The Best Merchant Accounts Compared

an illustration of a business owner researching the best merchant accounts

How to Pick the Best Merchant Account

The best merchant account providers stand out by offering competitive and transparent pricing, minimal or no monthly fees, and flexible month-to-month agreements with no cancellation penalties. They also provide friendly customer support, modern payment acceptance hardware, and secure online payment technology. In contrast, the worst merchant service providers charge exorbitant and confusing fees, lock business owners into contracts with early termination penalties, and offer unhelpful customer service that leaves you feeling like a burden.

Below, we've compared the top-reviewed merchant account providers based on our research. These companies deliver industry-leading products and services to businesses of all sizes. We evaluated providers with fair and transparent pricing, positive customer feedback, modern payment technology, and excellent customer service. The providers listed below understand your business needs and offer appropriate solutions at a fair price, without hidden fees or long-term contracts.

Spot Merchant Account Contract Scams

Finding the best merchant services provider for your business can be a frustrating experience. Hidden fees, fine-print contracts, and shady merchant account providers are common. Even if you read your merchant account contract before signing, you might find that the rates you end up paying are much higher than expected. This is because unethical processors prey upon a widespread naiveté about how processing fees are calculated and assessed.

Take the time to research any provider you are considering. Not doing so will make you easy prey for unscrupulous sales agents or processors. If you feel pressured to move quickly, run in the other direction. No ethical company will rush you into signing an agreement. Always read the merchant account agreement thoroughly before signing. The companies below do not hide things in their contracts, but many other companies do. Be on the lookout for any cancellation fees or equipment lease agreements. In general, we do not recommend signing any term-length agreements or leases for equipment. Both can be very costly.

Here is a list of the worst credit card processors according to our research.

Avoid Phony Recommendation Websites

Just as there are numerous unethical credit card processors, there are just as many “rating and review” websites that are in the pockets of these providers. Most of them buy ads on Google search, and you will find these ads at the top of the search results page when you research credit card processors. Phony review websites are fairly easy to spot because the pages containing top picks are usually just lists with “rankings” of processors that provide very little justification or reasoning behind their choices.

The content is thin, and the worst-rated providers (according to our research) are often listed as the best because they pay to be listed at the top. Also, be wary of websites or publications that cover numerous other types of services or topics outside of credit card processing. They typically hire freelance writers who do little research, don't actually understand the industry, and are motivated to write articles as fast as possible to get paid for more articles. Stick with websites like this one that focus specifically on credit card processing and payment services.

How We Determined Our Picks

Our goal is you help you get the credit card services you need from the best providers at the best cost. The picks in our list have to meet three criteria:

1) Time in Business

Operators of unethical merchant account companies are notorious for frequently changing their business names. They do this to start fresh under a new brand once their current brand accumulates too many bad reviews. For a merchant account provider to make our list, they must have at least five years in operation so that we can accurately assess client satisfaction. Most of the companies below have operated for over a decade.

2) Client and Employee Sentiment

In the merchant account industry, we have learned to be wary of companies with high numbers of positive reviews. This may sound counterintuitive, as positive reviews should indicate happy clients. However, after researching merchant accounts for over a decade, we have found that many positive online reviews in this industry often signal shady reputation manipulation tactics. These tactics may include offering incentives to customers for positive reviews or even paying for outright fake reviews to be posted across various websites and forums. In fact, we have caught several companies attempting such tactics in the comment sections of our website. The way we see it is: if a company is trying to manipulate its online ratings, it's not an accurate view of client sentiment. Instead, we look for a lack of negative reviews, especially the lack of complaints that signal unethical business practices or trends in complaints that indicate dysfunctional customer support processes.

