14 best merchant service providers UK
A merchant account is your ticket to getting paid – online and off! Find the best merchant service for your business by comparing UK market leaders
We are a team of writers, experimenters and researchers providing you with the best advice with zero bias or partiality.This article was co-authored by:
In today’s fast-paced, technology-focused market, we know how important it is for businesses to accept credit and debit card payments safely and securely.
Card payments now account for more than half of all retail purchases: whether you’re an online or high-street store, if you want to accept debit and credit card payments from your customers, you’ll need to set up a merchant account.
If this is a strange new world to you, we can help you out. Startups has been offering advice and guidance to small businesses for 20 years, and our team of experts are on hand to match you with top merchant account services. Simply complete our quick and easy form to tell us a bit about your business, and we'll send you tailored quotes based on your needs.
Our top picks for UK merchant services are:
- Worldpay – the Nr.1 merchant service provider in the UK, a great all-rounder
- PayPal – offers fast (instant!) settlement times and great for international payment
- Barclaycard – high brand familiarity for earning trust of customers; fair prices
- Elavon – has brilliant reporting and analytics functionality
- RMS – boasts an outstanding customer score (best Trustpilot rating)
We'll also cover our top choices for the cheapest merchant services as well as the best high-risk merchant accounts for UK small businesses.
Best merchant services UK
The best merchant account providers offer a quality service, robust protection against fraudulent credit cards, easy integration with third party accounts, and above all, low, low costs.
In the comparative table below, you’ll see that we’ve helpfully listed the merchant account fees for each provider. Merchant fees refer to the money charged by the merchant service for processing credit card transactions.
Take a look at the table below to compare the best merchant services for UK small businesses:
|Merchant service provider||Best for||Merchant service fees|
|Worldpay||UK's number one processer||1% for credit cards, 2% for debit cards +4p per transaction|
|PayPal||Instant settlement times||From 1.9%|
|Barclaycard||Great service and fair prices||0.85% + 3p|
|Elavon||Great reporting and analytics||2.65% + 15p|
|RMS||Best Truspilot rating||2.65% +15p|
Torn between providers? Or not sure which offers the best value for money? No stress. Our questionnaire has been tailor made to match your business with the best providers in minutes. Get started by giving us a few basic details.
Worldpay merchant services
Worldpay claims it’s the Number One payment processor in the UK. Given that it takes care of 42% of all card transactions in the UK (a whopping 400 per second), it is certainly one of the most popular merchant service providers that we’ve taken a look at.
Though it is the UK's most widely used merchant service providers, there are still both pros and cons to consider with Worldpay.
- Some of the most flexible price plans for small business – including ‘pay-as-you-go'
- Full merchant service provider: online payment, card machines and till systems
- 24/7 customer support
- £15 monthly minimum
- 18 month contracts
PayPal merchant services
PayPal is probably the best known merchant service provider, and that’s good news because it means your customers are likely to trust it as payment method.
Like any other merchant service provider, PayPal come with both pros and cons.
- One of most well-known payment gateway brands
- Comes with a robust PayPal Here card machine
- Integrates well with third parties like Shopify and BigCommerce
- Supports international payment
- Higher transaction fees than some rivals
Barclaycard merchant services
Barclays merchant account includes a range of options to make taking payments quick and easy, so you can accept card payments in person, over the phone and online.
Find out about the pros and cons of Barclaycard's merchant services.
- Mobile Barclaycard Anywhere card machine syncs with account
- Barclaycard support a number of payment options
- Bank transaction fees tend to be higher
- Data security costs £2.40 + VAT each month
Elavon merchant services
Elavon has been supporting small business owners drive more sales through card payments for over 20 years now, and stands out for its comprehensive analytics to help you get squeeze more insight out of your numbers.
A trusted UK supplier, find out the pros and cons of Elavon's merchant service.
- Next-day settlements available
- All Elavon card readers can accept Apple Pay and Google Pay
- Decent reporting software
- Fairly non-competitive transfer fees
Retail Merchant Services
As we write, over 45,000 small businesses in the UK and Ireland are processing card payments thanks to Retail Merchant Services. We like how transparent their fees are, with no nasty surprises (like early termination fees).
