Best merchant service providers and credit card processing companies 2023 If you want your business to get paid, you need a merchant account. Find the best provider for you as we review the UK's market leaders. Written by Stephanie Lennox Updated on 25 July 2023 Our Research Our expert team of writers and researchers worked to identify the best payment processing and merchant account providers by focusing on the factors small businesses care about most – value for money, including fees and hidden extras; security protocols and fraud protection; customer support, and ease of access across platforms including mobile. Written and reviewed by: Stephanie Lennox Writer Heleana Neil Business Services Editor Our independent reviews are funded in part by affiliate commissions, at no extra cost to our readers. Using our 20 years of small business experience, as well as our professional research and analysis, Startups has deemed the best merchant service provider for small businesses in 2023 is WorldPay.The brand gets an impressive overall score of 4.7 out of 5 in our testing, and it offers a scalable all-in-one solution that can always deal with big jumps in transaction volume.WorldPay is just one of the reliable merchant services you can choose from. Each have different benefits, fees and features for a small business to consider. Here's our roundup of the best merchant services and credit card card processing companies: Best merchant service and credit card processing companies Worldpay: Best merchant service provider for scalabilitySquare: Best merchant service provider for mobile paymentsStripe: Best merchant service provider for online paymentsSumUp: Best merchant service provider for next day depositsSmartpay Anywhere: Best merchant service provider for brand familiarityClick any of the links above to begin comparing costs on merchant account services for your own business's size and needs. Of course, amid rising business costs and high pressure conditions for small business owners, it's never been more important to choose a provider that offers the best value.You can save yourself time and effort by using our handy 🔍merchant service cost comparison tool. It only takes minutes to use, and can give you bespoke pricing for your business.Remember, the fees you'll encounter can differ quite significantly depending on the need and scale of your business. For a full breakdown of the typical costs and features each merchant service provider offers, see our handy table below, or read on for our full verdict on each provider. Swipe right to see more 0 out of 0 backward forward BEST OVERALL Provider Worldpay Provider Square Provider Stripe Provider SumUp Provider Smartpay Anywhere (from Barclaycard) Best for Scalability Best for Mobile payments Best for Online payments Best for Brand new businesses Best for Brand familiarity Our Review Score 4.7 Our Review Score 4.3 Our Review Score 4.2 Our Review Score 4.1 Our Review Score 3.2 Dedicated or Aggregated Dedicated Dedicated or Aggregated Aggregated Dedicated or Aggregated Aggregated Dedicated or Aggregated Aggregated Dedicated or Aggregated Dedicated Pay monthly or pay-as-you-go Both Pay monthly or pay-as-you-go Pay-as-you-go Pay monthly or pay-as-you-go Pay-as-you-go Pay monthly or pay-as-you-go Pay-as-you-go Pay monthly or pay-as-you-go Both Contract Length 12 months Contract Length No contract Contract Length No contract Contract Length No contract Contract Length 18 months Use our free comparison tool to compare quotes from the best merchant service providers Compare Costs *Prices correct as of June 2023 The best merchant account providers are: 1. Worldpay: Best merchant service provider for scalability 2. Square: Best merchant service provider for mobile payments 3. Stripe: Best merchant service provider for online payments 4. SumUp: Best merchant service provider for next day deposits 5. Smartpay Anywhere (from Barclaycard): Best merchant service provider for brand familiarity How do merchant services work? What types of businesses are merchant service providers suitable for? Buying Guide: How to choose a merchant service provider How we test merchant services Next steps FAQs What is a merchant service provider?A merchant service provider is a financial company that provides businesses with the capability to facilitate electronic payment transactions.They enable businesses to accept various forms of payment such as credit cards, debit cards, and mobile payments, from their customers.Merchant service providers act as intermediaries between the business, the customer, and the payment networks, ensuring secure and efficient payment processing. 