Merchant services allow businesses to accept credit and debit card payments at a point-of-sale (POS) system, online, or through invoices. Technically, there is no way to accept card payments for free. However, there are merchant service and payment service providers with no setup fees, contracts, or monthly fees that offer more affordable alternative payment options.
The best free merchant accounts are:
- Square Payments: Best overall free merchant account
- PayPal Business: Best for solopreneurs and occasional sellers
- Helcim: Best for storefronts
- Chase Payment Solutions: Best traditional merchant account
- Stripe: Best for online businesses
- QuickBooks Payments: Best for QuickBooks users
- Wave: Best for invoicing for solo professionals
This guide on free merchant accounts is geared toward new businesses and individuals and only includes options with no monthly fee. Established businesses will find lower-cost options in our guide to the cheapest credit card processing companies, many of which come with a monthly cost but lower transaction fees.
Square Payments: Best Overall Free Merchant Account
Square Payments is a free payment processing and POS solution. Unlike traditional merchant accounts that require an application and approval process, anyone can sign up for Square and receive the same processing rates. Square’s low startup costs and competitive processing rates, sleek interface, and advanced POS features make it the best free merchant account for small businesses.
While not the lowest, Square’s transaction processing rates are competitive, especially if you consider the free POS and ecommerce tools available to its users. It’s also the only provider in our list that offers free chargeback protection for up to $250 a month and zero chargeback fees. Stripe comes close but will cost you 0.4% for chargeback protection. Square and QuickBooks’ chip and tap reader are the cheapest at $49; however, Square’s card reader is more versatile with its ability to connect to a countertop setup which you won’t get from QuickBooks.
Square earned a 4.51 out of 5 in our evaluation of the best free merchant services. It got high marks because it does not have chargeback or cancellation fees, can be used to accept an array of in-person and online payments, offers many affordable hardware options, and comes with a suite of free business management tools. However, limited customer support and ACH and bank payment options and reports of account stability issues prevented Square from earning a higher score. That said, Square is also one of our top picks for best overall merchant services.
See our guide on Square pricing and fees for detailed information.
Square Payments Features
Free POS and mobile payments app: Accept all major credit and debit cards, including contactless payments like Apple Pay and QR codes, offline mode, tipping, digital receipts, automated customer directory, and inventory tracking.
Free Square Online account: Create a free website for ecommerce, events, donations, online ordering, appointment booking, or a simple checkout page.
Free invoicing software: Create and send estimates and invoices, track payments, send reminders, and get notifications when invoices are viewed or paid. ACH payments are available through Square Invoices. Set up recurring invoices and auto-billing. Manage everything online or through Square’s dedicated invoicing app.
Free business management tools: View sales reports, manage customer data, track orders, and manage all sales channels (POS, mobile, online, and invoicing) in one place through your Square Dashboard.
Add-ons and upgrades: Industry-specific POS software, payroll processing, team management, email marketing, advanced ecommerce, loyalty programs, and gift cards are available for a fee.
Chargeback protection: Square has a dispute management system that notifies businesses of any chargebacks and provides space to submit any supporting documents. A hold will be placed on your account for the amount in question until the bank rules one way or the other. But, Square does not charge any additional fees.
PayPal Business: Best Free Merchant Account for Solopreneurs
PayPal Business is an electronic payments company that offers low-cost, user-friendly paypal payment processing accounts for individuals and small businesses. PayPal has a sleek mobile POS app and extremely competitive transaction processing rates, with even lower rates available for nonprofit organizations. Solopreneurs, hobbyists, and occasional sellers will find its rates and peer-to-peer payment tools an ideal solution.
The provider also has One Touch checkout technology for a faster checkout experience, something you won’t find in Square. This functions similarly to Apple Pay at checkout-where customers don’t need to enter any payment or shipping information. Combined with PayPal’s wide-reaching name recognition, this technology can lead to higher conversion rates for the online store.
In our rubric, PayPal earned a 4.26 out of 5, tying with Square for transaction and budget features, but falling behind in pricing. That said, PayPal does offer affordable mobile and online transaction fees, plus a free mobile POS app and invoicing software. Its online payments also work with just about any website or software. However, it requires a monthly subscription for virtual terminal and ACH processing, includes a $20 chargeback fee, and offers limited customer care.
Free POS and mobile payments app: Accept all major credit and debit cards, contactless payments including Apple Pay, PayPal payments, QR code, invoices, create a product catalog, view sales reports, add multiple users, send digital receipts, and accept tips.
Online transactions: Install a free online checkout on just about any website or create a custom or branded checkout ($30 per month). Accept all major even credit and debit cards, PayPal, PayPal Credit, QR code transactions, and Venmo payments.
Invoicing: Create and send invoices for free, accept credit and debit card payments, plus PayPal PayPal Credit payments. Save customer information, send reminders, accept international payments, schedule recurring invoices, and accept partial payments or tips. Manage all of this online or through the PayPal Invoicing app.
Chargeback protection: PayPal has automated fraud detection and a seller protection program. When a customer files a chargeback, PayPal charges you a $20 fee, unless the transaction is protected by PayPal’s Seller Protection program.
Helcim: Best Free Merchant Take into account Storefront
Helcim is a merchant service provider that distinguishes itself from its competitors with its built-in volume discounts and interchange plus transaction fees. It comes with free POS, inventory, invoicing, customer management, and ecommerce features. The system can easily be adapted for a wide range of industries including retail and subscription-based service businesses.
