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The Best Options For A Free Credit Card Reader In 2022

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

    Frank Kehl
  • UPDATED

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

If you’ve been searching for a way for your business to accept credit cards, you’ve probably been bombarded with offers for “free” card readers. Given that the average countertop credit card terminal costs around $300 or more, such an offer might seem too good to be true.

However, the advent of mobile processing systems that allow you to use your smartphone or tablet in conjunction with a simple card reader has made it possible to get a functioning credit card reader for little or no money. At the same time, there are many factors to consider before going with the first company that offers you a free reader.

This article reviews the best options currently available for getting a free card reader and explains how to choose the best product for your business. We’ll also explain why a not-quite-free card reader might be a better option in the long run.

Learn More About Our Top Picks

CompanyBest ForNext StepsBest For
Square

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  • Magstripe-only card reader is still free
  • Pay-as-you-go billing with no monthly fees
  • No long-term contracts
  • Magstripe-only card reader is still free
  • Pay-as-you-go billing with no monthly fees
  • No long-term contracts

Visit Site

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Clover Go

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  • Available from many different merchant services providers
  • The card reader is free when purchased through National Processing ($49 directly from Clover)
  • Huge app marketplace gives you great versatility
  • Available from many different merchant services providers
  • The card reader is free when purchased through National Processing ($49 directly from Clover)
  • Huge app marketplace gives you great versatility

Visit Site

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National Processing

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  • Interchange & membership pricing exclusively
  • No long-term contracts (unless you accept free equipment)
  • Competitive ACH pricing
  • Interchange & membership pricing exclusively
  • No long-term contracts (unless you accept free equipment)
  • Competitive ACH pricing

Visit Site

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Payment Depot

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  • Mobile card reader available with new account
  • No long-term contracts or early termination fees
  • Membership pricing saves money for high-volume businesses
  • Mobile card reader available with new account
  • No long-term contracts or early termination fees
  • Membership pricing saves money for high-volume businesses

Visit Site

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Stax by Fattmerchant

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  • Month-to-month billing with no long-term contracts
  • Subscription pricing eliminates percentage-based markup on transactions
  • Cloud-based integrated payments platform
  • Month-to-month billing with no long-term contracts
  • Subscription pricing eliminates percentage-based markup on transactions
  • Cloud-based integrated payments platform

Visit Site

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Shopify Lite

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  • Card readers start at $49
  • Great for multichannel sellers
  • $9/month for the Lite plan
  • Card readers start at $49
  • Great for multichannel sellers
  • $9/month for the Lite plan

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SumUp

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  • SumUp Plus reader accepts tapped, dipped, swiped, and PIN payments
  • SumUp Plus reader costs just $19
  • Good for low-volume merchants
  • SumUp Plus reader accepts tapped, dipped, swiped, and PIN payments
  • SumUp Plus reader costs just $19
  • Good for low-volume merchants

Visit Site

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PayPal Zettle

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  • Zettle Reader 2 includes built-in PIN pad
  • Cheaper than Square's contactless + chip reader (for the first reader you order)
  • Lower in-person processing rate than Square
  • Zettle Reader 2 includes built-in PIN pad
  • Cheaper than Square's contactless + chip reader (for the first reader you order)
  • Lower in-person processing rate than Square

Visit Site

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Read more below to learn why we chose these options.

Why Square Is Still The Best Free Card Reader

Square pioneered the use of small card readers that connected to a smartphone and used an app for transaction entry. These readers were so cheap to produce that the company could include one for free with each new account. Square’s then-radical approach to payments allowed many small businesses to begin accepting credit cards for the first time.

Since then, most processors have introduced similar mobile processing systems for merchants looking to avoid the high cost of credit card terminals and POS systems. However, none of them have truly been able to match Square’s pay-as-you-go billing, lack of long-term contracts, and predictable flat-rate pricing plans.

For a small, low-volume business, Square is all you need if getting a free credit card reader is your top priority.

Why You Should Beware The “Free” Card Swiper

Square has lured thousands of small businesses away from more traditional merchant services providers over the years. 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 gimmick 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.

5 Ways To Get Free 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 include Square, Payment Depot, National Processing, and more!

1. Square

Square



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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

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.

Free credit card reader

Square Free Credit Reader

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 $49 each and includes a Square magstripe reader to use as a backup.