Retail Merchant Services have both pros and cons to consider.
- Same-day fund transfer times
- Card machines and virtual terminals on offer
- Comprehensive payment gateway for ecommerce
- Free legal advice
- Software is less user-friendly than others
- £4.95 monthly statement fee
Tips for choosing a merchant service provider
- Type of merchant account
You also need to keep in mind the type of merchant account you’ll need. For example, will you need to take card payments face-to-face, over the phone, by post, or online?Different merchant account services providers specialise in different types of accounts so it’s important to think about what you need before comparing who’s offering what.
- Extra services
Another thing to look at is the additional services that each provider offers. Most merchant account providers also offer a range of other services, including everything from payment processing solutions and card terminals, through to virtual payments, and payment gateways. Consider which of these services will be beneficial to your business.
- Merchant account fees
Finally, when you compare merchant accounts, one of the key things to consider is the fees associated with different accounts. Different providers offer different pricing structures, making comprehensive research essential.Look at whether providers charge set up and annual fees and, if they do, how much they charge. Some will charge these fees, whilst others won’t so it’s certainly worth checking.Other fees you need to look into include transaction fees, minimum monthly fees, chargeback fees, and early termination fees. We’ll look at the fees associated with merchant account services later on.
Cheapest merchant service providers UK
The cheapest merchant services for small business are often aggregate merchant accounts, which tend to have no set-up or monthly costs and some of the lowest merchant fees. Aggregate accounts (or payment service providers) are a great way for small businesses to enjoy the cheaper merchant account fees that are usually only open to larger businesses.
They’re called aggregate because they pool the funds of several merchants (that’s you) with similar business types, so you can get a low fee even if your sales aren’t through the roof.
And don’t worry, payment service providers are completely safe – no one else’s credit score will ever affect yours.
Among the cheapest merchant services for small businesses are:
- Payment Sense.
- First Data
Payment Sense is one of the most popular merchant service providers in Europe and offers capped card rates. First Data has a low monthly minimum of just £5 and is celebrated for its excellent customer service. Payzone can offer very low transaction fees and is very quick and easy for small businesses to set up.
Get more information on each below.
Cheapest merchant services for small businesses
|Merchant service provider||Best for||Merchant service fees|
|Paymentsense||Popular European supplier||0.96%|
|First Data||Customer service||1.25%|
|Payzone||Quick and easy setup||1.3%|
Thanks to its tidy merchant account fees and decent customer service, Paymentsense is currently helping 600,000 of the UK’s small businesses get paid.
Interested in Payment sense merchant accounts? Find out about their pros and cons.
- Some of the UK's lowest transaction fees: 0.96% for debit, 0.75% for credit
- Well rated UK customer service
- Capped card rates
- £24.95 minimum monthly spend
With a £5 monthly minimum service charge, First Data is one of the cheapest merchant service providers for small businesses and start-ups.
Read on below to find out about First Data's pros and cons.
- Full merchant account solutions for ecommerce businesses
- Low £5 monthly minimum
- Till systems and card machines available
- Hosted payment pages provided for ecommerce sites
- 36 month contract
- Limited customer support – not 24/7
For over 25 years, Payzone has been helping small businesses keep their merchant service fees low, without missing out on decent customer service.
Discover Payzone's merchant service pros and cons.
- 12 month contract – lower than most rivals
- No setup or exit fees
- UK customer service team
- Low transaction fees
- Customer support only available during working hours
- No cash register rental options
Best online merchant service providers UK
This merchant account will work as your complete online payment processor, providing everything you need to start taking payments online via debit or credit card.
With the risk of card fraud, it’s important to choose a secure and reliable payment service provider that specialises in online merchant accounts, such as Stripe, Shopify or Amazon Pay.
|Merchant service provider||Best for||Merchant service fees|
|Stripe||Great for tech-savvy customers||1.4% +20p for European cards, 2.9% +20p for international|
|Shopify||Full package offering||1.6%|
|Amazon Pay||Easy and well-known||3.4% +20p|
Continue reading for more information on each of the online merchant service providers in the table above.
Stripe merchant services
Stripe is a leading merchant service provider and online payment solution for small businesses in ecommerce, SaaS (software as a service) and subscription services.