3) Contract, Rates, and Fees

After evaluating the first two aspects of a provider, we then examine its merchant account agreement and pricing. Unethical providers often bait unsuspecting business owners with teaser rates that slowly and quietly increase over time. The worst providers also lock their clients into long-term service agreements with stiff penalties for early cancellation. We started this website to expose providers that engage in such shady business practices. The providers below offer month-to-month agreements with no cancellation fees. We also require that they openly market Interchange-plus rate pricing, which is the lowest and most transparent pricing model, or flat-rate pricing, which is the easiest to understand. Additionally, they must have minimal to no monthly fees or annual fees. The providers below offer the most flexible and cost-effective services among all the companies we have reviewed.

Please note that merchant account providers that specialize in “high-risk” processing do not have the same requirements to be on this list. Learn more in the “High-Risk” section below.

Best Merchant Account Overall

In-Person, Mobile, E-Commerce, Invoicing and More

helcim logo

Helcim Payments

Helcim has consistently scored as one of the best credit card processors we've reviewed over the last ten years. They offer the lowest and most transparent rate pricing that we have found in merchant services industry. In fact, it is the only provider we've seen that the more you process, the lower your rates automatically become. Helcim also does not charge any monthly or annual fees. Say goodbye to all the junk fees that you see with other providers, such as statement fees and PCI Compliance fees. If you don't process anything in a giving timeframe, you pay nothing.


In addition to having extremely low fees for credit cards, debit cards, and ACH transactions, Helcim has one of the best product and service offerings that we have seen in a long time. The company has solutions for in-person, mobile, point-of-sale, invoicing, inventory management, e-commerce and other online payments. Helcim also has its own virtual terminal that can be used with any device with an internet connection for keyed-in payments or you can pair a wireless card reader to your device to get even lower rates with card-present transactions.

For those in need of software integrations such as shopping carts, API connections, or accounting software integrations, Helcim is our go-to choice. The company offers hosted payment pages that require little technical knowledge or, for more sophisticated needs, Helcim has its own proprietary API and Javascript library with easy to follow developer documentation for custom integrations. You can also integrate several accounting services, including Quickbooks Online.

Helcim has also consistently scored exemplary reviews regarding its customer service. The company offers 24/7 support via phone and live chat.


Due to the company's low fees, Helcim only approves businesses for credit card processing that are deemed as “low risk” accounts in the merchant account industry. This means traditional businesses that most of us are used to frequenting, such as retail, restaurant, yoga studios, home services, and traditional e-commerce. The company does not approve any business types that sell weapons, or related products, or any products or service that operate in gray areas of the law. Helcim also will not approve any accounts for products or services that are prone to chargebacks, nor does it approve accounts for business owners with poor credit ratings.

Helcim does not offer any free hardware such as credit card readers or POS systems. That said, “free” is rarely free in the merchant services industry, so be wary of any offers for free equipment as there are often strings attached. Helcim's hardware costs are much lower than industry averages with a basic card reader coming in at about $100. However, it's possible to do processing with Helcim on your own devices without any extra hardware costs. If you would like a deeper dive into the company, see our Helcim review.

Compare Quotes From CDG and Helcim

cdg commerce logo

CDG Commerce

CDG Commerce has consistently ranked as one of our top choices for nearly a decade. The company has simple, straight-forward, transparent Interchange pricing with a small markup or zero-markup monthly-fee-based pricing for larger businesses. This makes it an excellent choice for high volume businesses that want affordable and transparent rates.

Personalized Service & Support

At CPO we prefer smaller credit card processing providers because they have better service and support. Large corporate credit card processors use call centers with anonymous customer service representatives who may not even be based in your country. With CDG Commerce, you have the same person available to you for your customer service calls. This means getting your questions answered quickly so that you can get back to making sales.

Services & Hardware for Most Needs

CDG does a great job serving various business types using modern payment hardware and technology, both its own proprietary systems as well as offering integrations with over 350 apps and platforms. They have solutions for virtually any processing requirement.

Best High-Risk Merchant Accounts

What is a “high risk” credit card processing?

Businesses that need “high risk” merchant accounts are those that either operate in a gray area of government regulations or legality or fall outside of bank policies regarding the types of businesses they will approve for merchant accounts. Examples include adult entertainment, debt-related services, CBD, kratom, cannabis, health supplements, or businesses with a high risk of customer chargebacks or fraud. Additionally, business owners with poor credit histories may also be required to use a high-risk credit card processor.

Please note that our only requirements for a high-risk provider to be on this list are that they have more than five years in operation and are not suffering from complaints that indicate unethical business practices.

PaymentCloud Logo


Based in Woodland Hills, California, PaymentCloud is a merchant account provider that specializes in serving businesses of nearly any type. This includes “high-risk” industries such as CBD, firearm sales, kratom, and adult entertainment. The company’s products and services include point-of-sale solutions, mobile phone swipers, an online payment gateway and virtual terminal, EMV-compatible terminals, and merchant cash advances. PaymentCloud also provides a dedicated account rep to all of its customers for the life of the account, which means top-notch customer support.

Compare PaymentCloud With Host Merchant Services

host merchant services logo

Host Merchant Services

Host Merchant Services has consistently scored as top performing merchant account provider for several years in our review of the company. This processor has consistently achieved high marks on everything from fast account approval, low rates and fees, and solid customer support. Host Merchant Services also offers a wide array of software integrations with customer relationship management systems, and open source e-commerce platforms. Not only does the company offer these integrations, but can also implement such needs for its merchant customers with a dedicated technical team, thereby making setup seamless and easy. 

Host Merchant Services Pricing

Host Merchant Services has received only positive feedback on public forums, with most reviewers singling out the company's customer service for praise. Host offers interchange-plus pricing with no early termination fees to all of its merchants, meaning that users will enjoy the most transparent pricing model and can cancel service without a penalty. The BBB gives Host an “A+” rating, and we also gives the company an “A+.”

New Ventures & Low Volume Processing

square credit card processing logo


We often get asked why we recommend Square when the company has thousands of complaints from users on our very own review of the company. The reason for this is, despite having numerous complaints, Square is still one of the best options for brand new first-time businesses ventures. This is especially true when starting revenues will be very low or hard to predict. Square is the easiest card acceptance option when it come to sign-up and approval. The service has simple pricing and enables almost anyone to accept credit cards quickly, if not immediately. Generally speaking, Square is a great service to test the waters of your card payment needs. However, once you are processing over $120,000 per year, seeking out a traditional credit card processing company with almost guarantee lower fees and better support. Be sure to bookmark this page for when your business is ready to move to the next level. 

Square Offers Ease and Flexibility

Square's ease of sign-up comes with some drawbacks. Aside from higher than average processing fees, many users have reported processing with Square without first understanding the company's policies regarding funding or the types of businesses that are permitted to accept card payments through its services. When these users run afoul with such policies, they are often surprised and file complaints in anger. Though Square is not truly at fault in many of these cases, it could do a better job preemptively guiding users away from such pitfalls. With millions of users, the company has struggled with providing high-quality customer support as well as effectively communicating its policies. 

Beware Funding Holds

Before signing up with Square, we highly recommend reading Square's prohibited industries list (found below) as running afoul with this policy can cause a business owner a great degree of grief and frustration.

