You've worked hard to build your business, and now it's time to get paid. But keeping a steady cash flow is often the number one worry for small business owners. So we've stepped in to help, researching credit card processing solutions that get you your funds most efficiently.

"Far too many business owners take the path of least resistance, and use their bank's credit card processing service," says Kwame A. Michel, an Atlanta-based accountant who specializes in working with small business clients. "But banks charge high credit card processing fees and rarely offer the best deals."

And the market is crowded with credit card processing companies, all of whom make ambitious claims about their pricing, flexibility, customer service, equipment offerings, and mobile credit card processing capabilities. The quantity of information can be overwhelming.

We're here to sort hype from reality. We've got the skinny on some of the best-known names in the market - the pros, the cons and the bottom line that will help you compare processors and make the choice that's best for your business.

Credit Card Processing in 2018

In conducting our analysis we've also considered the ways this market is changing. Advancements in technology are continuing to improve security and ease of use of credit cards, and bringing us new forms of payment..

Credit card security in the past required pins, signatures and passwords. Today, credit card companies are increasingly using chips, tokens and biometrics. In fact, a UPI article in early 2018 disclosed that, in many contexts, the four major credit card companies - American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Discover - stopped requiring signatures, and many large retailers were following suit. Security improved with the introduction of the chip, an encrypted microchip embedded in a credit card, as well as, in some situations, the use of tokens. Tokens are randomly generated numbers transmitted to the payment processor in place of the 16-digit card number. Biometric technology also is expanding options for credit card holder identification and advancements in that technology have it poised for a broad launch within a matter of months.

Biometrics include facial recognition, eye and voice recognition, and digital fingerprinting. Visa started testing on-card biometric sensors (for fingerprint identification) in the United States early in 2018, citing on its website that such technology has the benefits of:

  • Ease of use

  • Strong security

  • Eliminating the need for hardware upgrades

  • Ability to self-charge (as it is powered by the payment terminal)

MasterCard began testing the technology in 2017 and in a press release in January 2018 announced plans to allow all customers to identify themselves with biometrics, such as fingerprints or facial recognition, beginning in April 2019. A research study conducted by MasterCard, in collaboration with Oxford University,  found that 92% of bankers want to adopt biometric solutions and 93% of consumers prefer biometrics to passwords. So, it is likely that we will see this technology continue to advance.

Technology has even shaped how we create currency. Cryptocurrencies such as  Bitcoin, are digital currencies that use cryptography to secure transactions. Despite some controversy,  cryptocurrency has grown in popularity as a form of payment. Its increased prominence will likely complicate credit card and other payment processing for small businesses and others. According to Investopedia, a financial investment consulting site, Bitcoin is now accepted as a form of payment by a few major retailers, such as Overstock, Etsy and Dell.

Investopedia describes cryptocurrencies as a "push" form of payment similar to a wire transfer where the money goes from payer to recipient without going through a financial institution. The benefits to merchants of offering this form of payment is that it typically has lower transaction fees, no charge backs, and can be used anywhere in the world, as it is not tied to any nation's government or monetary systems. There are certainly a lot of risks associated with these currencies, as their volatility suggests, but people are still excited enough about the benefits that cryptocurrencies continue to grow in popularity.

Best Credit Card Processing for Small Businesses Overall

Creditcardprocessing.com is a good choice for all but the smallest companies, and offers the best service for companies that process between $2,500 and $75,000 monthly. It's great for new businesses, as it's easy to get started with no money down, and offers plenty of freebies as well.

 

Best Credit Card Processing for Businesses That Need Customer Service

Cayan Merchant Services has a great reputation in the industry, winning accolades from many independent reviewers. It gets high praise for prompt and polite customer service and product support, plus it's one of the only processors to list prices with its terminal selection. And if getting a helping hand is important to you, customer focus is key to its success.

Best Credit Card Processing for Businesses with Micro Transactions

Paypal has a lot going for it, offering options for a wide variety of users and immediate access to funds. While its many features provide solutions for online retailers, charitable fundraising and more, it is the most cost-effective option for small retailers who generate a large number of micro transactions of $10 or less.

Best Credit Card Processing for Restaurants and Retailers

Square is known as an innovator in small business credit card processing, and gets high marks from users in the restaurant and retail segments. Customers love the ease of use and quick access to funds.

Our Methodology

To find the best credit card processing solutions for small businesses, we began by talking to business owners themselves, as well as professionals who advise them. We asked what processor they're using now, what informed their choice, what they love about it, and what they could live without. We discovered, not surprisingly, that funds availability is a key issue. Business owners also value ease of use, reasonable pricing and low set-up costs.

We also did extensive research online, reading hundreds of consumer reviews and complaints, and poring through numerous review websites. Then we narrowed down our list of processors to the most commonly mentioned names.

With the short list of 10 companies in hand, we scrutinized each processor's website to compare and contrast the options offered. We watched their tutorial videos and reviewed customer resources offered by each.

