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How to Accept Credit Cards Without a Merchant Account

Not too long ago Web commerce was such a novelty that consumers were willing to put up with a fair amount of inconvenience when placing an online order just because the whole experience was such a novelty. This is definitely no longer true: consumers expect a slick ordering and payment system. As a result, in order to build a successful Web based business these days you MUST be able to accept credit card payments and preferably be able to process transactions in real-time. (See also How to Accept Credit Cards Online).

There are two ways to accept credit cards on your website:

  1. Setting Up Your Own Merchant Account
  2. Using a “Free” Merchant Account or Payment Gateway

Accept Credit Cards Without Merchant AccountThere is no doubt that getting a credit card merchant account for an Internet only business is much easier than it used to be. However, new small businesses with no credit history, older businesses with a poor credit history and foreign-based businesses can still struggle to get that vital merchant account.  In addition, even those businesses that do qualify for a merchant account can find the costs to be prohibitive: application fees, set-up costs, terminal or software leasing costs, transaction costs, statement costs, monthly fee minimums etc., can all quickly mount up.

Fortunately, there is a solution to this challenge: there are now a growing number of third party services that allow Web merchants to accept credit card payments on their Web site without the need of a merchant account. On top of this, many of these services come complete with valuable additional features, for example a built-in shopping cart, 24×7 customer service, and the ability to accept other forms of online payment.

Setting up your own merchant account is the first option but is probably not the optimal payment processing choice because the cost and labor involved with setting up a merchant account will be prohibitive for most first time website owners and operators. If you anticipate doing very heavy sales volume right out of the gate with your new website, you may want to consider setting up your own merchant account. Requirements for having a dedicated merchant account will vary from country to country, but if it’s appropriate for your particular situation, you should start by inquiring at your local bank branch about merchant processing setup and fees.

The better option for most first time website owners, however, are third party merchant accounts also known as third party credit card processors.

3rd party credit card processors are companies that accept credit card orders on behalf of other online businesses. They process all of the payment transactions for you and then send you a payment for the amount you are owed at the end of every month.

All things considered, a third party merchant account is the easiest, quickest and most inexpensive option for accepting credit card payments for first time website owners.

While sometimes referred to as “free” merchant accounts, 3rd party processors are not really free. Setup costs for so-called “free” 3rd part merchant accounts are very low, and in some cases, are free, but 3rd party processors earn their revenue by taking a small percentage of each of your completed transactions. Even though you’ll pay more per sale using a 3rd party processor, it’s usually best for first time website owners because upfront costs are much lower compared to setting up your own merchant account. Additionally, the time and upfront costs involved with integrating a merchant account or shopping cart software with an existing website is beyond the scope of most first time website owners.

PayPal is our most recommended 3rd party merchant provider.

PayPal charges very low transaction fees, has an installed base of over 100 million subscribers and also employs the most feature rich and easy to use web-enabled system.

While there are always potential downside risks when using any 3rd party credit card processor, in our opinion, PayPal is the safest and most convenient payments solution provider for first time website owners in the marketplace.

Accept Credit Cards Without a Merchant

Once you establish a certain level of revenue and you begin to grow the sales volume to a significant level, then you can invest in your own dedicated merchant account. You’ll have to pay a large setup fee initially for the merchant account, but you’ll end up paying far less per transaction, which will more than make up for the initial setup fee.

Here are the most important things you should consider when searching for the right 3rd party credit card processor:

  • Setup Fees – fees charged for account activation.
  • Transaction Fees – fees for credit card transactions completed.
  • Reserve – some processors will temporarily hold 5-10% of your transaction revenue in escrow as a safeguard against returned items or “charge backs”.
  • Methods of Payment Acceptance – some processors allow payment collection via online checks, over the phone, by fax or mail.
  • Restrictions or Limitations – do they handle only “tangible” or physical products, services or software? Are there minimum or maximum prices that you can set for your products or services?

If you just want to test the water, using a 3rd party processor is usually the safest, easiest way to start. The upfront fees are lower, but the transaction fees will justifiably be higher. Main reasons to use a 3rd party credit card or merchant processor:

  • Low upfront costs – No upfront fees for processing software, computer hardware, customer service fees, gateway fees or minimum transaction fees.
  • Minimal setup fees.
  • International sales capable.
  • No credit checks required.
  • Start accepting online payments within minutes.
Disclosure: Information in the tables below is current at the time of writing. It is, of course, subject to change and before signing up you should recheck the transaction details by clicking on any of the links to the service providers outlined below to make sure that the information provided in the tables is still accurate.

