Last update at February 6, 2021
Any business, small or large, will understand the importance of saving money where possible, but, when it comes to credit card processing, costs are often less clear. Like any business overhead, fees from processing companies quickly add up and yet, sometimes it is not the fees that can cost you but other factors- the difficulty of the setup process, for example.
Finding the best credit card processing company can be overwhelming. With so many options out there, we’ve created this complete guide to help you find the right fit for your business.
When researching credit card processing companies, it’s important to consider both the long and short term effects of your choice. Particularly when looking at credit card processing for small businesses, you’ll often want to choose to go with a company where you can manage costs in the short term, but one that has the right infrastructure to support you as you scale.
Another focus for smaller businesses is, of course, ease of set up, but for businesses across the board it is important that there will be no major delays when setting up. One factor that is often underrated when looking at credit card processing companies is the quality of customer service support. Throughout the article, we’ll be looking at the credit card processing companies that allow for a seamless customer experience and, of course, a high level of security.
In 2021, as well as ensuring that your credit card processing company can handle all major credit and debit cards, it’s important to consider integrations and whether the system supports new payment technologies. The rise of mobile payments over the last few years, for example, means that it’s important to invest in a company that can support this.
All of these factors are angles through which we will consider the credit card processing companies in our article.
When it comes to credit card processing fees, there are a number of things you need to watch out for. Some of you may be looking for the lowest credit card processing fees, whilst others will be concerned with the fees placed on online transactions. Credit card processing companies are also notorious for hidden fees, so be sure to have long conversations to find out exactly what you’ll be paying.
We’re going to run you through the main types of credit card processing fees that you need to look out for here:
None of the companies we’ve selected incorporate these but it is important to be aware that some credit card processing companies will charge fees for you applying for and setting up the service. For this reason they may not be the best credit card processing companies for small businesses.
For every transaction you process, you will pay an interchange fee, a fee paid from Visa/Mastercard/Amex to the bank of the card being used to pay. The rate you pay depends upon factors including the type of card, type of transaction (online, in store or over the phone) and the size of the transaction. It is also dependent on Visa/Mastercard’s fees which may change over time.
A discount rate is sometimes also offered to small and mid-sized merchants who have a lower volume of money being processed. This discount rate will mean that you pay a fee (typically between 2-3% on each transaction depending on card type and transaction security) and a small fixed cost for each payment.
One of the most common types of payment structures is tiered pricing. This takes the complexity out of navigating the different types of rates and categories the rates you pay for transactions based on a wide variety of criteria which place it in one of three tiers. Whilst this makes your monthly bills a lot easier to understand, it can often lead to much higher costs because many processing companies will qualify payments in a high cost tier than they might actually be in.
Two other options are Interchange Plus agreements and blended pricing. Larger businesses will usually operate under Interchange Plus which means that different card types have less impact on costs and processing companies will absorb some of the fees. Interchange Plus gives full transparency over all fees and a breakdown of these costs each month whilst blended pricing lumps these costs together on each transaction so that merchants have less understanding of the fees, but are paying a single rate for all transactions.
Whilst your specific agreement will depend on a variety of factors, below is a guide to the types of fee structures that you can expect across all of the credit card processing companies we have mentioned.
Flagship craft truly tailored fee structures for their merchants, offering both Interchange plus and tiered.Their interchange plus agreement is Interchange plus a markup of 0.30% and $0.10. On their tiered system, Flagship have published the following prices for in-person card payments. PIN debit transactions cost $0.25, Debit card transactions cost 0.35% + $0.19. Credit card transactions cost 1.55% + $0.19, but less if you manually key this in. If you have extra time for accounting admin work in your business, this could be a great way to keep costs down. Under this tiered system, international and business cards will add 1.95% to the cost.
On top of a monthly subscription fee of $99, Fattmerchant operate on a flat rate basis which allows customers to pay the direct cost of interchange plus 8-15 cents per transaction.
Leaders Merchant Services use a tiered fee structure, but have come under criticism in the past for claiming that transactions were in a higher tier than they should have been. This might put users off Leaders Merchant Services, but since it has a 30 day period with no cancellation fee, it is definitely worth taking a look at what Leaders Merchant Services could offer your business specifically.
Square offers blended pricing only. You pay a single rate for transactions and this can make it a great option for small businesses. If you’re going to be accepting less than $3,000 a month in credit payments, this is definitely one to look into.
Monthly minimum fees describe the minimum amount that the processing company must take from you a month before you get charged. If your minimum fee was $25, for example, and you only took payments of $20 one month, you would have to pay the remaining $5.
When looking at the best credit card processing companies for small businesses, this is a key criteria to look at. We found that Flagship charges a monthly minimum fee of $25 where the other 3 companies do not charge anything.
When it comes to credit card processing infrastructure, it’s first of all important to consider how you plan to take payments. If you’re operating online as well as from a brick and mortar location, you’ll want a processing company that supports both of these methods. Without this, you will be giving yourself a lot of admin trying to manage being both.
