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The Best Options For A Free Credit Card Reader In 2024

Square is the best free mobile card reader, but other payment processors have good hardware for small businesses, too.

    Frank Kehl
  • Last updated onUpdated

  • Chris Motola
  • REVIEWED BY

    Chris Motola

    Senior Staff Writer

Advertiser Disclosure: Our unbiased reviews and content are supported in part by affiliate partnerships, and we adhere to strict guidelines to preserve editorial integrity.

Several years ago, the payments industry was awash in offers for free credit card readers as merchant services providers struggled to compete with Square’s novel smartphone-based mobile payments system.

While Square still includes a free, magstripe-only card reader with each account, most other companies do not. Instead, you’ll need to find a low-cost, EMV-capable mobile card reader if you’re looking for the least expensive way to accept in-person credit/debit card payments from your customers.

In this article, we’ll review the best options for low-cost and free credit card readers that work well for a newly launched business (or one that only occasionally has to accept an in-person credit/debit card payment). We’ll also give you some tips on what to look for in selecting the best credit card reader (free or not) for your business.

Learn More About Our Top Picks

CompanyBest ForNext StepsBest For
Square

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  • Square magstripe reader - $0
  • No monthly fee (for basic accounts)
  • No long-term contracts
  • Square magstripe reader - $0
  • No monthly fee (for basic accounts)
  • No long-term contracts

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National Processing

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  • $0/device if long-term contract accepted
  • $9.95-$19.00+/month account fee (depending on plan chosen)
  • Offers flat-rate & customized pricing options
  • $0/device if long-term contract accepted
  • $9.95-$19.00+/month account fee (depending on plan chosen)
  • Offers flat-rate & customized pricing options

Visit Site

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Clover Go

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  • $49/device when purchased directly from Clover (free through National Processing)
  • $14.95/month account fee
  • Huge app marketplace gives you great versatility
  • $49/device when purchased directly from Clover (free through National Processing)
  • $14.95/month account fee
  • Huge app marketplace gives you great versatility

Visit Site

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Shopify Lite

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  • $49/device for Shopify Tap & Chip Card Reader
  • $39/month for Shopify Basic plan
  • Great for multichannel sellers
  • $49/device for Shopify Tap & Chip Card Reader
  • $39/month for Shopify Basic plan
  • Great for multichannel sellers

Visit Site

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SumUp

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  • $54 for SumUp Plus mobile card reader
  • No monthly account fee
  • Good for low-volume merchants
  • $54 for SumUp Plus mobile card reader
  • No monthly account fee
  • Good for low-volume merchants

Visit Site

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PayPal Zettle

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  • PayPal Zettle Card Reader - $29 ($79 for additional readers)
  • No monthly fees
  • Zettle Card Reader includes built-in PIN pad for debit card transactions
  • PayPal Zettle Card Reader - $29 ($79 for additional readers)
  • No monthly fees
  • Zettle Card Reader includes built-in PIN pad for debit card transactions

Visit Site

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Read more below to learn why we chose these options.

Table of Contents

Credit Card Readers VS Credit Card Terminals

Before we dive into our recommendations for credit card readers, let’s make an important distinction between credit card readers and credit card terminals, as they’re not quite the same thing.

A credit card reader is a mobile device that’s designed to work in conjunction with a smartphone or tablet app to accept payments anywhere you can connect to the internet. It’s usually a minimalist device with no display or keypad, relying on the app for these functions. Credit card readers used to connect via a headphone jack, but today, most card readers rely on Bluetooth to connect wirelessly to your mobile device. Card readers can also be used with a virtual terminal to accept in-person payments using a laptop or desktop computer. Credit card readers are cheap (usually under $100/device) but not so inexpensive that companies can give them away for free.

credit card terminal, on the other hand, is usually a countertop device that includes a display and a built-in keypad. While it may need to be plugged into a wall outlet, many modern terminals can also run on battery power. Credit card terminals have gotten fancier in recent years and now tend to feature color displays, wireless connectivity, and the ability to install business-specific apps. Credit card terminals are significantly more expensive than card readers, often costing $300/device or more. If your credit card processor offers you a “free” terminal, be aware that there are usually strings attached. Terminals are simply too expensive to give away.

