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Top 10 Reliable Merchant Account Services for Credit Card Processing

Sarah Badani

It's 2021, so your business should be able to accept credit card payments, which means your business needs a merchant account that comes along with a credit card processor. Merchant account services act as a middleman between you and the credit card companies' banks allowing you to accept and process these payments. Regardless of the type of business you run and the hardware you use to get the job done a merchant account is essential.

There are several types of merchant accounts available including local, high risk, offshore, and direct. There are also multiple types of merchant services that come bundled with the accounts such as check guarantee services, payment gateways, and cash advances.

If the whole subject has got your head spinning, not to worry. From fees to additional services available, here's everything you need to know about merchant services and credit card processing along with some of the best merchant account services available on the market this year. 

Additional value-added services, low rates
High-risk, merchants, new businesses
Mobile, online businesses, short contracts
Reliable merchant services
Brick and mortar stores
Fast funding, no commitment, SMBs
Small businesses with high transaction volumes
Mobile payment processing, lightning-fast
Restaurants, retail, ecommerce
Large businesses, business integrations
From 0.15%
On average 0.30%
From 0.35%
From 0.50%
0% per month
From 0.35%
$99 per month + $0.08 per swiped payment or $0.15 per keyed-in payment
2.6%+$0.10
Monthly cost - $9.95; Transaction – 0.14-0.29% + $0.07-$0.15 + interchange fees
Varies based on services required
3 years
Varies based on company
Monthly
Monthly
Varies
Monthly
Month-to-month
Per transaction (no-contract)
Varies
Multi-year
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
SwipeSimple Mobile Reader
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
Yes – in some cases
No
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes

The Best Merchant Services Providers - An In-Depth Look

  • 1
    Leaders Merchant Services

    Leaders Merchant Services

    • Best forAdditional value-added services, low rates
    • RatesFrom 0.15%
    • Contract length3 years

    Leaders is one of the best credit card processing services in the industry. It’s been around for 20 years, and its parent company is the reputable Paysafe Group Subsidiary. Leaders gives businesses a lot of reasons to love it, including some of the best credit card processing rates in the industry. We’re talking about rates that start at just 0.15%. Plus, Leaders has a 98% approval rating. So, businesses having a hard time getting the green flag will find Leaders’ process refreshing.

    What's more, Leaders offers a solid $500 Assurance guarantee. This states that if the company can't save you money within the first 6 months of your contract, you'll be awarded $500 in compensation. Leaders works with the reliable Clover point of sale system, and it also integrates with QuickBooks. New SMBs will appreciate the helpful glossary of terms and 24/7/365 customer service for troubleshooting any issues. Additionally, Leaders offers value-added services such as business cash advances, loyalty programs, gift cards, check guarantee services, and point of sale systems.

    Pros
    • $500 Assurance Program
    • Integrates with QuickBooks
    • Rates starting at 0.15%
    Cons
    • Long contract terms
    • Pricey early termination fee
  • 2
    Payment Cloud

    Payment Cloud

    • Best forHigh-risk, merchants, new businesses
    • RatesOn average 0.30%
    • Contract lengthVaries based on company

    Offering a 98% approval rating, free cost comparison, gateway setup, and account setup, PaymentCloud is one of the best merchant services for small businesses, particularly if you are in a high-risk industry. This includes debt consolidation, tobacco companies, transport services, Ecommerce and diet programs. The PaymentCloud system supports EMV, NFC, swipe, and contactless payments, making it easy to use for all types of merchants.

    Merchants appreciate PaymentCloud’s flexible user policies. Things like no cancellation fees, no setup fees, and next-day payments make it a popular choice. You can get expert same-day setup, and live tech support is available, as well. Additionally, PaymentCloud integrates with loads of business applications, including Volusion, Shopify, Magento, BigCommerce, WordPress Woo, and more, making it one of the best payment processors for businesses that want to have an easy, single-dashboard platform for all of their business needs.

