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UPDATED: April 15, 2017 – Reflects new PayPal interface and includes screenshots.

In this post, we’ll go step by step how to set up recurring payments in a business PayPal account.

I am pretty sure you need a business account with PayPal to have access to this feature so if you can’t access it, then take a look at your account status and upgrade if necessary. It’s free, but you’ll need to provide information on your business.

Log in to your account and let’s jump right in!

Go to Tools -> All Tools (If Recurring Payments is not in the dropdown list).

First, click on the little heart underneath Recurring Payments so that it will be in the dropdown list next time you log in and you’ll just go to Tools -> Recurring Payments, skipping a step.

favorite recurring module

Now, go ahead and click on Recurring Payments to enter that area. Once open, click on ‘Create a Subscription Button’ at the top of the list on the right side.

create new recurring button

There are three steps or windows of information that you’ll need to provide and you can access each one by clicking on the corresponding blue bar.

PayPal calls these buttons so just know that I will refer to it as a button as well. Don’t worry if you don’t really need a button, that’s just what it’s called.

STEP 1 – Button Type & Payment Details

  1. Choose button type – the default is usually Subscriptions and that’s what you want it to be.
  2. Name your button where it says Item Name and if you need to do some advance tracking, you can give it a name in the Subscription ID field. This ID will be used again in step 2 (inventory tracking & profit and loss). In most cases, you can leave this blank.
  3. Select the currency you want your button to use. This does not affect the default currency of your account. Each button can use a different currency.
  4. Add a dropdown – you can ignore this as it’s only useful for physical products where you want to offer color or size options. Price options won’t work here.
    • Select button appearance
    • Select language for button and checkout window
    • Choose either a buy now or subscribe button
    • Or, add a link to your own button image
  5. Have PayPal create user names and passwords for customers if you are setting up membership access for login to your website and you want login access generated through PayPal. Depending on the membership software, you may or may not need to do this through PayPal. You can click on the link next to the notes for instructions. You may need help from your website developer for this part.
  6. Enter the amount of the recurring payment. If the fee is 25.00 a month, then enter that here without currency symbols.
  7. Set your billing cycle here in days, weeks, months, or years.
  8. Set how many cycles you want it to run. If you have a yearlong program with monthly payments, then set your billing cycle to 1 month and ‘stop cycles’ to 12. There is an option for ‘never’ and I’ve been told that PayPal will stop the cycles after 24 months if you are using a third-party integration. I can’t confirm this first hand. If you want to go past 24 months and are using integration with another system, I recommend you contact PayPal to be certain so you don’t have surprise cancellations, then end up having to try to get customers reinstated. I’m sure PayPal has an upgrade service if you need more advanced subscription options.
  9. Tick this if you want to offer a free trial and select the appropriate options. If you want to do a free trial, then just leave the ‘amount to bill’ field blank but be sure to tick it to turn in on.
  10. Select whether you want to use your PayPal merchant account ID or your primary email address. I always leave this on the default or ‘use my secure merchant account ID’.
recurring setup step 1

STEP 2 – Track Inventory, Profit & Loss

First option is ticked by default and you should leave it that way. Save your button at PayPal. This way you can come back later and make adjustments when needed. As explained, buttons are also protected from fraudulent changes.

There are other options here for inventory tracking and profit and loss tracking.

Tracking inventory is useful when you need to limit the number of subscriptions.

Tracking profit and loss can be useful in the case of a membership program where you want to see churning results.

If you don’t need these, just leave them blank.

Tracking Inventory

  1. To track inventory, tick that selector and the available options will be activated.
  2. Enter the Item ID and the quantity you want to limit it to. You can add an alert quantity if you want to be notified when the limit is close to being reached. Say you only want to sell 50 subscriptions, you can get an alert when 40 have been sold. Then you can send out a warning to your list that only 10 are available so they need to take action if they want to get in on your offer. The Item ID should match the Subscription ID in Step 1, next to where you named your button.
  3. Decide if you want customers to be able to purchase the item even if the limit has been reached or not. If not, your customers will see a ‘sold out’ message and you can add a link to a page to continue shopping for another product or get a message that explains what other options are available. You could even take them to a page where they can sign up to be on a waiting list or be notified when the subscriptions re-open.
track inventory

Track Profit & Loss

  1. Tick this selector and the field to assign a value to the item will appear. This would be the value of the subscription cycle amount.
profit and loss

STEP 3 – Checkout Features

This section is for the actions that you want to happen after or upon checkout.