Why You Should Be Wary of “Free” Credit Card Reader Offers

Square has lured thousands of small businesses away from more traditional merchant service providers over the years by making credit card processing simpler and more affordable. The company’s competitors have responded in different ways, with many trying to offer a Square-like mobile card reader while still relying on the long-term contracts, high transaction charges, and multiple account fees that they’ve always used to turn a profit. Consequently, you’re likely to run across providers offering a service that looks a lot like Square at first glance but, in reality, will cost you a lot more.

One common feature is the “free” credit card reader offer. Knowing that business owners often don’t want to lease their equipment or purchase it upfront, providers will offer a “free” credit card reader with each merchant account that you open.

However, this equipment is never truly free. There will always be a tradeoff of some kind with this type of offer. In many cases, you’ll have to give up a month-to-month contract in exchange for a long-term contract with an expensive early termination fee. The value of the free equipment might also be recouped through a higher monthly fee, higher processing rates, or a combination of the two.

While “free” credit card terminals can sometimes be a good deal for certain businesses, we strongly encourage you to read the details of your contract very carefully before signing up to see what you’re giving up in exchange for that “free” terminal.

How The Best Free Card Readers Compare

EMV NFC Magstripe “Free” Option Available Purchase Cost
Square Magstripe Reader $10.00
Square Reader For Contactless & Chip $59.00
Clover Go $49.00
Shopify Tap & Chip Card Reader $49.00
SumUp Plus Card Reader $54.00
PayPal Zettle Card Reader $29 for 1st unit; $79 for additional units

The Best Free & Low-Cost Card Readers For Small Businesses

A free card reader is only as good as the features that come with it. In addition to the credit card reader, the best mobile processing systems are easy to use, include fully-featured apps, offer fair processing charges, and include reporting features and support for effective payment security measures. Our top choices are:

Square: Best For Startups

Total Rating 4.8
Fees & Rates5.0

Products & Services4.7

Contract4.3

Sales & Advertising Transparency5.0

Customer Service4.9

User Reviews4.9



Get a free card swiper from Square at no cost when you create a free account. Claim your card reader.

Pros

  • No battery charger required
  • Ideal for low-volume merchants
  • Impressive feature set

Cons

  • Not available to most high-risk merchants
  • The free reader is not EMV-compatible

Why Square Is The Best Choice For Startups

The venerable Square Magstripe Reader is, improbably, still available for free when you sign up for a Square account. It's available with either a headphone jack or a Lightning port to connect to your smart device and doesn't need charging. While it doesn't accept EMV cards, it's still useful for accepting the occasional magstripe-only card or as a backup to your EMV-compatible card reader.

You should, however, be aware that you'll be on the hook for any fraudulent transactions if you process an EMV-enabled card using the magstripe.

Square is an excellent choice for credit card processing if you're running a small, low-volume business. There are no monthly fees or long-term contracts, and you can sign up for an account online without going through the extensive underwriting process required to get a full-service merchant account. In-person transactions cost a flat 2.6% + $0.10 each, making it easy to predict your processing costs.

Be aware that Square isn't available to most high-risk businesses and can actually be more expensive than a traditional merchant account if you have a high monthly processing volume.

If you're going to use Square as your primary method for accepting credit and debit cards, we highly recommend that you upgrade to the Square Reader for contactless and chip, which adds EMV and NFC-based (contactless) capability and Bluetooth connectivity. It costs only $59 and includes a Square magstripe reader to use as a backup.

