After much research and analysis of credit card processors, we recommend Stripe as the best online credit card processor for small business in 2018.
Ease of use
Stripe users, including the small business owners we spoke with, rave about how easy the service is to use. Stripe isn't just easy to use for businesses, but it simplifies checkout for customers as well.
For businesses. To start using Stripe, simply sign up for an account, fill out your business and bank information, activate your account, and choose a processing method (more on this below). From our experience, registration and setup were a breeze. The process was very straightforward and presented in a clean, intuitive way, so it only took a few moments to get our accounts up and running. A collection of how-to guides greeted us when we first signed in, which helped us get started instead of blindly navigating the service.
Stripe lets you start accepting payments shortly after setup. It doesn't require a merchant account, so there's no need to fill out an application and wait for approval. Funds go directly into your bank account, making Stripe a time-saving and convenient option for businesses that want to get started right away.
Editor’s Note: Looking for information on credit card processors for your business? Use the questionnaire below, and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need.
For customers. As an online store owner, it's important to make sure that your storefront is as easy to use as possible for customers. This includes having a hassle-free checkout process to help close the sale and prevent abandoned carts. With Stripe, customers can check out quickly by simply clicking on a buy button and entering their credit card information. And if you use a full-featured shopping cart, Stripe also uses as few steps as possible to complete a sale.
To make it even easier for customers, there is a feature that lets buyers securely save their credit card information, so they don't have to enter it again for future purchases. This isn't just for customers' benefit — because of its convenience, this feature can help you turn one-time buyers into returning customers.
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What also makes Stripe a favorite amongst small business owners is its flexibility. The Stripe representative we spoke with said there are two ways for businesses to accept credit card payments on Stripe: via the dashboard or by integrating the service into their online stores.
Using the dashboard, you can manually add customers and enter their credit card information. Just go to the Customers section from the left navigation menu, click on Add a Customer and follow the prompts. This is ideal for phone and mail orders, or if you want to individually charge customers, for instance, with custom orders.
On your website, you have the choice of either using the advanced Stripe API or easily embedding the Checkout app. Checkout is the easier option; just copy and paste a short code to instantly place buy buttons and payment forms anywhere in your store. The Stripe API, however, gives you advanced customization options — though you may need to consult Stripe's implementation documentation or get the help of a programmer. The API also works in a wide range of programming languages, giving you even more options to make Stripe the perfect credit card processor for your online business.
In addition to ease of use and flexibility, Stripe offers simple, transparent pricing, business owners said. Unlike many online processors, Stripe had no surprises, such as hidden fees, when it came to costs, users said. Stripe makes it clear throughout its website that all you have to pay is a flat rate of 2.9 percent plus 30 cents per transaction. You get all the features, but Stripe only charges you when you make a sale.
The Stripe representative confirmed that there are no setup or monthly fees, and there are no additional charges for operational costs like refunds, card storage, subscriptions or recurring payments, and declined transactions. You can also take advantage of transaction-fee discounts for larger sales volumes (a sales rep can provide more info based on your company's numbers).
Furthermore, because online merchants are always at risk for chargebacks, Stripe offers a low chargeback fee of only $15. A dispute system is also in place to protect sellers from fraudulent claims, and the chargeback fee is refunded to you if the dispute ends in your favor.
Whether you manually process payments, use the simple Checkout system on your website or implement the entire API in your shopping cart, Stripe is packed with features to help you run and grow your e-commerce business.
Here are some of the additional benefits small businesses can take advantage of when using Stripe to process credit cards online:
- Accept more credit cards: In addition to the big four — Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover — Stripe also lets you accept other credit cards, like Diners Club and JCB.
- Accept payments in your app: Boost sales by letting customers shop and complete purchases using your mobile app. Stripe payments are currently supported on iOS and Android devices.
- Go global: Stripe lets you accept payments in more than 100 currencies and automatically calculates conversions for you. It can also process cryptocurrency Bitcoin payments and convert them to U.S. dollars.
- Manage payment options: Save time by automating payments with recurring billing, subscription plans, flexible billing periods and saved credit cards. You can also offer additional perks to customers, such as coupons, free trials and installment payments.
- Access the dashboard on the go. Track sales and payments, manage customers and monitor activities on the go with Stripe's new iPhone app. It works much like Stripe's web-based dashboard, but is optimized for the iPhone for anytime, anywhere access. The app also comes with additional features such as the ability to set up alerts — for instance, when a purchase or payment is made — view daily summaries and quickly search for transactions.
- Use Stripe with the rest of your business. Stripe connects with a bevy of apps you already use, letting you automatically sync sales data across your operations. Third-party integrations include accounting and invoicing software, e-commerce solutions, email marketing services, analytics tools, point-of-sale (POS) and inventory management systems, customer relationship management (CRM) software, and more.
Security is a huge concern for any business that accepts credit cards, especially online. One thing we particularly liked about Stripe is that it handles security so you don't have to.
First, Stripe processes transactions on its own network. This means no sensitive data actually touches your servers, so hackers won't have access to your business's data or customers' credit card information if you're ever the victim of a cyberattack, Stripes rep told us.
Stripe has automatically implemented several layers of protection specifically designed for web-based financial transactions. For instance, Stripe's client libraries and mobile API meet industry standards such as PCI-DSS requirements, so you're always compliant. Stripe is also certified as PCI Service Provider Level 1, the highest level of security certification for the payment card industry. Two-factor authentication is also available to further protect and prevent unauthorized access to your account.
If you have any questions about or trouble using Stripe, the company offers several resources to help you find answers. These include:
- Email support for one-on-one help
- A searchable database of articles and frequently asked questions
- How-to guides, tutorials and demo videos
- Documentation on a wide range of features and functionalities
- Reference guides for developers, coding and third-party integrations
Note that Stripe doesn't give you direct access to its customer support team, meaning you won't be able to connect to a representative right when you need one. You'll instead have to start with email support; then a rep can help you solve the issue online or give you a call. Stripe says this email-first system helps them provide faster support. But it's definitely a drawback if you prefer being able to reach a live person urgently or if you're worried about getting support in the event of an emergency.
Stripe is one of the most user-friendly, affordable and customizable online credit card processors for small businesses, but it isn't perfect.
We personally didn't find any limitations when we tried Stripe, but speaking to actual users uncovered a major concern about processing times. Small business owners reported that payments have taken seven days to clear, though Stripe advertises a two-day turnaround for earnings to show up in your bank account.
When we asked Stripe about this issue, we were told that delays could happen for a variety of reasons, and the best course of action would be to contact the company to identify any holdups, then troubleshoot and facilitate the transfer of funds.
Stripe's not for everyone, either. As mentioned above, one disadvantage to using the service is that it requires some tech skills if you choose to the API version. Because the API gives you endless customization options and allows you to plug it into different e-commerce and payment platforms, you'll likely need to hire a developer to get the most out of the service.
We chose Stripe from a pool of the dozens of credit card processors we considered. To read our full methodology and for a more comprehensive list of credit card processors, visit our best picks page here.
Ready to choose a credit card processor? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:
- Credit Card Processing Buyer's Guide: How to Accept Credit Cards Online, In-Store or Anywhere
- Best Credit Card Processors 2018
- Best Credit Card Processor for Small Business
- Best High-Volume Credit Card Processor
- Best Low-Volume Credit Card Processor
- Best Mobile Credit Card Processing Solution
- Best Credit Card Processor for Medical Practices
Additional reporting by Sara Angeles.
Editor's Note: Looking for information on online credit card processors for your business? Use the questionnaire below, and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need.