Using credit cards in our day-to-day lives has become the norm for a lot of us, but do we actually know the ins and out on how credit card payments work?
Choosing a credit card machine isn’t as easy as picking the prettiest looking card reader or opting for the biggest brand. To ensure growth and prosperity, small businesses have to research into what card schemes their machine will accept, what card processing charges are paid per transaction, the small matter of monthly fees and card processing contracts as well as looking up ways to reduce card processing costs.
If you’re expecting a definitive recommendation for one particular terminal make/model then read no further as you’ll only be disappointed. What I can offer up is a list of the 5 best card readers for small business on the market – think about your personal business circumstances and decide which of our picks is best for you!
If you’re just starting out in business or looking to grow, there’s no quicker and better way to compare your transaction processing options than our credit card processing comparison tool on Cardswitcher.
Top 5 Card Machines for Small Businesses
Read on to check out our coveted list in all its glory.
The iZettle reader has taken mobile payments to the next level in recent years and has become a firm favourite with small businesses thanks to its modern, user-friendly approach and cost-effective card processing solutions.
With a RRP of £29 + VAT (or £25 + VAT for Cardswitcher users), modest iZettle fees for transaction of 1.75% and no monthly fees, your business will certainly get its money’s worth – slow and unreliable transactions are a thing of the past.
The reader takes two minutes to turn on and only 5 seconds to process payments which makes the iZettle 25% faster than most mobile card readers on the market. The 8-hour battery life from a single charge is another notable selling point for the dainty pocket-sized card reader.
Once connected to the iZettle App, the mobile card reader allows small businesses to take contactless or chip and pin card payments from all the major card providers like Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay via Smartphone or tablet.
Check out our full iZettle Card Reader Review.
8-hour battery life.
1.75% flat rate fee per card transaction.
Account suspensions for unauthorised user.
Low transaction limits for private accounts.
When it comes to cheap transaction fees, the SumUp Air Card Reader has the edge over iZettle. Offering one of the lowest transaction fees on the UK market (1.69%), the SumUp Air is tailored towards small businesses that process low volumes of card transactions.
The SumUp Air is competitively priced at £29 + VAT (or £19 + VAT for Cardswitcher users) and accepts all major credit and debit cards via Chip & PIN, contactless payments as well as Apple Pay and Android Pay. Payouts to your bank account should also be completed within 2-3 days.
On top of there being no set-up costs or monthly fees, you’ll also get free delivery on your card reader, a free, easy-to-use App, free dashboard and reporting as well as free telephone calls with the very helpful customer support service.
If we’re being picky, it’s not the most innovative app in the world. On the flip side, if you’re looking for a hassle-free and simple payment processing system the SumUp Air could be the perfect fit for your business. It offers a cost-effective solution for small businesses to get their foot in the door as well as providing excellent customer service.
Check out or full SumUp Card Reader Review.
No monthly fees.
Sqaure’s Card Reader has been designed for small business owners who want the perfect blend of low costs and fancy features. Although, you’ll probably have to integrate a tracker given the size of the thing!
As it’s too small to incorporate a PIN pad on the card reader, customers will have to enter their pins on a high-spec phone or tablet that operates through the free Point of Sale app. This looks professional and contemporary, which gives your small business a trendy vibe. Not that it needed it, of course.
Square accepts contactless cards, mobile wallets, chip and PIN, chip and sign cards and the package includes a magstripe reader that plugs into the earphone socket on your mobile device for international cards only. Warning – the magstripe can be slightly temperamental. The reader itself costs £19 + VAT ordinarily, or £15 + VAT with our Cardswitcher link.
Square will also accept all of the major cards as the iZettle or SumUp Air, with the exception of Discover, Union Pay or JCB. Transaction fees start at 1.75% (identical to iZettle) and jump to 2.5% for all keyed-in payments. Monthly fees are also non-existent.
Other handy features include email invoicing, in-browser virtual terminal for phone payments and digital receipts. All these features can play a part in helping you get to grips with your company’s finances, whilst reducing risk at the same time.
Check out our full Square Card Reader Review.
Low fixed transaction rates (1.75%)
No monthly fees
Not suitable for high-risk industries.
Despite the Worldpay reader being specifically designed for small businesses, it’s the most expensive card machine on the list. If you want to buy the Worldpay reader outright with no follow-up contract, it’s going to set you back £39.99 + VAT. Alternatively, the Pay-As-You-Go Worldpay reader jumps up to £69.99 + VAT, although, there’s no monthly fees to worry about.
What the Worldpay reader will offer you is greater flexibility. You’ll have a plethora of countertop, mobile card machine and virtual card readers to choose from as well as some of the most flexible contracts on the market.
You’ll have the option to choose between Pay Monthly and Pay-As-You-Go which can be make or break for some small businesses or start-ups. The 2.75% transaction fee is pretty steep compared to rival alternatives, but the Worldpay reader does come with a whole host of valuable features.
The keypad is covered by a 12-month warranty and the card reader comes with a virtual terminal for taking card payments face-to-face and over the phone. That’s not the best part – the card machines even work without wifi, so there’ll be no need to panic if the connection drops. The Worldpay reader also provides the choice of issuing receipts via email or SMS to cut down on any unnecessary paper waste!
