UK Merchant Accounts Comparison: Our 2024 Guide

Woman paying using a card reader

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According to our extensive analysis, provider takepayments offers the best merchant account on the market, with plentiful reporting features, bespoke transaction fees, and impressive multi-currency support.

A merchant account is an essential service if you want to take card payments (which would make sense as, post-Covid, card usage soared to account for 90% of all UK retail spending). But they’re not all created equal, with factors such as fees, contract lengths, user support, and even compliance measures varying from provider to provider. Fortunately, we’ve carried out in-depth research into the merchant accounts market to help you understand the options:

Who are the best merchant account providers?

  1. takepayments
  2. Retail Merchant Services
  3. Worldpay
  4. Barclaycard
  5. Revolut
  6. Zettle
  7. Stripe Payments

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What is a merchant account?

A merchant account is a type of bank account that enables you to accept card payments from customers – in fact, you won’t be able to process card payments without one. It’s totally separate to your business bank account, acting as a sort of holding pen that holds your customer’s payment temporarily, while it’s approved by the customer’s bank. Once approved, the payment will go through to your business bank account.

As well as the merchant account itself, merchant account providers also sell or lease card machines. We’ll discuss these provisions in this article, but remember to check out our guide to the best card machines for small businesses if you’re interested in comparing these in even more detail.

In this article, we’re going to cover two different kinds of merchant account:

  1. Contract merchant accounts – available on fixed-term agreements, these charge cheaper transaction fees alongside a monthly fee.
  2. Mobile merchant accounts – available on a pay-as-you-use basis with no contracts, these charge more expensive transaction fees but no monthly fees.

Check out our comprehensive guide to merchant accounts, payment gateways and payment processors to find out more

The best contract merchant accounts in 2024

Contract merchant accounts are payment gateways that offer their service through fixed-term agreements. They charge lower (and usually negotiable) transaction fees in exchange for a monthly fee. By and large, they also lease their card machines instead of selling them to you.

1. takepayments

takepayments
4.8
Starting fee Bespoke
Quick overview

During our testing, our experts gave takepayments an impressive overall score of 4.8/5, which reflects its plentiful reporting tools and its solid customer praise.

Its 18 months contracts is on par with Worldpay’s 18 months - the longest contract length allowed by the latest Payment Systems Regulator ruling. but not as convenient as Barclaycard’s offering, which allows you to pay as you use. That said, it allows you to negotiate your fees, like Retail Merchant Services does.

takepayments scores an impeccable 5/5 for features. Our research notes that it is best for medium-sized businesses as they can fully use its accounting detailing and product customisation. Also, international businesses will appreciate its acceptance of 170 currencies, which is 35 more than Stripe Payments and 50 more than Worldpay, the runner-ups in multi-currency support in our research.

However, it lacks email support - something Worldpay and Zettle offer. Unsurprisingly, we couldn't find room for improvement in these providers' customer support, while takepayments could work towards an email channel.

Strengths

Cheap transaction fees

Supports 170 currencies

Weaknesses

No invoicing tool

Long fund transfer times

How does takepayments compare to its competitors?

takepayments’ starting transaction fees are bespoke, meaning it can work out as affordable for your business, Retail Merchant Services’ 0.4% and Worldpay’s 0.75%. That said, takepayments’ starting monthly fee (£20 + VAT) is pricier than Retail Merchant Services and Barclaycard (both of which charge £10 + VAT). All this contributes to takepayments’ 4.1/5 score for price in our research.

takepayments is also the champion of multi-currency support, accepting payments in 170 currencies , beating Worldpay’s 120 and Retail Merchant Services’ 100. However, its fund next working transfer time is fast, for example Zettle can take up to 2 business days.

2. Retail Merchant Services

Retail Merchant Services logo
Retail Merchant Services
4.7
Starting fee 0.4%
Quick overview

Retail Merchant Services is a payment solution company that’s proven to be big on features and small on price during our testing. On account of that, our experts gave it a 4.7/5 overall score in our research.

It packs six reporting tools (including real-time data insights and wastage monitoring), and accepts 100 currencies. This favours small business owners who can use the data from the provider to plan a growth strategy.

However, it’s worth noting that Retail Merchant Services is the only merchant account provider we researched that isn’t Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant, which means the provider doesn’t take industry-standard procedures to keep data safe. It also means that, for the security of your business, you’ll have to undertake these procedures by yourself.

