Best Credit Card Processing Services of 2021

Are you ready to start accepting credit cards, or are you just looking for a better processing provider? We’ll help you find one with the features and rates that suit your business best.
Best overall
Square
Square
4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3
Starting from
$0.00
/mo
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Free account and mobile card reader
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Top-tier point-of-sale features
Best pricing plans
Payment Depot
Payment Depot
4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8
Starting from
$99.00
/mo
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Affordable processing rates
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Free terminals with some plans
Best customer service
National Processing
National Processing
4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5
Starting from
$10.00
/mo
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Near perfect user-rated customer service
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Competitive rates
Best POS integration
Stax Logo
Stax
4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3
Starting from
$99.00
/mo
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Competitive rates
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Integration with most POS platforms
Best for global sales
Stripe
Stripe
3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8
Starting from
$0.00
/mo
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Compliance with 135 currencies
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Automated disputes

Data effective 5/21/21. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

Nothing affects your bottom line more than being able to smoothly accept payments from your customers. If you can’t take payments, you can’t make money, so it’s crucial to find a payment processing solution that fits snugly into your business model.

Some payment processing companies want to nickel and dime your small business with hidden fees and deceptive rates. The last thing you need is to get into a long-term contract with a processing company that skims your transactions to make themselves some extra dough at your expense.

There are hundreds of payment processing companies, so to make your job easier, we’ve rounded up six of the best payment processing companies operating today.

Best credit card processors of 2021

The best credit card processing for small business

Brand
Processing fee per transaction (swiped)
Processing fee per transaction (keyed)
Basic Monthly fee
Learn more
Square

Square

2.6% + 10¢

3.5% + 15¢

$0.00

Payment Depot

Payment Depot

Interchange + 7¢

Interchange + 7¢

$99.00

National Processing

National Processing

Interchange + 0.15% + 7¢

Interchange + 0.30% + $0.15

$10.00

Stax Logo

Stax

Interchange + 8¢

Interchange + 15¢

$99.00

Stripe

Stripe

2.7% + 5¢

2.9% + 30¢

$0.00

Data effective 5/21/21. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

Bell
Interchange
Interchange refers to the fees assessed by the credit card company every time a transaction is made. Processing companies pay these fees to credit card companies on your behalf. When a processing company offers transaction rates that account for interchange, that means they’ll be taking a cut over and above interchange rates. This pricing method tends to save your business money because it takes into account every credit card provider’s processing fees instead of just assessing a flat fee per transaction.

Best overall: Square

Square
Square
  • 2.6% + $0.10 processing fee
  • Check
    Free account and mobile card reader
  • Check
    Top-tier point-of-sale features
  • Check
    Accepts all major credit cards

It’s hard to argue with the value Square offers to small businesses. If you want to start processing payments today, you can get a free mobile card reader from Square by opening a free account on their website. As soon as your free reader arrives in the mail, all you have to do is download the Square app, and you can start taking payments.

Square does have a higher price per transaction than other companies, but when you consider the fact that you don’t have to pay monthly and you can get a free mobile credit card reader, the total difference in cost may be negligible—especially for small businesses with lower transaction volume.

In addition to being a turnkey credit card processing solution, Square also offers a top-tier point-of-sale system. Inventory tracking, employee performance monitoring, and rewards programs are just a few of the features available to your business through Square’s point-of-sale features.

Square also lets you accept payments in any and all formats for reasonable rates:

  • In-person payments. Use a mobile reader or any other Square terminal to accept payments.
  • Invoice payments. Email your customers a payable invoice for 2.9% + 30¢ per invoice. You can set these invoices up to be recurring.
  • Remote payments via computer. Accept payments over the phone at a rate of 3.5% + 15¢ for all card-not-present transactions.
  • Online payments. Build an online store or integrate Square’s payment processor into your existing website for 2.9% + 30¢ per transaction.

And remember, you’re getting all this functionality for no monthly fee, making Square our top provider of credit card processing for small businesses.

