A payment gateway is essentially a digital version of the point-of-sale systems you see in brick and mortar stores. Just like accepting a credit card transaction in a physical store, a payment gateway accepts a credit card for a transaction that takes place online.

Payment gateways power the eCommerce world, allowing customers to transfer funds to businesses online in seconds. But, when it comes to membership sites, this transfer needs to happen on a recurring basis—ideally, automatically.

If you’re using Paid Memberships Pro to power your membership business, you might be wondering:

  • How are recurring payments set up?
  • How does PMPro communicate with my payment gateway?
  • Is there anything I need to do to make sure that payments are processed successfully on a recurring basis?

In this post, we’re going to address all of these questions to help you better understand how recurring payments work with Paid Memberships Pro.

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How Recurring Payments Work with Paid Memberships Pro

A Common Misconception About Recurring Payments

You might assume that when a customer signs up for your membership, each subscription payment thereafter would need to be a unique one-time charge.

This would require the plugin to send a new request for this charge to the payment gateway every time a payment is due. That could be monthly or yearly, for example.

If this were the case, any issue with the plugin, platform, or website being used (a website crash, for example) could mean that the payment request is never made—and you don’t get paid.

At Paid Memberships Pro, we wanted to avoid this potential problem altogether, so we set up our plugin a little differently.

How PMPro Communicates with Your Payment Gateway

When a customer signs up for your membership with Paid Memberships Pro, the recurring payment setup occurs at the payment gateway level, not within the membership plugin itself.

Then, the payment gateway sends information about each subscription to your membership site through a webhook or IPN. Paid Memberships Pro is programmed to “listen” for these messages and take appropriate actions based on the message content.

These actions include:

  • Creating a new order
  • Charging a recurring payment
  • Canceling a user’s membership

To clarify, Paid Memberships Pro only needs to communicate with the payment gateway one time when the subscription is first created. PMPro does not have to communicate with the payment gateway each time a recurring payment needs to be processed.

This offers multiple benefits:

  1. It’s more secure, as the plugin does not need to store any sensitive customer data.
  2. You still get paid if something happens to your membership site. Even a site crash will not affect the payment gateway or your recurring payments schedule.

Plus, when payments are handled entirely at the gateway level, you can make changes to your site, membership plugin, or platform without it affecting your members’ recurring payments.

The Recurring Payments Process: A Flow Chart

Infographic: How Recurring Payments Work with Paid Memberships Pro
Click to view the full-size image

The Recurring Payments Process: In Steps

  1. The customer signs up for your membership, and submits their personal information at the checkout
  2. The web server processes the checkout
    1. If the checkout is a success:
      1. PMPro communicates with the payment gateway’s subscription or recurring payment API to send all of the information about the subscription directly to the payment gateway
      2. The payment gateway stores the customer’s information and sets up the recurring payments within the gateway itself
      3. The payment gateway automatically charges the recurring fees when they are due, without interacting with your membership site or Paid Memberships Pro
    2. If the checkout fails, the user is redirected back to the checkout submission page

Payment Gateways Are Designed for Payments 

Developers can use our composable API to get started quickly or design customized subscription logic and pricing models.


Payment gateways specialize in processing payments, so why not let them handle things? With Paid Memberships Pro, we wanted to keep things simple and make sure that recurring payments do not rely on the membership site itself.

If you want to learn more about how some popular payment gateways handle recurring payments, here are a few links you can check out: