A Brief History of Online Payment Processing
Historically, in order to process payments your business needed to apply for a merchant account. This was essentially a line of credit that a bank was willing to establish for your business. Just like applying for a credit card, your business submitted paperwork and went through a full underwriting process. Modern payment processors, like the ones on our list, no longer require a separate merchant account. While some continue to have an application process, it’s less stringent than before. This makes the process of opening an account much easier, especially for new businesses. Instead of assessing risk upfront using applications, modern payment processors assess risk though ongoing monitoring using computer algorithms.
Modern Security and Risks
Each payment processor on our list offers best-in-class security for both your business and your customers. Payment information is directly transmitted to the processor; your business is never in possession of the customers credit card number. This makes it easy to comply with the credit card industries PCI Compliance security guidelines.
Our Top 3 Payment Processors for Small Business
Below is our top 3 picks for small business payment processors. Overall, each company provides a similar set of features and transaction rates. The minor differences between them, like ease of signup, level of support and software interfaces, will likely be the determining factors in your decision.
Stripe’s modern payments platform, launched in 2010, makes it easy to start accepting credit card payments. The account signup process is near-instant and does not require underwriting. Their well designed account dashboard makes it easy to track payments and create reports. Phone support is not available but their support documentation is top notch and you can chat or email with a support agent.
Who is Stripe Best Suited For?
Stripe’s simplicity is great for small businesses who have minimal experience accepting payments online. From signup to managing payments, every software interface is easy to navigate and clearly laid out. If you’re comfortable communicating with support via chat or email, Stripe is a great choice for your small business.
PayPal – PayPal Express Checkout
PayPal is by far the most well known name on our list. Established in 1998, PayPal has been offering various payment services to small businesses, most popularly through eBay. In 2015, PayPal was officially spun off from eBay and is now an independent payments company. For the purpose of our comparison, we’ll be specifically discussing their Express Checkout service, which is the ability for a customer to pay using a PayPal account. If you are interested in accepting credit cards via PayPal, we recommend considering their newer Braintree platform discussed in the previous section.
PayPal Express Checkout allows a PayPal user to pay for services or products using a virtual wallet in lieu of a credit card. Funds are deducted from the customers wallet and transmitted to your business’ wallet. Some customers will prefer using PayPal over a credit card for security or convenience reasons. Since no credit card information is shared with your business, it’s considered a more secure option for customers. PayPal Express Checkout can be used in conjunction with any other credit card processor on our list, but it integrates the best with Braintree by PayPal.
Who is PayPal Express Checkout Best Suited For?
Almost every small business will benefit from using PayPal Express Checkout in conjunction with another credit card processor. Giving your customers a choice between using PayPal and credit cards has the potential to increase sales. While a majority of small businesses who use PayPal Express Checkout do so without issue, keep in mind PayPal’s real customer is not your business; it’s the purchaser. In the event of a payment dispute, PayPal almost always sides with the purchaser and will potentially freeze funds in your wallet until the dispute is resolved.
Square is a payments company founded in 2009 by Jack Dorsey, a co-founder of the popular social media platform Twitter. Square originally started as a mobile payments solution, allowing businesses to accept credit card payments via a mobile phone attachment. They have since expanded to offering cash register, payroll software, scheduling software, and online payment services. Square’s signup is near-instant and does not require underwriting. Their software interfaces are modern and easy to use and comes with great support documentation.
Who is Square Best Suited For?
If your business is mobile or is in need of a physical payment solution as well as an online payments platform, Square is a great choice. If you are already using Square, using their online payments platform requires almost zero effort to get up and running. If you don’t already have an account, sign up is simple and with $250 of chargeback protection per month, Square helps reduce your risk in accepting credit cards.