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Virtual Terminal Credit Card Processing Guide: Best Options For Small Business

Virtual terminals allow small businesses to accept payments remotely or in-person from a computer — with or without a credit card reader.

    Frank Kehl
  • UPDATED

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Virtual T

Virtual terminal credit card processing is essential for any business that needs to accept credit or debit card payments when the customer isn’t physically available to swipe, dip, or tap their card.

Long favored by mail-order and telephone order businesses, modern virtual terminals have evolved to include many additional features and can serve as a cost-effective alternative to expensive credit card terminals and point-of-sale (POS) systems for card-present transactions.

In this article, we’ll explain what a virtual terminal is and describe the most important features you should look for in selecting the best one for your business. We’ll also profile six of the best virtual terminal providers we’ve found for small businesses.

Learn More About Our Top Picks

CompanyBest ForNext StepsBest For
Square

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  • No monthly account fee
  • 3.5% + $0.15/keyed-in transaction
  • Best for low-volume & seasonal merchants
  • No monthly account fee
  • 3.5% + $0.15/keyed-in transaction
  • Best for low-volume & seasonal merchants

Visit Site

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PaymentCloud

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  • Variable monthly account fee
  • Variable transaction fees
  • Best for high-risk retail businesses
  • Variable monthly account fee
  • Variable transaction fees
  • Best for high-risk retail businesses

Visit Site

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Clover POS

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  • $9.95/month account fee
  • 3.5% + $0.10/keyed-in transaction
  • Best for ecommerce-only businesses
  • $9.95/month account fee
  • 3.5% + $0.10/keyed-in transaction
  • Best for ecommerce-only businesses

Visit Site

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Helcim

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  • No monthly account fee
  • Interchange + 0.50% + $0.25/keyed-in transaction (volume discounts available)
  • Best all-around virtual terminal
  • No monthly account fee
  • Interchange + 0.50% + $0.25/keyed-in transaction (volume discounts available)
  • Best all-around virtual terminal

Visit Site

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Dharma Merchant Services

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  • $25/month account fee
  • Interchange + 0.20% + $0.11/online or keyed-in transaction
  • Best virtual terminal for nonprofits
  • $25/month account fee
  • Interchange + 0.20% + $0.11/online or keyed-in transaction
  • Best virtual terminal for nonprofits

Visit Site

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Durango Merchant Services

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  • Variable monthly account fee
  • Variable transaction fees
  • Best for high-risk ecommerce businesses
  • Variable monthly account fee
  • Variable transaction fees
  • Best for high-risk ecommerce businesses

Visit Site

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Read more below to learn why we chose these options.

What Is A Virtual Terminal?

A virtual terminal is a web-based software application that enables credit card processing on any device with an internet browser. Transactions can be manually keyed in if the physical card is not present, or accepted using a compatible credit card reader that connects to the device hosting the virtual terminal software.

What Kinds Of Businesses Need Virtual Terminal Payment Processing?

In general, any business where a traditional countertop terminal or point of sale (POS) system is either impractical or too expensive will find it advantageous to use a virtual terminal. Here are some examples:

  • Food Delivery Services: Customers can prepay over the phone before food delivery.
  • Remote Freelance Work: Web designers, graphic artists, writers, and other pros who work remotely can settle billing over the phone.
  • Local Professionals (e.g., Doctors, Attorneys, Accountants): Take payment over the phone to book clients, settle a running tab, or process from across the counter.
  • Auto Mechanics: Your customers can pay you over the phone and pick their car up after hours, and you can collect what’s due during regular business hours, too.
  • Other Delivery Services: Whether you own a local pharmacy, deliver wine and spirits, or something else, taking phone orders is an excellent option for smaller delivery-based businesses.

If none of these apply to you, some situations may still arise where a virtual terminal will come in handy. Some merchants enjoy the fact that a virtual terminal enables them to forgo hardware to compensate for limited counter space. While mobile payment processing apps are also an option, some folks live and die by their laptops, so a virtual terminal makes the most sense for their business needs.

