The best options for getting paid as a freelancer (with fewer fees)

Recently we received the following question about getting paid as a freelancer from a reader planning his freelancing debut:

Would you recommend I set up a credit card service to receive payments through my future website or is this unnecessary? Is check still the best way to go?

These days there are lots of ways to get paid as a freelancer and the services that make it simple all want a portion of your profits. But all that paperwork nonsense is nonexistent.

So here’s a guide to getting paid as a freelancer, their advantages and disadvantages, and my take on how you should accept payment.

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Online payment

Far and away the fastest way to get paid as a freelancer is online payment. It’s simple, quick, and convenient for many business-to-business (B2B) transactions.

Sign-up for both parties is generally free; however, almost all take their cut (generally around 3.5%) out of your gross income.

Also worth noting: generally your “instant” payments are delayed several days for confirmation of funds and the transfer of funds to your bank account.

Examples: Freshbooks, BonsaiPayPal, Intuit Payment Network (IPN)

Personally, I couldn’t imagine doing business without using both PayPal and IPN. I prefer IPN because it syncs payments with my accounting software, QuickBooks, and provides a payment link on my invoices.

Online payment through your website

The second form of getting paid as a freelancer is payment through a secure portal on your website. Depending on the service, you’ll probably have a subscription fee and transaction fees that are a bit less than PayPal-style merchant accounts.

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But, you don’t have to send anyone to a third-party site because you have a nice, professional payment form on your very own website. And most of these also allow you to process plastic.

Examples: Authorize.Net, Cardaccept, ProPay, Charge, Ccbill

As a freelancer who isn’t selling products, I see no benefit (and a slight headache in setup and management) in having a payment portal on my website. Less “techie” folks tend to be skittish about online payments anyway, so they’re happier with big names they already know.

Snail-mail payment

While personal checks, money orders, and cashier’s checks have declined sharply in popularity, many businesses still prefer to cut paper checks to vendors.

It’s paper, and there’s a lot of having to make time in busy schedules to deliver that check and then deposit it (try e-depositing from a mobile device for your convenience). And you can lose a check, which makes you look foolish and takes even longer to hit your bank account.

However, there are absolutely no fees involved. Woot! The hassle of getting to a nearby ATM is usually worth it.

If it were up to me, all of my clients would pay by check because that no fee thing is pretty sweet. A small fee might seem like chump change for one transaction, but over the course of the year it adds up (so far my merchant account fees for this fiscal year total over $340!).

Debit/credit card processing

Let’s face it, a lot of clients, especially smaller businesses or start-ups, want to pay their freelancers with plastic. But accepting plastic outright is generally prohibitively expensive – a subscription/monthly fee, a transaction fee, and sometimes a card reader fee as well.

Examples: Authorize.Net, Cardaccept, ProPay, Charge, CCbill

True, some apps now cut out a lot of the subscription and reader fees, but generally you have to be face-to-face with your client to get paid.

Examples: Square, Intuit GoPayment, Swipe It

With merchant accounts like PayPal and IPN that already accept debit/credit payments, I don’t see the purpose in setting up yet another service specifically to handle plastic payment (although I do have a Square account that I’ve used exactly once before IPN would accept credit cards).

What’s the best option for getting paid as a freelancer?

It’s all about convenience for your clients without breaking your bank.

When your client receives your invoice, you want them to have a simple, quick, secure way to pay you so that they aren’t putting off paying you because it’s a 45-minute affair. They don’t want to have to figure out which payment method they’re supposed to use, have to make yet another online payment account, or be hassled by a complicated checkout.

Finally, you want them to trust that the method(s) you choose isn’t going to land them with a nasty case of identity/account theft.

How do you get paid as a freelancer?

Which payment options do you provide? Prefer? Share your thoughts in the comments on this post!

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  1. Good article. I just started freelancing in NYC, and my client is in Miami. They started switching from Bimonthly to once-a-month payment, which was rough enough to accept, but the fact that i get paid via a paper check sent through standard mail, from FL to NYC, which sometimes takes 6 days, is agony. They dislike the paypal fees…any suggestions i can speed up this annoying process? If they send me the picture of the check, can i somehow plug that into my BankAmerica instant deposit?

  2. i have a question. if i work as a freelancer without a bank account and i didn’t withdraw the payments that i receive for a few months, where will my money go? does my money will get loss, or the freelance company will keep it for a while and pay me later anytime i want to get my money.

  3. I am starting a business that will provide writing/editing services. I will be requiring 50% down to start a project, and would like to use PayPal Invoicing (where the buyer isn’t required to have a PayPal account and can pay via credit card) to collect both at the beginning and the end, but I have read a lot of horror stories about disputes and account freezes.

