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The Best Credit Card Machines & Terminals For Small Businesses

Today's credit card processing machines do more than just take payments; they can also give you real-time reporting, analytical data, and more.

    Frank Kehl
  • Last updated onUpdated

  • Jason Vissers
  • REVIEWED BY

    Jason Vissers

    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.

The best credit card machines and terminals have evolved from having little more than simple transaction processing capabilities to today’s high-tech devices with color touch screens, multiple displays, and the ability to install additional software apps to help run your business. If you want your business to accept credit cards (and you do), you need a high-quality credit card terminal to process your customers’ cards.

This article will explain how much you can expect to pay for a credit card machine and what features to look for. We’ll also give you some recommendations for the best credit card machines and terminals available on the market today.

Learn More About Our Top Picks

CompanyHighlightsNext StepsHighlights
Square Terminal

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  • Very easy to set up & use; accepts EMV, NFC-based, and magstripe transactions; includes some basic POS functions
  • $299/unit (or $27/month for 12 months)
  • 2.6% + $0.10/in-person transaction
  • Very easy to set up & use; accepts EMV, NFC-based, and magstripe transactions; includes some basic POS functions
  • $299/unit (or $27/month for 12 months)
  • 2.6% + $0.10/in-person transaction

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Square Register

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  • Accepts EMV, NFC-based, and magstripe transactions; expandable via 5-port USB hub; access to Square App Marketplace
  • $799/unit (or $39/month for 24 months)
  • 2.6% + $0.10/in-person transaction
  • Accepts EMV, NFC-based, and magstripe transactions; expandable via 5-port USB hub; access to Square App Marketplace
  • $799/unit (or $39/month for 24 months)
  • 2.6% + $0.10/in-person transaction

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Clover Mini

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  • Easy to set up and use; integrated PIN pad & barcode scanner; can be expanded with additional apps
  • $799/unit (if purchased through Clover)
  • 2.3%-2.6% + $0.10/card-present transaction (through Clover Payments)
  • Easy to set up and use; integrated PIN pad & barcode scanner; can be expanded with additional apps
  • $799/unit (if purchased through Clover)
  • 2.3%-2.6% + $0.10/card-present transaction (through Clover Payments)

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Clover Flex

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  • Works for countertop and mobile POS setups; expandable via Clover App Marketplace; long battery life
  • $599/unit (or $35/month for 36 months)
  • 2.3%-2.6% + $0.10/in-person transaction (through Clover Payments)
  • Works for countertop and mobile POS setups; expandable via Clover App Marketplace; long battery life
  • $599/unit (or $35/month for 36 months)
  • 2.3%-2.6% + $0.10/in-person transaction (through Clover Payments)

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Helcim Smart Terminal

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  • Out-of-the-box solution with built-in POS software & receipt printer
  • $329/unit (or $68/month for five months)
  • Interchange + 0.40% + $0.08/transaction (volume discounts available)
  • Out-of-the-box solution with built-in POS software & receipt printer
  • $329/unit (or $68/month for five months)
  • Interchange + 0.40% + $0.08/transaction (volume discounts available)

Visit Site

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Dejavoo Z11

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  • Universal terminal; works with any provider; supports EMV, NFC-based, and magstripe payment methods; includes integrated PIN pad
  • $295/unit (via Dharma Merchant Services)
  • Variable in-person processing rates
  • Universal terminal; works with any provider; supports EMV, NFC-based, and magstripe payment methods; includes integrated PIN pad
  • $295/unit (via Dharma Merchant Services)
  • Variable in-person processing rates

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Read more below to learn why we chose these options.

Table of Contents

How Much Does A Credit Card Terminal Cost?

The credit card processing hardware market includes a bewildering variety of manufacturers and devices — all of which essentially do the same thing.

Choices range from basic mobile card readers that require a smartphone or tablet to function to fully-featured POS systems that accept payments and run most aspects of your business. Costs are likewise all over the map, with larger devices and additional features adding to the price.

Here’s an overview of the capabilities and typical costs of each type of credit card machine:

Cost Pros Cons Can Be Reprogrammed?
Mobile Card Reader $10-$130 Affordable May be unreliable & have hardware compatibility issues Depends on device
Traditional Terminal $150-$500 Reliable; supports magstripe, EMV, & NFC Reprogramming issues Universal models only
Smart Terminal $350-$800 Additional functionality Generally not reprogrammable Usually not
Integrated POS $800-$1,900 Additional functionality & larger, easier-to-read displays Expensive; generally not reprogrammable Usually not

As of 2024, all new terminals include support for EMV payments. Most new terminals also support NFC-based payment methods (e.g., Apple Pay and Google Pay). You should choose a model with this capability due to the increasing popularity of contactless payments among your customers.