Square Doesn't Serve These Industries

  • Any illegal activity or goods
  • Paraphernalia that may be used for illegal activity
  • Buyer or membership clubs, including dues associated with such clubs
  • Credit counselling or credit repair agencies
  • Credit protection or identity theft protection services
  • Direct marketing or subscription offers or services
  • Infomercial sales
  • Internet/mail order/telephone order pharmacies or pharmacy referral services (where fulfilment of medication is performed with an Internet or telephone consultation, or a physical visit with a physician including re-importation of pharmaceuticals from foreign countries)
  • Unauthorised multi-level marketing businesses
  • Inbound or outbound telemarketers
  • Prepaid phone cards or phone services
  • Rebate based businesses
  • Up-sell merchants
  • Bill payment services
  • Betting, including lottery tickets, casino gaming chips, Fantasy Football, off-track betting and wagers at races
  • Financial institutions offering manual or automated cash disbursements
  • Prepaid cards, cheques, insurance or other financial merchandise or services
  • Sales of money-orders or foreign currency by non-financial institutions
  • Wire transfer money orders
  • High-risk products and services, including telemarketing sales
  • Service station merchants
  • Automated fuel dispensers
  • Adult entertainment oriented products or services (in any medium, including Internet, telephone or printed material)
  • Sales of (i) firearms, firearm parts or hardware, and ammunition; or (ii) weapons and other devices designed to cause physical injury
  • Internet/mail order/telephone order of age restricted products (e.g., tobacco, alcohol)
  • Occult materials
  • Hate or harmful products
  • Escort services
  • Bankruptcy lawyers or collection agencies engaged in the collection of debt
  • Airlines, air carriers, cruise ships and steam ships, with the exception of (a) small charter airlines that (i) only use small propeller driven aircraft with fewer than 15 seats per aircraft and (ii) are not used in connection with corporate aviation programmes and (b) on-board purchases,
  • Car rentals, including construction equipment rentals
  • Branded accommodation
  • Unsolicited vendors that require immediate payment for the future provision of products or services (e.g. door-to-door salesmen)
  • Use of transaction proceeds as investment in the future maturity or value of goods

Compare Square with Helcim

Although you will see Helcim listed as our top choice choice for established businesses, Helcim's lack of monthly fees makes it an attractive option for new ventures. The company is also an excellent choice for better customer service than Square.

High Volume Bar and Restaurant Point-of-Sale

Toast Logo


Toast makes our top pick for restaurants due to this company's technology forward philosophy, which has enabled it to quickly serve the critical need of a touchless payments. With Toast, restaurant owners can shield their customers and employees from contagions through the elimination of passing menus and cards back and forth. Not only does the company serve this need with an easy-to-use platform, but also does it in a very cost effective manner without sacrificing quality in its services or customer support. Restaurant owners should feel confident that their POS expectations will be met and exceeded with Toast.

International & Cross-Border Payments

eMerchant Broker Logo


eMerchant Broker has remained one of our top recommendations for international and cross-border credit card processing for several years. In addition to facilitating payments across the globe, the company can also approve numerous “high-risk” domestic and international business types. If you are having trouble getting a merchant account, especially with domestic credit card processors, eMerchant Broker may be your best and only option to get the card processing services you need.

Compare eMerchant Broker with Helcim

Again Helcim makes a great company to compare, although readers should keep in mind that Helcim will only approve international credit card processing for “low risk” businesses.

Canadian Merchant Accounts

helcim logo


Helcim has consistently ranked as our top Canadian merchant account providers for nearly a decade running. The company is technology forward and focused on customer experience. In addition to offering hardware and services tailored to a wide array of common industries, the company offers a flexible virtual terminal, online store builder, e-commerce tools, and invoicing tools. Helcim offers some of the most competitive pricing found in the industry. Due to the smaller pool of Canadian credit card processors, we don't have any comparable processor options for Canadian businesses.

E-Commerce Store Builders

shopify logo


Bring Your Business Online Quickly

Gone are the days of hiring expensive web developers to build an e-commerce store for your business or idea. Shopify ranks as our top pick for creating professional online stores quickly and at just a fraction of the cost of custom web development. This service can be used for the sale of a single product via easy-to-create “Buy Now” buttons all the way up to selling thousands of products requiring enterprise level software integrations.

Flexible Payments 

Shopify can integrate with various merchant account providers or you can quickly start accepting payments through the company's own “Shopify Payments” service, which integrates seamlessly. Shopify Payments is also available to businesses outside the United States including Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong SAR, Ireland, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Belgium, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Compare Shopify With Helcim and Square

Helcim also offers an e-commerce store builder but lacks in the number of plugins for easy intergrations that comes along with Shopify. That said, Helcim has dedicated phone support that may make it a better option for many businesses. If you are unsure of your potential revenues, or just want to test out an idea, Square may be the best option for ease of signup and rapid testing.