Free credit card reader

Square Free Credit Reader

Square Features

Square has evolved from a basic, mobile-only processing solution to a full-featured payments ecosystem and now includes the following major features:

  • Aggregated account for credit and debit card processing
  • Mobile card reader (magstripe-only) included with an account
  • EMV and NFC-capable card readers are available
  • Square Register POS system available
  • ACH processing included with every account
  • Analytics and reporting available through Square Dashboard

Square Pricing

  • No setup or application fees
  • $0/month for Square Free account ($29+/month for Square Plus accounts)
  • 2.6% + $0.10/card-present transaction
  • No chargeback fees
  • Square Reader for magstripe: $0 ($10 each for additional readers)
  • Square Reader for contactless & chip: $59 each

Get Started With Square

Read our in-depth review

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National Processing: Best For Full-Service Merchant Accounts

National Processing

Total Rating 4.6
Fees & Rates4.8

Products & Services5.0

Contract4.6

Sales & Advertising Transparency4.4

Customer Service4.1

User Reviews4.4



Get a free Clover Go card reader from National Processing when you sign up. Claim your card reader.

Pros

  • Month-to-month contract available
  • Extensive pricing disclosures
  • Flat-rate and customized pricing plans are available

Cons

  • “Free” terminal requires a long-term contract
  • Early termination fee charged for “free” equipment

Why National Processing Is The Best Choice For Full-Service Merchant Accounts

National Processing is one of the few providers in the processing industry that specifically caters to the needs of small business owners. Products and services include robust support for low-cost mobile processing systems, as well as more traditional credit card terminals. The company's new flat-rate pricing plans are similar to Square's, but you'll receive a more stable full-service merchant account instead of being added to an aggregated account.

Although National Processing offers a "free" card reader or terminal if you sign up for a merchant account, we recommend passing on this offer and purchasing your equipment outright. By doing so, you'll avoid the need for a long-term contract (with a $295 early termination fee) and enjoy true month-to-month billing with no long-term commitment. The company's "free" equipment offer makes more sense if you need a traditional countertop terminal or POS system, which costs hundreds of dollars or more.

In any event, National Processing is much more lenient about enforcing its early termination penalty than most providers. Unless you're leaving the company and signing up with a competitor, you won't have to pay the ETF as long as you return your equipment promptly.

National Processing Features

National Processing is one of the few Fiserv resellers that offer great service and pricing to small businesses. Key features include the following:

  • “Free” credit card reader available
  • Offers mobile processing with a Clover Go or SwipeSimple B250 card reader
  • Offers flat-rate or customized pricing plans (depending on monthly processing volume)
  • Offers ACH and echeck processing as an add-on
  • No long-term contract if processing hardware is purchased outright

National Processing Pricing

  • $9.95/month account fee (basic in-person or eCommerce plans)
  • $19.00+/month account fee (advanced plan)
  • 2.5% + $0.10/transaction (basic in-person plan)
  • 2.9% + $0.30/transaction (basic eCommerce plan)
  • 2.41% + $0.10/transaction (advanced plan)
  • 3.5% + $0.15/transaction (manual or keyed-in)
  • Custom pricing for merchants processing over $30,000/month
  • $15.00/month and 0-1.5% + $0.48/transaction for ACH and echeck processing (optional)
  • $0.00/month for the cash discounting program (optional)

Get Started With National Processing

Read our in-depth review

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Clover Go: Best For EMV, NFC & Magstripe Compatibility

Total Rating 4.3
Pricing4.1

Ease Of Use4.4

Features4.7

Customer Service4.4

User Reviews3.9



Pros

  • EMV, contactless, and swipe reader
  • Robust dashboard features
  • Full-service merchant account

Cons

  • No receipt printer or cash drawer connectivity
  • Highly variable pricing & contract terms if purchased through other Fiserv providers

Why Clover Go Is The Best Choice For EMV, NFC & Magstripe Compatibility

The Clover Go mobile card reader is best for merchants looking to accept it all — contactless, chip cards, and magstripe (as a last resort). This Bluetooth reader has a great battery life with an optional countertop dock, and with a merchant account through National Processing, the Clover Go could cost you nothing.

The price of the Clover Go reader depends on where you buy it — several processors use Clover as their line of hardware options. However, we have negotiated a deal with National Processing for our readers to get a free Clover Go device. If you want this chip card reader for free, you can get it from National Processing upon opening an account using our links on this page. Get your free reader here. Otherwise, it is $49 when you buy from Clover directly.