Here is a list of some of the main players in this field together with a summary of the services they provide as well as fees that they charge:


What Can Be Sold: Both Tangible and Intangible Items
Who Can Sell Them: Applications accepted from US and non-US merchants
Ordering Methods Supported: Online, phone, fax, or mail
Payment Methods Supported: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover and Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT)
Shopping Cart Available: Yes
Multi-Currency Support Yes
Set Up Fee: None
Transaction Fee: 1.9% – 2.9% + .30 per transaction
Monthly Minimum: None


What Can Be Sold: Intangible or tangible items
Who Can Sell Them: Applications accepted from US and non-US merchants
Ordering Methods Supported: Online, mail, fax or telephone
Payment Methods Supported: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Dinners Club, Discover, Checks by Phone and Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT)
Shopping Cart Available: Yes
Multi-Currency Cupport No – US dollars only
Set Up Fee: Free
Transaction Fee: 2.19% plus $0.25
Monthly Statement Fee: $10

What Can Be Sold: Intangible or Tangible Items
Who Can Sell Them: Applications accepted from US and non-US merchants
Ordering Methods Supported: Online, mail, fax or telephone
Payment Methods Supported: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Checks by Phone and Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT)
Shopping Cart Available: Yes
Multi-Currency Cupport No – US dollars only
Set Up Fee: $49
Transaction Fee: 5.05% plus $0.45
Monthly Statement Fee: None


What Can Be Sold: Intangible Items Only
Who Can Sell Them: Applications accepted from US and non-US merchants
Ordering Methods Supported: Online orders only
Payment Methods Supported: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Novus and Eurocard
Shopping Cart Available: No
Multi-Currency Support No – US dollars only
Set Up Fee: $49.95
Transaction Fee: 7.5% plus $1
Monthly Minimum: None


What Can Be Sold: Intangible items only
Who Can Sell Them: Applications accepted from US and non-US merchants
Ordering Methods Supported: Online orders only
Payment Methods Supported: MasterCard, Visa, American Express and electronic checks
Shopping Cart Available: No
Multi-Currency Support No – US dollars only
Set Up Fee: None
Transaction Fee: 11.5% to 15%
Monthly Minimum: $25


What Can Be Sold: Intangible or tangible items
Who Can Sell Them: Applications accepted from US and non-US merchants
Ordering Methods Supported: Online, mail, fax or telephone
Payment Methods Supported: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Dinners Club, Discover, US checks, Canadian checks, Foreign US dollar checks, money orders, cash, First Virtual
Shopping Cart Available: No
Multi-Currency Support No – US dollars only
Set Up Fee: None
Transaction Fee: 6.5% (max $3) plus 3.5% plus $0.50
Monthly Minimum: None


What Can Be Sold: Tangible / Physical Products Only
Who Can Sell Them: Applications accepted from US and non-US merchants
Ordering Methods Supported: Online Orders Only
Payment Methods Supported: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Novus and Eurocard
Shopping Cart Available: Yes
Multi-Currency Support No – US dollars only
Set Up Fee: None
Transaction Fee: 9% (8% in November and December)
Monthly Minimum: None


What Can Be Sold: Software
Who Can Sell Them: Applications accepted from US Merchants*
Ordering Methods Supported: Online
Payment Methods Supported: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT)
Shopping Cart Available: Yes
Multi-Currency Cupport No – US dollars only
Set Up Fee: Usually $19.95 – Free for Limited Time*
Transaction Fee: 6.9% plus $1 per transaction
Monthly Minimum: None


What Can Be Sold: Intangible or Tangible Items
Who Can Sell Them: Targeted at UK-based businesses
Ordering Methods Supported: Online Orders Only
Payment Methods Supported: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Dinners Club, JCB, Eurocard, Switch, Delta
Shopping Cart Available: No
Multi-Currency Support Yes – merchant can choose up to 16 currencies from a list of 100 available
Set Up Fee: £75 for one item
£125 for 2-10 items
Transaction Fee: 5% to 8%
Monthly Minimum: None

There are a few other credit card resources out there to look into when researching how to accept credit cards without needing a merchant account. Credit Card Assist is an outstanding resource on the subject of credit cards in general and provides a variety of tips and recommendations on the topic. also provides a great article on the steps that you’ll need to take in order to start accepting credit cards and debit cards.

See Also:

{ 14 comments… add one }

  • Harrys June 19, 2009, 2:51 am


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  • International Merchant Account July 27, 2009, 8:05 am

    Now-a-days, setting up your own merchant account is the first option but is probably not the optimal payment processing choice because the cost & labor involved with setting up a merchant account will be prohibitive for most first timers.