1. Worldpay: Best merchant account provider for scalability 4.7 out of 5 Price 3.7 Taking Payments 4.5 Features 4.5 Customer Support 5 Customer Score 3.8 Compare Costs Worldpay is the UK’s most popular payment processing company. It currently processes around half of all payments taking place in the UK – and has some of the most flexible plans for small businesses.FeaturesOffering scalable pay-as-you-go and contracted payment solutions, Worldpay is ideal for businesses that experience low transaction volumes, high transaction volumes, and anything in between. It is the second-highest provider for features with a score of 4 out of 5, beaten only by takepayments who scored 5 out of 5.As an all-in-one provider, businesses can use Worldpay for their card reader, payment gateway, and virtual terminal services – and as a dedicated merchant account provider, it offers security and PCI compliance through SaferPayments, so customers can purchase from you with complete confidence (unlike Retail Merchant Services, for example – the only traditional payment provider that is not PCI compliant).At Nisa Local in South London, the manager Kameron Patel described his experience with the Worldpay card reader, stating that “it has never caused me any hassle, and does what it is meant to do efficiently, with no problems”.PricingCard terminal fees = 0.95 – 2.75% per transaction Payment gateway fees = £19 per month Virtual terminal fees = £9.95 per monthRead our full Worldpay review. Pros: Flexible price plans so you don't have to commit to a long-term contract if you don't want to Full merchant service provider so you can access it through one system and don't have to use any others Offers security and PCI compliance so customers can purchase from you with confidence 24/7 customer support so you can quickly solve any problems, issues or struggles Processes transactions in 1-3 days which is fast in comparison to some other providers Cons: You pay a £15 per month minimum fee on top of pay-as-you-go charges which is expensive A three year contract is typically their most standard contract, which is long term commitment 2. Square: Best merchant service provider for mobile payments 4.3 out of 5 Price 3.3 Features 4.6 Customer Support 5 Customer Score 4 Compare Costs Square has come a long way since its launch in 2009. Not only does it provide smart, modern POS systems, but it also provides businesses with end to end payment processing. They also hold joint highest with Worldpay when it comes to customer support at an excellent 5 out of 5.FeaturesSquare’s app integrates with tonnes of third party applications and POS equipment, meaning small businesses can create and scale their payment system in line with their needs – and we've awarded it a cool 3.5 out of 5 for its quality features – coming in second only to Zettle.While Square does offer payment gateway services, businesses are currently limited to using Square’s online platform which of course is useless or inconvenient if you already sell on any other online selling platform, such as Shopify or Squarespace for example.However, it’s worth noting that the provider has teamed up with WooCommerce to offer payment gateway services for WordPress sites.Antony, the owner of Scoobys Coffee (a small cafe stall based in North London) uses the Square POS card reader. He stated: “The Square card reader is pretty easy to use and a nice bit of kit. Because it's so small, it's ideal for my setup because I have a limited amount of space.”PricingCard terminal fees = 1.75% per transactionPayment gateway fees = 1.9 – 2.9% Virtual terminal fees = 2.5%Read our full Square card reader review Pros: Great customer support for low-volume merchants which is great, especially if you're a seller who is just starting out Access to Square Online Store which is their default system so integrates perfectly You receive support for alternative payment methods like invoices and QR-code payments, meaning your customers can pay you in a multitude of different ways easily You can get specialised services for specific industries (included at a monthly cost) to help boost your business Cons: The customer service isn't as efficient as with other competitors There is a lack of choice when it comes to the hardware or software you use 3. Stripe: Best merchant service provider for online payments 4.2 out of 5 Price 3.4 Features 4 Customer Support 5 Customer Score 4.6 Compare providers Stripe started life as a payment gateway provider, and this is something it still does extremely well. You can choose between Stripe’s integrated payment gateway or a hosted payment gateway, and add features to your package – like additional security layers and local payment methods. Overall, these factors bring Stripe up to a score of 4.2 out of 5.FeaturesIn addition to its online payment services, Stripe facilitates physical card payments. It offers two card readers – one from BBPOS that is best suited for businesses requiring a lite payments solution – and one from Verifone, which is better for countertop setups.While Stripe does offer some ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions, the software side of the product is primed for those looking for a specialist payment solution. Providing you have developer knowledge – or you’re prepared to employ someone who does – you can build and integrate your own custom payment solution.Stripe offers the most reporting tools from any mobile provider which is a great feature, and is joint top with Worldpay when it comes to customer support with a score of 4.5 out of 5.PricingCard terminal fees = 1.4% – 2.9% + 20pPayment gateway fees = 1.4% – 2.9% + 10pVirtual terminal fees = 1.4% – 2.9% + 10pRead our full Stripe payments review Pros: Supports online and physical payments for flexibility and convenience to both you and your customers Very transparent fees so you always know exactly what you're paying for You can create your own payment package, giving you flexibility on what you want included and what features would be best for your business EU cards have low processing fees, meaning you can make more sales internationally and keep more of the profit Cons: Takes seven days to process transactions which is quite long The premium support services are very expensive, costing over £1,000 per month 4. SumUp: Best merchant service provider for next day deposits 4.1 out of 5 Price 3.7 Features 3.9 Customer Support 3.2 Customer Score 4.7 Compare Costs Pictured: “Jerry's” in Angel is a store in London that uses the Sumup card reader. When asked, Jerry told us about his experiences so far after 8 months, particularly on the rare occasions customer service is needed: “It's not too difficult to communicate with a human being, which is quite nice.”Setting SumUp as your payment provider is super-easy. It simply involves downloading the SumUp app onto your mobile device and waiting to receive its mobile card reader.FeaturesSumup ranks highly for features with a score of 4.6 out of 5, due to it having over 11+ integrations including Quickbooks and Xero (as opposed to Stripe who only have two), and three different report styles.Businesses can choose to input their inventory into the app and use it like a stripped down point of sale system. They can even choose between a basic card reader and one with an integrated receipt printer.In addition to its card reader, SumUp also provides virtual terminal services, and payment gateway services via its e-commerce offering. Businesses can also use SumUp for remote invoice payments.It is however the only mobile payment provider with no live chat function, compared to all the others on this list.PricingCard terminal fees = 1.69% per transactionPayment gateway fees = 2.5%Virtual terminal fees = 2.5%Read our full SumUp review Pros: Transparent fees so you always know what you're paying for Easy setup so you can get up and running in your business quickly It's easy to set up an online store They have a good reputation for customer service Processes transactions in 1-3 days Cons: The fees are not cost effective for high transaction volumes (and other competitors offer better deals) Square only offers payment gateway services for its own online store (so your store must also be run with them exclusively) 5. Smartpay Anywhere (from Barclaycard): Best merchant service provider for brand familiarity 3.2 out of 5 Price 2.2 Features 3.5 Customer Support 2.3 Customer score 1.3 Compare Costs While Smartpay Anywhere (from Barclaycard) is the only traditional provider to offer a pay-as-you-go contract, it still scores low overall with a 4.3 out of 5 and was the worst scoring provider for price, taking payments, and customer score.FeaturesSmartpay Anywhere is able to integrate with Freshbooks and Xero only (whereas other providers as mentioned such as Sumup, Square and Stripe score much higher in this area and both offer over 11+ integrations).Smartpay Anywhere is a product designed for tradespeople, single-person businesses and contractors looking to take payments on the go, which is an interesting and unique feature.We dropped by P Shar Opticians to see the Smartpay Anywhere card reader in action. On the good side, they described it as “relatively easy and straightforward to use”, however, it lost points because it “can be slow to connect sometimes – we’re still connected via telephone”.When it comes to security, Smartpay Anywhere also offer 2 solutions: a Data Manager at £4.80 a month, and a Proactive Security Service at £15 a month.PricingCard terminal fees = 1.6% or bespoke (Barclaycard can work with you to work out a rate based on your needs)Payment gateway fees = £20 – £75 per monthVirtual terminal fees = £15 – £75 per month Pros: Pay-as-you-go and contracts available for quick-starts and flexibility A range of card readers available so you can tailor your choice for your specific needs They offer scalable solutions that grow with your business Cons: Their monthly contracts are not cost effective for low transaction volume businesses The Smartpay Anywhere payments app is known to be temperamental Compare costs on merchant service providers The exact costs you'll pay for your merchant service provider will differ depending on the needs of your business. Fortunately, you can get free, comparable pricing quotes in minutes with 🔍our simple cost comparison tool. Simply fill in a few quick questions, and you'll get no-obligation quotes to choose between. How do merchant services work?Merchant services work by providing businesses with the necessary tools and infrastructure to accept electronic payments. They typically offer payment processing solutions, which involve the integration of payment terminals or software with the business's existing systems.When a customer makes a payment, the merchant service provider securely captures the transaction information and routes it through the appropriate payment networks for authorisation and settlement.The funds are then transferred from the customer's account to the merchant's account, typically within 3-5 business days. What types of businesses are merchant service providers suitable for?Merchant service providers are suitable for a wide range of businesses across various industries. They cater to both online and brick-and-mortar businesses, including retail stores, restaurants, ecommerce platforms, service-based companies, and more.Small businesses and startups can benefit from merchant service providers as they offer affordable and scalable solutions, allowing them to accept electronic payments and compete with larger enterprises.Businesses in industries such as hospitality, retail, healthcare, and e-commerce, where seamless payment experiences are crucial, can greatly benefit from the services offered by merchant service providers. Buying guide: how to choose a merchant service providerChoosing the right merchant service provider can significantly impact your operations and bottom line. Here are the essential factors to consider when evaluating potential providers:Payment optionsConsider the variety of payment methods the provider supports. Whether it's through card machines to take payments in person, virtual terminals to take payments over the phone and via email, or payment gateways to take payments online, ensuring compatibility with your business's needs and customer preferences is crucial. A versatile provider offering multiple payment options can enhance customer convenience and satisfaction.Transaction feesTransaction fees can vary widely, impacting your profit margins, so make sure you study them all closely. Look for transparent pricing models with competitive rates – and keep an eye out for any hidden charges that might inflate costs over time.Contract lengthsEvaluate the flexibility of the provider's contract terms. Some providers lock businesses into lengthy contracts, limiting their ability to switch or adapt to changing circumstances. Opt for a provider that offers reasonable contract lengths with the option for shorter terms or no long-term commitment.Accepted payment typesEnsure that the provider supports the payment methods your customers prefer. Whether it's credit or debit cards, mobile payments, or newer technologies like contactless and digital wallets, a comprehensive range of accepted payment methods can broaden your customer base and increase sales opportunities.FeaturesAssess the additional features offered by the provider beyond basic payment processing. Value-added services such as inventory management, analytics, or integrations with other business software can streamline operations and enhance efficiency.Compliance measuresVerify that the provider adheres to industry regulations and standards for data security and compliance. PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) compliance is essential to protect sensitive customer information and maintain trust.Help and supportConsider the quality of customer support provided by the merchant service provider. Prompt and reliable customer support can be a lifesaver in the case of technical issues or emergencies. Look for providers with accessible customer service channels and positive reviews regarding their support responsiveness.Each of these factors plays a vital role in selecting the right merchant service provider. By prioritising compatibility, cost-effectiveness, security, and support, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your unique needs and goals. How we test card processing products and merchant services for small businessesWe tested 11 merchant account products and services to evaluate them in terms of functionality, usability, price, compliance, and more so we can make the most useful recommendations to small UK-based businesses.Our rigorous testing process means these products have been scored and rated in six main categories of investigation and 25 subcategories – in fact, we covered 36 areas of investigation in total. We then gave each category score a ‘relevance weighting' to ensure the product's final score perfectly reflects the needs of our Startups.co.uk readers.Our main testing categories for merchant account products and services are:Compliance: the adherence of the merchant account product to relevant regulations and standards, such as data security, anti-fraud measures, and legal requirements.Customer Support: the assistance and resources provided by the merchant account provider to users in resolving issues, answering questions, and providing guidance.Customer Score: external customer opinion; the feedback and ratings given by customers who have used a particular merchant account. Also, the market position and reputation a merchant account holds.Features: the functionalities and capabilities provided by the merchant account product, including online payment processing and payment gateway integration.Taking Payments: the process and options available for accepting payments through the merchant account product.Price: the cost associated with using the merchant account product, such as transaction fees, setup fees, monthly fees, and any additional charges.The Startups product testing process Next stepsWhile we’ve outlined some of the best credit card processing companies for you to compare, you should be 100% sure that you’re picking the right provider for your business – especially if there are long contracts involved.To get an even clearer idea of the best merchant service provider for your business, it’s worth using our free, easy-to-use 🔍cost comparison tool. Instead of you digesting lots of information, the tool guides you to the right provider based on your answers to a few simple questions. Saving you time, and money.If you have time too, check out our article on the best card readers for small businesses. Save by Comparing Merchant Services Quotes Does your business already take card payments? Yes No Frequently Asked Questions What is the cheapest way to take card payments? When it comes to merchant service providers and credit card processing companies for 2023, we recommend Worldpay as the cheapest and best overall. Worldpay is a great pick for savvy businesses looking to save on card payment processing costs