics or long-term commitments. Some salespeople will say anything to get you to sign the dotted line — and then force you to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars when the company doesn’t live up to its promises. We only recommend companies that employ honest, respectful sales reps and offer service with no long-term contract commitments (with the exception of high-risk processors). You should be able to accept credit cards without making a deal with the devil.

Rule 3: Look For Value & Savings

Some credit card processing companies only give you barebones service, but they do so at rock-bottom prices. Others charge a bit more but provide valuable software as part of the service. Which is best for you? That depends on your budget and your wants/needs. The cheapest credit card processor isn’t always the best. Likewise, you don’t always get what you pay for. It’s important to determine the value of a merchant account for your business needs. The topic of credit card processing fees is way too broad for us to cover thoroughly in this post, but if you’re interested, we have an in-depth resource that explains everything you could ever want to know about credit card payment processing rates and fees.

Rule 4: Reputation Matters

We carefully consider every complaint we find to figure out what went wrong. We then weigh these conclusions against the number of businesses the credit card processor services to make decisions about which companies we feel comfortable recommending. Our top-rated merchant account providers have extremely low complaint counts and numerous independent reviews validating good practices. A proven track record of satisfaction is imperative for us.

We don’t think that’s too much to ask, and we never settle for less.

The 8 Best Small Business Credit Card Payment Processing Companies

With the above considerations in mind, here are what we believe are, pound for pound, the best small business credit card processing companies, balancing cost, accessibility, transparency, and overall value for your dollar.

1. PaymentCloud

PaymentCloud



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Read our Review

PaymentCloud specializes in setting up merchant accounts for online businesses with a network of third-party processors and acquiring banks, which means that they have an easy time setting up just about any merchant account since online businesses are usually the riskiest and hardest to place. While it can’t always place every merchant, the company has a higher success rate than many of its competitors. Best of all, PaymentCloud does the extra work required to accept a high-risk account without charging you any application or account setup fees.

Like almost all high-risk specialists, the company doesn’t disclose its transaction cost. You’ll have to get a quote from its sales team and do a little negotiating to see how the company’s offer stacks up against other providers

PaymentCloud provides its retail merchants a free lease of an EMV-compliant credit card terminal. It also offers Authorize.Net as its payment gateway, although its system is compatible with other third-party gateways as well. Additionally, it provides a free virtual terminal with each account.

Pros

  • High-risk specialists
  • Few public complaints
  • No setup fee
  • No monthly minimums

Cons

  • No publicly disclosed pricing

Get Started with PaymentCloud

Read our in-depth review

Jump back to comparison chart

2. Stax By Fattmerchant

Stax by Fattmerchant



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Read our Review

Stax by Fattmerchant is a great choice for most businesses, but the company particularly shines when it comes to eCommerce and card-not-present transactions. One of our favorite things about this company is its subscription pricing model. With this fee structure, you have a 0% markup alongside a small per-transaction fee ($0.08-$0.15) and a larger monthly fee ($99 for processing, $49-$129 for the Stax Pay integrated payments platform). Don’t let the monthly fees 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 Stax 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 orders and eCommerce businesses.

Still not convinced that it’s worth it? Well, Stax adds even more value to your account with high-quality invoicing and billing tools, customer management, a virtual terminal, a POS app, inventory management, detailed reporting analytics, and more. You’ll get these features with the Stax Pay software package, depending on your subscription level.

Pros

  • Transparent membership pricing
  • Free gateway and virtual terminal
  • Next-day funding available
  • Month-to-month billing

Cons

  • Available to US merchants only
  • Not suited for low-volume businesses

Get Started with Stax by Fattmerchant

Read our in-depth review

Jump back to comparison chart

3. Payment Depot

Payment Depot



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Read our Review

Payment Depot is best known for its use of subscription or membership-based pricing, which is a spinoff of the interchange-plus model. While it isn’t the only provider to offer this type of pricing, Payment Depot’s reputation for open, honest sales practices and excellent customer support puts it ahead of many of its competitors using this relatively new pricing model.

How does it work? Most providers offering interchange-plus pricing will charge “interchange fee + 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 monthly fees into a single monthly subscription ranging from $49 to $199 per month, depending on which plan you choose. 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.