  1. Indicate yes or no to whether you need to collect the customer’s shipping address. If you do, this information can be found within the payment transaction.
  2. Tick this and add the page you want a customer to go to if they cancel their checkout. I usually set this to go back to the original offer page in case cancelling was a mistake or they felt they needed more information. You could send it to a FAQ section in case they had an objection that caused second thoughts.
  3. Tick this and add the link to the order confirmation page.
  4. Advanced variables can most often be left blank. This is a way of adding HTML code to your button to add customized actions. Usually you only know what to use here because you need an action to take place and you’ve learned you can do it here. Here’s a list of some of the optional variables in case you’re interested.
checkout options

Now you’re done so you can click the yellow ‘Create Button’ button.

Next, you’ll see the page where you can grab either the button code or an email link. If you’d like to use your own website button style, you can use the email link.

recurring button code
  1. Up top you’ll find instructions on how to use the button code.
  2. Here’s the section that has your button code. This code will display a payment button on your website. The code in the example is blurred out but your code will be here and you can click on the ‘select code’ button to copy it to your computer, then paste it into your web page or wherever you need it. Click on the ‘Email’ tab if you want the link. If you want to go back and change something, you can click on the ‘Go back to edit this button’ link. I actually use this sometimes so it’s great they put it here so you don’t have to go back through the navigation to get to it again.
  3. In this section, you have a few more handy navigation links. These are convenient when you have a handful of buttons to make. If you need to make similar buttons, click on that link… it’s a super time saver!

When you need to go back in later and make changes to your recurring payment (subscription) button, you can find it under tools again, but this time click on ‘Payment Buttons’.

Under ‘Action’, you can choose from Edit Button, View Code (If you just want the button code or link), Create Similar Button, Delete Button, or Create New Button.

That should do it!  You should have your recurring payment button set up now.

I hope you’ve found this useful and feel free to comment below if you have a question about your recurring payment setup.  I’m not a PayPal expert but if I can answer it for you I certainly will.

  • I have been wanting to set up recurring billing on my paypal site for a while, so thanks for some motivational information. Very well explained, and hopefully I will have no trouble at all.

      • Can you change the date your customer will be billed every month, say the 1st of June and 1st each month following? Thank you

        • Hello Emma. No, unfortunately the billing date can not be changed. It’s based on the date the customers pays the first payment. So they would have to actually sign up on the first for subsequent payments to bill on that date. If you have a customer that wants to change their billing date you can stop the current subscription and start a new one on that date. Something I have done if I’m signing up a new customer in the middle of the month is to use the trial date feature, setting the trial for however many days there are until the first of the month. Hope that helps!

  • awesome ideas here. I was looking to set up a paypal recurring billing system on my site and this gave me some good insight to proceed.

  • I am able to set up a recurring billing button just fine. But I need to have the price option drop down box. How can this be done?

  • Hey Jean! Glad you found the info useful. 🙂

    Hello Trent… The drop-down WITH price/option is only available with products, services or gift certificates but not with subscriptions/recurring payments. That would certainly be a nice option, wouldn’t it? Perhaps if enough people request it they will work it out!

  • I have a question. Your tutorial is very straight forward, and I like it a lot. But I am curious as to how do I make Paypal return to my website whether or not the monthly billing is successful. For example someone signs up for recurring billing and it goes on for 3 months, but on the 4th month it fails. I need paypal to respond back to my website when they’re payments actually fail.



  • I have been wanting to set up recurring billing on my paypal site for a while, so thanks for some motivational information. Very well explained, and hopefully I will have no trouble at all.

  • I am selling private ad spots on my site and now one of my customer has asked me to set up a recurring subscription. I have created the button using the steps you specified in the post. I don’t want to put the button on the site. I will email the client. My question is: Am I supposed to send the email with the payment link every link? I read in a forum that once the client has made the first payment, Paypal will automatically charge them during the next billing period. Is this true? I would very much appreciate a reply.

    • I realize this is a late reply for Manjusha, but in case this could help anyone else along the way… yes, if you set up a recurring payment in PayPal then the client will be billed automatically after the first payment.

  • As posted above…

    * Log into your account at PayPal

    * Go to ‘Merchant Services’

    * Under ‘Key Features’ click ‘Subscription & Recurring Payments’

    Umm… No, that’s not correct. Is it somewhere else instead?

    • I’ve updated the instructions from the beginning. It was the first part that has changed since this post was originally written.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

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