Also, merchants who typically process via swiping, dipping, or tapping may need to take payment over the phone once in a while. If you already have a credit card processor, chances are there is a virtual terminal somewhere on the dashboard with which you can manually enter credit card details through a web-based form.

The 6 Best Virtual Terminals For Small Business

The best virtual terminal providers are usually also the best merchant services providers for your business. While often proprietary, virtual terminals don’t vary much in terms of features or capabilities from one provider to the next. Instead, you should focus your search on companies that offer flexible contracts, fair pricing, and excellent customer support.

1. Square: Best For Low-Volume & Seasonal Merchants

Square



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Pros

  • Pay-as-you-go billing
  • No monthly fees
  • Predictable flat-rate pricing

Cons

  • Account stability issues
  • Card-present payments not available on Windows PCs

Square Features

Square has long been popular with retailers and other businesses that usually take payments in person, but the company’s virtual terminal also makes it a great option for businesses that need to take orders over the phone or through the mail. The Square Virtual Terminal includes the following key features:

  • Square Virtual Terminal included with every account at no additional cost
  • Supports credit/debit cards, ACH transfers, and payment links
  • Supports split transactions & BNPL financing
  • Integrates with Square Dashboard
  • Compatible with Square Terminal for in-person payments
  • Square Virtual Terminal app available for Windows or Mac
  • Square Charge digital payments app available for Macs (Windows app coming soon)

Square Charge Screenshot

Square Pricing

  • No monthly or annual fees
  • 3.5% + $0.15 per manually keyed-in transaction
  • 2.6% + $0.10 per swiped, dipped, or tapped transaction
  • $299 for Square Terminal

Where Square Really Shines

Square offers a complete lineup of products and services to accept any kind of transaction. Among those services is the Square Virtual Terminal, which is exactly what the name implies: a web-based “virtual” terminal for accepting credit card transactions on a personal computer. While you don’t need a card reader to use Square Virtual Terminal, the lower processing rate for card-present transactions is reason enough to invest in one. For in-person payments using Square Virtual Terminal, you’ll need either a Mac (using Chrome or Safari) or a Chromebook, and the $299 Square Terminal card reader.

Square’s Virtual Terminal is an excellent choice for small businesses that only process several thousand dollars a month in credit/debit card transactions. At higher processing volumes, the company’s flat-rate pricing can actually hurt you, and you’ll be better off getting a full-service merchant account. As with any other payment service provider (PSP), account holds, freezes, and terminations are also more frequent. You’ll want to take this risk into account when signing up.

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2. PaymentCloud: Best For High-Risk Retail Businesses

PaymentCloud



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Exclusive Promo: PaymentCloud will give you $200 if they can't beat your current rate. Get Your Quote

Pros

  • High-risk specialists
  • No account setup fee
  • Free terminal or card reader with an account
  • Excellent customer support

Cons

  • No publicly disclosed pricing

PaymentCloud Features

For high-risk merchants, PaymentCloud offers a wide variety of services at a reasonable price. While pricing and contract terms may be highly variable, all PaymentCloud merchant accounts include the following features:

  • Free virtual terminal from Authorize.Net, USAePay, or other compatible gateway providers
  • Free mobile credit card reader with each account
  • Integrates with most third-party online shopping carts
  • eCheck & ACH processing available
  • Accepts a wide variety of high-risk industries
  • Supports QR code payments through Paysley

PaymentCloud virtual terminal Screenshot

PaymentCloud Pricing

  • No application or account setup fees
  • $15/month account fee (low-risk businesses)
  • Variable monthly fee (high-risk businesses)
  • Interchange + 0.10%-0.50% + $0.15-$0.25 per card-not-present transaction (low-risk businesses)
  • Interchange + 0.05%-0.30% + $0.08-$0.10 per card-present transaction (low-risk businesses)
  • Variable transaction processing rates (high-risk businesses)
  • Free mobile card reader available with each account

Where PaymentCloud Really Shines

PaymentCloud serves both low- and high-risk businesses, with a focus on the retail sector. The company offers a free credit card terminal with each account, although you can choose a card reader instead if you plan to use a virtual terminal to enter card-present transactions. Your specific virtual terminal will be determined by your choice of payment gateway, with the company offering Authorize.Net, USAePay, and several other third-party options.