A built-in receipt printer adds to the cost of the machine but is essential for most businesses so that you can provide paper receipts to your customers. Wireless terminals, while important for some businesses, are bulkier and significantly more expensive than wired models. You’ll usually also have to pay monthly fees for a wireless data plan. Smart terminals with color touch screens and installable apps are becoming increasingly common, but they also cost more.

Where Do You Get A Payment Terminal From?

When it comes to how to pick a credit card machine, the easiest way is to buy them outright from your merchant services provider. They’ll come preprogrammed and ready to use right out of the box, and you’ll own them. A universal model can often be reprogrammed to work with a different processing network if you later decide to change providers. While buying your equipment outright is the best option, it can also be costly — especially if you need more than one. Taking out a small business loan might be your best alternative if you don’t have the necessary cash for a large, one-time purchase.

Whatever you do, don’t agree to lease your credit card terminals. Those seemingly low monthly payments add up to several times more than the actual value of the machine over the length of your lease, which is noncancelable. Leasing has become so unpopular among merchants that some providers now allow you to rent your terminals on a month-to-month basis instead. While this can also be a costly option in the long run, it can possibly save you money when you’re first starting out.

Be very careful with offers of “free” credit card terminals. Many providers will essentially loan you a terminal to go with your merchant account. However, you won’t own it, and you’ll have to return it promptly if you close your account. Also, these terminals usually aren’t really “free.” You can expect some concessions on your part, such as higher processing rates, a higher monthly account fee, or (most likely) a long-term contract.

How Much Should You Really Pay For A Credit Card Machine?

A word of caution regarding the cost of credit card machines: Don’t spend more than you have to. Sales agents are quick to try to upsell you on a more fully-featured (and more expensive) device than what you really need. A machine that meets all of your current needs is going to be a better choice than a more expensive device that comes with features you’re never going to use.

The Best Credit Card Machines & Terminals For Small Businesses

The best credit card machines for small businesses support EMV, NFC, and magstripe payment methods. In addition to being rugged and reliable, they’re increasingly likely to connect to your processor via a payment gateway, giving you real-time reporting and advanced analytics data.

How The Best Credit Card Terminals For Small Businesses Compare

Price Subscription Required? EMV? NFC? Magstripe? Portable? Reprogrammable?
Square Terminal $299
Square Register $799
Clover Mini $799
Clover Flex $599
Helcim Smart Terminal $329
Dejavoo Z11 $295

Square Terminal: Best For Low-Volume Retail Businesses

Square Terminal

Total Rating 4.7
Pricing4.6

Ease Of Use4.7

Features4.8

Customer Service4.7

User Reviews4.7



Pros

  • Very easy to set up and use
  • Accepts EMV, NFC-based, and magstripe transactions
  • Includes some basic POS functions

Cons

  • Bulky for mobile use
  • Account stability issues

Why Square Terminal Is The Best Choice For Low-Volume Retail Businesses

Square Terminal is a great choice for small businesses that need a reliable terminal to accept credit and debit card transactions at their brick-and-mortar location. It also adds several features you won't normally find at this price point, including a stripped-down version of the Square for Restaurants app. While there's no support for Bluetooth peripherals, you can use an optional USB hub to connect a variety of add-ons, including some third-party devices.

Square Terminal is one of the most affordable devices we've found that can function as a mobile or countertop terminal, although it's a little on the large size for mobile use. Square Terminal comes with the Square payments app pre-installed and can be purchased at full price or via installment payments.

If you're having trouble deciding between this device and the Square Register (see below), check out our guide on Square POS readers and bundles for a side-by-side comparison of every product that Square currently offers.

