Best merchant service providers and credit card processing companies 2022

If you want your business to get paid, you need a merchant account. Find the best provider for you by reading on - as we review the UK's market leaders

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We’ve done the research, and here are our top picks for the best merchant service providers for small businesses:

  • If you want a scalable all-in-one solution that can deal with big jumps in transaction volume, then we recommend Worldpay (as long as you don’t mind a 12-month contract).
  • PayPal is a trusted brand that easily handles international payments and is a great fit for small businesses (if you can get your head around a sometimes complex pricing structure).
  • And SumUp is perfect for startups – it’s a simple no-frills offering that works via an app and mobile card reader. It can also take care of online payments, but isn’t cost effective for high transaction volumes.

The most important question, though, is which is the best choice for your business, offering the ideal value for the level of transactions you'll be handling. 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.

For a full breakdown of the typical costs and features each merchant service provider offers, see our handy table, below:

0 out of 0
Provider
Best for
Customer Rating
Dedicated or Aggregated
Pay monthly or pay-as-you-go
Contract Length

Worldpay

PayPal

SumUp

Square

Barclaycard

Paymentsense

Stripe

Instabill

Scalability

International payments

Brand new businesses

Mobile payments

Brand familiarity

Customer service

Online payments

High risk businesses

3.0
3.0
4.0
4.0
3.0
4.0
4.0
3.0

Dedicated

Aggregated

Aggregated

Aggregated

Dedicated

Aggregated

Aggregated

Dedicated

Both

Pay-as-you-go

Pay-as-you-go

Pay-as-you-go

Both

Both

Pay-as-you-go

Both

12 months

No contract

No contract

No contract

18 months

12 – 60 months

No contract

12 – 36 months

Alternatively, read on for our break down of all the top providers so you can figure out which one is the right fit.

Save by Comparing Merchant Services Quotes Does your business already take card payments?

Worldpay: Best merchant service provider for scalability

Offering 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.

As an all-in-one provider, businesses can use Worldpay for card reader, payment gateway, and virtual terminal services.

And as a dedicated merchant account provider, it also offers some of the toughest security credentials going, so customers can purchase from you with complete confidence.

Read our full Worldpay review

Pricing

  • Card terminal fees = 0.95 – 2.75% per transaction 
  • Payment gateway fees = £19 per month 
  • Virtual terminal fees = £9.95 per month
Pros:
  • Flexible price plans
  • Full merchant service provider
  • Tough security credentials
  • 24/7 customer support
  • Processes transactions in 1-3 days
Cons:
  • £15 per month minimum fee on top of pay-as-you-go charges
  • Three year contract as standard - long term commitment

PayPal: Best merchant service provider for international payments

Everyone has heard of PayPal, so your customers should be reassured when they’re entering their payment credentials into either the PayPal Here card reader or PayPayl’s payment gateway services.

PayPal offers pay-as-you-go rates and accepts payments in multiple currencies. You’ll just have to spend an afternoon getting to grips with its pricing page before you commit to it as your merchant service provider!

Similarly to Worldpay, PayPal is an all-in-one provider, offering merchant account, point of sale, payment gateway, and virtual terminal services all under one roof.

Pricing

  • Card terminal fees = 1.2% – 2.9% per transaction
  • Payment gateway fees = 3.4% plus fixed fee
  • Virtual terminal fees = £20 per month
Pros:
  • Great for online businesses
  • Integrates with lots of ecommerce platforms
  • Supports international payments
  • Own merchant account services
  • Processes transactions in 3-5 days
Cons:
  • Complex pricing structure
  • Preferential rates only for PayPal transactions
  • PayPal Here only suitable for smaller businesses - not built to scale

Merchant service providers – or indeed, credit card processing companies – either supply dedicated merchant account services or aggregated merchant account services.

Dedicated merchant accounts are reserved for your funds only, whereas aggregated merchant accounts pool funds from various businesses into one account to be processed.

While some merchant service providers offer their own merchant account services, others partner with acquiring banks or payment facilitators to offer the full payment product.

You can find out more about dedicated and aggregated merchant accounts on our page on how to take card payments.

SumUp: Best merchant service provider for next day deposits

Setting SumUp up 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.

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 ecommerce offering. Businesses can also use SumUp for remote invoice payments.

Read our full SumUp review

Pricing

  • Card terminal fees = 1.69% per transaction
  • Payment gateway fees = 2.5%
  • Virtual terminal fees = 2.5%
Pros:
  • Transparent fees
  • Easy setup
  • Easy to set up an online store
  • Good customer service reputation
  • Processes transactions in 1-3 days
Cons:
  • Fees not cost effective for high transaction volumes
  • Only offers payment gateway services for its own online store

Square: Best merchant service provider for mobile payments

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.

Investing in a payment processor with a merchant account service is convenient for retailers, as you can have your point of sale system and merchant service with one provider.

Square’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.

While Square does offer payment gateway services, businesses are currently limited to using Square’s online platform.

However, it’s worth noting that the provider has teamed up with WooCommerce to offer payment gateway services for WordPress sites.

Read our full Square card reader review

Pricing

  • Card terminal fees = 1.75% per transaction
  • Payment gateway fees = 1.9 – 2.9% 
  • Virtual terminal fees = 2.5%
Pros:
  • Great support for low-volume merchants
  • Access to Square Online Store
  • Support for alternative payment methods, including invoices and QR-code payments
  • Specialisied services for specific industries (at a monthly cost)
Cons:
  • Customer service isn't as efficient as with other competitors
  • No choice on hardware or software you use
Want to quickly compare bespoke quotes from the best providers in the UK?

You're already sold on the importance of merchant services, but now you need to ensure you get the best possible deal for your small business, as the last thing you want is to be tied into an expensive contract with a poor provider.

This is where we come in. Our free cost comparison tool will match you with the right provider for your company’s needs, providing you with direct merchant service quotes that you can easily compare.

All you have to do is fill out a few details, and we will take care of the rest.

Barclaycard: Best merchant service provider for brand familiarity

As one of the forerunners in mobile payments, Barclaycard and its range of desktop and mobile card readers are a pretty safe option for businesses wanting to take card payments.

Barclaycard offers 18 month contracts, and hires out card readers for a set fee per month – this can range from around £15-25.

Transaction fees are dependent on the volume and value of transactions you take, but as a general rule, bank rates are more cost-effective for businesses that can guarantee a higher volume.

Barclays also offers its Barclays Anywhere product, which is designed for trades people, single-person businesses, and contractors looking to take payments on the go.

Pricing

  • Card terminal fees = 0.6% – 2.05% per transaction
  • Payment gateway fees = £20 – £75 per month
  • Virtual terminal fees = £15 – £75 per month
Pros:
  • Pay-as-you-go and contracts available
  • Range of card readers available
  • Scalable solutions that grow with your business
Cons:
  • Monthly contracts are not cost effective for low transaction volume businesses
  • Barclays Anywhere payments app can be temperamental

Paymentsense: Best merchant service provider for customer service

As a merchant service provider, Paymentsense negotiates cheaper rates with merchant account providers on your behalf. It also offers businesses a range of card machines, in addition to payment gateway and virtual terminal services.

In addition to negotiating cheaper processing fees, Paymentsense does well on the customer service front. With a four star TrustPilot rating, a 24/7 helpline, and plenty of positive reviews to its name, businesses that choose Paymentsense should be in safe hands.

The downside is that Paymentsense does like to tie you into long contracts, and it can charge you a hefty fee if you want to terminate early.

Pricing

  • Card terminal fees = Based on transaction volume
  • Payment gateway fees = From £9.95 per month
  • Virtual terminal fees = From £9.95 per month
Pros:
  • Fully integrated payment solutions
  • Countertop, portable, and mobile card readers available
  • Four star TrustPilot rating
  • Guarantees great rates
Cons:
  • Pricing is not transparent - must contact sales team for bespoke quotes
  • Long contracts and high termination fees
  • Lengthy transaction process times - 3-5 days
Save by Comparing Merchant Services Quotes Does your business already take card payments?

Stripe: Best merchant service provider for online payments

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.

In addition to its online payment services, Stripe now 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.

Read our full Stripe payments review

Pricing

  • Card terminal fees = 1.4% – 2.9% + 20p
  • Payment gateway fees = 1.4% – 2.9% + 10p
  • Virtual terminal fees = 1.4% – 2.9% + 10p
Pros:
  • Supports online and physical payments
  • Very transparent fees
  • Create your own payment package
  • Low processing fees for EU cards
Cons:
  • Takes seven days to process transactions
  • Premium support services are very expensive - costing over £1,000 per month

Instabill: Best merchant service provider for high risk businesses

Instabill is a fairly small US-based merchant service provider that enables high risk businesses around the world to start taking payments. It partners with merchant account providers in your respective country to negotiate the best processing fees, and then allows businesses to take payments through its platform.

As with any high risk merchant account provider, fees are worked out based on individual circumstances. And because payments are deemed high risk, they take much longer to process too – up to two weeks.

Instabill particularly invites businesses that operate within the online gambling and dating industries, although any non-retail ecommerce business that operates within a high risk industry is encouraged to get in touch.

Pricing

  • Card terminal fees = On application
  • Payment gateway fees = On application
  • Virtual terminal fees = On application
Pros:
  • Accepts high risk businesses with low credit scores
  • Suited to businesses in dating and gambling industries
Cons:
  • High risk means longer transaction processing times (up to 14 days)
  • Full payment solutions not available to retail businesses (shops)

Feel a bit bewildered? Want a simple way to single out the best merchant account provider for your small business? Thankfully, our free, easy-to-use comparison tool will save you hours of time researching different providers.

Once you've taken a few minutes to answer some simple questions, it'll pair you with the right provider for your business needs. You'll soon receive quotes and more information – and there's zero obligation on your part.


Conclusion: Choosing the best merchant service provider

To summarise, the eight top merchant service providers for small businesses based in the UK are:

  1. Worldpay
  2. PayPal
  3. SumUp
  4. Square
  5. Barclaycard
  6. Paymentsense
  7. Stripe
  8. Instabill

If you want a scalable all-in-one solution that can deal with big jumps in transaction volume, then we recommend Worldpay (as long as you don’t mind a 12-month contract).

PayPal is a trusted brand that easily handles international payments and is a great fit for small businesses (if you can get your head around a sometimes complex pricing structure).

And SumUp is perfect for startups – it’s a simple no-frills offering that works via an app and mobile card reader. It can also take care of online payments, but isn’t cost effective for high transaction volumes.

If you’re just starting out, it may be best to use a credit card processor that doesn’t tie you into a contract. Square, SumUp, and some services from WorldPay and PayPal are good options.

If you’re looking for a more sophisticated payment solution from the offset, WorldPay, Stripe, and Barclays are worth considering. These payment providers offer top notch security, analytics platforms, and both online and physical payment packages.

While 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.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • 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.

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Aimee Bradshaw Senior Writer

Aimee is Startups' resident expert in business tech, products, and services. She loves a great story and enjoys chatting to the startups and small business community. Starting her own egg delivery business from the age of 12, she has a healthy respect for self-starters and local services.

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