Stripe's merchant services come with pros and cons like any other.
- Stripe can protect you from charge-backs if you appeal
- Stripe's Radar is a solid safeguarding system
- 48-hour response time on customer service
- Returning customers can save card details
- You need some tech skills
- High fees for non-European card transactions
Amazon Pay merchant services
Amazon Pay is Amazon’s online payment processing service, and lets customers pay with their Amazon accounts on external ecommerce websites (like yours).
With 122 million customers worldwide (and growing), this can be a hassle-free way of getting more customers through your checkout.
Discover the pros and cons of Amazon Pay's merchant services below.
- It's easy to add Amazon Pay to a website
- Free fraud protection included
- A huge number of UK shoppers trust and shop with Amazon regularly
- Amazon Pay chargers higher fees than rivals
How to pick an online merchant account
By opening your doors to customers all over the world, ecommerce merchant services often help businesses drive more sales than is possible from a bricks and mortar shop.
Here are three questions to ask yourself to make sure you’re a good match with your merchant account provider:
- Does this merchant service provider offer price plans and rates that suit my business’ size and likely revenue?
- Will I be able to accept most debit and credit cards my customers like to use (even if they’re international or contactless)?
- Is this merchant account compatible with my website’s shopping cart software?
Merchant accounts vs payment gateway providers
Perhaps you’ve also heard of payment gateway providers, but how are they different from merchant accounts?
A merchant account is really your contract with a credit card processing company – it lets you accept card payments in person (with card a machine) or online (with a payment gateway).
An online payment gateway is a specific type of card payment services for online businesses, and acts just like a virtual card machine, so your customers can pay by card on your website.
If you’re only in ecommerce, an online payment gateway like PayPal, SagePay or Paysafe might be all you need.
Best high risk merchant services
Many merchant service providers in the UK specialise in providing high risk merchant accounts to small businesses who have been turned down elsewhere.
If you’re a high risk business, you can apply to a specialist high risk merchant service. The most popular ones in the UK are: Allied Wallet, Instabill and Durango.
Here are the best high risk merchant accounts for small businesses.
|Merchant service provider||Best for||Merchant service fees|
|Allied Wallet||Specialises in online payments||1.95%|
|Instabill||Helps offshore small businesses||Tailored|
|Durango||Specialised high risk provider||Tailored|
To cover the risk they are accepting in letting you take card payments, merchant account providers look at many factors to decide whether to offer you an account, and what terms it’ll be on.
Businesses with a good credit rating, decent trading history, sunny future trading prospects that sit within a secure business sector often have an easier ride.
Just don’t be put off by the name high risk merchant accounts. There are a number of reasons why this might be the right type of merchant services for you:
- You have bad credit (or a history of bankruptcy), for whatever reason
- You can’t prove your credit history
- You work in an industry that’s considered high risk (including gambling, dating, travel and online healthcare)
Many start-ups also find they struggle to open a merchant account with a standard provider, merely due to a limited or absent credit card processing history. And this is where high risk merchant account providers come in.
As a global merchant account solution, Allied Wallet accepts payments in nearly 200 foreign currencies, and keeps merchants safe with robust fraud protection and PCI Level 1 Compliance.
Ecommerce start-ups often enjoy quick approval from Instabill, and you can look forward international banking and international payment processing that adhere to standard merchant service procedures.
With reasonable rates and decent support offered by dedicated account managers for customer service, Durango is a popular high risk merchant service provider for small businesses, and offers everything from card terminals to offshore accounts for global merchants.
Getting accepted by one of these merchant accounts can be a game-changer for small businesses.
But just be aware you’re likely to face higher merchant fees (such as set-ups fees, monthly minimum charges, higher transaction fees, longer settlement periods, rolling reserves, and annual fees), even if it’s just for the short term where you are building trust.
How to choose a merchant service provider
You’ll need a merchant account if you’re going to be accepting card payments for your business. And a good merchant service provider will help you process payments safely and affordably.
We spoke to small business owners around the UK, and here are the four key points to consider when choosing a merchant service provider:
- What’s in your business’ DNA? – What industry are you in? How big is your company? How long have you been in the game? All these factors determine your risk, and will affect your merchant service quote
- What type of payments will you be taking? – In person, over the phone or online? These factors can all determine which type of merchant account will be your best fit
- What services will you need? – Packages which include payment processing solutions, card machines, and even virtual payments are all possible (and combining them can save you money)
- What can you spend? – Taking card payments often more than pays for itself, but you’ll want to check you’re getting the best rate possible (keep an eye out for any of the fees above – not all may apply)
Read our reviews of all 14 merchant service providers and still don’t know which is the right one for you? Whittle down your choices with our tailor made questionnaire. It only takes a couple of minutes to be matched with the best providers for your needs.
Merchant account fees
Here are the main merchant account fees to expect:
- Set-up fees – You may face a set-up fee when you open a merchant account, just like joining a gym (but often not)
- Monthly charge – Some merchant account providers charge a monthly fee or even a minimum monthly fee for their services (but your card processing fees may cover this at no extra cost)
- Payment gateway fees – The payment gateway is the online payments system you use to take card payments (if you don’t use a third party, you may pay more tan with an all-inpackage)
- Credit card processing fees – You’re charged every time you process a card payment, usually between 1.7% and 3% of the sale (there isn’t really a way of getting round this, as it covers the risk taken on by your merchant service provider)
- Chargebacks – There are many reasons for a chargeback: perhaps the customer used a stolen card, or were unhappy and asked their issuing bank to cancel the transaction (luckily, these are rare)
- Deposit – If you’re new to the game, some merchant services want businesses to pay a deposit (sometimes as high as 10% of turnover) for the first six months (these are not common, and soon disappear)
Merchant service providers: the FAQs
What do you need to open a merchant account in the UK?
If you’ve decided you need a merchant account, you’re probably wondering how to open one.
The good news is, it’s simple (though you will likely need to fill in a lengthy application to check everything is in order). Here are the six steps to getting up and running with a merchant account:
- Submit your application form – Usually online
- Provide any required information – Often details of your revenue and product or services (such as your current and projected turnover, business account details, and average transaction values)
- Supply proof of website – If you’re applying for an ecommerce merchant account, you may need to give your business website hosting and domain information
- Offer personal information – If applying as a new business (smaller businesses will sometimes need to undergo a credit check and give a personal guarantor to the account)
- Use your merchant ID (MID) – This code lets you identify transactions once you’re set up with a merchant account
- Install any equipment – Once you have an MID, you’re ready to start using any card payment processing devices such as credit card machines and electronic point of sale (EPOS) systems
How long will it take?
Opening a merchant account is easy, but the checks are comprehensive, since your merchant account provider will be taking on an element of risk in processing card payments for you.
In general, it takes between one and four weeks to go through, but in some cases it may be up to seven weeks.
The best thing you can do is get started as early as possible, so you can get on with taking card payments, and growing loyal customers.
What are merchant account fees?
Merchant account fees are charges made by a merchant service to the vendor when credit cards are processed. The fee itself is calculated as a percentage of each credit card sale.
Debit card transactions often come in at a discounted charge, and are oftentimes free.
How do you take payments online?
To take online payments, your business will require a Payments Service Provider (PSP): a system that allows you to receive online payments.
In other words, a PSP is a payment gateway that automatically processes card transactions – protecting both company and customer from fraud – and takes a small cut for itself in the process.
Popular payments service providers include the likes of Stripe and PayPal. Take a look at our Stripe payments review for a side-by-side comparison of the two.
Compare merchant services UK
Want to make sure you get the cheapest merchant service and best merchant account for your business? To get tailored quotes for you to compare, just use our free quote-finder.
Hopefully, this page has kitted you out with everything you need to make an informed decision. The best way to really decide which merchant account provider is right for you, though, is to speak to a supplier, and compare their best quotes in three easy steps:
- Fill in our form – Tell us what you’re looking for to get matched with the best merchant services for you
- Talk to leading merchant service providers – Save time by going directly to the suppliers, and see what quotes they can do for you
- Compare quotes – Shopping around is the best way to get a great deal
Merchant accounts can vary greatly from supplier to supplier, and it’s not always easy to decipher which provider represents the best value for your particular business. Our free quote-finder is designed to do just that. Just answer a few simple questions and we’ll find the best value merchant service providers for your business.