Furthermore, it only offers support over the phone, which means its customer support could be a lot better. This is a far cry from Zettle’s and Worldpay’s immaculate phone, live chat and email support offering.

Strengths

Custom pricing

Plentiful reporting tools

Weaknesses

Support not available through email or live chat

Not PCI compliant

How does Retail Merchant Services compare to its competitors?

Retail Merchant Services’ starting monthly fee of £10 + VAT narrowly misses beating Worldpay’s £9.95 + VAT, but is cheaper than takepayments’ (£20 + VAT). Nevertheless, the provider still scores a perfect 5/5 score for price in our research. Its starting transaction fee (0.4%) beats Worldpay’s 0.75% and Tyl’s 1.5% (both high scorers in price in our research). All this makes it one of the cheapest ways to take card payments we looked into.

While Retail Merchant Services’ multi-support currency is impressive, accepting 100, takepayments is better because it accepts 170 currencies.

If you’re a small business that is looking to scale, then Retail Merchant Services could be a good fit as it offers six reporting tools. They don’t upstage takepayments’ eight, but it’s a better reporting offering than Revolut’s two and Zettle’s five. This is reflected in Retail Merchant Services’ 4.1/5 score for features in our research, which is less than Zettle’s 4.9/5 and Revolut’s 4.5/5.

3. Worldpay

Worldpay logo
Worldpay
4.6
Starting fee 0.75%
Quick overview

Worldpay is a merchant account that doubles as a payment gateway platform. When we tested it, we were absolutely impressed with the fact that it could transfer funds to your bank account in 30 min - the fastest fund transfer time we came across. This helps it receive a 4.6/5 overall score.

At 18 months, Worldpay has - like takepayments - the longest contract time among the card machine providers we looked into. This is a far cry from providers such as Zettle and Revolut, that don’t even bind you to contracts. Because of this, Worldpay is more suited to medium-sized to large businesses, as startups might appreciate the flexibility of not sticking to a provider for such a long period from the get-go.

On the other hand, their pricing is transparent, so you'll be clear on what you're expected to pay: 2.75% + 20p if you pay as you go, or you can choose a simple monthly payment plan. So while they're not the most affordable provider out there, there's no complex pricing to worry about, and no set-up fees either.

Strengths

Fast fund transfer times

Doesn’t charge extra early termination fee

Weaknesses

Long contract

Reports are chargeable

How does Worldpay compare to its competitors?

At £9.95 + VAT, Worldpay’s starting monthly fee is the cheapest among the contract merchant accounts we researched, contributing to its 3.8/5 score for price in our research. This sees it beat takepayments (£20 + VAT), but remains pricier than mobile providers like Revolut, which doesn’t charge any monthly fees. Its starting transaction fee of 0.75% is cheaper than Stripe Payments’ 1.5% + 20p.

Furthermore, Worldpay can be integrated into your webstore and work as a payment gateway. For online businesses, this is a massive pro that will allow your venture to sell on the internet. While not a free payment gateway, we recommend it because you’re able to negotiate your transaction fees with the provider.

On the other hand, its 18-month contract length deals a killer blow for business owners keen on flexibility. This means Worldpay will lock you into the maximum length a card machine contract can last in the UK from July 2023, as per the latest Payment Systems Regulator ruling.  This is also a con for startup owners, as well as occasional or seasonal sellers, who’ll be locked into a long-term fixed cost. In comparison, providers like Square and Zettle offer their services without a contract.

Also, its four reporting tools pale when compared to takepayments’ eight and Stripe Payments’ seven – both of which are likely to better serve business owners keen on getting data to grow their ventures. However, it allows for an incredible 100 integrations, which is way more than Zettle (21) and Revolut (16), leading the way to a 4.5/5 score for features. These are primed to benefit business owners keen on running several of their systems in sync.

4. Barclaycard

Barclaycard logo
Barclaycard
3
Starting fee Bespoke
Quick overview

Barclaycard is the merchant account service offered by the British banking powerhouse, Barclays. Our experts praised its great multi-currency support, which really came across during our testing, but were disappointed by its limited support channels. The result was its average 3/5 overall score in our research.

On the bright side, Barclaycard is the only contract merchant account we researched that offers its services on a pay-as-you-use basis. This sets it apart from - and gives it a convenient edge against - takepayments and Worldpay, which always require you to stick with them for 12 and 18 months, respectively.