Square Terminal Features

Business owners who use Square for credit card processing and want something more advanced than a mobile card reader will find what they’re looking for with the Square Terminal. This versatile device offers the following key features:

  • 5.5″ color touchscreen
  • Built-in thermal receipt printer
  • Supports EMV, NFC, and magstripe payment methods
  • Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity
  • Rechargeable battery or 110v AC power

Square Terminal Hardware Cost & Options

  • $299/unit (or $27/month for 12 months)
  • +$39 for Hub for Square Terminal
  • +$29 for 20 rolls of Square Terminal Printer Paper

Square Terminal Payment Processing Costs

  • No monthly fees (for basic account)
  • 2.6% + $0.10/in-person transaction (swiped, dipped, or tapped)
  • Custom pricing for businesses processing over $250,000/year

Get Started With Square Terminal

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Square Register: Best For Low-Cost Access To POS Features

Square Register

Total Rating 4.8
Pricing4.6

Ease Of Use5.0

Features4.9

Customer Service4.7

User Reviews4.7

Pricing

$799

Contract

None

Equipment Cost

$799

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

Pros

  • Accepts EMV, NFC-based, and magstripe transactions
  • Expandable via a 5-port USB hub
  • Access to Square App Marketplace

Cons

  • Only works with Square’s processing service
  • Account stability issues

square register with credit card

Why Square Register Is The Best Choice For Low-Cost Access To POS Features

Square Register combines the power of a fully-featured POS system with Square's affordable credit card processing service. At $799, this is one of the most affordable countertop POS systems you'll find anywhere. You will likely need to purchase some accessories, including a receipt printer and a cash drawer. However, Square offers Square Register bundles that can save money over buying each product individually.

Unlike most POS system providers, Square uses the same pay-as-you-go billing model, regardless of which hardware product you use. Square Terminal's built-in software list is impressive and includes support for inventory management, employee management, loyalty/gift card programs, appointment scheduling, reporting, and eCommerce sales. Special features for restaurants are also available.

Square Register Features

Although it only works with Square’s payment processing service, the Square Register is an excellent choice for businesses that need the power and extra functionality of a full point of sale (POS) system.

With Square Register, you’ll enjoy the following major features:

  • 13.25″ register display
  • 7″ customer-facing display
  • Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity
  • Accepts EMV and magstripe payments
  • Accepts NFC-based payment methods (Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and Cash App Pay)
  • Supports USB peripherals via an integrated 5-port hub
  • Includes Square POS, Square for Retail, and Square for Restaurants (free version) apps
  • Expandable via Square App Marketplace

Square Register Hardware Cost & Options

  • $799/unit (or $39/month for 24 months)
  • $12 for an extended 6.5′ customer display cable
  • $299 for a USB receipt printer
  • $119 for a USB barcode scanner
  • $129 for a 16″ printer-driven cash drawer
  • Other accessories and replacement parts available on Square’s website

Square Register Payment Processing Costs

  • No monthly fees (for basic accounts)
  • 2.6% + $0.10/in-person transaction (swiped, dipped, or tapped)
  • Custom pricing for businesses processing over $250,000/year
  • Additional monthly fees for optional services (Square for Restaurants’ paid version, etc.)

There are no additional fees or long-term contracts. However, be aware that Square’s flat-rate pricing might be more expensive than a full-service merchant account if your monthly processing volume is higher than $5,000.

Get Started With Square Register

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Clover Mini: Best For POS Features In A Small Form Factor

Total Rating 4.5
Pricing4.3

Ease Of Use4.7

Features4.9

Customer Service4.4

User Reviews3.9



Pros

  • Easy to set up and use
  • Integrated PIN pad and barcode scanner
  • Highly customizable
  • Expandable with additional apps

Cons

  • Requires a Fiserv merchant account
  • Usually requires a monthly software subscription fee
  • Not reprogrammable

clover mini

Why Clover Mini Is The Best Choice For POS Features In A Small Form Factor

The Clover Mini offers nearly all of the point-of-sale capabilities of the larger Clover Station Solo/Duo but in a smaller (and less expensive) form factor. Like other Clover devices, you can expand the functionality of the Clover Mini by installing additional apps from the Clover App Market. Most of these are free, but some require additional monthly subscriptions.

The Clover Mini is a great choice for businesses that don't need the capabilities of a full-blown POS system but want something more than just a basic credit card terminal. It's not the most affordable option, however, costing nearly twice as much as similar products from competitors and requiring a monthly software subscription fee. Clover Mini is available directly from Clover or through one of several of the best Clover resellers.