Pros

  • Transparent membership pricing
  • Free gateway and virtual terminal
  • Next-day funding available
  • No application or setup fees

Cons

  • Available to US merchants only
  • Not suited for high-risk merchants

Get Started with Payment Depot

Read our in-depth review

Jump back to comparison chart

4. Square Payments

Square



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Read our Review

Everyone has heard of Square by now. With its free card reader that you can plug into a smartphone tablet, mobile application 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 and debit cards.

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, but you are much more likely to be quickly approved for an 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 would be catastrophic to an eCommerce business where cash isn’t an option.

To summarize, Square offers a great deal under most circumstances, but use the service with caution. Scroll a few sections down for a more detailed discussion about whether Square is a good fit for your business.

Pros

  • Predictable flat-rate pricing
  • Ideal for low-volume merchants
  • No monthly fees
  • All-in-one payments system

Cons

  • Account stability issues
  • Not suitable for high-risk industries

Get Started with Square

Read our in-depth review

Jump back to comparison chart

Future Payment Trends: What You Can Expect In 2020

To put it mildly, 2020 has had a substantial impact on the payment processing world. With many businesses having to scale back their operations or move more of their infrastructure online, some distinct trends appear to be emerging.

Cash Payments Are Declining

Between avoidance of face-to-face transactions and a national coin shortage, there’s less business being conducted with cash this year. Being able to take payments, especially through card-not-present transactions, will probably pay dividends, at least until the pandemic is over (and possibly beyond). ATM cash withdrawals have also been in decline since 2015.

Don’t Skimp On Security

More card-not-present (CNP) transactions mean more potential for fraud. Make sure your payment gateway, if you have one, is up to speed in terms of PCI compliance and data security.

NFC Payments May Become More Desirable

Credit card terminals are great vectors for disease transmission, but they don’t have to be. Having a contactless payment terminal for your in-person transactions may draw in some germophobes.

ACH Payments Now Exceed Check Usage

Alas for the poor, humble paper check. Automated Clearing House payments have been moving into the niches once filled with checks; recurring payments, in particular, are easy to make via ACH. ACH is also cheaper per transaction than credit and debit cards, making it a cost-effective option when applicable.

Is Square Better Than A Merchant Account For Small Business?

If you’re a small business owner or are just starting out, you probably only process small transactions ($15 or less average ticket size) — a couple of thousand dollars each month. Maybe you’re adamant about not paying any monthly fees, even if you process somewhat above that amount. If so, Square might be the right fit for you.

ReadereCommerceRetailFood Service
Free App & ReaderSquare eCommerceSquare for RetailSquare for Restaurants
Get StartedGet StartedGet StartedGet Started
Free, general-purpose POS software and reader for iOS and AndroidEasy integration with popular platforms plus API for customizationSpecialized software for more complex retail storesSpecialized software for full-service restaurants
$0/month$0/month$0-60/month$0-60/month
Always FreeAlways FreeFree TrialFree Trial

Square currently charges 2.6% + $0.10 per card-present transaction. While this is a price increase from its old charges, for many small business owners — especially in retail or small food service businesses — it’s still an excellent value given the low cost and high-quality software that also comes with Square’s service. Larger businesses, however, can end up saving hundreds or thousands of dollars each month by not using Square. Lastly, high-risk businesses should avoid Square because it is incredibly risk-averse and will shut down your account and hold your money if you are high-risk.

Square offers its own line of payment card processing hardware. The hardware can run from free to thousands of dollars per machine. Each has its positives and negatives, so be sure to understand your business’s specific needs before deciding on a machine. Square’s also taken the initiative during the pandemic by expanding its offerings of free eCommerce tools available through Square Checkout and Square Online.

You could even try both Square and a merchant account. Since none of our top merchant services providers lock you into long-term contracts, it’s safe to try it out for a few months with no major commitment.

The Bottom Line On The Best Merchant Account Services For Small Business

Whether you’re trying to juggle multiple retail locations or just sell products online, one of the eight services we’ve highlighted here should be a “best match” for your business. While each service has its own standout features, they all offer competitive rates, transparent pricing, and easy, low-cost setup. While all of them perform more or less the same essential service (connecting an acquiring bank to an issuing bank), each brings its own value to the floor.