    Can anyone shed any light on this for me? Have you had good luck using PayPal for creative (non-tangible) services? Any tips or tricks to make it work well and avoid as many hassles as possible?

  4. I have a trouble about a freelancer project. I’m new to the freelancer and yesterday I got a project at very first time. They are asking for a refund of 20$. It’s a typing project and they are going to pay me directly to my bank account or paypal account. I have trouble about that refund and also why they are not going to pay me through freelancer? Can anyone help me please……… I’m fear to pay 20$.

  5. Beware of using PayPal for services or digital goods! Recently a client reversed the payment with their bank, opened a dispute with PayPal, and PayPal took the money from me. I provided all evidence of the work done. PayPal 15 days later said that they don’t provide seller protection for intangible goods. PayPal also charged me a $20 chargeback few on top of it.

  6. I normally charge 50% upfront and 50% on completion via direct bank to bank transfers, but often have to chase payments (always the second payment!).

    When these guys launch I’ll give them a shot… They charge your clients upfront and once the work is done you’re paid straight away 🙂

  7. I am glad to see Intuit’s IPN listed here. I have been using it for about a year or so now and I really like it. With PayPal you have to be careful depending on your type of service or product being sold. You really have no “seller protection” if you sell certain products or services. You really should read the Terms or Service before diving in deep. That being said, I really do like the fees on IPN if the client does not choose to use the CC option for payment. You can opt out of CC payments, but I left it on. The fees are comparable to PayPal so not outrageous. However, I have clients that pay with the Bank Draft and it is only 50¢ per payment!!! MUCH more affordable and they are happy to use the secure service. I still have my check writers, but everyone who has used the IPN service has been happy and said that it was easy enough to set up and use on their end. I have not set up the “easy pay” options at my bank but I think it would be just as easy and secure. I just need to check the fees that are involved if any if they choose to pay via CC (or if they even can). It would make it so much easier to get paid by some.

  8. Payment processing is one of the hardest object of Freelancing with international clients. I was used to provide my services as a freelance to local bodies, however, recently I just jumped over the international platform and now facing different difficulties.

  9. There are several ways & methods to get paid faster, but in my area, it is one of the biggest problem. We guys don’t have a Paypal supported in our country, and the rest options are too risky to go. I prefer Wire Transfer 75% upfront, and the rest after completing the project.

  10. 99% of our clients pay with check and the others utilize PayPal (it syncs up beautifully with Freshbooks). As a side note: A client of ours used to utilize Square and was recently badly burned when 2/3 of her transactions didn’t make it through to her one busy selling day. She found terrible customer service when she tried to contact Square and she lost thousands. SO if you utilize Square, keep a close eye on your receipts, etc.!

  11. Thanks for the great artical. I use CashBoard ( and paypal for all my online invoicing and estimating. I like it because I can do all of my estimating, invoicing, and project tracking through one interface and it has a client login area for communicating to keep all of our communications in one place. It’s a little techie to get set up and maybe not the most sleekest interface but it’s also very cheap for their freelancer plan. For all physical transactions I use PayPal with PayPal Here which even allows you to take pictures of checks with your mobile phone for easy deposit. That coupled with their credit card/debit card and am all set and ready to go anytime anywhere!

  12. I find that the square works very well. On the phone or when I have to show up on location and do a photo shoot first thing. It’s great in person and for my client in other states online purchases works very good also. I prefer having them on the phone for most all transactions. This gives the client direct opportunity to tie up loose ends or clarify the small things that will sometimes postpone payments. Bank to Bank will be great but I’ve ran into some inconsistencies and sometimes new clients need some heavy persuasion.

  13. Well well well, I checked out my Wells Fargo bank account and sure enough, they have WF SurePay, which sounds a lot like bank to bank transfers (within the US only).

    They don’t specifically say there’s a fee, but they don’t mention it’s free either. Thanks for the comments, everyone, I’m going to sign up and see how it works.

    Best, April

    1. Fantastic April! That’s the power of an excellent article followed by awesome comments. You increase your knowledge and (possibly) reduce your fees! 🙂

  14. The payment method depends on the customer.

    – Local customers: Bank transfer or Cash (if small amount)
    – International customers: Paypal

    I’m now also trying a payment terminal: SUM UP – (affiliate link) that could be handy sometimes.

    I didn’t knew that bank transfers are not common in the US. In Europe they are quite popular.

  15. Interesting article. A lot of the sites we build via our Web123 ProPartner system has a lot of inbuilt payment solutions. We like to try and make it easy on our Austrlian clients.

  16. I like to use the online invoice system from HarvestApp.

    You pay a low monthly fee and can send a large amount of invoices at no cost.