Flagship supports credit card terminal payments, mobile card readers, point of sale system, payment gateway for e-commerce sites and virtual terminals for over the phone or mail orders.
Fatt Merchant support mobile payments,virtual terminal payments, credit card payments and easily supports e-commerce payments, connecting straight to your cart page.
Leaders Merchant Services support credit card terminal payments, mobile card readers, point of sale system and virtual terminals for over the phone or mail orders. It is not, however, the best option for e-commerce sites because the integration set up can be complex.
If you’re going to take a lot of mobile payments (and all likelihood suggests that most businesses will) then it is worthwhile to take some time to investigate how your credit card processing company can support this. The best credit card processing companies for mobile payments will come equipped with analytics so that you can track data such as the number of unique customers, sales volume and payment status.
The analytics tools that Flagship offers are relatively basic, whilst those offered by Square and Fatt Merchant are of a really high level. With both of these companies, you will benefit from real customer insights and growth monitoring data and you can even check up on these analytics on the go from your mobile! Leaders Merchant Services, on the other hand, offers no analytics tools.
As well as supporting virtual payments, Square offers a high quality Point Of Sale system and easy integration through Ecwid E-commerce for online payments. While this allows you full flexibility over how and where you accept payments, this may not be the best option for you if you want to keep everything in one place.
When it comes to credit card processing for small businesses, one of the most important considerations is how easy the service is to set up. Slow application and set up processes can delay your operations as a new business!
Flagship does not offer the quickest setup possible and is not the best option if you want to start using the processing company right away. After applying, you have to wait for a merchant account, speak with a sales rep and then wait for activation as well as equipment if you are operating in store.
Fatt Merchant also have a great amount of detail available about setting up your credit card processing online. Once you’ve submitted your application, you’ll receive access to your software and equipment and be able to set up quickly.
While Leaders Merchant Services offer less in the way of online set-up content, their sales advisors are very helpful when you’re setting up and the whole process is super quick and easy.
Square hardware arrives within 5 days and account set up is incredibly easy. They also have thorough instructions online to guide you through the process. The only thing to bear in mind with Square is that you need to check their list of prohibited goods and services as they will freeze and delay your sign up if you are within this. This list includes betting companies, some types of financial institutions, particular marketing companies and more.
Looking for the credit card processing companies with the best customer service is an overlooked but important part of finding the right fit for you. Though it is rare, systems can go down. You need high quality customer service to have confidence in these situations.
Not only does Flagship offer incredible 24/7 phone support, but you’ll have a dedicated member of staff to contact with any queries or concerns. Because you’ll always work with the same individual, they will have a thorough understanding of how your business operates. This is incredibly beneficial.
While Square does offer a good level of customer service via email, it is nowhere near the level of Flagship or other credit card processing companies in terms of customer service. They do have a phone number which can be called from 6AM to 6PM (PDT) but you can only get access to this after you have got a code from the Square website, which can be a lengthy process.
Fatt Merchant offer a number of ways for you to get in touch. Their online support center has a range of useful articles and their phone line is available 24/7. You can send them an email and expect a quick response too, but possibly the best feature of their customer service is their online ticket form which gets you very quick responses!
Leaders Merchant Services have often come under criticism for their customer service options. Whilst they do list an email address and a phone number, users report that the response times on these can be very relatively slow.
While it is true that in 2021, the security of credit card processing is like never before, it is still important to do your research, particularly on the status of data handling. Luckily, we’ve done our background checks on the 4 credit card processing companies included in our article so that you don’t have to.
Flagship Merchant Services closely sticks to the debit and credit card industry's PCI Data Security Standard, a high quality information security standard.
As well as adhering to (and even being on the board for) PCI Security Standards, Square devote their time to making your own compliance as easy as possible, handling everything from SAQ requirements to audits. Square also boast industry leading security technology that encrypts all data.
Fatt Merchant also offer the highest level of PCI Security Standards along with a range of tools to make compliance easier on your end. Though they don’t handle it for you as much as Square do, their team are there to help you fill out resources such as self-assessment questionnaires. This makes compliance super easy! Fatt Merchant also promise that they continuously test for the security of their data and use modern tokenization services to prevent third parties from getting near it.
Leaders Merchant Services are fully PCI compliant and offer end-to-end encryption on your data, but offer less information on these claims than the other credit card processing companies in our list.
Overall, it’s clear that the best credit card processing company will be the one that suits both your short-term situation and your longer term plans.
Bigger companies would do well to look into Flagship, which offers flexible fee structures and an incredibly high level of support since they will be dealing with more money and more risk if systems are down.
The best credit card processing company for small businesses, though, depends on a couple of things. If you feel that your business will not scale beyond $3,000 a month in the near future, Square is a great option. They provide some of the lowest credit card processing fees and the support that they provide you with compliance is second to none. On the other hand, if you are a slightly larger company, you might find that you get lower credit card processing fees with Fatt Merchant as a result of their flat fee pricing structure.
Leaders Merchant Services can be a good option for a range of businesses, but it is necessary to get on a call with them to really discuss how they could work for you.
Keep an eye on our page for more credit card processing guides!
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