Get Started With Square

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2. Clover Go

Clover Go



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Pros

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

Cons

  • No receipt printer or cash drawer connectivity
  • Somewhat clunky design

The Clover Go 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.

Clover Go Free Credit Card Reader

The price of the Clover Go Bluetooth 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.

National Processing offers transparent, interchange-plus pricing for retail at interchange + 0.18% + $0.10 per transaction. It provides month-to-month billing with no early termination fee if you need to close your account. With this traditional merchant account, you’ll also get more account stability than with payment service providers (PSPs), such as Square and PayPal.

Note that National Processing offers a wide variety of plans tailored to specific industries and business types. Not all of these plans come with a free Clover Go card reader (some include a SwipeSimple reader instead). Monthly fees range from $9.95/month to $199/month, with additional charges for optional features, such as ACH processing.

The Clover Go’s rechargeable battery is good for approximately 160 swipe or chip card transactions.

Get Started With Clover Go

Read our in-depth review

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3. National Processing

National Processing



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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
  • Interchange-plus and membership pricing are available

Cons

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

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 offers both the Clover Go and SwipeSimple B250 mobile card readers, both of which are profiled elsewhere in this article.

While National Processing offers a “free” 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 probably won’t have to pay the ETF as long as you return your equipment promptly.

Get Started With National Processing

Read our in-depth review

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4. Payment Depot (Now Payment Depot By Stax)

Payment Depot



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Read our Review

Pros

  • Transparent membership pricing
  • True month-to-month billing
  • Free mobile card reader

Cons

  • Accepts US-based merchants only
  • Expensive for low-volume businesses

Payment Depot (now Payment Depot by Stax) is one of a handful of merchant services providers that offers membership pricing, where you pay a single monthly subscription fee in exchange for eliminating the percentage markup on your transaction fees. You’ll still pay the interchange fees, of course, but this type of pricing can save some businesses hundreds of dollars every month. Payment Depot offers several pricing plans with varying monthly subscription fees and processing limitations.

Payment Depot’s least-expensive option, the Starter Plan, costs just $59/month and includes a free SwipeSimple B250 card reader. This battery-powered reader connects via Bluetooth Low Energy and accepts EMV, NFC-based (Apple Pay and Google Pay), and magstripe payments. An optional base stand costs just $29 and can be used to recharge the reader’s battery or use it as a countertop terminal. The free SwipeSimple app is available for both iOS and Android.

Under the Starter plan, all card-present transactions process at interchange + $0.15 per transaction. There’s no percentage-based markup, which can be a real money-saver if you process a lot of high-ticket sales. One limitation of the Starter plan is that you can only process a maximum of $125,000/year, although Payment Depot will upgrade you to the next-highest membership level if you go over this amount.

Get Started With Payment Depot

Read our in-depth review

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5. Stax by Fattmerchant

Stax by Fattmerchant



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Pros

  • Transparent membership pricing
  • Month-to-month billing with no long-term contracts
  • Mobile reader supports EMV, NFC, and magstripe payments

Cons

  • US-based merchants only
  • Expensive for low-volume businesses

Stax by Fattmerchant is one of the pioneers in the use of membership pricing, which combines all of your monthly recurring fees into a single subscription fee and eliminates the percentage-based markup on your transactions. This kind of pricing can save some businesses a lot of money on their overall processing costs, but it works best for high-volume (at least $10,000/month) businesses. With no long-term contracts, Stax offers true month-to-month billing with no early termination fees.

Stax sells a variety of terminals, POS systems, and mobile card readers for direct purchase. The company’s primary mobile card reader is the BBPOS Chipper 2X BT, which can accept EMV, NFC-based, or magstripe payments. The reader pairs up with the free Stax Pay mobile app (available for iOS and Android), allowing you direct access to the cloud-based Stax payment platform. The mobile card reader also includes the latest security features, including support for tokenization and end-to-end encryption.

Stax is a great deal for many merchants, but it may not be cost-effective for a small, low-volume business. With monthly subscription fees starting at $99/month, it may be too expensive for a very small business that doesn’t generate a high volume of credit and debit card sales every month.

Get Started With Stax by Fattmerchant

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 $50) 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.