Overall, it offers three card readers: Smartpay Anywhere, Ingenico Move/5000, and Smartpay Touch. That's less than takepayments' offering (four) but it's more than Revolut's (one) and Zettle's (two).

However, it's worth noting that, like Retail Merchant Services, it only offers support over the phone. Oddly, if you hire the provider's Smartpay Anywhere reader, this support is available 24/7, but if you pick one of the other two, then you'll only have support on weekdays between 9am and 5pm.

Strengths

Available as pay-as-you-use

Supports 96 currencies

Weaknesses

Support not available through email or live chat

Fund transfer time could be faster

barclaycard reader on a desk
We observed this Barclaycard-powered Ingenico Move/5000 taking payments at Apex Pharmacy in Old Street, London

How does Barclaycard compare to its competitors?

If you’re a medium-sized business owner keen on cutting down on costs by negotiating your fees, Barclaycard is a solid choice. On two of its three card machine plans, it packs a flexible pricing structure, similar to takepayments and Retail Merchant Services. You can benefit from this if you deal with high-value transactions or a high sales volume.

For small businesses or freelancers, the provider isn’t as great a fit. On Smartpay Anywhere, its entry-level reader that caters to these businesses, it charges a 1.60% transaction fee, way higher than Retail Merchant Services’ 0.4 % – the lowest we came across in our research.

While you can buy Smartpay Anywhere outright for £29 + VAT – as opposed to Barclaycard’s other readers, which can only be rented – it’s still more expensive than Square’s most basic reader, which costs £19 + VAT.

When it comes to the software that works alongside its readers, Barclaycard impressed us, as its powerful solution allows for data reporting, loyalty schemes, special offer setup, inventory control, and supplier management. This is great for business owner that are keen to have a bird’s eye view of their venture easily.

On the other hand, Barclaycard only offers integrations with two third-party integrations: it syncs up with FreshBooks and Xero – both accounting platforms. This makes Barclaycard better Retail Merchant Services (which only offers one), but miles behind takepayments and Revolut (both of which offer 16).

By only offering phone support, Barclaycard loses out to Zettle, which packs email and live chat channels and is therefore a better fit for companies that require hands-on support.

What do users think of Barclaycard?

Carol, from the Apex Pharmacy, told us that they’ve been using Barclaycard for half a year and haven’t had any sort of issues with the provider. She also said that it meets the needs of their businesses. Anil, from retail store 100 Shades of Blue, also praised the Barclaycard’s straightforwardness and the fact that his payouts tend to come through on the next working day – all that with lower fees than his previous provider. “I used Worldpay for a couple of years but I have since changed back to Barclays. My business account is with Barclays so it was easier and they offered me a better deal percentage-wise”, he added.

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The best mobile merchant account providers in 2024

Mobile merchant accounts don’t require you to sign a fixed-term contract, providing their service on a pay-as-you-use basis. While they don’t incur fixed costs, they charge higher transaction fees. Unlike their contract counterparts, they sell their card machines outright.

5. Revolut

Revolut Logo
Revolut
4.8
Starting fee 0.8% + 2p
Quick overview

Revolut impressed us by its strict data security as well as its online banking offering. We observed first-hand the high standard of its PCI compliance in our testing, which contributed to its overall score of 4.8/5.

Revolut’s applications are PCI-compliant and its sleek Revolut card reader integrates with 16 third-party providers and accepts 30 currencies. These led to the provider to score a respectable 4.5/5 for features in our deep dive analysis.

That said, Revolut doesn't pack a lot of reporting tools (it only packs two), so if you’re a small business owner looking for data insights to grow, takepayments and Retail Merchant Services would serve you better. The former packs eight reporting tools while the latter packs six.

Like Tyl, Revolut doesn't offer support via live chat but it does so via phone and email. Worldpay, on the other hand, packs 24/7 phone support is a better choice if you’re looking for hands-on support.

Strengths

Easy PCI compliance procedure

Low transaction fees

Weaknesses

Limited reporting tools

No fraud prevention system

How does Revolut compare to its competitors?

Revolut’s 0.8% + 2p starting transaction fee is cheaper than its mobile card reader competitors, like Stripe Payments’ (1.5% + 20p) and Zettle (1.75%). Like the latter two providers, it doesn’t charge monthly fees, unlike Worldpay and Retail Merchant Services, which charge a minimum of £9.95 + VAT and £10 + VAT, respectively.

