The Best Free Credit Card Readers For Small Businesses
If you’re on the hunt for a free credit card reader, you probably have more options than you think. You may be just getting your business off the ground and don’t need a full countertop solution quite yet — or maybe you want the added flexibility of a mobile reader to take a curbside payment or safely process a credit card while you’re on the road.
Whatever your reasons, finding the best credit card reader has more to do with the features you’ll find waiting for you when you use it. Reporting, storing payment information, and payment security are all major features we need to think about, so you can protect your business.
We’re going to take a look at some of the best free credit card readers, and by the end of this post, you’ll know when to take it and when to pass!
Read more below to learn why we chose these options.
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The Best Mobile Apps With A Free Credit Card Reader
A credit card reader is only as good as the features that come with it. The best mobile apps with a free credit card reader should include strong payment security, reporting features, fair processing charges, and are easy to use.
Let’s take a look at our top choices in free readers and why we chose them!
The free Square credit card reader is ideal for a business that needs a cheap and portable solution to take credit cards curbside or on the go. With no charging required, this reader is ready to go wherever you are. It’s a top pick for the impressive feature-set, including the free Square POS software.
The Square Magstripe Reader has been Square’s trusty free reader for many years, and it hasn’t evolved much. The Square Magstripe Reader does not need charging, and it’s small enough to fit in your pocket to be carried around. There’s a certain elegance in that sort of simplicity. You should know, though, that while the reader is fully secure, it doesn’t offer the same amount of protection if your customer uses a fraudulent credit card.
If I’ve piqued your interest, good! That means you’re on your way to being an aware and empowered merchant. Essentially, this free credit card swiper is not EMV compatible. EMV cards are chip cards that you process by dipping rather than swiping. EMV chip readers or, even better, contactless readers offer the greatest amount of security against fraud and chargebacks. To learn more about EMV readers and cards, visit our post, What Is EMV Compliance?
So should you be concerned if you stick with the free magstripe reader? If you’re processing higher ticket sales, I would probably be concerned over the long term. However, if you process lower ticket sales, you’re in a low-risk industry, or you just need something to take with you to a trade show now and then, the Square reader should work just fine initially. If you do process larger ticket items, we suggest upgrading to Square’s EMV chip reader (starts at $49).
Whether you use the chip reader or the swiper, the back-end features are all the same, and that’s really why this reader makes the list. Square’s free POS app is absolutely packed with free features. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but features include:
- Reporting and analytics
- Customer data storage
- Card-on-file storage
- Invoicing features
- Email marketing features
- Free starter website
- Payment links for even easier checkout
- Curbside and delivery customer ordering
- Numerous add-on features available
Square has very transparent pricing and charges a flat rate for in-person payments at 2.6% + $0.10. You won’t have any monthly fees to use this reader, and you won’t be stuck in a contract. For more information on Square’s pricing, features, and more, visit our full Square review!
- No batter charge required
- Ideal for low-volume merchants
- Impressive feature-set
- Not suitable for high-risk industries
- Not EMV compatible
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2. PayPal Here
The free PayPal Chip & Swipe Reader is best for merchants looking for the freedom of Bluetooth connection and the consumer trust that comes with the PayPal brand. You can process both magstripe and EMV chip cards to reduce your risk of fraud.
PayPal’s free Chip & Swipe Reader connects to most iOS and Android devices via Bluetooth. One thing that may or may not be a deal-breaker for you is that this reader does not have an available charging dock. You’ll have to plug it into your device via a micro USB port. You should get about eight hours from the reader, but that is an approximation. If you’re processing a steady stream of payments, we suggest planning to charge your reader before that eight-hour mark.
The software features you’ll find with PayPal here won’t cost you any extra, and while you won’t find all the bells and whistles as you will with Square, you’ll probably have what you need:
- Quick-sale mode
- Tip options
- Same-day funding
- Custom tax
- Sub-user accounts
- Cash and check recording
- Checkout button
To process an in-person payment with PayPal, you’ll pay 2.7% per transaction. For a more extensive list of features and an unboxing, check out our PayPal Chip & Swipe Reader review.
- Bluetooth connection
- The chip reader is EMV compliant
- Easy to use
- No charging dock available
- Inconsistent customer support
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3. Clover Go
The Clover Go reader is best for merchants looking to accept it all — contactless, chip cards, and the magstripe swiper 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 will cost you nothing.
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, if you want this chip card reader for free, you can get it from National Processing upon opening an account.
National Processing offers transparent, interchange-plus pricing for retail at interchange + 0.20% and $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 a bit more account stability than you will with third-party-processors (such as Square and PayPal).
Here’s what you’ll get when you get a free Clover Go with National Processing as your credit card processor:
- Merchant account
- Process chip, swiped, and NFC transactions
- Optional tabletop charging dock available
- ACH/eCheck processing
- Additional options in POS countertop systems
- Excellent customer support
- Customer data
- Weekly sales data
- Add employees
- Customizable tip and tax
- Open orders
- Barcode scanning with iOS
- Unlimited users
Note that the battery is good for approximately 160 swipe or chip card transactions. For information about features and more, check out our full Clover Go Review. To learn more about National Processing for your credit card processor, see our full review.
