For the longest time, if you wanted to make or receive payments on the web, PayPal was the only option you had. Back then, the process wasn’t necessarily as user-friendly as it is today – but they did simplify how users could transfer money.

Now, there are various options for taking and issuing payments online. And, thanks to that competitive element, these providers are in a race to offer more and more functionality. In many cases, that includes APIs that are capable of doing some really interesting things.

If you are in the market for a payment API, this is a good place to start. Below, we’ll be providing an overview of some of the APIs out there for integrating payment options like bank accounts, credit cards, and cryptocurrencies into your applications. We’ll briefly review the functionality of their APIs and their unique focuses.

Payment Processors 101

Broadly speaking, the payment processors around today fall into one of three categories: digital payments, card processing and direct (i.e. cardless) payments. It’s true that there’s some overlap between these categories, but that doesn’t change the fact that these products are built with particular goals in mind.

As a result, their APIs perform in different ways. Before moving ahead with any payment API, you’ll want to think about what you need from the service. Consider how you’ll be accepting payments, where your customers are located and whether or not you’ll be taking any recurring payments.

All of this will have a significant impact on suitable payment APIs. Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the top payment APIs on the market right now:

1: PayPal

Accept PayPal and cards with their REST API

With APIs in place to handle everything from billing agreements and payments to customer disputes and merchant onboarding, PayPal is still (arguably) the king when it comes to payment APIs. Their REST services are easy to integrate and thoroughly documented.

Compared to other payment APIs Paypal is expensive, but you’re paying for name brand recognition, 100% uptime, and speed.

2. Skrill

Accept payments via Skrill and 20+ local payment methods using Skrill’s REST API

Skrill’s approach to APIs is a little different, in that they offer two different solutions depending on whether or not you need to offer payouts. Integrating Quick Checkout allows API consumers to accept 100+ payment options, while Wallet Checkout makes it easy to issue payments too.

Skrill’s MassPay service, available via their API, is an interesting tool for anyone looking to send batch payments.

3. Neteller

Accept e-wallet payments, as well as credit cards and Bitcoin

Neteller enables straightforward payments and orders through a nifty hosted payment solution known as NETELLERgo!, which automatically offers payment options based on user location, and is very easy to implement.

The company also focuses on integrating with plans/subscriptions which might make it an attractive solution if you’re likely to be dealing with a lot of recurring monthly payments.

4. Square

Take credit cards, cash, and gift cards using Square’s Point of Sale offering, and debit/credit cards online

Square offers APIs for item/inventory management, sales reporting, and employee management, and boasts really solid reporting features via a clean sales dashboard. One thing that makes it particularly appealing is the option to add hardware to accept payments in brick and mortar stores as well as online or via mobile.

If you’ll be doing any offline selling at all, then Square will be a payment API you’ll want to check out so you can keep your eCommerce and offline activity all in one place.

5. Stripe

Stripe’s RESTful interface, built with developers in mind, allows users to accept cards

Stripe is an extremely extendable service, with hundreds of extensions. It also offers advanced reporting, aids in handling disputes, and so on. Its focus may be on accepting credit cards, but it supports various non-credit card global payment methods like Alipay, SOFORT and iDEAL too.

Stripe stands alongside PayPal as a more expensive payment option, but it’s easy to implement, is known for quality developer experience, and offers a comparable service.

More on APIs & FinTech: Making the Bank Programmable

6. Paysafe

Offers REST APIs that let you take credit/debit cards and payments via e-wallets

With APIs covering card payment, 3D secure authentication, customer vault & tokenization, and Direct Debits, Paysafe is nothing if not comprehensive!

It’s worth pointing out that the Paysafe Group owns Skrill and Neteller, so they have a wealth of experience in the digital payments space. And they’re a BIG conglomerate – Paysafe operates in 200 countries, using 100 payment types, across 40 currencies.

7. GoCardless

Connect directly with bank accounts

Like Dwolla (see below), GoCardless can be used to avoid the middleman of credit/debit cards by connecting directly with bank accounts. The primary functions of the GoCardless API are (in their words) to allow users to set up mandates with customers’ bank accounts, collect payments against those mandates, and stay up to date with webhooks.

The service is particularly interesting for anyone dealing with retention issues because it allows users – as the name suggests – to move away from credit and debit cards, which are often associated with churn and card expiration issues.

8. Trustly

Skip the credit/debit cards with Trustly’s JSON-RPC1.1 API and accept payments directly from consumer bank accounts across Europe.

Trustly’s API has just three functions that can be triggered by API calls: Deposit, Refund and Withdraw. There are times when less is more, and this scaled back approach might be very appealing to API consumers who don’t want to get too bogged down in technical extras.

They also have options for recurring and one-click payments, however, so that’s not to say that this isn’t a powerful (and easy to implement) API.

9. Dwolla

Dwolla is designed to lower costs by skipping the credit card middleman entirely

Dwolla is a niche payment API, for two reasons. First, their focus is on bank transfers and ACH payments (although they do handle things like mass payments too). Second, they’re only compatible with the U.S. banking system and USD. As a result, it’s unlikely the service would be suitable for anyone doing (or hoping to do) business internationally.

10. BitPay

If your focus is on accepting Bitcoin, you’ll want to check out BitPay

BitPay is a prominent service in the cryptocurrency space, already used by Microsoft and Virgin Galactic. As you would probably expect from a forward thinking company, it also has a very comprehensive API. As well as all the usual features (issuing invoices, refunds etc.), it can also be used to track rates information in real-time, view ledger entries, and manage bills.

Bitcoin’s perceived ties to the dark web have been difficult to shake, but with services like BitPay, making it extremely simple to accept payments in Bitcoin, we think that will change quickly. It’s quite possible that when cryptocurrencies truly become mainstream, they will have APIs like BitPay’s to thank for it.

Conclusion

In the past, payment APIs were used in fairly simple ways. That would usually be integrating them with a webstore to accept payments. But, thanks to the rise of public APIs over the past 10 years or so, users now expect to be able to automate (or at least connect up) different aspects of their business.

Online payment services, and their respective APIs, don’t look a whole lot like what they did 10, or even 5, years ago. Prior to 2012, for example, PayPal was powered primarily by SOAP with some JSON and XML in the mix. Now, however, the vast majority of payment APIs are RESTful so some familiarity with REST architecture, HTTP verbiage, and JSON will certainly be handy for whichever platform you decide to go with.

The average payment API has become much more comprehensive than they ever used to be – offering analytics, handling inventory and returns, and much more. We can reasonably predict that online payment APIs will continue to evolve. LevelUp is an interesting example of this, already choosing to focus their app and API entirely on mobile payments.

In the same way that services like Wix and Squarespace have enabled non-techies to build their own websites, those same individuals may soon be able to comfortably build and manage online businesses. Shopify and the like have already made serious progress towards accomplishing that goal. All of that without, potentially, ever needing to set foot in a bank or touch a credit card again; the power of API-fueled digital payments!

What APIs are you using in your digital payment stack? We’d love to hear below!

Art Anthony

About Art Anthony

Art is a copywriter/blogger/content creator who gave up the big city grind to go freelance and live out in the countryside. He writes about everything from financial services and software/technology to health and fitness for big corporations and startups alike. He started his own company, Copywriting Is Art, several years ago and tweets at @ArtCopywriter.