That said, we find this provider best suited for retailers. While its interchange plus pricing scheme makes per transaction cost comparatively low, Helcim’s auto applied volume discount favors businesses with larger monthly transactions. Therefore, it’s the busy brick-and-mortar retail businesses that will find the most value-for-money with Helcim’s free suite of management tools.
In our evaluation, Helcim earned an overall score of 4.09 out of 5, particularly for its free multichannel sales tools and competitive interchange pricing. It beat Chase on transaction and budget features, particularly for stored payments and business management tools. Helcim’s average transaction fees of 1.92% + 8 cents (for card-present) and 2.38% + 25 cents (for online and keyed-in) are also the lowest among the providers inside our list.
On the other hand, Helcim carries the most expensive card reader and ties with Stripe for chargeback fees. The system’s limited integration and incompatibility with low-volume small businesses also contributed in keeping Helcim from receiving a better score.
Free POS and mobile payments app: Helcim allows you to accept credit and debit card payments, including EMV and NFC transactions. Electronic fund transfers (EFT) or ACH payments are also available.
Online transactions: Use Helcim’s free online store builder to create your own hosted website or simply add a Helcim-hosted payment page on your current website.
Invoicing: Helcim includes a free invoicing tool to create customized invoices. Accept payments over the phone with a virtual terminal, via email or SMS with a link, or a “buy now” button. For recurring payments, automate recurring invoice creation, offer subscriptions, trials and prorated fees, and accept membership registrations with a “subscribe” button.
Chargeback protection: Helcim’s user dashboard carries a tab for chargebacks that displays a summary of any open dispute. This allows you to respond to the dispute immediately and use the platform to submit documents supporting your claim. Helcim reimburses users for winning a chargeback dispute.
Chase Payment Solutions: Best Free Traditional Merchant Account
Chase Payment Solutions (formerly Chase Merchant Services) is really a big name in the banking industry, and it has also acquired key subsidiaries to become one of the most versatile merchant service providers in the market. Chase can give users faster access to their funds, especially if they have Chase Business Checking accounts. It offers both same-day and next-day funding options depending on the type of merchant account.
It also includes key POS and inventory integrations so users can run their business efficiently from a single platform even while on-the-go. The system supports in-person, online, and mobile sales, with a secure payment processing system backed by its strong banking infrastructure. It is simply one of the best choices for business owners who prefer a traditional merchant account.
In our evaluation, Chase Payment Solutions earned an overall score of 4.08 out of 5, standing out for its breadth of payment options, POS integrations, and most importantly, the speed in which it makes funds available for its users. Its transaction fees are also slightly lower than Square’s (5 cents cheaper for card-not-present and online rate), and it offers free hardware if you sign up for a long-term contract.
However, while it is ahead of Helcim by a mile in the pricing and contract category, Chase fell short in transaction and budget features, particularly for charging extra to use stored-payment and other business management tools. Additionally, the need for improved seller protection tools and customer service quality prevented it from earning an increased score, and landed it behind Helcim in our rankings by a very small margin.
Chase Payment Solutions Features
Free POS and mobile payments app: Accept all major chip cards, contactless cards, PIN debit cards, and select mobile wallets like Apple Pay. Chase also allows check and remote acceptance via phone or mail, as well as tip payments, adjustments, and reporting.
Online transactions: Build your online store in minutes and start taking payments from your own website, virtual terminal, or mobile app. You can also set up a “buy now” or “subscribe” button to accept recurring payments. Use among Chase’s more than 140 integrations including Shopify and WooCommerce.
Invoicing: Create custom invoices or recurring billing. Automate invoice generation and set a schedule to send out your invoices while providing your customers with flexible payment methods.
Chargeback protection: Chase offers an online dispute management system for an extra fee. This allows users to immediately receive notification of chargeback disputes and promptly respond before the account is debited.
Stripe: Best Free Merchant Account for Online Businesses
Stripe is a free ptheyment processing system that allows businesses to create custom online checkouts with instant setup and no application process. In addition to basic checkouts, Stripe can manage subscriptions, recurring fees, and store card data. Its detailed online features, zero startup and monthly fees, and competitive processing rates ensure it is a solid choice for ecommerce businesses.
Often compared to Square and PayPal, Square’s suite of simple online and in-person payment tools is the better choice for mom-and-pop shops or occasional sellers. Stripe is more for growing online businesses, including B2B sales, with access to software and technical resources to maximize its impressive array of free and open-source tools for creating the perfect online checkout.
In our evaluation of free merchant accounts, Stripe earned a 4.06 out of 5. It offers a robust and highly customizable set of payment solutions, security features, and 24-hour customer support. And while it’s way behind Square and PayPal inside our rankings, Stripe scored better in transaction features-mainly because of its affordable ACH processing tools. However, the complicated setup process, slow deposit speed, and limited business management tools prevented it from scoring higher.
Stripe Payments: Use one of Stripe’s existing tools or create your personal with Stripe’s application programming interface (API) guides and libraries. Send one-off invoices, store and save payment methods, create an embeddable checkout, and integrate with over 450 online platforms. Accept all major credit and debit cards, ACH, and bank transfers, plus accept international payments and Alipay.
Stripe Terminal: Accept in-person payments with Stripe Terminal APIs and software development kits (SDKs). Unlike the other solutions on our list, Stripe requires separate POS software.
Stripe Billing: Create subscription and invoicing solutions, add unlimited team members, and view revenue reports.
Customer Support: It offers 24/7 email, phone, and chat support. Stripe also has extensive support documentation and FAQs. Premium, dedicated support is also available for purchase.