in 2023. They offer rates that won't break the bank and make sure you know exactly what you're paying for. No matter the size of your business, they've got services that fit just right, giving you quality without draining your budget. They cover all the bases with ways to take payments, from card machines to virtual terminals and payment gateways, keeping fees reasonable so you can boost your earnings while keeping your customers happy. But it's not just about the price tag – they pack a punch with extras like fancy data analysis tools, helping you manage stock and smoothly connect with other systems. Worldpay's not just about being cheap; it's about giving you top-notch features that go beyond saving pennies. How can small businesses take card payments? To take card payments you'll need a payment processor, and the more important question in this case is which of these services is the best value choice for your business. To help, you can complete our quick and easy cost comparison tool – it takes just a couple of minutes, and can help you to find the payment processor that best suits your business needs. Which credit card processing companies are best for small retail businesses? Small retail businesses with lower turnover are best looking at processing payments through a payment facilitator like SumUp or Square. Instead of paying a set amount each month on a contract basis, you pay a small fee per transaction, so when you’re not selling, you’re not paying. Which credit card processing companies are best for small hospitality businesses? Small hospitality businesses are best taking card payments through a payment facilitator. If you’re looking for an all-in-one point of sale and payment taking system, you want to take a closer look at the accompanying software. For example, SumUp POS software doesn’t offer any specific hospitality features, whereas Square's Square for Restaurants product does. Which credit card processing companies are best for ecommerce businesses? Ecommerce businesses should look at super-secure payment gateway providers, including Stripe and WorldPay. While Stripe works on a pay-as-you-go basis, WorldPay charges a monthly fee dependent on your predicted turnover. Both payment gateway providers offer hosted and integrated payment gateway options, meaning ecommerce businesses can choose the type of experience they want to offer their customers when they’re purchasing. Do I need a merchant account or a business bank account to take card payments? Taking card payments requires a merchant account, which is a specialised bank account that holds funds from card transactions before they're deposited into your business bank account. It acts as a bridge between the card payments and your bank. Some providers combine merchant and business accounts, simplifying the process. It's wise to explore options that suit your business needs and streamline the payment process while ensuring seamless fund transfers. What should I do if my card machine goes down? Facing technical hiccups with your card machine can be incredibly stressful, especially during busy hours. If your card machine encounters issues, start by checking for simple fixes like ensuring it's plugged in correctly, restarting it, and checking your network connection. If the problem persists, contacting your merchant service provider's support team is crucial. They're equipped to troubleshoot and guide you through potential solutions, and in some cases, they might arrange a quick replacement to minimise disruption to your business operations. Do I need a full POS system, or just a card machine? The choice between a full Point of Sale (POS) system and a card machine depends on your business's specific needs and operations. A card machine is excellent for basic transactions, offering convenience for smaller businesses or those with simpler requirements. On the other hand, a full POS system integrates various functionalities like inventory management, sales analytics, and customer relationship management. Assess your business needs, considering factors like transaction volume, business size, and growth plans, to determine whether a card machine suffices or if a comprehensive POS system better suits your operations and growth aspirations. Startups.co.uk is reader-supported. If you make a purchase through the links on our site, we may earn a commission from the retailers of the products we have reviewed. This helps Startups.co.uk to provide free reviews for our readers. It has no additional cost to you, and never affects the editorial independence of our reviews. Share this post facebook twitter linkedin Written by: Stephanie Lennox Writer Stephanie Lennox is the resident funding & finance expert at Startups: A successful startup founder in her own right, 2x bestselling author and business strategist, she covers everything from business grants and loans to venture capital and angel investing. With over 11 years of hands-on experience in the startup industry, Stephanie is passionate about how business owners can not only survive but thrive in the face of turbulent financial times and economic crises. With a background in media, publishing, finance and sales psychology, and an education at Oxford University, Stephanie has been featured on all things 'entrepreneur' in such prominent media outlets as The Bookseller, The Guardian, TimeOut, The Southbank Centre and ITV News, as well as several other national publications.