  • Michel St-Marie August 16, 2010, 3:25 pm


    We are a leader provider of offshore high risk merchant accounts. Being in the credit card processing business you well know the difficulties encountered with this type of industry. Even those claiming their expertise in this segment of the market cannot place more than a small portion of their submissions. At High Risk Gateway, high risk is the only business we deal with. For this we have established strong relations with acquirers in Africa, Asia and Europe that permit us to process almost any type of high risk. If it is legal, we will process it.
    Your advantages and benefits of partnering with us are great. A fast customer approval, a fair rate guaranteed, lifetime guaranteed residual, make 100% over set buy rate, in most instances weekly payouts and no volume caps are only a few of our advantages.
    Don’t search anymore, with us you will find a home for all your unwanted merchants.
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  • Secure payment gateway August 30, 2010, 2:10 am

    Companies establish offshore merchant accounts to save money, mitigate risk, and take advantage of international business opportunities. My blog “paynet” is a payment processing blog and provide different type of merchant account service
    # International Merchant Account
    # Offshore Merchant Account
    # High Risk Merchant Account
    for details visit

    thanks :-)

  • ACH August 30, 2010, 2:13 am

    I found a blog “National ACH ” is a payment processing blog which provide following services:
    * ACH Processing
    * Electronic Checks
    * High Risk Processing
    * Check 21 Processing
    * Check by Phone
    * Adult Merchant Account
    * International Processing
    * International Direct Deposit
    * Identity Verification
    for details you can visit

  • Dropping Knowledge October 6, 2010, 10:43 pm

    PayByWeb shouldn’t be included in your list here as it is a standard merchant account setup that you apply for. (They set you up with a merchant account through iPayment)

    They are very tricky in their marketing but read the fine print! Also, they don’t tell you that you pay more for rewards and foreign cards.

    • Bill H. October 14, 2010, 12:27 pm

      I’m looking into that right now. Thanks for “dropping knowledge”.

  • Bella December 2, 2010, 1:15 pm

    Thanks for the information. I am searching for some methods to accept payments on my site and came across your post. Your readers may also find another site that I found useful for this information:

    Thanks for a good post.

  • Kamal Patel October 7, 2011, 9:38 am

    Hi, Hope there is some advice for my situation out there.
    am a UK Citizen, recently moved to the States. I purchased and existing e-commerce business and I’m finding it impossible to set-up a Merchant account or even get a 3rd party company to accept CC payments on my companies behalf. I have been advised that this is due to a low/non-existent Credit Profile – which is true seeing as I’ve just moved here and haven’t borrowed any money yet. Any help/advise please as I’ve got customers scraming at me to despatch orders for which I can’t take payment.

  • sudha October 17, 2011, 3:00 am

    When the web was younger, you had to go through major hassles if you wanted to accept credit payments from your site. Now, thanks to the abundance of small businesses online, you can easily find a company that will help accept the payments for you.

  • Robert November 30, 2011, 6:52 pm

    Paypal- if a customer uses Paypal to pay you and they then do a chargeback claiming they didn’t authorize the transaction after recieving and keeping the item(s) ordered- Paypal immediately takes the money from your account. Done Deal. I’ve even had a customer saying he was working on getting it resolved (with Paypal) and Paypal STILL keeps the money and won’t return it. You CAN NOT dispute it, nor will they give you any details on the chargeback. Paypal is run by thiefs and have one of the biggest rackets going!

  • Robert November 30, 2011, 6:59 pm

    I’d like to know if there is some kind of database you could list these customers who commit credit card fraud where you could list thier name, address, telephone number and any other information about them and the crime they commited? They know how the system works and if they know their info could get shared (and seen by others) they might not be so brazen with their fraud. The problems I’ve had usually entail the customer ordering the item(s), having it delivered to their address they provide (which matches the credit card) and then telling me they didn’t get the item sent. They know the merchant will get burned for it and there is nothing we can do. Any tips or ideas?

  • sam December 27, 2011, 11:52 pm

    How much does it cost to setup your own merchant account and what is involved…I am not talking about using 3rd party, but your own as mentioned here and bypassing the likes of paypal and any other 3rd party.


  • alternativemerchantservices June 14, 2013, 6:39 pm

    Great article, Bill. If any of your readers are in high-risk industries and have problems obtaining merchant accounts, we could probably help them out. Please let them know about us at Alternative Merchant Solutions.