- EMV, contactless, and swipe reader
- Robust dashboard features
- Proper merchant account
- No receipt printer or cash drawer connectivity
- Somewhat clunky design
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4. QuickBooks GoPayment
QuickBooks GoPayment is best for businesses that already subscribe to QuickBooks or plan on it. With predictable flat-rate pricing and no early termination fee, GoPayment is a nice way to add mobility to payments. Additionally, QB GoPayment supports PayPal payments for added flexibility.
We suggest the free reader with QuickBooks GoPayment for those who are already users of QuickBooks because you won’t automatically get a host of features that typically come with the other standalone options on our list.
The Bluetooth reader that comes free with your account is the QuickBooks Chip and Magstripe Card Reader, which retails for $19. Keep in mind that this solution isn’t meant for a countertop setup. You won’t have a receipt printer or cash drawer support like you would with Square or PayPal. If you want to expand your checkout flow, you’ll have to buy the QuickBooks POS solution that connects with QuickBooks Payments and syncs with QuickBooks Desktop.
Here’s what you can expect with the free credit card reader and the free Intuit mobile app:
- Easy QuickBooks Online integration
- Merchant Service Center for payment acceptance
- ACH and echeck payments
- Add up to 50 users
- Tax and tip
- Apply discounts
- Item sync
- SMS or email receipts
Rates and fees for QuickBooks Payments depend on if you are going with the monthly fee plan or not. We break down all the fees, features, and more in our full QuickBooks GoPayment review, so check it out to determine if this option is best for your business.
- Easy to use
- Supports PayPal payments
- No early termination fee
- Poor customer support
- Numerous public complaints
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Looking For One Of These Free Card Readers?
Of course, the readers that made our best-of list aren’t the only free readers out there. However, when we look at the processing service and other core features of the names below, we think there are better options. Here’s why EMS Plus and PayAnywhere didn’t make the cut.
Electronic Merchant Services is a major card processor that has been around for decades. The EMS+ reader is the free card reader offered to merchants during the sign-on process. While it does come with a low rate, we have some serious concerns with the company overall, rating it only a 2 out of 5 stars on our full EMS+ review.
So what’s the problem? Unfortunately, both the app and the reader lack reliability, which is a deal-breaker as far as we’re concerned. When we last reviewed the product in October 2019, about a year had passed since the app had been updated. We don’t think the reader is a big focus or priority for EMS, and we caution users because of this.
For more information about EMS, and to find out more about features, pricing, and our pros and cons, visit our full EMS+ review.
Payanywhere is another company that offers a free Bluetooth magstripe and EMV mobile reader when you sign up. Features are also somewhat basic, but what really concerns us is the undisclosed pricing scheme that may stick you with multiple charges not initially made clear.
Lack of transparency is a key issue as well as its contract length and cancellation policies. When we reviewed this company, we found several red flags, including another contract that affects those who have taken the “free placement” hardware. It’s more than a little concerning. If you want to read more about Payanywhere’s features and our subsequent concerns, check out our full Payanywhere review.
Why You Should Beware The Free Card Swiper
While we ensured that each free reader on our best-of list wasn’t attached to a long-term agreement in exchange for a cheap reader, that isn’t always the case. (We’re looking at you EMS+.)
If you do end up getting a free mobile card reader (or a “free” device of any kind, for that matter), be aware that there could be a tradeoff. Merchant account providers might require you to sign a contract to tie yourself to them for a more extended period. That’s why we encourage you to read your contract carefully, so you understand which services you’ve signed up for and for how long. You should also understand how to get out of the contract if you’re not happy with the provider.
We also want to encourage you to accept any free magstripe-only reader with a grain of salt. While fine to use in some cases, these types of readers really shouldn’t be your go-to choice. After the EMV liability shift, your business won’t have protection from a fraudulent charge, and you’ll be stuck with the loss.
Thankfully, most of the readers on our list do allow you to dip the EMV chip card for full protection. Another thing to consider is that eventually, you’ll probably want to upgrade to the NFC tap-to-pay readers, as we seem to be headed in the direction of contactless payments pretty quickly! To get you started, however, a free reader can be a great asset and help you save a little money.
How To Choose The Best Free Credit Card Reader
Remember, there isn’t a single processor out there 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 behind your account isn’t adequate to solve technical problems for you when they arise.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing which free 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?
- If it is a long-term agreement, is there an early termination fee?
- What’s the connectivity of the reader?
- 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 it comes to making the best choice for a free reader.
Which Free Card Reader is Right For Me?
Every company that we profiled in the best-of section provides excellent services and features that may be right for your small business, but keep in mind there is no one-size-fits-all answer here.
We encourage you to read the full reviews we’ve provided to learn more. Check out the list below for a recap of each solution and which scenario we think they will work best in.
For more helpful posts, check out The Best Mobile Credit Card Readers For iPhone & iPad and The Best Credit Card Reader Apps For Android.
In Summary: The Best Mobile Apps With A Free Credit Card Reader
- Square: Best for businesses that need a cheap and portable solution to take credit cards curbside or on the go.
- PayPal Here: Best for merchants looking for the freedom of Bluetooth connection and the consumer trust that comes with the PayPal brand.
- Clover Go: Best for merchants looking to accept it all — contactless, chip cards, and the magstripe swiper as a last resort.
- Intuit GoPayment: Best for businesses that already subscribe to QuickBooks or plan on it.