Clover Mini Features

Clover’s terminals and POS systems are popular with merchants due to their ease of use and expandability via the Clover App Market. The Clover Mini combines the expandability of larger Clover POS systems with the form factor of a standard countertop terminal and includes the following key features:

  • 8″ color touchscreen display
  • Uses 110V AC power
  • Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and LTE connectivity
  • Accepts EMV and magstripe payments
  • Accepts NFC-based payment methods (Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal/Venmo)
  • Supports cash, paper checks, and gift card payments
  • Includes integrated PIN pad for debit cards
  • Includes built-in thermal dot receipt printer
  • Optional cash drawer available
  • Includes virtual terminal for keyed-in transactions
  • Expandable via Clover App Marketplace
  • Can be used as a customer-facing display with Clover Station POS

Clover Mini Hardware Cost & Options

  • $799/unit
  • $69 for the cash drawer
  • $0-$84.95 monthly software subscription fee (depending on the plan chosen)

Clover Mini Payment Processing Costs

  • 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)

Get Started With Clover Mini

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Total Rating 4.3
Pricing4.2

Ease Of Use4.3

Features4.8

Customer Service4.4

User Reviews3.9



Pros

  • Works for countertop and mobile POS setups
  • Supports multiple payment methods
  • Expandable via Clover App Marketplace
  • Long battery life

Cons

  • Large, bulky design
  • Requires monthly software subscription fee
  • Occasional software bugs and connectivity issues

Clover Flex 2023

Why Clover Flex Is The Best Choice For A Full-Featured Mobile Terminal

If you like Clover's point-of-sale functionality but need a mobile device, the Clover Flex is a good choice. With eight hours of battery life, it's ideal for businesses that need to process transactions in the field. However, it can also function as a countertop terminal if preferred. For truly mobile use in the field, you'll need to purchase an optional cellular data plan.

The ability to install apps and the addition of a built-in printer make the Clover Flex a great choice for businesses that need to accept payments wherever their customers are, although it's rather bulky compared to most smartphones. While the device itself is reasonably priced, the need for a monthly software subscription fee (and possibly a cellular data plan) adds to your overall costs.

Clover Flex Features

The Clover Flex bridges the gap between mobile and traditional countertop terminals, functioning equally well in either environment. Like other Clover devices, it comes with a bevy of features and can be expanded even more with apps from the Clover App Marketplace.

Here are the primary specifications:

  • Nearly 6″ color touchscreen display
  • 8+ hours of battery life
  • Wi-Fi and LTE connectivity
  • Accepts EMV and magstripe payments
  • Accepts NFC-based payment methods (Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay)
  • Includes built-in thermal dot receipt printer
  • Includes virtual terminal for keyed-in transactions
  • Expandable via Clover App Marketplace

Clover Flex Hardware Cost & Options

  • $599/unit (or $35/month for 36 months)
  • $0-$49.95 monthly software subscription fee (depending on the plan chosen)
  • $15/month for LTE cellular data plan

Clover Flex Payment Processing Costs

  • 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)

Get Started With Clover Flex

Read our in-depth review

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Helcim Smart Terminal: Best For Low-Cost Smart Terminal Functionality

Helcim Smart Terminal

Total Rating 4.2
Pricing4.0

Ease Of Use4.9

Features3.7

Customer Service4.7

User Reviews4.1



Pros

  • No monthly account or software subscription fees
  • Helcim POS software pre-installed
  • No additional hardware required
  • Long battery life

Cons

  • Wi-Fi only, no cellular connectivity
  • Limited inventory management features

Helcim Smart Terminal POS

Why Helcim Smart Terminal Is The Best Choice For Low-Cost Smart Terminal Functionality

We chose the Helcim Smart Terminal as one of the most cost-effective smart terminals on the market. The Helcim Smart Terminal has everything you need to get up and running for just $329. The terminal can be plugged in for countertop use but will also run for up to eight hours of mobile use. Helcim's proprietary POS software is pre-installed and includes additional features such as inventory management and employee log-in functions. It requires a Wi-Fi connection but doesn't offer cellular connectivity for true in-the-field use.

Helcim itself is an outstanding credit card processor for small businesses. With no monthly fee and a transparent interchange-plus pricing schedule for all users, it can accommodate most small and mid-sized businesses. (Note that Helcim does not accept high-risk merchants.)

The Helcim Smart Terminal is a great choice for businesses looking for an all-in-one solution that doesn't require a lot of extra fees and optional features. Setup is easy, and you can be up and running very quickly once your Helcim account is approved and your Helcim Smart Terminal arrives.

