Picture of a phone with Shopify software

Start Your Business with Shopify

Try Shopify for free, and explore all the tools and services you need to start, run, and grow your business.

6 Popular Payment Processing Companies for Small Businesses

payment processing for small business

A common self-help truism is we accept the love we think we deserve. Put up barriers and you’ll never find romantic fulfillment—no matter how much affection is directed your way. 

Just as would-be romantics must be prepared to accept love, small businesses must be prepared to accept payments. Fortunately for business owners, vendors known as payment processors will facilitate the process. Accepting love, of course, is a thornier matter.

What is payment processing for small businesses? 

Payment processing is the critical business function of accepting payments from customers for goods and/or services. Online payment processing involves a customer, a merchant, a payment processor, a payment gateway (for online transaction), the customer’s bank or credit card company, and a merchant account.

Payment processing should be efficient, secure, affordable, and user-friendly. In order to accept credit card payments, debit card payments, and digital wallet payments (such as Apple Pay and Google Pay), businesses must partner with a third-party payment processor, which communicates between the parties involved in the transaction.

What to consider when choosing payment processing for small businesses

The ultimate goal of partnering with a payment processor is to increase profits and customer satisfaction while decreasing administrative burden. To meet these goals, small business owners evaluate transaction fees, pricing structures, ease of use, included features, and quality of customer service.

Transaction fees

Although credit card transactions typically carry higher merchant fees than debit and ACH transactions, many small businesses accept credit card payments because they are popular with customers. Credit card payments are so popular, payment processors are often referred to as credit card processors, even though most credit card processing companies also process ACH and debit card transactions.

If your business accepts credit cards, pay special attention to credit card transaction fees and other variables. For example, many credit card payment processing companies charge higher fees for online credit card payments than for in-person transactions. If your business accepts a high volume of online credit card payments, look for a payment processing for small businesses plan that offers lower rates for these types of transactions.

Pricing structure

Different payment processors offer different pricing structures, and the most cost-effective model depends on average transaction volume, average transaction amount, and the payment methods accepted.

Common credit card payment processing pricing structures include flat rate pricing and interchange-plus pricing. Flat rate pricing structures charge merchants the same percentage rates (calculated as a percentage of total transaction cost) regardless of card type used, while interchange-plus pricing structures vary costs based on card type.

Some credit card payment processors also offer subscription models, waiving certain per-transaction fees in exchange for a monthly membership charge. For businesses that process a high volume of transactions, membership plans can offer a cost-effective way to lower per-transaction rates.

Good customer service

Payment solutions should be easy to use for both you and your customers. They should also be reliable: If your credit card processor malfunctions, your customers will be unable to make purchases, which can damage customer relationships and grind revenue generation to a halt. Many payment processors offer 24/7 support via phone or chat, making it easy to seek help if you have a question or encounter problems.

Choosing a credit card processing company with strong merchant support can help resolve issues quickly and make sure that you’re able to reliably accept payments from clients.

Simplicity

Card processing is complex, and many credit card processors offer additional services and add-ons that may or may not be beneficial to your business. For example, providers might offer both online and in-store payment options, point-of-sale (POS) systems including payment gateways and physical or virtual terminals, integrated merchant accounts to help streamline payment processing and business accounting, and specialty software for sales analytics or inventory management. 

To maximize efficiency (and minimize cost), look for a plan that offers the services you need—not the ones you don’t. Choosing the simplest payment solution possible ensures that your processing fees aren’t subsidizing services that benefit your competitors—instead of you.

6 popular payment processing companies for small businesses

Many popular credit card processing companies will provide payment processing for small businesses. Understanding their features, pros, and cons can help in choosing the best payment solution for your business.

1. Clover

Launched in 2012, Clover is a cloud-based POS system and merchant service provider that offers in-store and online payment processing technology. Clover uses a flat-rate pricing structure. For in-person payments, rates range from 2.3% to 2.6% plus 10¢ per transaction, while online rates come in at 3.5% plus 10¢ per transaction.

Features

Clover offers much more than debit and credit card processing. Additional services include:

  • Mobile device payments
  • Wireless processing
  • POS systems
  • Virtual terminals
  • Analytics and reporting
  • Integrated merchant accounts
  • An expansive app marketplace

Pros

Clover offers many features. If you’re looking for a payment processor that can support inventory management and employee scheduling, manage customer relationships with an integrated CRM, and provide advanced analytics to merchants, then Clover might be the partner for you.

Cons

Cost is a key concern in payment processing for small businesses—and Clover isn’t cheap. Monthly software subscription fees run up to $69.95, which is higher than that charged by many competitors, and POS hardware can be prohibitively expensive for small business owners, ranging from $49 to $1,649.

2. Square

Square is an inexpensive payment solution that operates on a flat-rate pricing structure and charges no monthly subscription fee. Square’s fees come to 2.6% plus 10¢ for in-person transactions, and 2.9% plus 30¢ for online transactions. 

