Merchant services enable you to cater to your customers' preference of paying with credit and debit cards. The best merchant services in our review – Flagship Merchant Services, CreditCardProcessing.com and National Bankcard – offer low pricing and fees, don't require you to sign a contract, clear the account quickly and give you direct access to an account representative for customer support. To learn more about what merchant accounts can do for your small business, you can find articles about merchant services in our learning center.
As we evaluated merchant services for our awards, rankings and reviews, we compared the pricing and fees, setup terms and contract requirements, ability to accept emerging payment technologies, customer support, and more. We considered the following categories as we examined each merchant account provider:
Pricing & Fees
Your satisfaction with your merchant account provider is largely determined by the pricing you receive. The best merchant services clearly publish their pricing and fees because there shouldn't be any surprises when you receive your statement. Common charges that you can expect to see on your bill include the following:
• Percentage rates for swiped and keyed-in cards: This amount can vary depending on the transaction method you use and the card type. Swiping cards through a card reader is less expensive than manually keying-in card numbers, and debit cards are usually the least expensive type of card to process. If you know what types of cards your customers prefer to use, you can choose a plan that gives you the best pricing for that type of transaction.
• Per-transaction fee: This fee is important to pay attention to if you run a high volume of small-ticket transactions because it can add up quickly. Keep in mind that if the amount you're paying for this fee is just slightly above average, three or four transactions might cost you a dollar.
• Monthly fees: Typically, these include fees for statements, access to payment gateways, and PCI compliance. You should ask what monthly, quarterly and annual fees you can expect to see on your bill.
• Monthly minimum: This number is based on the dollar amount you pay the merchant account provider in transaction fees each month. Do the math to see if you can expect to meet this number or if you need to look for a provider that doesn't have one.
You should get all pricing quotes in writing and plan on thoroughly examining the contracts or service plans so that you can understanding what the actual costs will be before you sign up for a merchant account.
Before you take the time to apply for a merchant account, it's helpful to know a company's average approval rating so that you can feel confident that your application will be approved. The average acceptance rate of the services featured on our lineup is 98%. By knowing how long it will take to set up your account, you can plan ahead to make sure that you don't have a gap between merchant accounts where you can't process payments. The average setup time is one to two days, but the best services can do the same day. The best merchant account providers also review your account application and set up your account for free. Additionally, the best providers don't require a contract and don't charge you cancellation fees if you choose to close your account.
In order to protect your customers and yourself from credit card fraud, it's important to select a merchant account provider that fully complies with the Payment Card Industry's (PCI) security protocols, which all of the services in our lineup do. You also want a merchant service provider that assists you in establishing and maintaining your compliance with these security standards.
Payment gateways are an important part of your merchant services because they provide security measures that help you prevent credit card fraud. They also allow you to accept payments online. The best merchant services give you access to reputable gateways, like Authorize. They also give you access to shopping carts for your eCommerce needs and mobile credit card processing so you can accept payments when you're on the go.
If keeping your cash flow fluid is important, you should ask how long it takes the merchant account provider to clear the account and deposit the money from your transactions into your bank account. The best merchant account providers clear the account in one day.
Accepted Payment Types
While all of the merchant services we reviewed allow you to accept all major credit and debit cards, the best merchant services keep up to date with payment technology. If you're purchasing or updating your equipment in the near future, keep the following payment types in mind as you're evaluating your choices:
• EMV Chip and PIN cards: You'll need the proper equipment to process these microchip-embedded cards by October 2015, when they will be standard. At that time, the liability for credit card fraud will switch to you if you aren't processing EMV cards properly.
• NFC (near field communication): This technology allows you to accept payments made using mobile wallets, like Softcard, Google Wallet and Apple Pay.
Help & Support
Prompt customer support is important because the ability to accept payments is vital to your business, which is why the best merchant services give you direct access to a dedicated account rep and also offer a 24/7 customer service line.
The best merchant services for your business enable you to cater to your customers' preferred forms of payment and capture every possible sale. They also offer you competitive rates, prompt customer service and access to emerging payment technology without locking you in to lengthy contracts with stiff early termination penalties.