If you sign up directly with Clover, you'll pay just $14.95/month and have a simple, flat-rate pricing plan (usually 2.6% + $0.10/in-person transaction). Billing is month-to-month, and there are no long-term contracts or early termination fees.

The Clover Go's rechargeable battery is good for approximately 160 swipe or chip card transactions. A micro-USB charger is included with each device.
Clover Go mobile card reader

Clover Go Features

Clover Payments offers basic credit card processing services and support for a few alternate payment methods. Here are the highlights:

  • Offers flat-rate pricing (custom pricing available for high-volume businesses)
  • Month-to-month billing with no long-term contracts
  • Full line of Clover hardware
  • Access to Clover App Marketplace
  • eCheck processing
  • Scan to Pay QR code payments (Clover Dining plan only)
  • Virtual terminal included

Clover Go Pricing

  • 2.3%-2.6% + $0.10/in-person transaction (through Clover Payments)
  • 3.5% + $0.10/keyed-in transaction (through Clover Payments)
  • Variable processing fees (through Fiserv or Fiserv ISO)
  • Variable monthly and annual fees (through Fiserv or Fiserv ISO)
  • $0.00-$94.85/month software subscription fee (depending on the plan chosen)

For a more detailed breakdown of Clover’s various features and pricing options, please see our complete Clover pricing guide.

Get Started With Clover Go

Read our in-depth review

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Alternatives: Low-Cost Mobile Card Readers With No Commitment

With free credit card readers becoming rare, many merchants will be better served with a low-cost card reader that’s under $100.

Shopify, PayPal Zettle, and SumUp offer card readers (often for less than $60) that can accept EMV and NFC-based payments and integrate with a free app that includes all the basic functionality you’ll need to accept payments and access your account.

Shopify: Best For Online Businesses With Some In-Person Sales

Shopify Lite


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Pros

  • Inexpensive mobile card reader
  • Integrates with Shopify online platform
  • Predictable flat-rate pricing

Cons

  • Account stability issues
  • Shopify Lite does not include a full online store

Why Shopify Is The Best Choice For Online Businesses With Some In-Person Sales

Although it's best known as an eCommerce platform, Shopify also supports retail merchants with a variety of terminals and mobile card readers. At just $49, the company's proprietary Shopify Tap & Chip Card Reader is the ideal product for a small business looking to get a fully-featured mobile card reader for the lowest possible price (short of free, that is).

As the name implies, the Tap & Chip Card Reader accepts both EMV and contactless payment methods and connects to your smart device via Bluetooth. However, it doesn't accept magstripe payments. It's also one of the very few mobile card readers that comes with a charging dock included at no extra cost.

As for credit card processing, Shopify uses a very simple, flat-rate pricing plan. In-person transactions will cost you 2.7% each, while manually keyed-in sales will process at 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. There's also a monthly fee to use the Shopify platform itself, with the Shopify Basic plan being the most affordable at $39/month. There are no long-term contracts or early termination fees of any kind.

Shopify Features

You’ll need the Shopify POS app in addition to the Tap & Chip Card Reader to accept in-person payments. This app offers the following features:

  • Create & send invoices
  • Product library
  • Customer list
  • Analytics and reports
  • Discounts at POS
  • Order fulfillment
  • Tip collection

Shopify Pricing

  • Shopify Tap & Chip Card Reader: $49/device
  • $39+/month account fee (depending on plan chosen)
  • 2.7%/card-present transaction
  • 2.9% + $0.30/online transaction

Get Started With Shopify Lite

Read our in-depth review

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SumUp: Best For Very Low-Cost Hardware

Total Rating 4.5
Fees & Rates4.8

Products & Services3.5

Contract4.8

Sales & Advertising Transparency5.0

Customer Service4.3

User Reviews4.0



Pros

  • Very low-cost card readers are available
  • Predictable flat-rate pricing
  • International transactions supported in 31 countries

Cons

  • Account stability issues
  • Limited features

Why SumUp Is The Best Choice For Very Low-Cost Hardware

UK-based SumUp is a relatively new entrant to the US payments processing scene, but it has a lot to offer small retail businesses.