Revolut supports 30 currencies, which is more than Zettle’s 25 but way less than takepayments’ 170. If you’re an international business owner, you should check if Revolut’s list of accepted currencies covers your needs.

It’s not the best fit for small businesses that need extensive data, as it only offers two reporting tools: namely, spend and team management. This is behind Stripe Payments’ six and takepayments’ eight. Also, Revolut’s 16 integrations put it on par with takepayments, but behind Worldpay, which packs a whopping 100.

Did You Know?

In September 2023, debit and credit card transactions nationwide amounted to a whopping £79.1 billion, according to UK Finance.

6. Zettle

Zettle
4.8
Starting fee 1.75%
Quick overview

Zettle is a payment taking platform that tops our overall merchant account research, scoring an incredible overall score of 4.8/5. This result came through our hands-on testing, which picked up this provider's solid value for money and outstanding customer support.

While it’s only available during weekdays, customers have the option to contact Zettle's customer support team via phone, email, or live chat. By packing the latter channel, it beats Revolut, for instance, which doesn't have it.

Elsewhere, Zettle includes five reporting tools and accepts 25 currencies, which we thought was a great features offering, especially considering that the provider doesn't lock you into a contract to use it. That said, takepayments packs eight reporting tools and supports 170 currencies, which means it serves international ventures better - though signing up with it requires a 18 month contract.

Strengths

Remarkable customer support

Free EPOS integration

Weaknesses

High transaction fees

Only offers one reader with mobile data

zettle card reader 2 on top of desk
This Zettle Card Reader 2 is ready for action at Batch1 in Green Lane, South East London.

How does Zettle compare to its competitors?

Zettle’s 1.75% transaction fee is the most expensive among the 11 providers we research, considerably higher than Revolut’s 0.8% + 2p and Stripe Payments’ 1.5% + 20p. Zettle’s overall costs are also not helped by its hardware price: Zettle’s most basic reader comes in at £59 + VAT, while Stripe Payments’and Revolut’s cost £49 + VAT.

Stripe Payments has a more stringent security protocol than Zettle and it also supports 135 currencies – way more than Zettle’s 25. This makes Stripe Payments a better fit for international businesses. However, Zettle’s payout time of up to two working days is considerably faster than Stripe Payments’ up to seven working days. For this reason, Zettle is likely to serve business owners who depend on constant cash flow better.

What do users think of Zettle?

Hannah Bailey, of the clothing shop Batch1, praised the Zettle card reader’s mobility: “If you have someone on the other side of the desk that’s chatting to you, you can quickly take a sale of someone who just wants to be in and out”. For her part, Jessica Bedoya, from womenswear boutique Sugar & Style, admired the ease of use with which Zettle could be operated: “If you do the wrong thing, you just swipe and delete it. It’s very user-friendly, very straightforward, especially for someone that’s new [to it]”.

7. Stripe Payments

Stripe logo
Stripe Payments
4
Starting fee 1.5% + 20p
Quick overview

Stripe Payments is the merchant account arm of Stripe, an international payment solutions company. The service can also be augmented with other products of its parent company, such as invoicing and billing tools. During our testing, we found these associated features very useful and easy to use, contributing to the provider's 4/5 overall score.

Stripe Payments offers six reporting tools to help you get business insights, which puts behind takepayments, which packs eight. Stripe Payments also supports 135 currencies, which is less than takepayments’ 170.

Furthermore, Stripe Payments is certified to Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) Level 1 - the most stringent available. This is a better certification than being just PCI compliant, as it means Stripe Payments undergoes a full audit on its security protocols.

However, it only offers two third-party integrations, which puts it behind takepayments (which offers 16). This makes takepayments a better fit for business owners who want to sync up several parts of their business (such as accounting and customer satisfaction). However, Stripe Payments works better for those keen on issuing customised invoices to get paid.

Strengths

Supports 135 currencies

PCI certified

Weaknesses

Integration offering is scarce

Long fund transfer time

How does Stripe Payments compare to its competitors?

Befitting its beginnings as a payment gateway for ecommerce, Stripe Payments is better equipped to serve online businesses. You can easily integrate the platform to your webstore’s checkout, which makes it one of the best payment gateway providers in our market research.