Helcim Smart Terminal Features

  • Includes 5.5″ color touchscreen
  • Up to eight hours of battery life
  • Accepts EMV and magstripe payments
  • Accepts NFC-based payment methods (Apple Pay & Google Pay)
  • Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Includes built-in thermal receipt printer
  • Helcim POS software pre-installed
  • Includes inventory management & employee log-in features

Helcim Smart Terminal Hardware Cost & Options

  • $329/unit (or $68/month for five months)
  • No subscription fee required
  • Comes with one roll of printer paper

Helcim Smart Terminal Payment Processing Costs

  • Interchange + 0.40% +$0.08/in-person transaction (volume discounts available)
  • Interchange + 0.50% +$0.25/keyed-in transaction (volume discounts available)

Get Started With Helcim Smart Terminal

Read our in-depth review

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Dejavoo Z11: Best Reprogrammable Credit Card Terminal

Dejavoo Z11


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Pros

  • Universal terminal that works with almost any provider
  • Supports EMV, NFC-based, and magstripe payment methods
  • Includes integrated PIN pad
  • Very affordable

Cons

  • Highly variable pricing and contract terms
  • Limited “smart” functionality

Dejavoo Z11 terminal

Why The Dejavoo Z11 Is The Best Reprogrammable Credit Card Terminal

Not every business needs all the fancy, high-tech features of a modern "smart" terminal. If you just want a simple (and affordable) terminal to sit on your countertop and process basic credit/debit card transactions, the Dejavoo Z11 is an excellent choice. It supports all major forms of credit card acceptance, including popular contactless digital wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay. The color touch screen, while small, simplifies navigation and makes it easy for you and your employees to use.

Best of all, you won't have to deal with the additional fees that come with many smart credit card machines. Other than refilling the paper for the built-in receipt printer, there are usually no other expenses to worry about.

The Dejavoo Z11 is quite popular with merchants for its simplicity and ease of use, but it still includes all the features you need to accept credit and debit cards in your business.

Dejavoo Z11 Features

If you want a basic countertop credit card terminal that can securely accept the most common payment methods, the Dejavoo Z11 is an excellent choice. It includes all the essential features you’ll need to accept credit and debit cards but doesn’t include a lot of extra features that you’ll never use.

Highlights include the following:

  • 3.5″ color touchscreen display
  • Connects via IP, dial-up, or Wi-Fi
  • Accepts EMV and magstripe payment methods
  • Accepts NFC-based payment methods (Apple Pay, Google Pay, Visa payWave, and MasterCard PayPass)
  • Includes EMV tip adjust feature
  • Includes integrated PIN pad for chip + PIN debit card transactions
  • Includes built-in receipt printer

Dejavoo Z11 Hardware Cost & Options

  • $295/unit (via Dharma Merchant Services)
  • Requires additional printer paper rolls (pricing varies)
  • No monthly software subscription fees

Dejavoo Z11 Payment Processing Costs

Because the Dejavoo Z11 is a universal terminal offered by a wide variety of merchant services providers, transaction processing fees, monthly/annual account fees, and contract terms are all highly variable. Please consult our reviews of individual merchant account providers for additional information.

Get Started With Dejavoo Z11

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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


7 Features To Look For In A Credit Card Processing Machine

Before you decide on a particular type of credit card terminal, consider all of the features listed below and how they’ll fit in with your business’s needs. Here are the things to look for in choosing a credit card machine:

Processor Compatibility

Above all else, you’ll need to ensure that your chosen credit card machine is compatible with your credit card processor. Many providers sell proprietary hardware that can only be used with their processing networks. However, universal options are also available that sync up with most processors and give you more flexibility.

Some credit card processors charge reprogramming fees (typically around $100) to configure your existing terminal to work with their network, while others perform this service at no cost to you.

Payment Method Support

EMV (or “chip”) cards have been the standard payment method in the United States since 2015, and you shouldn’t purchase any terminal that lacks this capability. Magstripe processing remains important, but only as a backup method of processing a customer’s card. Today, most new terminals also support NFC-based (or contactless) payment methods, such as Apple Pay and Google Pay.

Adoption by consumers of contactless payment methods has steadily grown over the last few years, but the COVID-19 pandemic really pushed it into overdrive. As long as your chosen credit card machine supports these three payment methods, you shouldn’t have to worry about replacing it for many years to come.