Like other high-risk specialists, PaymentCloud works with a wide variety of processors and banks (including some offshore options) to get your business approved for an account. As a result, there is no standardized pricing available for high-risk businesses. Instead, you’ll have to reach out to its sales department and obtain a customized quote. Fortunately, PaymentCloud does not charge an account setup fee for the extensive underwriting process required to establish a high-risk merchant account. In addition to free hardware and reasonable pricing, the company provides excellent customer support after you’ve signed up for an account.

Get Started With PaymentCloud

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3. Clover: Best For eCommerce-Only Businesses

Clover POS



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Pros

  • No Clover hardware required
  • Month-to-month billing
  • Includes integrated invoicing feature
  • Includes access to Clover App Market

Cons

  • Requires monthly subscription fee

Clover Features

Better known for its popular line of countertop terminals and point of sale (POS) systems, Clover also offers a No Hardware Plan that includes a fully-featured virtual terminal and does not require you to purchase any of Clover’s physical devices. Prime features of the No Hardware Plan include the following:

  • Includes Clover Virtual Terminal
  • Invoicing option available
  • Access to Clover App Market
  • Compatible with Clover Go card reader for in-person transactions

Clover Virtual Terminal Screenshot

Clover Pricing

  • $9.95/month account fee (No Hardware Plan)
  • $14.95/month account fee (Clover Essentials Plan with virtual terminal & Clover Go reader)
  • 3.5% + $0.10/keyed-in transaction
  • 2.6% + $0.10/in-person transaction
  • $49/unit for Clover Go card reader (optional)
  • Some Clover apps require additional fees

Where Clover Really Shines

With Clover’s No Hardware Plan, you can accept payments from customers remotely, send invoices via email, generate sales reports, and send paperless receipts. You also have access to the Clover App Market, allowing you to add additional features, such as inventory management, employee scheduling, and more. While the No Hardware Plan requires a monthly fee, your contract is month-to-month and doesn’t include an early termination fee. If you want to add the ability to accept in-person transactions, you’ll have to purchase the Clover Go card reader and upgrade to the more expensive Clover Essentials Plan.

While we prefer to see companies offer their virtual terminals for free, the ability to add additional apps from the Clover App Market makes the monthly fee a worthwhile trade-off for businesses that will be relying on the Clover Virtual Terminal for most (or all) of their transaction processing.

Also, note that while Clover doesn’t require a long-term contract or charge an early termination fee, your merchant account provider might include these terms if you sign up with one of the many Fiserv resellers that offer Clover products.

Get Started With Clover POS

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4. Helcim: Best All-Around Virtual Terminal

Helcim



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Pros

  • Free virtual terminal with each account
  • No long-term contracts or early termination fees
  • Uses interchange-plus pricing exclusively
  • Available in Canada and the United States

Cons

  • Not available to high-risk merchants

Helcim Features

Helcim is one of the most affordable credit card processing options for small or low-volume businesses. The company’s accounts come with the following key features:

  • Offers full-service merchant accounts
  • Helcim Virtual Terminal included with each account
  • ACH transfers included with each account
  • Supports international payments
  • Helcim Card Reader available for in-person transactions
  • Product & inventory management features included

Helcim Virtual Terminal Screenshot

Helcim Pricing

  • Month-to-month billing with no early termination fee
  • No monthly account fee
  • Interchange + 0.50% + $0.25/keyed-in transaction (volume discounts available)
  • Interchange + $0.30% + $0.08/in-person transaction (volume discounts available)
  • $109/unit for Helcim Card Reader
  • 0.50% + $0.25/ACH transfer

Where Helcim Really Shines

Available to Canadian and US-based merchants, Helcim offers one of the lowest-cost options for payment processing that we’ve seen anywhere. The company’s proprietary Helcim Virtual Terminal is included as a standard feature of each account, allowing you to take remote payments over the phone, through the mail, or using the terminal’s online invoicing features. With no long-term commitment and no monthly account fee, Helcim is a great choice for seasonal and low-volume businesses that aren’t taking a large number of credit card payments every day.