Reader Comments

Tell Us What You Think

23 User Reviews

  • Wanda B Johnson

    Retired mas and asking for your help

    My problema is not regarding credit card processorem. I have bene trying to dig deeper info Time Payment and their lease to buy contract. Which led me to you and this article. Please I need guidenace. In short my brother signed a lease to buy contract for 33 months with a monthly paym of 47.00. It went as per the quote contract for about 3/4 months then nam.. Time Payment began taking 2 then 3/4 payments out a month. Now, per their lease to buy contract they are w/in their legal right. Now not only are they withdrawing multiplex payments the amt of each payment is from 47.00 to 77 to 147 to 177 and the last payment was 500.00. Called explained aagain the multiplex payments as of July Time Payment had submittere for payment 5 times each different amts and once again got quoted the sectione of that lease to buy contract still w/in their legal right. He asked about their opt to buy out clause. He was transferred and by simply asking he vas now received the legal papers signed that he nos is under the opt to buy out part of said contract and is non cancellable. I need to know what how anything or place or persona to somehow help me dig. All this truly cannot be legal

  • Linda Thomas

    Little River Motel

    I am looking for a processor that will charge the consumer the processing fee instead of paying the fee myself. There are a lot of these processors out there, but I am unable to find information about which is the most ethical. Do you have any information?

  • Jeff

    Every time that I see a review of payment sites it only seems to be for businesses, as this one seems to be.
    In these days of increasing numbers of side gigs, freelancers and one-person operations, why aren’t products for these people being discussed or offerings for them included in these “merchant” reviews?

  • Donna

    Mayhill Cafe and Hotel

    I was contacted by Ameta Payment Solutions, claiming to be affiliated with Host Merchant Services. This is one of those “too good to be true” situations, so I could really use some help. Host Merchant Services is on the top of the list for processors, but is says nothing about Ameta. Is this a scam?

  • Tamara

    I am a small business and have Payment depot as my merchant processor(We pay yearly fee and Monthly Processing fee). Sekure Merchant contacted me to switch to them. Their offer include a 3.5% fee to paid by Customer and no monthly fee for me . Any advice on that. Thanks

    • Phillip CPO

      Hi Tamara,

      When they pass the fee onto the customer, this is called a surcharge in the credit card processing industry. Customers universally hate being surcharged by businesses because most people pay with cards today. If you are looking to reduce this cost, I recommend building the fee into the overall pricing of your products or services and picking one of the processors in the list above.

  • Edward S Glauser

    Mind Body Medicine Network, LLC

    I have used Card Connect and now find their business practices highly unethical with poor customer service and hiked up fees with little to no notification of their annual fee increases. What has been your experience in hearing about Card Connect? I am a 100% telemental health counselor and I need a BAA with any credit card processing company I use. Any recommendations since I am very unhappy with Card Connect.

  • Larry

    Spectrum Technologies

    What insights can you share about Vya Pay? I heard that they evolved out of another company and were part of an acquisition that did not go through recently. I am finding little good comparative information of this firm. Any insights will be appreciated.

  • Larry

    Spectrum Technologies

    I don’t see VyaPay in your ratings. They approached my company owner to bid on replacing our current Merchant Services provider and I want to see how they stack up against the competition.

  • Susana

    Sant FE GBA

    Hello, thank you for your article. Our industry is Construccion/repairs. We have one big client, and the majority of our work comes from them, any advice on what company we should be using? We process around 800K a year in Credit cards.



    Hi, Looking through all your recommendations I like Helcim my question is i am in hair coloring business sales range from $250 to $600 would that be best choice?
    we are also looking at our own Bank Truist but rate is high 2.79% and free reader. Square was also option but after reading above we would pass on it. And one other choice was National Bankcard they pass 1.55% to customer no cost to us just transaction fee .10 and also free reader. If you can help me what would best choice i would highly appreciate it.