Payment Depot: Best pricing plans

Payment Depot
Payment Depot
  • Interchange + $0.07 processing fee
  • Check
    Affordable processing rates
  • Check
    Free terminals with some plans
  • Check
    Accepts all major credit cards

Payment Depot uses a tiered pricing plan designed to lower your processing rates as your sales volume increases. Each tier has a lower processing cost and a slightly higher monthly payment. You can sign up for any tier you want, but lower tiers have a maximum processing volume.

Payment Depot’s has some of the cheapest rates we’ve ever found. And normally we’d be a bit skeptical of rates so low, but after digging into the user reviews, we found overwhelming positivity toward Payment Depot and its services.

Not only does Payment Depot offer great rates, but it also avoids charging unnecessary extra fees. Also, many of the plans come with free terminals. The Premier plan, for example, comes with a free smart terminal or free premium gateway.

That said, because Payment Depot has a monthly fee, it’s best suited for businesses that process credit cards at a fairly regular monthly volume. So, if you’re brand-new to processing or your credit card volume is sporadic, you may want to look into a flat-rate processor with no monthly fee.

Best customer service: National Processing

National Processing
National Processing
  • Interchange + 0.15% + $0.07 processing fee
  • Check
    Near perfect user-rated customer service
  • Check
    Competitive rates
  • Check
    Accepts all major credit cards

Here’s the quick-and-dirty of why you want a payment processor known for their superb customer service:

  • Free equipment reprogramming. If you’re looking to change processing providers, integrating new services with existing equipment can be a pain. National Processing knows this, so they offer a full reprogramming of your equipment for free.
  • Chargeback monitoring. Chargebacks are an expensive burden to handle by yourself. National Processing monitors your chargeback risk, helping you avoid those costs.
  • 24/7 customer service. With easy access to quality customer service, you can rest assured someone will be there anytime you have a problem or need some help.

In addition to offering industry-leading customer service, National Processing also provides highly competitive rates. At $10 a month plus a rate of interchange + 0.15% + 7¢ per transaction, you’ll be saving a good deal of money. These savings can be a game changer if you’re operating at a higher sales volume.

Another way that National Processing helps you save is by offering you a free mobile card reader called Clover Go when you sign up. Then you can take payments on the go without paying for any new equipment.

If you do want new equipment, National Processing offers Clover Mini and Clover Station terminals that double as point-of-sale systems. This adds inventory management, promos, rewards, employee logins, and more.

Best point-of-sale integration: Stax

Stax Logo
Stax
  • Interchange + $0.08 processing fee
  • Check
    Lowest rates per swipe
  • Check
    Integration with most POS platforms
  • Check
    Accepts all major credit cards

Are you already using a point-of-sale system and don’t want to switch? Good news, Stax integrates with 90% of all third-party solutions. Here are some popular point-of-sale systems that Stax integrates with:

  • Aloha
  • Micros
  • Revel
  • Vend

Being able to integrate a new payment processor with your existing point-of-sale system is key if you don’t want your workflow to be disrupted. That’s why Stax makes it easy to switch your payment processor and keep your point-of-sale system.

Another competitive edge that Stax brings to the table is its competitive rates. Stax charges only interchange + 8¢ per transaction with their terminal and integration plans and only interchange + 15¢ for virtual terminal, shopping cart, mobile, and API plans. That’s about as low as rates go, but there’s one drawback.

Stax has the highest monthly fee of any of our recommendations at $99 per month. This means Stax isn’t for every business—specifically, businesses that don’t have enough monthly credit card revenue to save them money with Stax's pricing model.

But Stax does offer all popular channels of receiving payment:

  • Invoicing
  • Card-present transactions
  • Remote computer payments
  • Online API

Stax is competitive in their offerings, but you should be sure to calculate if their pricing model will save you money before you move forward.