Worldpay only accepts Mastercard, Maestro, Visa, Google Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, while settlements take up to three days. We highly recommend that you ask Worldpay to run-over all the costs and responsibilities placed upon you as they’ve been known to be untransparent about some of their fees. For example, they may not clarify their PCI compliance requirements, whereby customers are charged a non-compliance fee of £9.99 every month if they fail to complete certain paperwork.
24/7 customer support.
Wide range of card readers / Secure fraud protection.
2.75% transaction fee expensive compared to alternatives.
2 year notice needed to get free cancellation.
Note: PayPal now also sells the iZettle reader (RRP £29 + VAT). You will be charged 1.75% per transaction with this reader. The following information is about the PayPal Here reader which can still be purchased.
PayPal Here is a perfectly capable mobile card reader that inevitably benefits from the successful reputation of the ‘PayPal’ brand. The card machine integrates seamlessly with your PayPal account which allows merchants access to transactions from both face-to-face and online card payments within seconds of approval.
The PayPal Here is considerably more expensive (£45 + VAT) than the iZettle Reader, SumUp Air and Square Reader despite there not being much to differentiate the three.
The PayPal Here fee system is rather convoluted, so make sure to take your time when researching it. The card machine operates on a sliding fee scale at 2.75% per transaction until your business sells for over £1,500 per month where you’ll see processing fees reduce to 1.75% per transaction.
If your business is selling over £6,000 per month, you’ll pay 1.5% and then 1% if you sell over £15,000 per month. To put things in perspective, once you make over £6,000 per month, PayPal has the cheapest transaction rates of any provider.
Chip and contactless Amex cards have a standard 2.75% charge, while manual entry and swipe cards are as high as 3.4% + 20p. Foreign cards have further additional costs on top of that.
Once the card machine is ordered and the free PayPal app is downloaded, you’ll be good to go. If you don’t already have a PayPal account, you’ll have to sign up for one which involves providing your bank account details and some other potential additional documentation.
If you’re a small business that’s growing fast, PayPal Here could be the one. With a proven reputation, no contract or termination fees, cheap rates for high-volume businesses and secure anti-fraud systems, the PayPal Here is an incentivised payment solution for hungry entrepreneurs.
Check out our full PayPal Here Card Reader Review
Cheapest card machine for high volume sales.
Complex fee structure.
Need at least Bluetooth 2.0 on your phone.
What terminal features matter?
Maybe you’re the sort of person who has to optimise every decision and likes to get into the technical minutia to ensure you buy the “best”.
What should you look out for? Going back a few years, the big decision was whether you wanted a contactless ready terminal or a colour display.
Nowadays contactless is mandatory and you’d struggle to find a black & white display. Things I would look at are:
- Battery life – relevant for portable and mobile terminals
- Size and weight – like anything you might need to carry around, smaller/lighter is usually better
- Robustness – countering the size/weight point, in some environments where terminals are dropped frequently you’d favour a more sturdy model. You’d need to physically pick up a few models or ask for a recommendation to get a feel for this. Or maybe throw a few different terminal models at a wall……..
- Bluetooth vs. Wi-fi – a lot of portable terminals connect to their base station via only one of these methods. Which is best depends on your unique circumstances – building layout, strength of wi-fi, etc. If your smartphone struggles for wi-fi in parts of your building then a card terminal will do no better!
You’ll also want to consider which card reader app is the best to ensure you have a completely smooth sales experience.
Where will you use the terminal?
There are three “types” of terminal (otherwise known as PDQ machine) – countertop, portable and mobile and the correct choice depends on where you will physically use the terminal :
- At a fixed point indoors (a countertop card machine) – a fixed countertop terminal is the answer and is the cheaper of the three options.
- Wandering around the shop or restaurant floor – a portable terminal that connects to its base station via bluetooth or wi-fi is the answer
- Out and about in the great outdoors – you want a mobile terminal with a sim to connect via the GPRS/GMS phone network
All manufacturers make various models of each type and its likely that any merchant service provider will also have multiple models to choose from.
In most instances a resounding “no”, for several reasons.
Is the card terminal the key consideration in choosing your merchant service provider ?
- From a cost perspective, once you get above a few thousand pounds of monthly card turnover, the terminal rental costs are less significant than your card processing fees/merchant service charges. Focus on these “per transaction costs” as they are the largest element of your monthly bill.
- Card terminals are largely commoditised with most models offering similar features. Sure, some are marginally lighter, some have slightly better battery life but generally speaking there isn’t huge variances.
- Most merchant service providers can provide most terminal types for you to choose from. There isn’t a massive range of manufacturer choice in the UK market which is dominated by Ingenico followed by Verifone.
So, that’s our guide to picking the best card machine for small businesses – with so many payment options out there these days, from traditional chip and PIN to tapping your iPhone on the card reader, your business needs to meet customer demands at the checkout.
For a more nitty gritty look at some of the card readers on this list, check out our iZettle vs Square, Sum Up Air vs iZettle, and iZettle vs PayPal Here posts to see which credit card reader will serve your business best.