Here’s a final look at your options. We hope one of these will be the best choice for your small, medium-sized, or even enterprise business! Let us know how it goes.

In Summary: The 8 Best Small Business Credit Card Payment Processing Companies

  1. PaymentCloud: Best for all new businesses and online sellers, best for flexibility
  2. Stax by Fattmerchant: Best for established businesses looking to save, best online reporting
  3. Payment Depot: Best for mid-volume businesses, best value
  4. Square: Best for lower volume businesses (under $10K monthly), best for instant signup
Frank Kehl

Frank Kehl

Frank Kehl has been writing about merchant services, payment gateways, and international money transfer services since 2015. He has a Bachelor of Science degree from Penn State and a Juris Doctorate from the Ventura College of Law. 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 town of Paso Robles in California’s scenic Central Coast region. He enjoys reading, photography, hiking, and numerous other outdoor pursuits.

Sources

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326 Comments

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the vendor or bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the vendor or bank advertiser. It is not the vendor or bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

    Mary C Brady

    Great comparisons. I have been with my current processor for a little over 3 years and the fee’s and charges have been going up this year sent me to your site. First year good, second slight increase. This year major changes in fees and changed my account from merit back to tier with higher rates without notifying me. This article allowed me to see heads to head comparison what I as a small business will need looking forward. Thank you for highlighting these companies. Have been on other sites and spoke to other merchant processors. Agree square isn’t a good fit for certain small businesses ( we found their software and connections as not user friendly and not working on our site.) As a wholesaler we deal with business to business which you don’t even mention on your evaluations, we aren’t online ( due to the costs), and still deal with customers face to face, dealing in perishable seasonal goods. Writing an article for business to business and how we are different then retail would be good.

      This comment refers to an earlier version of this post and may be outdated.

      Jessica Dinsmore

      Hi Mary,

      Thank you for your feedback! We actually have a couple of articles on B2B processing to share with you: The 6 Best B2B Options For Your Small Business and Switch To B2B Processing And Modernize Your Business. I hope you find them to be helpful.

        This comment refers to an earlier version of this post and may be outdated.

        Jhon Pace

        Thank you so much for this article, great information! It is helpful for startup small business.

          This comment refers to an earlier version of this post and may be outdated.

          Nasir

          We have a startup Money Transfer incorporated in Canada, which payment processor is the best for our business.

            This comment refers to an earlier version of this post and may be outdated.

            Jessica Dinsmore

            Hey Nasir,

            There are a lot of factors that can impact this decision! We have a great filtering tool that can help you determine which options may be best for your business, based on the specifics that you enter. Give it a try, and if you need help narrowing it down from there, we’ll do our best to help!

              This comment refers to an earlier version of this post and may be outdated.

              Cherrell

              Excellent review! Square takes the win for me. Being a small business owner, I have been using them for quite sometime now and quite happy with their service.

                This comment refers to an earlier version of this post and may be outdated.

                David

                I own a salon in Texas. Can you help me recommend a trustworthy merchant?

                  This comment refers to an earlier version of this post and may be outdated.

                  Jessica Dinsmore

                  Hi David,

                  It’s hard to say without knowing more information about your business, but our in-depth reviews will let you know how trustworthy we believe them to be. What you can do is fill out our merchant account filtering tool and it will populate the best suggestions based on the information you’ve entered about your business. I hope that helps, and if you haven’t already checked it out, here is a link to our post on Salon Survival During COVID-19. Best of luck to you!

                    This comment refers to an earlier version of this post and may be outdated.

                    EH

                    Hi, We are a new start-up trying to sell a monthly subscription to our online application for $20/month. Since we are an online application we only care about being able to charge credit cards (no need for any other option like POS etc’).
                    Which credit card processor do you recommend for us given the fact that we do not know how many subscribers per month in an average we will have.

                      This comment refers to an earlier version of this post and may be outdated.

                      Jessica Dinsmore

                      Hi EH,

                      I think Stripe might be a good option for you; it’s entirely pay-as-you-go, has really powerful tools, and advanced subscription options. Check it out and see what you think!

                        This comment refers to an earlier version of this post and may be outdated.

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