Best for global sales: Stripe

Stripe
Stripe
  • 2.7% + $0.05 processing fee
  • Check
    Compliance with 135 currencies
  • Check
    Automated disputes
  • Check
    Accepts all major credit cards

Stripe is your best option for selling wares or services around the globe using your website. No other payment processor even comes close to what Stripe offers in worldwide online sales.

This is why Stripe has a higher processing fee than some of our other recommendations. There’s no monthly fee, which does offset some of the cost. Stripe knows it’s a little more expensive, and that’s why it offers features you can’t get anywhere else.

Here are a few key features of Stripe’s payment platform:

  • Global payment acceptance. Adding a single stripe API to your website will allow you to accept payments in over 135 currencies.
  • Checkout optimization. Design a custom checkout interface that maximizes flow across desktop and mobile interfaces.
  • Easy website embedding. All you need is a single line of JavaScript to embed a checkout box on your website.
  • Worldwide security licensing. Your payments will be safe, legal, and compliant all over the world thanks to Stripe obtaining and renewing licenses across the globe.
  • Programmed dispute handling. This automates evidence submissions for chargebacks using the Disputes API.

You can also choose to use some optional add-ons. Stripe offers in-person processing if you buy one of their terminals and allows you to build custom checkout flows.

Stripe also offers credit card terminal processing. This isn’t its specialty, but its rate is pretty reasonable at 2.7% + 5¢ per successful charge. Still, if you’re looking for a fully featured point-of-sale solution, Stripe’s terminal and cloud management software probably won’t make the cut.

Also, be aware that to implement Stripe, you need a website and access to a programmer or web developer. Stripe is an online application that you have to integrate into your website. The only way around hiring a programmer is by designing a website on a web development platform that integrates with Stripe—like Squarespace.

You can start using Stripe for free today. You only pay when you make sales.

Honorable mentions

These brands just missed our top 5, but you shouldn’t miss out on giving them a look. Both are solid brands with something unique to offer small businesses.

Credit card processing honorable mentions

Honorable mentions pricing

Brand
Processing fee per transaction (swiped)
Processing fee per transaction (keyed)
Basic Monthly fee
Learn more
Hel Cim

Helcim

Interchange + 0.30%Interchange + 0.50%None
Dharma

Dharma

Interchange + 0.15% + 7¢Interchange + 0.30% + $0.10$20.00

Data effective 5/21/21. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

Most scalable rates: Helcim

Hel Cim
Helcim
  • Interchange + 0.30% processing fee
  • Check
    Rates go down as sales volume increases
  • Check
    No cancellation fees
  • Check
    Accepts all major credit cards

Helcim’s most interesting feature is the way its rates scale. The higher your monthly processing volume, the lower your rates.

Helcim pricing system

Monthly sales volume
Swipe, dip, or tap rates
Keyed and online rates
Monthly fee
Learn more
$0–$25,000Interchange + 0.30%Interchange + 0.50%None
$25,001–$50,000Interchange + 0.25%Interchange + 0.45%None
$50,001–$100,000Interchange + 0.20%Interchange + 0.40%None
$100,001–$250,000Interchange + 0.18%Interchange + 0.35%None
$250,001–$1,000,000Interchange + 0.15%Interchange + 0.30%None
$1,000,001–$5,000,000Interchange + 0.12%Interchange + 0.25%None
$5,000,000+Interchange + 0.10%Interchange + 0.20%None

Data effective 5/21/21. At publishing time, pricing and features are current but are subject to change. Offers may not be available in all areas.

What’s so notable about Helcim’s rates is that there’s no monthly fee despite the processing fees being relatively low. This gives Helcim a great value proposition. Not only will you save money if you process with them but don’t have consistent processing volume, you’ll also save if your processing volume starts to be consistent and grows over time.

In addition to great rates, Helcim has been consistently adding POS features to its service. It still doesn’t have any loyalty tools, but it has ways to track inventory and manage your restaurant. It has enough extras to be competitive. That’s why it's one of our favorite processing brands.