    Pros
    • No application or setup fees
    • Good for high-risk industries
    • Loads of integrations
    Cons
    • No free hardware
    • Need to call for pricing quote
  • 3
    Flagship

    Flagship

    • Best forMobile, online businesses, short contracts
    • RatesFrom 0.35%
    • Contract lengthMonthly

    The best credit card processing for small businesses offers the type of options you need for your store, and Flagship is all about options. Voted the #1 merchant account provider for 8 years running, Flagship has payment solutions for every type of business; online, in-store, mobile, MOTO, and payment options, including EMV, NFC, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay. This means Flagship is one of the best mobile credit card processing solutions, too. The company offers no-commitment contracts and zero cancellation fees to boot.

    Flagship lets businesses choose a free hardware option from Clover Mini point of sale system or the EMV certified terminal when you open a merchant account. You can also get same-day funding, merchant cash advances up to $150,000, and a solid business management portal to handle all of your merchant services digitally. Plus, Flagship has a processing rate guarantee. If the company can’t provide the lowest total processing costs, then you’ll receive a $200 AmEx gift card as compensation.

    Pros
    • Excellent reputation
    • Lowest rates guarantee
    • Month-to-month contracts
    Cons
    • No pricing info on the site
    • Restocking fee applied to returns
  • 4
    ProMerchant

    ProMerchant

    • Best forReliable merchant services
    • RatesFrom 0.50%
    • Contract lengthMonthly

    If you’re looking for the best payment processor for small businesses, ProMerchant might be a good place to turn to. That’s because it has month-to-month contracts and no cancellation or setup fees, so you can try it out without remorse. And ProMerchant even offers new businesses a free EMV terminal when signing up.

    Businesses can choose between interchange plus fixed percentage rates and transaction fee or interchange plus flat monthly charge and transaction fee. This choice allows merchants to pick the type of plan that is best suited to their style of revenue. And since its monthly contracts, you can always change (good for seasonal businesses). ProMerchant offers same-day approval, and you can be processing payments within 72 hours of your initial contact. And what's more, you can get the same rate structure for American Express as you can for Visa, MasterCard, and Discover, making ProMerchant one of the best online payment processor options out there.

    Pros
    • Month-to-month contracts
    • No public complaints
    • Fast, same-day approval
    Cons
    • Not clear about leasing/selling equipment
    • Not the cheapest processor
  • 5
    FiveStars
    • Best forBrick and mortar stores
    • Rates0% per month
    • Contract lengthVaries

    Fivestars is more than a credit card processing company, letting small brick-and-mortar businesses leverage payments to drive participation in loyalty programs and build a customer database for hyper-targeted marketing campaigns.

    Fivestars vows to match any rate, has no hidden fees and can integrate with your existing POS system. Fivestars is a great all-inclusive payments and customer retention platform that’s ideal for small, local businesses in fields like retail, salon and spa, and food.

    Pros
    • Integrated customer retention tools
    • Will match any rate
    • Integrates with your existing POS
    Cons
    • For brick and mortar stores only
    • Can’t purchase Fivestars Payments as a standalone service
  • 6
    CreditCard Processing.com

    CreditCard Processing.com

    • Best forFast funding, no commitment, SMBs
    • RatesFrom 0.35%
    • Contract lengthMonthly

    CreditCardProcessing.com is another Paysafe Group subsidiary, giving it credence and street cred automatically. But the company stands on its own as well with free equipment programs, easy online application, and, most of all, same-day deposits with its same-day funding program. CreditCardProcessing.com also offers same-day approval. So, businesses can start taking all types of payments immediately, including DMV, NFC, and contactless payments.

    You can reach tech support at any time of day or night via the toll-free number, or get a free quote for payment processing and merchant services. CreditCardProcessing.com also provides no long-term contracts and no cancellation fees, making it one of the best credit card processing companies for businesses that aren’t sure which CCP provider to choose.