Support for payment via QR codes or gift cards can also be valuable for some businesses. Support for advanced security features, such as credit card tokenization and encryption, is also essential.

Connectivity Options

Your level of connectivity is also crucial, as any downtime or lag that impedes your ability to process payments can have a significantly negative impact on your business. Most newer machines can send transactions to your processor over the internet through either a Wi-Fi or hard-wired (Ethernet) connection. Many terminals can also connect via a landline telephone line if your internet connection is unavailable.

Wireless terminals designed to be used in the field instead of at a fixed retail location rely on a cellular data connection that’s the same as what your smartphone uses. Unfortunately, these data plans typically run an extra $15-30 per month on top of the cost of the machine. If you want to purchase one of these terminals, ensure that it operates on either the LTE or 5G network, as the older 3G network is no longer in service with most carriers.

PIN Debit Support

Since you’ll be accepting debit cards as well as credit cards with your terminal, it’s essential that you include a PIN pad (either built-in or as a separate, customer-facing unit) for customers to enter their PIN.

While you can run a debit card “as credit” (without a PIN), you’ll miss out on the significantly lower processing costs associated with PIN debit transactions. These lower rates are generally only available with interchange-plus or membership pricing plans. Flat-rate and tiered plans usually charge the same rates for both debit and credit cards.

EBT Payments Support

Depending on your industry, you may also need a device that handles EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) payments. This capability is most important for grocery and general merchandise stores. There are no processing fees for EBT transactions (except those tacked on by your merchant account provider), so it’s in your best interest to expand your customer base by supporting this payment method.

In the healthcare industry, support for HSA and FSA accounts — which also use debit cards tied to the user’s HSA/FSA account — is also a must.

Receipt Printer

Although sending customers their receipts via email is becoming more popular, most receipts are still printed on paper and handed to the customer at the point of sale. You’ll want a device that includes a reliable built-in printer, even if it’s a battery-operated wireless device.

Smart Terminal Functions

Smart terminals add significant capabilities to your humble credit card machine that were once reserved for much more expensive POS systems. But do you really need them? If the answer is “yes,” then go ahead and spend the extra money to add the additional capabilities of a smart terminal to your payment acceptance solution. Smart terminals are rapidly replacing the older, not-so-smart credit card terminals — especially in states that have mandated customer-facing displays.

Which Credit Card Machine Is Right For My Business?

The best credit card machine for small businesses will meet your needs today and support up-and-coming technology trends that will become more important in the future. These trends include NFC capability for contactless payments and the ability to connect to a payment gateway for tokenized in-person transactions.

At the same time, we strongly encourage you to avoid the temptation to choose a merchant services provider because it offers a certain terminal that you like. Fair contract terms, reasonable prices, and excellent customer service are more important considerations in the long run.

As we’ve seen, hardware capabilities don’t vary much from company to company. For example, we really love the Clover line of terminals and POS systems and the expanded capabilities they bring to a business. But we’ve also received many complaints from merchants who signed up with Fiserv (formerly First Data) or one of its less-than-stellar ISOs because they liked the Clover machines. Then they discover that they were locked into a long-term contract, charged exorbitant rates and fees, and offered poor customer service. Worst of all, they couldn’t take their Clover equipment to a new provider if they wanted to switch to a better provider.

If you run a retail business and need a good credit card processor, you can find what you’re looking for in our post on the best credit processing companies for retail businesses. Good luck!

FAQs: Credit Card Machines & Terminals

How does a credit card terminal work?

Credit card terminals collect payment data in a variety of ways. EMV and magstripe terminals read data encoded directly onto your customer’s card through a magnetic stripe or an embedded EMV chip. NFC-equipped terminals use near-field communication to transmit and receive data wirelessly between either the customer’s card (tap-to-pay) or mobile device (Apple Pay, Google Pay, etc.). The terminal sends this data to your provider’s payment processing network through a landline, cellphone, Ethernet, or Wi-Fi connection. Modern terminals increasingly communicate with your processor via a payment gateway for enhanced security and cloud-based data synchronization.

Do credit card machines need internet?

While traditional credit card machines communicated over landline telephone connections, most modern payment terminals send data over the internet (either wirelessly or through a wired connection). One feature to look for is “offline processing,” which allows a terminal to store payment data when its internet connection is disrupted and then transmit it automatically when the connection is restored.

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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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Frank Kehl

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