If you just want to accept credit cards on your smartphone or tablet, the SumUp Plus mobile card reader will set you back just $54 ($64 when bundled with a charging dock). The SumUp Plus supports magstripe, EMV, and contactless NFC payments (including Apple Pay and Google Pay) and uses Bluetooth to connect to your smart device of choice.

Like Square and PayPal, SumUp is a payment service provider (PSP), so the chances of having your account suddenly frozen or terminated are higher than they are with a fully underwritten merchant account. Pricing is fully disclosed and uses a flat-rate pricing model. All retail transactions cost 2.75% each, and billing is pay-as-you-go, with no recurring monthly fees or long-term contracts.

Overall, SumUp is an excellent choice for a small, retail-only business that wants to be able to accept credit and debit cards for the least amount of money. One word of caution: SumUp doesn't offer a payment gateway or support for eCommerce, so it's not suitable for businesses with an online sales channel.

SumUp Features

Although it’s intended as a low-cost minimalist solution for accepting credit cards, SumUp nonetheless includes a well-rounded set of features. Highlights include the following:

  • Item library
  • Virtual terminal
  • Quick-sale mode
  • Tipping
  • Cash recording
  • Basic analytics
  • Invoicing
  • Email/SMS receipts
  • QR code payments
  • Remote payments (payment links, virtual gift cards, etc.)

SumUp Pricing

  • No setup or application fees
  • No monthly fees
  • 2.75%/card-present transaction
  • 3.25% + $0.15/virtual terminal or payment link transaction
  • SumUp Plus mobile reader: $54

Get Started With SumUp

Read our in-depth review

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PayPal Zettle: Best For PayPal Users

PayPal Zettle


Visit Site

Pricing

No monthly fee

Contract

None

Equipment Cost

$29 for your first card reader

Pros

  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Accepts EMV and NFC-based payments
  • Built-in PIN pad
  • Easy-to-use interface

Cons

  • Cannot accept magstripe payments
  • Inconsistent customer support
  • Account stability issues

Why PayPal Zettle Is The Best Choice For PayPal Users

The PayPal Zettle Card Reader is PayPal's mobile card reader to use in conjunction with the PayPal Zettle app and your PayPal credit card processing account. It's modern, easy to use, and as close to "free" as you can hope for with such a sleek, multifunctional device.

The card reader operates using a built-in rechargeable battery that can last for up to eight hours (or 100 transactions) on a charge. You can recharge the reader using an included USB cable or an optional charging dock. With Bluetooth connectivity, you won't have to worry about having the right connector on your phone or tablet.

The PayPal Zettle app has most of the basic features you'll need day-to-day, including support for manually keyed-in transactions, logging cash payments, Venmo transactions, and QR code payments. It supports EMV and NFC-based payment methods (including Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay) but doesn't accept magstripe payments.

All in-person credit and debit card transactions cost a flat rate of 2.29% + $0.09 per transaction. While the PayPal Zettle Card Reader isn't free, it's a very affordable $29 for your first unit. Additional readers are $79 each, and the optional charging dock is $49. There are no monthly fees, and all billing is on a pay-as-you-go basis, with no long-term contracts or early termination penalties.
PapPal Zettle Card Reader

PayPal Zettle Features

The PayPal Zettle app is both simple and functional. Features include:

  • PayPal and Venmo QR codes
  • Cash payments
  • Item library
  • Reports
  • Discounts
  • Custom gift cards
  • Support for register setups
  • Refunds and partial refunds

PayPal Zettle Pricing

  • No monthly fees
  • No long-term contracts or early termination fees
  • 2.29% + $0.09/card-present and QR code transactions
  • 3.49% + $0.09/keyed-in transaction
  • Zettle 2 Reader: $29 (first unit), $79 (additional units)
  • Zettle 2 Dock: $49

Get Started With PayPal Zettle

Read our in-depth review

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Payment Processing Rating Methodology

Merchant Maverick has been researching the payment processing industry since 2009. Our writers have reviewed hundreds of credit card processors, merchant account services, and mobile payment apps, evaluating each provider carefully on several different metrics.