Most flexible contract: Dharma Merchant Services

Dharma
Dharma Merchant Services
  • Interchange + 0.15% + $0.07 processing fee
  • Check
    Free seasonal service suspension
  • Check
    Low $25 monthly fee
  • Check
    Accepts all major credit cards

Dharma offers competitive interchange plus pricing at a low monthly payment. It may not be the lowest-priced provider, but what really sets Dharma apart is its contract flexibility.

So if you have a seasonal business, Dharma won’t charge you any fees for deactivating and reactivating your account for your limited sales season. In fact, you’re billed with Dharma on a monthly basis and can freeze your account at any time, meaning no long-term commitments.

The only time you’ll be charged is if you decide to permanently close your account—there’s a $25 processing fee. Compared to many other payment processors, this is a very small fee.

Another way that Dharma competes with the best is by offering a fully featured merchant software that makes taking payments easy, allowing you to manage your payments from one simple place.

And if you're taking those payments from a storefront or restaurant, you can take advantage of Dharma’s special credit card processing rate at 0.15% + 7¢ above interchange, making your statements simple and easy to read and saving you money on processing costs.

FAQs

Where do I find interchange rates?

You can find all current interchange rates on Host Merchant Services’ website. These rates are subject to change from month to month, so if you’re using a credit card processor that uses interchange-plus rates, you may see small fluctuations on your statements.

Can I integrate my payment processor into my website?

Many of our suggestions above offer APIs that can easily be added into the code of your website. Some are more customizable than others and may even offer a loose enough template to allow for branded payment processing.

What’s the difference between credit card processing and point of sale?

Credit card processing simply describes your ability to accept credit cards. This is usually done through a processing provider that works with credit card companies to pay interchange rates and stay PCI compliant.

Point of sale, on the other hand, often includes credit card processing, but it also includes a number of other features relevant to making a sale, like inventory management, rewards programs, and employee tracking.

Many credit card processing companies, like Square, also offer a suite of point-of-sale features that are often needed for customer purchases.

Do you have any other questions about credit card processing?

If you do, don’t hesitate to email us, and one of our processing experts will update this page with an answer to your question.

The takeaway

Choosing a credit card processor can be tricky if you don’t know what features you need. If you’re unsure where to start with processing, we recommend trying out Square. It’s our number one choice because it does a little bit of everything without long-term contracts or monthly fees. If Square’s services don’t quite fit your bill, it’s easy to switch over to another recommended brand:

  • National Processing will make the transition seamless with best-in-class customer service
  • Stax will help you add cheap processing services to your current POS system
  • Payment Depot will help you process at the lowest possible price on the market without sacrificing quality of products or services
  • Stripe will give you the power to do business across the globe online

We’ve handpicked each of the brands above because they have reputable track records and a history of helping small businesses. Any of them will get your payment processing job done right.

If you’re looking for extra point-of-sale features and want more than just a way to process credit cards, be sure to check out our recommendations for the best small-business point-of-sale systems.

Our methodology

We’ve vetted these companies with small-business owners in mind, looking for traits and features that best serve small-business needs, like these:

  • Ease of integration. How easy is it to start taking credit card payments? How long is the sign-up and integration process? Will this processor integrate with your existing equipment?
  • Fees and costs. What’s the cost per swipe? Are there any fees for chargebacks? Are there any fees for early account termination? Are there monthly fees?
  • Customer service. Is it easy for a customer to contact customer service? Are the service representatives effectively resolving issues as they crop up?
  • Multi-channel functionality. Does the processor allow for mobile payments, in-store payments, or over-the-phone payments?
  • Industry expertise. Does the brand offer any plans suited to the needs of specific industries, like retail or restaurant?

Credit Card Stats and Trends in 2021

Economic changes during the pandemic have affected countless industries and caused major upsets in global markets. The credit card industry is one of many that has seen both significant and slightly distressing changes—especially among user spending habits.