The Helcim Virtual Terminal can run on any internet-connected device, including laptops, smartphones, and tablets. If you need to accept in-person payments as well, the optional Helcim Card Reader ($109) offers all the features of a wireless countertop terminal at a very affordable price.

Helcim offers some of the most extensive pricing disclosures in the industry, so you won’t have to worry about hidden fees being tacked onto your bill. While Helcim is one of the best all-around merchant services providers in the industry, be aware that the company does not accept high-risk merchants.

Get Started With Helcim

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5. Dharma Merchant Services: Best Virtual Terminal For Nonprofits

Dharma Merchant Services



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Read our Review

Pros

  • Interchange-plus pricing offered exclusively
  • Month-to-month billing with no early termination fees
  • Discounted pricing for qualified nonprofit companies
  • Outstanding sales transparency and highly ethical business practices

Cons

  • Not cost-effective for businesses processing less than $10,000 per month
  • Does not accept most high-risk businesses

Dharma Merchant Services Features

One of the most transparent and ethical companies in the payments processing industry, Dharma Merchant Services offers a complete range of products and services, including the following:

  • Offers full-service merchant accounts underwritten by Fiserv & TSYS
  • MX Merchant payments system (including QuickPay virtual terminal) offered as a standard feature
  • Offers MX Merchant Express app & Walker 2 card reader for mobile payments
  • B2B processing available
  • Credit card surcharging program available

Dharma Merchant Services Virtual Terminal Screenshot

Dharma Merchant Services Pricing

  • $25/month account fee (eCommerce & virtual terminal businesses)
  • Interchange + 0.20% + $0.11/online or keyed-in transaction
  • Interchange + 0.15% + $0.08/retail transaction (volume discounts available)
  • $149/unit for Walker 2 card reader (accepts magstripe, EMV, and NFC payment methods)
  • $119/unit for Magtek card reader (accepts magstripe only)

Where Dharma Merchant Services Really Shines

Dharma Merchant Services offers fully transparent pricing information, with all account fees, processing rates, and contract terms being disclosed on the Dharma website. This saves you the hassle of having to negotiate with the company’s sales team to get the best offer.

Dharma uses month-to-month billing and interchange-plus pricing exclusively and offers discounted rates to qualified nonprofits. Every Dharma merchant account comes with a free virtual terminal, which is included as a feature of the company’s MX Merchant integrated payments platform. Dharma’s QuickPay virtual terminal allows you to key in a transaction manually, and also integrates with a customer database, so you can process sales to repeat customers even faster.

While Dharma is an excellent choice for many businesses, it’s not for everyone. The company freely admits that its pricing will not be affordable for merchants processing less than $10,000 per month. Also, it does not accept most high-risk merchants, referring them to PaymentCloud instead. Finally, its $119 magstripe-only Magtek card reader is both expensive and essentially obsolete. For in-person payments, we recommend the company’s MX Merchant Express app and the Walker 2 card reader.

Get Started With Dharma Merchant Services

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6. Durango Merchant Services: Best For High-Risk eCommerce Businesses

Durango Merchant Services



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Pros

  • High-risk specialist
  • Offers offshore merchant accounts for some international merchants
  • Fair pricing and excellent contract terms
  • Dedicated account manager for customer service

Cons

  • No pricing disclosures on the website

Durango Merchant Services Features

One of the best companies we’ve found that specializes in serving high-risk merchants is Durango Merchant Services. The company offers the following primary services:

  • High-risk merchant accounts
  • Proprietary Durango Pay payment gateway (includes virtual terminal)
  • Mobile processing through iProcess app & card reader
  • eCheck processing (does not include ACH transfers)
  • Support for cryptocurrency payments
  • Dedicated account manager for customer support

Durango Merchant Services Pricing

  • No application or account setup fees
  • Variable monthly account fee
  • Variable transaction processing rates (usually uses tiered pricing plans)
  • Variable contract terms
  • Rolling reserve likely to be included with your account

Where Durango Merchant Services Really Shines

Durango Merchant Services works with a wide variety of acquiring banks and payment processors to get you approved for an account but offers its own proprietary merchant services and customer support. One of these services is the Durango Pay gateway, the company’s proprietary payment gateway. Durango Pay includes a virtual terminal as one of its features, allowing you to accept orders and payments over the telephone, even if you don’t have a website.

You’ll get access to various features, including support for recurring billing and a customer information database. As a high-risk provider, Durango also includes a robust set of security features, including tokenization, encryption, and anti-fraud services that can flag (or even block) suspicious transactions.

The one downside to working with Durango — or any other high-risk provider — is that its complex relationships with its numerous back-end processors make it impossible to disclose any pricing information on its website. Instead, you’ll have to contact Durango’s in-house sales team and get a pricing quote that’s customized to your business. Although you can expect to pay higher rates than a comparable low-risk business, the company’s prices are fair and haven’t generated any complaints from merchants.

Get Started With Durango Merchant Services

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4 Benefits Of Virtual Terminal Credit Card Processing

Virtual terminals offer all of the security and fraud protection features of a countertop terminal or POS system, but at a fraction of the cost. Here’s an overview of the main benefits of using a virtual terminal:

  • Potential Cost Savings: Because most providers include a virtual terminal for free with your account, you can put together a very low-cost alternative to spending hundreds of dollars on a countertop terminal or POS system. All you’ll usually need is a browser-equipped device with an internet connection. Because credit card processing requires very little bandwidth, it’s a great way to repurpose an old laptop or tablet. If you also need to accept card-present transactions, a card reader can usually be purchased for less than $130.
  • Security Features: Virtual terminals are just as secure as physical terminals or payment gateways, using the same tokenization and encryption methods to protect your customers’ card data from hackers during the transaction approval process. They also meet the same PCI compliance requirements as other payment processing devices and software. Additional security measures, such as address verification (AVS) and the use of CVV numbers, are also available and should be used whenever it’s appropriate.
  • Fraud Protection: With the rise of eCommerce, credit card fraud has become a bigger problem. The best way to avoid liability for credit card fraud is to always enter credit card information directly into the payment form and never copy the numbers down anywhere else. Of course, even with good security, sometimes breaches happen. However, if your company has a PCI-compliant virtual terminal, the liability shifts away from you if a breach occurs.
  • Chargeback Protection: While every business experiences the occasional chargeback, they still cost you money. Experiencing too many chargebacks, in fact, can get you labeled as a high-risk merchant. Modern virtual terminals frequently include access to automated anti-chargeback tools that can flag — and even block — suspicious transactions before they lead to a chargeback. Learning how to prevent chargebacks is essential for any business, regardless of how to accept credit/debit card payments.

What Should You Look For In A Virtual Terminal Merchant Account?

Most virtual terminal services on the market include several common features, and there isn’t much to distinguish one from the other. However, there are several not-so-standard features that you might want to look for, especially if your business needs them. These include the following:

eCheck & ACH Processing

Accepting a lot of card-not-present transactions over a virtual terminal can get pretty expensive due to the high interchange fees charged for these types of transactions. However, some providers offer the ability to accept ACH or echeck payments through their virtual terminal. Most ACH transactions are billed at flat fees (usually between $0.15 and $1.00) or as a percentage of the transaction (up to 1%). There might also be a fixed monthly fee to add this feature if it’s only offered as an optional service.