Features

Squares offers a variety of features designed for small businesses. They include:

  • POS systems
  • Free invoicing functions
  • A free mobile device card reader
  • API integrations
  • Analytics
  • Retail and restaurant-specific software solutions

Pros

Price is a major selling point for devotees of the Square payment system. Square imposes no early termination, activation, refund, or chargeback fee and charges no monthly subscription or PCI compliance fees, which are additional charges for compliance with payment transaction security standards called the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (also known as PCI DSS, or PCI). It also comes with free POS software and a free mobile device card reader.

Cons

Square doesn’t work with high-risk merchants—merchants declared by a credit card company to be at particular risk of fraud or of experiencing a high volume of returns. Some payment processors charge increased fees to high-risk merchants, while others, like Square, don’t work with them at all. Square also only offers 24/7 customer support for its paid plan options.

3. Stax

Stax is a membership-style merchant account provider that charges businesses a monthly subscription fee ranging from $99 to $199, interchange fees, plus a per-transaction fee that ranges from 8¢ to 15¢ per transaction.

Features

Stax offers a range of merchant services, including:

  • 24/7 customer service
  • POS systems
  • Physical credit card terminals
  • A free virtual terminal
  • Payment gateways
  • Same-day funding options
  • PCI compliance
  • Integrated merchant accounts

Pros

Stax offers round-the-clock customer service and same-day deposit options. It also includes PCI compliance features. Because Stax’s interchange-plus pricing structure doesn’t include an additional percentage-based processing fee, it can be a cost-effective option for businesses that process a high volume of transactions. Stax also doesn’t require any contract commitments.

Cons

Stax requires a flat-rate monthly subscription of $99 to $199. This makes it a poor choice for businesses that process a low volume of monthly transactions. Stax also doesn’t work with high-risk merchants. 

4. Stripe

Stripe is a credit card processing company that uses a flat-rate pricing structure, charging 2.9% plus 5¢ for online payments and 2.5% plus 30¢ for in-person transactions.

Features

Stripe’s features are tailored to both retail and ecommerce companies. Highlights include:

  • Virtual terminal
  • Physical terminal
  • Large library of platforms and extensions
  • Accepts international payments and over 135 currencies
  • 24/7 customer service
  • Integrated billing and invoicing 

Pros

Stripe charges no monthly subscription fees, no set-up fees, and offers 24/7 customer service. It also accepts payment in 135 different currencies and currently offers a variety of extensions, including for sales analytics, inventory management, customer management, and tax calculation tools. The Stripe platform also includes invoicing and billing functions.

Cons

Like Square, Stripe doesn’t work with high-risk merchants. Stripe’s application programming interface (API) also requires a greater degree of software development skill than many of its competitor platforms.

5. Payment Depot

This membership-based merchant account provider charges interchange fees plus a per-transaction fee that ranges from 7¢ to 15¢ per transaction.

Features

Payment Depot is a merchant services provider with numerous features:

  • Free virtual terminal
  • Physical card terminals
  • 24/7 customer service
  • PCI compliance 
  • Payment gateway
  • Integrated merchant accounts

Pros

Payment Depot offers a 90-day risk-free trial and charges no cancellation fees to merchants. It also offers PCI compliance and 24/7 customer service. Unlike other payment processors that use an interchange-plus pricing structure, Payment Depot doesn’t charge more for online transactions than it does for in-person transactions. Instead, Payment Depot determines transaction cost by plan type. For example, its $79-per-month plan charges interchange fees plus 15¢ per transaction, while its $199-per-month plan charges interchange fees plus 7¢ per transaction.

Cons

Payment Depot doesn’t work with high-risk merchants, and membership-based pricing makes it a poor choice for businesses with lower monthly credit card income. Less expensive plans also include a maximum monthly transaction limit.

6. Helcim

Helcim is a merchant account provider that charges interchange fees plus 0.3% of total transaction cost and 8¢ per transaction for in-person payments and interchange fees, and 0.05% of total transaction cost plus 25¢ for keyed transactions.

Features

As a full-service merchant account provider, Helcim includes a wide range of payment processing features:

  • PCI compliance 
  • No monthly fees
  • Integrated merchant accounts
  • Virtual terminal
  • POS system
  • Mobile device processing

Pros

Helcim charges no monthly subscription fees, set-up fees, PCI compliance fees, or cancellation fees. It also offers discounts for businesses that process more than $25,000 a month in transactions.

Cons

Helcim doesn’t work with high-risk merchants or offer 24/7 support. Volume discounts also make Helcim a better choice for high-volume businesses than for low-volume ones.

Payment processing for small businesses FAQ

How do small businesses process payments?

Small businesses can process payments either in person or online, and frequently accept payment methods including cash, check, ACH transfer, and credit and debit card. Many small businesses use a third-party payment processor to accept credit card and debit card payments.

How does a business process payments?

Businesses process payments both in person or online, and frequently use a payment processor to accept online payments including ACH transfers and debit and credit card payments.

How can small businesses take payment online?

Payment processors allow small businesses to accept online payments via debit card, credit card, and ACH transfer. Different payment processors operate under different fee structures and provide different benefits, with some merchant service providers offering payment processing, payment gateways, and integrated merchant accounts.

Topics: