Credit card processing is an absolute necessity for almost all small businesses. But there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all solution that can service the diverse needs of small business. That’s why we’ve brought together our favorite processing solutions. Each provider has a unique take on processing services that may be the perfect fit for your business.
There’s a pretty obvious correlation between processing credit cards and making money. The more you process, the more you make. Choosing the right processor, however, can help you make even more money. With cheaper processing costs, features that streamline your business operations, and intuitive hardware, you can maximize the value of your transactions with the right processing solution.
We’ll point you in the right direction.
Transaction fee: Interchange + $0.08
Monthly fee: $99/month
Stax is the newly rebranded processing service formerly known as Fattmerchant. The branding may be different, but the service is still very similar—and that’s a good thing.
Fattmerchant is not the cheapest processing provider on the market. Because of this, we mainly recommend it to businesses with fairly steady processing volume. If you do make a lot of transactions every month, you’ll probably save money with Fattmerchant.
But, Fattmerchant’s service isn’t primarily savings-focused. It’s mostly about building a competitive system that’s rich with features and never has outages. And on that front, Fattmerchant hits it out of the park.
Transaction fee: Depends on business risk level.
Monthly fee: Depends on business risk level.
It’s hard to find the right processing company if you’re selling nutraceuticals, starting a vape business, running a gun shop, or doing any kind of business that, despite being legal, is seen by most credit card processors as risky.
There are many processors out there who will take on higher risk businesses, but will use the desperation of said business to levy exorbitant fees and to cut back on features. Payment Cloud is not that kind of processor.
Payment Cloud offers smart processing services for riskier clients. That said, lower-risk clients may be turned off by the fact that Payment Cloud does not list its prices. This is because pricing is determined based on risk factor. If you’re not a high-risk business, a different option will probably suit you better.
Transaction fee: Not listed.
Monthly fee: Not listed.
FiveStars has some nifty customer loyalty features that start when a new customer checks out at your store. Once customer info is captured, you can trigger an autopilot rewards campaign that will automatically send rewards to your customer during crucial moments.
Those moments may be the first visit, their birthday, after a period of inactivity, or when they sign up for your services. FiveStarts helps you build and automate this process so that you keep customers engaged with your business.
Our biggest gripe is that FiveStars doesn’t list its pricing. This is such an outdated practice considering how many processing providers are transparent about pricing these days. It’s hard for us to recommend something when we don’t know how much you’ll be paying for it. That said, we really like the features on offer here.
Transaction fee: From interchange + $0.15 to interchange + $0.05 (depending on plan)
Monthly fee: From $49/month to $199/month
Payment Depot has some of the cheapest rates around and doesn’t compromise on quality. Small businesses love the transparent pricing and abundance of hardware options. Whether you need something simple like a reader or something with a little more POS oomph, Payment Depot’s hardware has you covered.
The only businesses that may not benefit from Payment Depot’s services are those that don’t process many payments. For those customers, processors with no monthly fee will be more cost effective.
But, if your business processes transactions regularly, Payment Depot will likely save you money on transaction costs.
Transaction fee: From interchange + 0.30% to interchange + 0.10% (depending on transaction volume)
Monthly fee: No monthly fee
Transacting with Helcim is a surefire way to save on processing costs. What’s so amazing about Helcim’s pricing system is the lack of a monthly fee. Most processing companies with rates this cheap institute a monthly fee to help drive profits for their business, but Helcim doesn’t.
Because of this, any business can work with Helcim no matter its transaction volume. Even if your processing is sporadic, you’ll still save money with Helcim because you don’t ever have to pay a monthly fee.
The only weakness in Helcim’s current offering is its lack of POS features. It has a simple POS interface for a computer, tablet, or phone that offers basic inventory management and customer tracking, but if you need something that can, say, run a fine restaurant, you’ll probably need to look elsewhere.
But, if you just want to save on processing costs and don’t need lots of extras, Helcim is great.
Transaction fee: Not listed
Monthly fee: Not listed
MerchantOne is a processing provider with perfect features for small businesses. Its services are loved by customers, it has great hardware options, and it is more forgiving of higher-risk clients.
That said, MerchantOne does not market itself as a high-risk processor, but it does claim to accept 98% of applicants. From this we can ascertain that MerchantOne is willing to give almost any business a chance. This is great news for any business that has had problems being approved for processing in the past.
MerchantOne has two main problems: nontransparent pricing and occasional cancellation fee complaints. Most people who process with MerchantOne like the service and don’t want to cancel, but the few who do have complained about the cancellation fee. Cancellation fees are an outdated processing practice that MerchantOne could easily get rid of.
Because so many people like MerchantOne’s service and claim to have been given fair rates, we’re going to give it a light pass on locking its fee information behind a sales call—especially because it’s willing to look at riskier businesses.
Transaction fee: From 2.7% + $0.10 to 2.3% + $0.10 (depending on plan)
Monthly fee: From $9.95/month to $39.95/month (depending on plan)
Clover has changed the game with its smart terminals. They are packed with functionality and can be expanded in so many ways thanks to Clover’s app marketplace. That said, you can get all the benefits of Clover’s incredible hardware by purchasing it through a third-party processor.
Why would you want to do that? Because there are so many third-party processors with cheaper processing fees. It just makes sense to get the same features for cheaper.
Until Clover makes its plans a little more competitive, it will almost always be better to go with a third-party Clover provider.
Transaction fee: 2.6% + $0.10
Monthly fee: No monthly fee
Square is a leader and innovator in the small-business processing space. Its processing services are accessible, scalable, and modern.
It’s easy to start processing with Square. You can not only setup an account for free, you can also get a free mobile reader sent right to your door. That means you can start swiping credit cards for absolutely no upfront costs.
Additionally, Square is built with some great POS features to help you manage your inventory, take care of your employees, and keep customers engaged with your products and services. While some extra features cost money, many come packaged free.
Square’s one weakness is its transaction fee. It’s not actually all that expensive, but it is a little more than some of our other favorite competitors. What Square loses in its transaction fee, it more than makes up for with its fantastic service and transparent pricing.
Credit Card Processing FAQ
Credit card processing is a surprisingly complicated process.
When a customer swipes a card in your terminal, the data is sent to the processing company. The processing company is the middle man between your business and all the financial institutions involved in a transaction. These institutions include your bank, the customer’s bank, and the credit card provider.
The processor may send the transaction to Visa or any other credit card company. Visa will then check to see if the customer’s bank account has sufficient funds (if the card is a debit card) or if the credit card isn’t over the limit. If there’s money available, Visa will authorize the transaction.
That authorization will be sent to the processor and the processor will accept the payment on your hardware. This all happens in a matter of seconds, but it's a complicated process that also needs to be compliant with the latest security regulations.
This leads to the question: where do your processing fees go? You pay the processor for its services, and the processor pays a portion of the fee to the credit card companies for their services.
There’s no absolute way to determine an average processing fee. The cost of processing is dependent on a lot of pricing factors: the monthly fee, the processing cost, equipment fees, and extra fees.
If a processing provider has a higher processing fee, for example, it may have no monthly fee or a low monthly fee. Processing companies with low processing fees usually charge more expensive monthly fees. Additionally, any provider may offer free hardware or hardware at a premium cost.
Because of all these considerations, determining an average monthly fee would be largely pointless. The key to knowing if a processor is cost-effective for your business is considering every cost you’ll have to pay in conjunction with your monthly processing volume and the value that more functional hardware will bring to your business.
You can pass the processing fee along to customers depending on the processor you choose. Some processors allow you to add a surcharge to all card transactions. Surcharge systems tend to work best if your customers often carry cash so you can offer them services without a surcharge for using cash.
That said, some customers may be turned off by having to pay a surcharge because most of the places they visit don’t require one. Tread carefully if you plan on surcharging your customers. And if you do end up implementing a surcharge plan, be sure to have a system in place to monitor whether your customers are being deterred by the extra fee.