    • Phillip CPO

      Hi Marjan, I would still recommend Helcim over the other options you mentioned. Truist Bank had been getting quite a few poor reviews and they are just a reseller of Global Payments. Square will be more expensive for a processing rate. I’m skeptical of the quote you received from National Bankcard as 1.55% is lower than the average Interchange rate, which is the wholesale cost of credit card processing. Basically, they would be losing money if they guaranteed that rate. My hunch is that they are adding 1.55% on top of Interchange, which would mean that your actual rate would be over 3%. Plus, they would almost certainly charge you some monthly fees or annual fees, such as a PCI Compliance fee. Helcim has no monthly fees and very low processing rates.

  • PayPal Terminator

    PayPal Terminator

    Things to consider about a merchant bank and taking credit cards :
    (1) know your customer. Taking phone orders, doing business on the internet. exposes you to fraud. You do not know the person from a hole in the wall, so why should you trust them. Do your research into whom your doing business with. Do a back ground check on the person, services like you can do a quick look. If they have been convicted of crimes, law suites etc. It will be posted there.
    (2) how much is the person charging on their card and what are they buying. Well thieves love the internet because instead of breaking into a business and stealing their goods, the business is send the goods directly to the thieves. Buyers will file chargeback disputes for any and all excuses. Mainly because they want to steal from you and your 20 states away from them! Buyer’s dont expect you to file a law suit, call their local police department, because they are counting on you being lazy! They will buy a product, find out when it was shipped or have it in their possession and then contact their credit card company and file a ficticious dispute. The person can lie through their teeth and get away with it because banks dont care. They dont ask for proof of the buyer’s claims. On your side, you have to submit page after page waisting hours of your time while the buyer just spends minutes trying to steal your product. So know who you dealing with!
    (3) never ship to an address that is not verified! One thing theives love is having the seller (merchant) ship things to a non credit card billable address. If the card holder says oh its because i moved, etc. cancel the order or refuse the card. Its not your problem that that buyer is too lazy and stupid to update his information. He doesn’t care either or not he’s putting you at risk, he’s just looking after himself. Dont be afraid to walk away from the sale! Because if you ship to an address that you cant verify, the buyer will file a non receipt of merchandise, and then you’d have to prove you sent the item to the credit card’s confirmed address, the person lives at that address, and the person signed for the product. And if you ship international, even to canada, there’s no tracking! So be careful about.
    (4) Make policies and stick to them. Your policies are your protection and the procedures you operate by. Do not alter your policies for no one regardless of who it is. The second you break your own policies, the scammer knows he can take advantage of you. If you get scammed, make additional policies and procedures to protect yourself. People dont care what you have to go through they only care about themselves!
    (5) watch out what you charge! DO NOT charge large amounts on your account, that’s an immediate flag for getting your account or funds put on hold. Once this happens, its unlikely you’ll ever see that money again. Do not involve third parties, like credit card processors, they will only complicate your life. If the transaction is in the thousands or hundreds of dollars, the buyer shouldnt have any problem sending you a ceritified check, money order, or western union. If they are serious about the transaction they wouldnt worry. Once a processor sees a large amount trying to pass through, they will steal it because they are afraid you’ll take the money and run, or the buyer filing dispute and they will be the one’s holding the losses. So do yourself a favor dont even think about it.

  • Eric


    I used a POS that passes the processing fees on to the costumer. BUT they tack on a 5% surcharge, for both credit and debit… my understanding is that is not legal. How do they get away with that?

  • Tom O'Brien

    Tom O'Brien

    Thank you for your information.
    I have been in the Foodservice industry for 36 years and I am looking into being a credit card processer. I have contacts in the industry and thought this would be a tie-in to try and help smaller restaurants and hospitals save money on their processing fees.
    I am in the process of speaking with Choice Merchant Solutions and Beacon Payments. would these be ones to speak to or would yours be better to work with?
    I appreciate any feedback from you.
    Thank you

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