Customer Information Database

A good feature to have is the ability to store your customers’ payment method information so that they don’t have to re-enter it every time they make a purchase. Most modern payment gateways include this feature, and as virtual terminals are increasingly offered as a feature of a gateway or integrated payments platform, it’s easier to get this feature in your virtual terminal as well.

Recurring Billing Support

With practically everything being offered as a subscription these days, it’s important to have a recurring billing feature included with your virtual terminal. While recurring billing is increasingly offered as a standard feature at no extra cost, be aware that some providers still consider it an optional feature and charge you extra to add it to your account.

Inventory Management

Obviously, it’s a good idea to make sure an item is actually in stock before making a sale. Most modern virtual terminals include at least a rudimentary inventory management feature, but you may need something more sophisticated if you carry a large, diverse inventory.

Security Features

Keeping your account protected from fraudsters and cyber thieves is getting harder every day. Fortunately, virtually all merchant services providers prioritize offering strong security features to protect your account (and their bottom line). Protecting your customers’ credit card data is of the utmost importance, particularly if you’re taking it down over the telephone and manually entering it into a virtual terminal. Look for tokenization features and point-to-point (P2P) encryption at a minimum. Providers are also introducing algorithm-based security features that try to detect potentially fraudulent transactions before they happen.

What Is The Best Virtual Terminal For Small Business?

Virtual terminal payment processing is very important, regardless of whether you only occasionally need to enter a transaction manually or your business is 100% based on telephone sales. Virtual terminals offer a secure method of completing a transaction without either the customer or their payment card being physically present. At the same time, combining a virtual terminal with a Bluetooth or USB-connected card reader can allow you to process in-person sales as well, without shelling out the money for a traditional credit card terminal.

Regardless of how you use a virtual terminal, we’d caution you to pay close attention to your credit card processing rates. Manually keyed-in transactions have the highest interchange rates, primarily due to the higher risk of fraud involved when your customer isn’t physically present to confirm their identity. While providers offer various processing rate plans, card-not-present transactions will be more expensive to process under all of them.

With most providers offering virtual terminals with nearly identical features, your best bet is to choose the provider that’s the best overall fit for your business. When setting up credit card processing for your business, factors such as processing rates, account fees, contract terms, and customer support will be more important in the long run.

In Summary: The 6 Best Virtual Terminals For Small Business

  1. Square:
    • No monthly account fee
    • 3.5% + $0.15/keyed-in transaction
    • Best for low-volume & seasonal merchants
  2. PaymentCloud:
    • Variable monthly account fee
    • Variable transaction fees
    • Best for high-risk retail businesses
  3. Clover POS:
    • $9.95/month account fee
    • 3.5% + $0.10/keyed-in transaction
    • Best for ecommerce-only businesses
  4. Helcim:
    • No monthly account fee
    • Interchange + 0.50% + $0.25/keyed-in transaction (volume discounts available)
    • Best all-around virtual terminal
  5. Dharma Merchant Services:
    • $25/month account fee
    • Interchange + 0.20% + $0.11/online or keyed-in transaction
    • Best virtual terminal for nonprofits
  6. Durango Merchant Services:
    • Variable monthly account fee
    • Variable transaction fees
    • Best for high-risk ecommerce businesses
Frank Kehl

Frank Kehl

Expert Analyst & Reviewer at Merchant Maverick
Frank Kehl has been researching and analyzing 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.
Frank Kehl
View Frank Kehl's professional experience on LinkedIn.

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The vendors that appear on this list were chosen by subject matter experts on the basis of product quality, wide usage and availability, and positive reputation.

Merchant Maverick’s ratings are editorial in nature, and are not aggregated from user reviews. Each staff reviewer at Merchant Maverick is a subject matter expert with experience researching, testing, and evaluating small business software and services. The rating of this company or service is based on the author’s expert opinion and analysis of the product, and assessed and seconded by another subject matter expert on staff before publication. Merchant Maverick’s ratings are not influenced by affiliate partnerships.

Our unbiased reviews and content are supported in part by affiliate partnerships, and we adhere to strict guidelines to preserve editorial integrity. The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone.

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