    Pros
    • No long-term contracts
    • Same-day approval
    • Same-day funding
    Cons
    • Not locked into a monthly fee (so can increase)
    • Rates can get expensive for large sales volume
  • 7
    Stax by FattMerchant

    Stax by FattMerchant

    • Best forSmall businesses with high transaction volumes
    • Rates$99 per month + $0.08 per swiped payment or $0.15 per keyed-in payment
    • Contract lengthMonth-to-month

    Stax by Fattmerchant offers payment processing for small businesses. It offers a monthly subscription and eliminates percentage-based transaction fees. So it can be a good option for businesses with high monthly transaction volumes.

    Stax also has a software dashboard called Stax Pay that includes built-in analytics, an API, and support for e-commerce payments. All Stax customers receive 24/7 customer support by email, and the service doesn’t charge early termination fees.

    Pros
    • No percentage-based transaction fees
    • Includes swiped and keyed-in payments
    • 24/7 customer support
    Cons
    • Software requires an additional monthly subscription
    • Pricing structure is expensive for low-volume businesses
  • 8
    Square
    • Best forMobile payment processing, lightning-fast
    • Rates2.6%+$0.10
    • Contract lengthPer transaction (no-contract)

    Square revolutionized the industry when it introduced a POS system that was mobile, convenient, and affordable, even for small businesses. Since then, the company continues to make additions and improvements, and the latest one has earned Square a reputation for being the best mobile credit card processing option out there. With a credit card processor that can process all types of payments, including EMV chip cards and contactless payments like NFC and e-wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay, Square does it one better by packaging this handy reader into a pocket-sized and surprisingly powerful piece of hardware.

    The Square credit card processor comes with a flat rate for both dip and tap transactions, zero additional fees, wireless connection, and the ability to process payments in just 2 seconds. The dock allows you to keep the Square reader on your countertop, and it’s also designed to easily come with you wherever you go. Plus, you get a free magstripe reader just in case.

    Pros
    • Extremely compact, mobile design
    • Flat rate fees and no additional fees
    • Fast processing
    Cons
    • Not a good fit for high-risk industries
    • Merchant services are limited
  • 9
    National Processing

    National Processing

    • Best forRestaurants, retail, ecommerce
    • RatesMonthly cost - $9.95; Transaction – 0.14-0.29% + $0.07-$0.15 + interchange fees
    • Contract lengthVaries

    National Processing is a credit card processing company targeted at low-risk merchants. Under its differential pricing structure, restaurants pay the lowest amounts, retailers pay a little more, and ecommerce platforms pay the most. Larger businesses can trade off higher or lower monthly fees for higher or lower per-transaction fees.

    All price plans are displayed transparently on the National Processing website, along with information about the various features included in your plan. Highlights include assistance with setup, reprogramming of existing equipment (if you have any), and a free mobile reader. National Processing is an authorized reseller of Clover’s suite of payment terminals and readers.

    Pros
    • Transparent fee structure
    • Free reprogramming of existing equipment
    • QuickBooks integration
    Cons
    • Not suitable for high-risk businesses
    • Costs vary with interchange fees
  • 10
    Cardconnect Paradise

    Cardconnect Paradise

    • Best forLarge businesses, business integrations
    • RatesVaries based on services required
    • Contract lengthMulti-year

    CardConnect Paradise is a subsidiary of First Data and backed by Wells Fargo Bank, so you know you’re dealing with a reliable service provider. CardConnect Paradise also offers some of the most resilient security features in the country, including tokenization, P2PE, and full PCI compliance. So, CardConnect Paradise is one of the best credit card processing services for businesses that care about secure financial transactions.

    In terms of payment processing and merchant services, CardConnect Paradise caters to retail, mobile, Ecommerce, MOTO, B2B, enterprise-level—pretty much anyone. Merchants can process credit card and debit card payments, as well as mobile phone processing, virtual terminal processing, and POS equipment integrations. CardConnect Paradise also offers strong reporting features, mobile optimization, and automatic reconciliation, making it one of the most well-rounded merchant services providers out there.

    Pros
    • Lots of value-added services and features
    • Strong security features
    • Interchange plus pricing structure
    Cons
    • Long, multi-year contracts
    • Very high termination fees

What is Merchant Services?

