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What is a high risk merchant account?

High risk merchant accounts offer small businesses the opportunity to accept payments in a range of ways. Find out more today

Do you want your small business to be able to accept card payments but you’re not sure if you’ll be accepted for a merchant account? That’s where high risk merchant accounts step in, offering a means of taking card payments for businesses that may be considered high risk.

In this article, we’ll focus on high risk merchant accounts. To learn more about how to take card payments, read our article for more specific information on that topic.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  1. What is a high risk merchant account?
  2. How does a credit check work?
  3. What are high risk sectors?
  4. High risk merchant account providers
  5. High risk payment gateway providers

You can read the article for a complete overview of high risk merchant accounts, or skip to the section that you want to learn about the most.

We’ll be diving straight into high risk merchant accounts specifically. For more general information, you can read our page that explains what merchant accounts are, or take a look at our overall review of some of the best merchant service providers.

1. What is a high risk merchant account?

High risk merchant accounts are a legitimate option for many businesses. Though the ‘high risk’ label may seem negative, it is actually a form of classification used in various industries and sectors.
Whether or not your business needs high risk merchant services will be decided based on several criteria:

  • Business credit risk
  • Trading history
  • Prospects
  • Business sector

Other factors are used to determine the classification of account that you require – you will need to speak to suppliers to discover what information is needed. Fill in the form at the top of the page to compare quotes for merchant accounts.

The most important thing to remember is that, for many start-ups and small businesses, a high risk merchant account is an excellent option. It should not be considered worse than a standard merchant account service and can, in many businesses, significantly improve the way that you operate.

2. How does a credit check work?

Business accounts, like personal accounts, will sometimes require credit to be checked. Financial institutions use credit checking as a way of evaluating how reliable a person, or business in this case, is likely to be when it comes to repayments.

Just as in personal finances, a business credit check considers several factors:

  • History of debts amassed
  • Reliability of payments
  • Promptness of repayments
  • Business and personal accounts
  • Associate accounts

There are various other factors that may be checked – many of these will depend on the sort of business you run, but also on how well the checking process goes.

If your business has been rejected from opening a merchant account because of credit rating, then you will most likely need to consider a high risk account. As mentioned earlier on the page, high risk accounts can be an ideal solution for a number of businesses.

3. What are high risk sectors?

High risk merchant accounts are common in various sectors for a number of reasons. If you own a business or intend to start a business considered ‘high risk’, then you will likely need to opt for a high risk service.

In this section, we have collected together some of the industries considered to be high risk, with a small explanation as to why each sector is categorised in this way.

  • Travel – This industry suffers from frequent cancellations, with a constant risk of refunds. Furthermore, travel businesses are often affected by unpredictable factors, including weather and mechanical failures.
  • Subscription products – Subscribed goods like magazines and online services cannot guarantee a consistent cashflow. If subscribers drop out, then you may not be able to make repayments.
  • Online healthcare – Online pharmacies and other healthcare businesses have an associated risk of fraud, which is likely to affect your eligibility.
  • Gambling – This is a high risk industry for various reasons. However, the more established your gambling business, the better your eligibility.
  • Online dating services – These services cannot guarantee regular payments and also suffer from a risk of fraud and theft.

4. High risk merchant account providers

High risk merchant account providers offer services to match those businesses that have struggled to open merchant accounts with standard suppliers.

In the list below you can find some of the top providers that will consider taking on ‘high risk’ accounts. For more information on each of these suppliers, simply carry on down the page.



PayPal offer their services to a huge range of businesses, with options for high risk clients to process payments with them.

With a brand recognised around the world and technology that is more than a match for modern business needs, PayPal could be right for your business.

  • Supplier – Paypal
  • Supplier type – Payment processor and payment gateway
  • Best feature – Accept payments in person and online

Read our PayPal review


Paysafe logo

PaySafe is a similar service to the one offered by Paypal, though less recognised. This is a safe and secure option both for businesses and customers that makes use of a form of escrow account (a type of account in which funds are held with a third party to pay according to contracts and instructions) to complete transactions.

Though it is an good option for some businesses, there are two major drawbacks: Paysafe users will not be able to take payments in person, and users will need a PaySafe account to be able to use your payment systems.

  • Supplier – PaySafe
  • Supplier type – Payment gateway
  • Best feature – Safe for businesses and customers


PayEase is a popular option for high risk businesses that need a merchant account.

PayEase can help your business to receive payments in a number of ways, providing more flexibility than some other high risk merchant account providers.

  • Supplier – PayEase
  • Supplier type – Payment processor and payment gateway
  • Best feature – Offers flexible payment options for customers



Ogone is a global credit card processing company that offers high risk merchant services. An expert payment gateway, this is a great choice for on-location and online businesses.

Ogone is an great choice for businesses that want to work with a trusted and reputable merchant account provider.

  • Supplier – Ogone
  • Supplier type – Payment processor and payment gateway
  • Best feature – Trusted and reputable provider

First Data

First Data

First Data are another well-known merchant account provider that will work with higher risk clients to offer payment options.

First Data allow a range of features to be used, including on-location, online and telephone transactions.

  • Supplier – First Data
  • Supplier type – Payment processor and payment gateway
  • Best feature – Well-known and well established merchant account supplier

Find out more in our First Data review

5. High risk payment gateway providers

High risk payment gateway providers allow businesses to accept online transactions. Several of the providers listed in the section above offer this sort of service.

A payment gateway is an essential tool for online businesses. If you want to be able to sell services or products online, you will need a payment gateway in place to facilitate payments. If you are in a business considered high risk, or if you have been denied an ordinary merchant account, then you will need to consider a high risk payment gateway supplier like the ones listed here (some of which are covered in more detail in our overall review of online payment gateways).

As mentioned in the sections above, a high risk payment gateway is not something to be worried about. There are a whole host of reasons that could mean your business needs to use this option instead of a standard account.

The bottom line is that, if you want to be able to sell online, then you should look to create an account as soon as possible to avoid missing out on revenue.

What are the next steps?

From reading this article, you’ve learned more about what high risk merchant accounts are and which sectors are more likely to require this type of account. In addition, we’ve profiled some of the top high risk merchant account providers.

The information on this page should help you to understand why many businesses will need to opt for a high risk merchant account rather than a standard one, such as due to your credit rating score or the sector your business operates in.

Next, to decide which type of card machine is right for your start-up, read our article on small business credit card machines. Or, for an understanding of potential prices, check out our page on ‘how much is a chip and pin machine?’.

The best way to get tailored information about potential merchant accounts is to speak to suppliers today – Startups can help with this.

Simply click an option below or else complete the form at the top of this page. Startups’ comparison process is free, quick and easy, and it could save your business both time and money.

Compare Card Payment Quotes Today. Compare and save.

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Bryn Glover
Bryn Glover


As Editor of Startups, Bryn runs content strategy and our annual campaigns. A lover of small business, you can find him writing about exciting entrepreneurs and UK industry trends.

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