Let’s dive into the data on what exactly has shifted since our world got flipped upside down.

credit card debt since the pandemic

What has changed since the pandemic?

More than half of Americans (62%) say their credit card debt has increased since the beginning of the pandemic, with 52% saying they’ve increased their credit limits to support their growing spending habits. This is one of many worrisome statistics we’ll dive into.

Debt is on the rise, but despite individual financial situations becoming more precarious, spending as a whole doesn’t seem to be slowing down. 

In fact, there are many industries whose overall sales have increased since the start of the pandemic: 

  • Sporting goods, hobby, musical instruments, and book stores (39%)
  • Building materials and garden equipment (38.8%)
  • Electronics and appliance stores (35.2%)
  • Automotive parts, accessories, and tire stores (27.9%)
  • Furniture and home furnishings stores (22.6%)

But with these increases have come a few notable decreases:

  • Amusement, gambling, and recreation industries (-14.3%)
  • Food services and drinking establishments (-18.1%)
  • Accommodations (-27.6%)

These spending-habit shifts in addition to growing credit card debt led us to wonder why exactly individuals are choosing to use credit cards.

What stresses Americans about credit cards?

credit cards stress

Credit cards are obviously not a magical fountain of money—they come with strict terms. Due to increased demand for credit cards, there’s every reason for credit card companies to offer less forgiving terms. 

Credit card users are experiencing suboptimal terms, with 64% being stressed about high interest rates and 47% worrying about annual fees. Additionally, 41% of credit card users are also worried about increasing debt and 25% are concerned over making monthly payments. 

As if these worries weren’t enough, Americans’ particular spending habits indicate that credit cards are being used carelessly.

What are common credit card spending habits?

Among cardholders, 70% are using credit cards to purchase things they want rather than things they need, with 65% making purchases they don’t currently have the funds for. Americans are digging themselves into debt by purchasing non-essential items. 

This is worrisome but not entirely unexpected, as pandemic boredom has played a role in increasing entertainment spending. Demand for gaming consoles is at an all-time high, but microchip shortages have led to console shortages. These factors have led many to purchase marked-up gaming entertainment systems on credit cards.

And Americans aren’t just using one credit card to make purchases—69% of Americans report having one to three credit cards that they use regularly. Moreover, 42% report using a credit card a few times a week and 30% use a credit card once a week. With so many people using credit cards, there's been an uptick in worries about credit card safety.

How safe are credit cards in 2021?

Most Americans (59%) report concerns about having their credit card information stolen, with 52% reporting that they’ve had their credit card information stolen at least once. That still leaves 48% of people who haven’t had their credit card information stolen—which is a great number—but the concern about safety is not unfounded.

Because online purchases have increased since the start of the pandemic and credit card information is being shared in more places online, there’s no wonder why people are concerned.

The takeaway

Credit cards are becoming a more significant part of American spending habits. That said, it seems that many cardholders are using credit unwisely, purchasing non-essential items that they don’t have the funds to cover. If this trend continues, some Americans may find themselves with some serious debt problems. 

Because of this, it’s crucial to educate new cardholders on safe and smart spending practices so they can avoid unnecessary debts. Otherwise, we may find ourselves with a personal debt crisis.

Methodology

We partnered with Pollfish to conduct an anonymous survey of 700 Americans. Business.org analyzed the results and compiled this report. To learn more about Pollfish and how it organically finds respondents, check out its methodology.

Disclaimer

At Business.org, our research is meant to offer general product and service recommendations. We don't guarantee that our suggestions will work best for each individual or business, so consider your unique needs when choosing products and services.

Andrew Mosteller
Written by
Andrew Mosteller
For four years, Andrew has been writing copy to help business owners expand, manage, and advertise their unique brands. His upbringing in an entrepreneurial family nurtured a passion for small business at a young age. Andrew’s father, an equity fund manager, taught him the ins and outs of investment financing and owning and operating a successful business. Now he brings his expertise and experience to entrepreneurs as a regular contributor on Business.org.