When comparing different payment processing companies and applications to one another, we consider numerous data points. Our experts start by comparing credit card processing rates, the presence of additional fees, contract length, sales practices, and the presence or absence of additional features and services, like point of sale software. Each provider is judged on its own merits and how well it stacks up to industry standards; then it is weighed against the other providers on the list.

We spend an average of 10-15 hours researching and updating each one of our lists, making sure every company or application included meets our internal standards for quality and reputation. Any list of recommended payment processors on our site might contain a mix of standard merchant accounts, third-party payment processors, mobile payment devices, and high-risk payment processors, depending on what our expert feels is the best fit for certain scenarios or business types.

For additional details about Merchant Maverick’s review and rating processes, please refer to any or all of the following methodology pages:

15

Years reviewing payment processors

100+

Providers evaluated

25

Attributes and features assessed per vendor

40+

Years combined experience


How To Choose The Best Free Credit Card Reader

There isn’t a single provider that can offer the lowest costs to every merchant. What might be a very inexpensive solution for you might not be such a good deal for someone else. Also, paying the least amount of money for processing won’t be of much use if you have to worry about your account suddenly being frozen or shut down or if the customer service isn’t adequate to solve technical problems when they arise.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing which card reader is best for your small business:

  • What features come with the reader?
  • What does the processing cost?
  • Are you in a month-to-month agreement, or will you be locked into a long-term agreement?
  • Is there an early termination fee?
  • What connectivity options does the reader have?
  • How long is the battery life?

These questions will help you keep track of the basics and identify the most important details for you when making the best choice for a free reader.

Which Free Card Reader Is Right For Your Business?

With EMV now being the standard method of in-person card acceptance in the United States, Canada, and Europe, magstripe technology is well on its way to obsolescence. While you might occasionally need to process a magstripe payment, a card reader that only accepts magstripe is of very limited utility.

Modern card readers for mobile processing systems typically accept EMV and connect via Bluetooth to get around the disappearance of headphone jacks from most recent smartphone models. These additional features have driven the price of the readers up to the point where providers can no longer include them as a “free” feature of a new account (at least, not without some kind of trade-off to compensate for the value of the reader). Because of these factors, most business owners will have to either purchase a low-cost reader or find a “free” one that comes with trade-offs they can live with.

All of the companies we’ve profiled above can set you up with a good-quality reader and mobile app that will allow you to start accepting credit cards. While each company has its limitations, they all provide excellent service for small businesses like yours. Some, however, are a better fit for certain industries than others, so be sure to do your research before selecting the best provider for your business.

For more information on mobile processing, check out the best mobile credit card readers for iPhones & iPads or the best mobile card readers for Android phones & tablets. If you’re looking to upgrade to a traditional countertop credit card terminal, our post on the best credit card machines and terminals for small businesses can help.

FAQs: Free Card Readers

How do I get a free Square reader?

Simply complete the account application on Square’s website and provide a valid business address. Once your account is approved, Square will ship you a free magstripe-only card reader. This reader requires a headphone jack to connect to your mobile device, but does not need batteries.

Do all card readers charge a fee?

Yes. Whether your credit card reader is free or you have to pay for it, you will always have to pay credit card processing fees whenever you accept a credit or debit card payment. Note that the bulk of these fees go to the bank that issued the customer’s card, not your credit card processor.

Can I get a card reader for personal use?

Yes. Square and other payment processors allow you to open an account and get a card reader for personal use. You will still have to pay credit card processing fees and any other fees related to maintaining your account.

Can I accept credit card payments without a card reader?

Yes. QR code payments allow your customers to scan a QR code and pay you using the digital wallet service (Apple Pay, Google Pay, Venmo, etc.) on their smartphones. While QR codes are an excellent alternative payment method, be aware that not all your customers will have a smartphone or be comfortable using this service.

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Frank Kehl

Frank Kehl

Senior Staff Writer at Merchant Maverick
Frank has been writing about payment processing and business services since 2015. He is a retired Air Force officer and a former practicing attorney. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from The Pennsylvania State University and a Juris Doctorate degree from the Ventura College of Law, and currently resides in Paso Robles, California.
Frank Kehl
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