At £49 + VAT, its cheapest reader costs the same as Revolut’s. However, Revolut has a lower starting transaction fee, charging 0.8% + 2p against Stripe Payments’ 1.5% + 20p. Accordingly, Stripe Payments scores 3.2/5 for price in our research while Revolut scores 4.6/5.

Like Worldpay, Stripe Payments offers 24/7 support, through phone, email, and live chat – and as far as we’re concerned, this is the best customer support availability you can get. This makes Stripe Payments better than Retail Merchant Services, for instance, since it lacks the live chat and email channels.

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Which is the best way to take payments?

When looking for a provider to take payments, you should consider your budget and the size of your business, as well as how well your card machine company suits your needs.

For startups and small businesses, mobile payment takers such as Zettle can provide a great way to get started without a hefty initial investment or fixed monthly fees. For medium to large business, contract card machine providers, like takepayments, are the best bet. Companies this size are unlikely to have their bank broken by monthly fees, but they’re still able to benefit from its low transaction fees, effectively offsetting the fixed costs over time.

Reporting tools and third-party integrations should also be taken into account when choosing a payment gateway. These are particularly helpful to small businesses owners, as they can provide data that informs their growth plans. takepayments’ eight reporting tools – which helped it score a perfect 5/5 score for features in our research – are an example to keep in mind in this regard.

More than one merchant account?

Are you interested in having more than one merchant account? It’s definitely possible, but is it something we recommend? All those questions and more, answered in our article.

Verdict

With low transaction fees and extensive reporting functionality, our research has determined that takepayments is the best contract merchant account on the market. If you’d prefer pay-as-you-use, our favourite mobile merchant account is Revolut, which also charges cheap transaction fees. It also integrates with a wide range of third-party software, and boasts super strong PCI compliance.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that one of these two is the best fit for you. You can ensure you’re getting the right recommendation for your business by using our free quote matching tool. Simply answer a few questions about your business’s needs, and we’ll match you up with merchant account providers that can meet your needs. They’ll be in touch directly with no-obligation quotes that have been tailored to you, so you can compare truly accurate prices, and ask any questions you have. It’s a quick and easy way to narrow down your options, start communicating with your future provider, and get signed up quickly.

Our methodology

To provide this wide comparison between payment taking systems, we researched 11 providers across four categories: price, features, customer support, and customer score. We consolidated the data into scores, some of which we discuss across the article.

We then divided each category into specific traits relevant to this market. In price, we analysed account charges and transaction fees; in features, we went over integration offering and reporting tools; and customer support saw us verify the support channels and opening hours.

We also compiled data from across various online review aggregators to generate the customer score. We also took the feedback the companies received into account.

Ultimately, we compared these companies with each other to highlight their strengths and weaknesses.

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Merchant account comparison FAQs

How do I choose a merchant account?
You choose a merchant account by looking at the breadth of its features while also checking if its fees fit within your budget. While they all take payments, reporting tools and third-party integrations should be taken into account when choosing a provider.
What are the types of merchant accounts?
Merchant accounts fall into two categories: contract and mobile. Contract merchant accounts tend to have lower transaction fees in exchange for a monthly fee. On the other hand, mobile ones don’t incur fixed charges but they do have higher transaction fees.
What's the cheapest way to take card payments?
Short answer? It depends. takepayments offers bespoke pricing tailored to your business’ needs and turnover but charges a minimum £10 as a monthly fee. If you’re keen on foregoing the fixed fee, Revolut’s your cheapest option, charging a 0.8% + 2p transaction fee.

Our site is reader-supported. Some featured providers are our partners, so we may earn a commission if you make a purchase through our site. This is at no extra cost to our readers, and this doesn’t affect the independence of our reviews. Whether or not we have a partnership with a company does not affect our rating and review of the service.

Written by:
Lucas Pistilli author headshot photo
Lucas is a Brazilian-born journalist and Expert Market’s go-to writer for all things EPOS systems, merchant accounts, and franking machines. Having covered business, politics and technology for many years, he’s driven by his passion for the written word and his goal to help people make well-informed decisions.
Reviewed by:
Ruairi uses his 3+ years of research experience to uncover insights which can help Expert Market provide the best business solutions for their users. He has done this by meeting with business owners to find out what is important to them and what challenges they face on a daily basis. Ruairi specialises in tools that can be used to grow your business and has done research for a wide range of categories on Expert Market, such as EPOS, Website Builders, and Merchant Accounts.