1. Shopify

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

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 $29, the company’s proprietary Shopify Chip & Swipe 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 Chip & Swipe Reader accepts both EMV and magstripe payment methods and connects to your smart device via Bluetooth. However, it doesn’t accept NFC-based (contactless) payments. It’s also one of the very few mobile card readers that comes with a charging dock included at no extra cost. Unfortunately, it’s currently listed as out of stock on the Shopify website.

Shopify has also recently introduced a proprietary Shopify Tap & Chip Reader, which supports contactless payments but drops the magstripe reader. It’s also listed as sold out, although we believe it will be back in stock sometime soon.

At the moment, your only choice for a mobile card reader that is in stock is the popular BBPOS Chipper 2x BT ($49 each). It’s an excellent choice, assuming that you don’t have your heart set on a Shopify-branded product.

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 Lite plan being the most affordable at just $9/month. There are no long-term contracts or early termination fees of any kind.

Get Started With Shopify Lite

Read our in-depth review

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2. SumUp

SumUp



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Read our Review

Pros

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

Cons

  • Account stability issues
  • No eCommerce support

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 $19 ($39 when bundled with a charging dock. For just $59, the SumUp Pro works without the need to connect to a mobile device. Both readers support magstripe, EMV, and contactless NFC payments (including Apple Pay and Google Pay). The SumUp Plus 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.

Get Started With SumUp

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3. PayPal Zettle

PayPal Zettle



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Read our Review

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

The Zettle Reader 2 is now PayPal Zettle’s primary choice for a mobile card reader to use in conjunction with 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.

PapPal Zettle Card Reader

The Zettle 2 Reader uses the PayPal Zettle: Point of Sale app (available for iOS and Android) to accept payments and manage your account. It 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 process at a flat rate of 2.29% + $0.09 per transaction. While the Zettle 2 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.

Get Started With PayPal Zettle

Read our in-depth review

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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.

The Bottom Line On Free Card Readers

With EMV (or “chip” card) 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 modern smartphones. 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 our articles, The Best Mobile Credit Card Readers For iPhone & iPad Credit Card Processing and The 8 Best Mobile Card Readers For Android Phones & Tablets.

In Summary: 5 Ways To Get Free Card Readers For Small Businesses

  1. Square:
    • Magstripe-only card reader is still free
    • Pay-as-you-go billing with no monthly fees
    • No long-term contracts
  2. Clover Go:
    • Available from many different merchant services providers
    • The card reader is free when purchased through National Processing ($49 directly from Clover)
    • Huge app marketplace gives you great versatility
  3. National Processing:
    • Interchange & membership pricing exclusively
    • No long-term contracts (unless you accept free equipment)
    • Competitive ACH pricing
  4. Payment Depot:
    • Mobile card reader available with new account
    • No long-term contracts or early termination fees
    • Membership pricing saves money for high-volume businesses
  5. Stax by Fattmerchant:
    • Month-to-month billing with no long-term contracts
    • Subscription pricing eliminates percentage-based markup on transactions
    • Cloud-based integrated payments platform

    Alternatives: Low-Cost Mobile Card Readers With No Commitment

  1. Shopify Lite:
    • Card readers start at $49
    • Great for multichannel sellers
    • $9/month for the Lite plan
  2. SumUp:
    • SumUp Plus reader accepts tapped, dipped, swiped, and PIN payments
    • SumUp Plus reader costs just $19
    • Good for low-volume merchants
  3. PayPal Zettle:
    • Zettle Reader 2 includes built-in PIN pad
    • Cheaper than Square's contactless + chip reader (for the first reader you order)
    • Lower in-person processing rate than Square
Frank Kehl

Frank Kehl

Expert Analyst & Reviewer at Merchant Maverick
Frank Kehl has been researching and analyzing merchant services, payment gateways, and international money transfer services since 2015. He has a Bachelor of Science degree from Penn State and a Juris Doctorate from the Ventura College of Law.
Frank Kehl
View Frank Kehl's professional experience on LinkedIn.

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Merchant Maverick’s ratings are editorial in nature, and are not aggregated from user reviews. Each staff reviewer at Merchant Maverick is a subject matter expert with experience researching, testing, and evaluating small business software and services. The rating of this company or service is based on the author’s expert opinion and analysis of the product, and assessed and seconded by another subject matter expert on staff before publication. Merchant Maverick’s ratings are not influenced by affiliate partnerships.

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