Merchant services is a broad term that refers to merchant processing services giving a business the capability to accept payment using a customer's credit card. The merchant services provider (MSP) is the one who actually makes the transaction happen while complying with security requirements. Merchant services providers are also referred to as credit card processors (CCP). MSPs act as the intermediary between your business and your customer’s credit or debit card account.

This is how it works:

  • A customer will swipe their credit card or enter their credit card information to make a purchase from your store.
  • Your point of sale software sends the data to your chosen MSP.
  • The MSP contacts the customer's credit card association to check that they have enough credit to pay for the purchase.
  • The card association checks with the customer's bank, and then (hopefully) sends the MSP a reply approving the transaction.
  • The MSP completes the transaction and sends you a receipt for the customer.

What is the Best Credit Card Processing Company for a Small Business?

Paying by credit card is the norm these days, so adding credit card processing capabilities can be a real boost to your income. Small businesses can choose online credit card processing, a conventional credit card reader, or a mobile credit card processor that integrates with a smartphone or tablet.

Conventional card readers can be best if you make a lot of face-to-face sales. If most of your credit card transactions take place online, then an online CCP and payment gateway will be the most useful. Sole traders and mobile businesses, like electricians or entertainers, might find that a mobile CCP that works with their smartphone serves them best.

There isn’t one credit card processor that is the best for everyone, because every business is different. What’s best for a large retail store with many branches isn’t necessarily best for a small Ecommerce business. However, here are some things to look for to help you find the best credit card processors for your business:

  • A CCP that has experience serving your sector.

  • A CCP that can service all your needs in one—for example, if you have an online store and a brick and mortar store, look for an MSP that can process both face-to-face and online transactions.

  • Hidden fees. Many companies practice ‘bait and switch’ where the price you see advertised doesn’t include all of the real costs.

  • Compare fees carefully. Because there are a few different pricing models, it can be difficult to compare like with like. An MSP that seems to offer great value at first glance might actually cost more in the long run due to the pricing model.

  • Check the minimum monthly transaction amount and make sure that you expect to meet it.

  • Pay attention to whether the rates go up or down according to your volume of sales. If you make a lot of transactions, you'll want a CCP that lowers the fee as sales increase, but if you make just a few high-value sales per month, you'll want the lowest fees to apply to the lowest sales volume.

Merchant Services Fees and Rates

Understanding the fees and rates for merchant services providers can be difficult. It seems like every MSP uses a different pricing structure and has a different way of calculating your fees, which makes it hard to compare one MSP to another.

Here are the main fees and rates to look out for:

Interchange fees

These are the biggest fees you'll pay. They're usually a percentage of each transaction plus a flat fee, e.g., 2.5% + $0.10 per transaction. Unusual transactions like foreign currency transactions incur higher interchange fees.

Assessment fees

These are generally a percentage of your estimated monthly sales volume, e.g., 0.1% of sales up to 1,000 sales, then 0.11% of the next 1,000 sales, etc.

Terminal fees

These are the cost of leasing a physical payment terminal for your store, so it doesn’t apply to online stores. Terminal leasing fees can add up to thousands of dollars, so it’s usually best to buy a terminal outright to avoid this extra charge.

A monthly or annual service charge

Not all MSPs charge this fee, but it’s important to know to look out for it.

Payment gateway fees

These only apply to online retailers. They pay for the cost of your online point of sale (POS) software, which is your virtual payment terminal.

Monthly minimum fee

You’ll have to pay a monthly minimum fee if you don't make a certain minimum amount of transactions each year.

Choose the Right Merchant Service Provider for Your Business

Ready to grow your business? Find the best merchant services for small business that includes credit card processing and other useful, value-added services to help your business be the most it can be today.

Sarah Badani
Sarah Badani writes for top10.com and has extensive research and review experience in the finance industry. With a degree in psychology and education, she brings a level of depth and understanding to her writing along with her own flavor to spice up each topic in a unique and inviting way.