  17. Thanks for your article, April. I’m based in Australia, and a common form of payment here is bank transfer, where the client simply transfers the money online from their bank account into the supplier’s bank account. It’s easy, safe and has no fees. Smiles all round. 🙂

  18. One thing no-one seems to have mentioned – and I use a lot of is BACS payments (Bankers Automated Clearing Services Limited) Which is a direct online payment from their bank account into yours. the client trusts it because it is through their own bank. I like it because it there are no fees.
    I do accept cheques too, but its slow and time consuming.
    I accept Paypal for the Child and Toddler behave charts I sell direct from my website, as it was easy to set up and the fee per transaction is minimal.
    BACS is the way to go though.

    1. Hi Linda, we have a similar thing here in Australia, and it’s widely used. Most of my payments are made this way, but my international clients like to pay through Paypal. 🙂

    2. Linda,

      Wish we had something akin to BACS in the US. We have wire transfers and “BillPay” through banks, but a bank-to-bank transfer is either not marketed or not available. Bummer! With all the banking fees around this country, though, it’d probably cost. :/

      Thanks for sharing!

  19. Allowing clients multiple avenues of payments is smart. I have a payment portal on my web site linked to Paypal. Clients use it. Not all but some do. Some prefer mailing a check and that’s just fine with me. With the new scanning and sending options for deposit, checks are a breeze.

    The biggest problem I suffer is prompt payment. I’ll say this, the first time a client goes 90 days or more for no good reason, you need to drop them like a hot potato. From then on, that is if you want to work for them, get your money up front and work to the number. In this economic climate, clients that don’t pay or pay extremely slow are a curse in this business. You can go broke all by yourself, you don’t need their help.

  20. I use PayPal and cash almost always. It simplifies things to no end for me and my clients. However, I’m definitely going to look into some secure on site methods to increase ease of payment and hopefully use the payment gateway as a marketing opportunity for other services!

    Thanks for the informative post!

  21. Hi April… this is one topic that I have been struggling with for long. I’m from central america, Nicaragua and paypal doesn’t offer the entire service here so I was looking for alternative for so long… so long actually… and I did found a solution, not just for freelancing but for the e-commerce too… Payoneer, I got the debit card which works with the ATM but what if I need to grow?… well i just realise that the offer the business plan and they settle the online payment and direct deposit to your bank account in countries where Paypal doesn’t get. I found this useful and wanted to share it because I do know that this blog is not only followed by US designer 🙂 … and I thought this could help other business to retake the direction on the ecommerce too. 🙂

  22. I use PayPal and love it! You don’t have to have an account with them to make a payment, and they accept credit cards. It should be pointed out that you can claim PayPal fees as a business expense on your taxes, so as long as you can keep track of that, it’s a very trustworthy and straight-forward solution.

  23. Clarify with your buyer that you are not in the credit business. Contractually agree when payment has to happen. Ideally only start working after having been paid (at least partially, e.g., agree to 50% up-front and 50% after the first results are delivered). Send invoice 7 days ahead of the scheduled payment date. Follow-up with the client (not the accounting department) if the invoice has not been paid. In Europe, most corporate clients bay invoices by wire transfer, so tha’t what I use. In addition, costs for both parties are minimal.

  24. Ironic that this is the topic for today’s post. I’m currently working with an international client that would like to make payment by bank transfer. I’ve never done this before so I’m a little hesitant due to lack of knowledge. What are your opinions of this method?

    1. I am in the UK, and BACS (Bankers Automated Clearing Services) or bank transfer is very common. You supply your bank account sort code and account number and the client logs onto their bank account and sends a direct payment transfer into your account.
      Once they have paid you once then generally their bank saves your details making it quicker for them to pay you again next time.
      Security is controlled by whatever method their bank uses – and there are no fees (not that I am aware of anyway).
      All together I would recommend this way every time.
      You can log onto your bank account and check the transfer has been made.

      1. Linda,

        Very cool – thanks for sharing for our readers outside the US. As you have probably noticed, bank transfer is fairly rare inside the US.


    2. As you mentioned, it is an international client who wants to send you money from abroad. I do not like to receive bank to bank wire transfers from overseas unless it is someone I trust or if it is a pretty hefty amount. International wire transfers are expensive, and there’s also that security issue, so your client would have to pay a lot more in fees that way. Please ask them to pay via PayPal or use Transferwise, which is yet another trusted payment source, I use both these services to collect money from US/Canada/some parts of Europe. Wire transfer details should not be handed out easily since this info exchanges a lot of hands plus the entire process is tedious and you’re not even guaranteed of the success of the incoming wire.

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