Based on our research, we developed these criteria, which we used to evaluate each credit card processing company:

  • Cost

  • Pricing transparency

  • Flexibility of terms

  • Contract required

  • Cancelation fee

  • Equipment leasing terms

  • Free terminals provided

  • Free programming for existing terminals

  • Customer service

  • Funds availability

  • High risk accounts

  • Mobile processing

  • Contactless payment

  • Fraud detection

  • Ease of use

  • Online reviews

Here's the full list of the companies we looked at, including the four that made it to our final list: CreditCardProcessing.com, Cayan Merchant Services, Paypal, and Square.

Flagship Merchant Services is one of the top-rated credit card processors, chosen as Processor of the Year 2017 by creditcardprocessing.net. The company's key advantage lies in its flexibility. No long-terms contracts are required, account setup takes one business day following approval, and merchant funds are available in two business days, consistent with the industry average. The company provides one free terminal, and will reprogram existing terminals for free.

Although customer service can be spotty and no pricing information is available on the web site, the bottom line is that Flagship is well-regarded in the industry and offers competitive pricing. It's a particularly good choice for businesses with high volume. Flagship offers custom pricing options with discounts for high transaction volume.

CreditCardProcessing.com is an all-around good choice for any business. It offers low total processing costs and customized solutions. New customers can get started with no money down, and they get a fair number of freebies too: a MobilePay G4X swiper that works with Apple and Android, as well as free setups for Authorize.net, shopping cart and a virtual terminal. They offer tiered pricing with flexible options, month-to-month service and no termination fees.

Sam's Club Merchant Services resells credit card processing services provided by First Data. Sam's Club adds a markup, but we couldn't see any additional value. The brand name may appeal to loyal Sam's Club customers, but poor pricing transparency, lackluster customer service, and a markup for no added value suggest you should avoid this processor. If you are attracted to First Data's Clover system, we suggest you go straight to the source. It's the same story for Costco credit card processing, which resells services offered by Elavon.

Cayan Merchant Services is our best pick for merchants who value exceptional customer service, and the processor's service offerings are expansive. Interchange-plus pricing - considered the most honest and transparent form of pricing for merchants -- keeps their service cost effective, and they offer month-to-month contracts, no early termination fee, no account set-up fees and no application fees. For many small businesses, they're an all-around good choice.

Payline Data gets high marks for its transparent and honest sales practices, as well as for its "good corporate citizen" philanthropic and community service. We think it's the best processor for charitable organizations, as it offers discounted pricing for 501(c)(3) charities. Payline also offers interchange-plus pricing for all merchants, month-to-month billing, no early termination fees and standardized and fully transparent pricing plans base on business type. The company also boasts a professional, user-friendly web site and excellent customer support.

Paypal offers some of the most comprehensive services around, and is a standout in online credit card processing. Paypal is remarkably easy to set up and use; businesses can have their online credit card processing up and running almost immediately. There are no contracts, no termination fees, and merchant funds are available immediately. Pricing is transparent. Because of these features, we chose Paypal as the best option for merchants with a high volume of micro transactions, as they offer the best and most specialized pricing for this type of merchant.

Stripe has received a lot of attention, with its venture capital funding and investors like Elon Musk and Peter Thiel, who founded rival Paypal. But the company does more than just process credit cards - it targets developers with a selection of tools that make everything from in-app payments to marketplace transactions simple. Security is excellent, with a robust fraud detection function. Stripe offers pay-as-you-go pricing, accepts more than 100 different currencies, and facilitates instant debit card transfers. It's one of the best options for developers, large companies and marketplaces.

TSYS Merchant Solutions is the go-to processor for companies with complex processing needs. It can be too expensive for smaller merchants (volume under $4,000 per month) but this processor can customize pricing for high-volume processors. It offers wired and wireless terminals, and all models are chip (EMV) capable. Leasing terms aren't great, however, so it's a better idea to buy your own terminal. But there's a rub: You'll have to pay a programming fee. All merchant account contracts run for a three-year term, and there is a $250 early termination fee. With some negotiation, however, you may be able to get the fee waived.

Intuit credit card processing (Quickbooks Payments) is only a solution for users of Quickbooks accounting software. In fact, that is one of the first questions you're asked on the web site, and if the answer is no, you'll be kicked over to the page for Intuit GoPayment, its mobile payment processing service - which has received less-than-stellar reviews. Pricing can be confusing and it's hard to cancel. Unless you're a Quickbooks user and really attached to the accounting software, we suggest you keep moving.

Square credit card processing is a hit with both restaurants and retailers. They love how easy it is to use, but even more they love the same-day funds availability. As if that weren't enough, there's the pricing. Square charges a flat rate of 2.75% for swiped transactions, 3.5% + $0.15 for keyed transactions, and 2.9% + $0.30 for online. That's it - no monthly fees, no statement fees, and no minimum. Square also offers the most advanced mobile processing solution available without a monthly fee, and that comes with a vast selection of features. No wonder it's so popular.

This article was updated October 22, 2018.

 

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