Looking For The Best Credit Card Reader For Small Business? Try These 7 Options
So you want to use your cell phone or tablet to process payments for your business. Whether this is your first time around with a credit card processing app or you’re just wondering if it’s time to upgrade that old credit card swiper you’ve had for years, there’s certainly a lot to consider. What technology is out there? How much does a cell phone credit card reader cost? What can I do with a mobile POS? What is the best credit card reader for my small business?
Now more than ever, it’s important to have a high-quality small business credit card reader, as many businesses and consumers are moving away from cash for disease-transmission reasons (so much so that there’s a national coin shortage). Many people want to avoid handing over a credit card, so a credit card reader that allows contactless NFC payments is even better.
If you are curious about what your mobile credit card reader options are, read on! I’ve compiled a list of the most popular solutions and their specs. Make sure you read our reviews for each mobile card reader app and its hardware so that you understand the advantages and drawbacks of each.
Other Featured Options:
Read more below to learn why we chose these options.
Table of Contents
- The Best Credit Card Readers For Small Business
- Looking For One Of These Mobile Credit Card Readers?
- 20 Benefits To Using Credit Card Readers For Small Business
- 8 Things To Consider When Choosing A Mobile Credit Card Reader
- Which Credit Card Reader Is Best For My Small Business?
- In Summary: The Best Credit Card Readers For Small Business
The Best Credit Card Readers For Small Business
The best credit card reader depends on your industry, sales volume, and what business software you already use. For example, Square has the best credit card reader for low-volume businesses, while Shopify has the best card reader for online retailers, and PayPal’s reader is best for PayPal merchants.
1. Square POS
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Square Point of Sale is easily the most powerful free mobile processing app available. It offers not just mobile credit card processing but also inventory tracking, invoicing, advanced reporting, a free customer database, a free online store, a “buy” button to sell online without a website, and many other features. Square is always innovating and updating its software features, so new functions are added all the time.
Both the app and the mobile card reader are free to use. Square will even send you a free headphone jack or lightning port reader to accept magnetic stripe credit card payments with your device. If you want a Bluetooth reader that can accept chip cards and contactless payments, Square offers the Square Reader for contactless and chip, pictured above, for $49.
As for mobile processing rates, you’ll pay a flat 2.6% + $0.10 for all card-present transactions. This type of flat-rate processing usually works out great for lower-volume sellers (processing <$10,000/month) with smaller ticket sizes (such as coffee carts and food trucks). However, higher-volume sellers will get a better deal if they get their own merchant account. After you process a payment with Square, funds are deposited in your bank account within one to two business days for no added fee. You can also pay a fee to receive an instant or same-day transfer to your bank account.
The best thing about Square is that it is completely risk-free to try out or to install as a backup POS in case your primary POS goes down. Even if you never use it, you won’t have to pay a monthly fee, and you won’t be out any money because the credit card reader itself is free. No matter what type of small business you own, it’s a good idea to have a Square reader in your back pocket — literally!
- Free headphone jack/lighting port reader
- No monthly fee
- An inexpensive contactless and chip reader
- Simple flat-rate processing
- Not as cost-effective for high-volume sellers
- Occasional fund holds
Payment Depot Mobile
SwipeSimple is a mobile credit card reader and app made by a company called CardFlight and is available through several merchant account providers. Here, we’re focusing on SwipeSimple from Payment Depot, as this provider has the best terms and fees for SwipeSimple.
SwipeSimple has all the core features mobile merchants need, plus a few extras, such as a virtual terminal. With Payment Depot, you can get the SwipeSimple app for just $10/month and transaction processing at 2.6% + $0.10 (a Merchant Maverick reader exclusive), with 24-48 hour deposits. These rates make this reader suitable for any low-volume mobile business.
What sets Payment Depot apart is that it will give you your own merchant account, whereas most of the others in this list use the third-party aggregating business model. That means SwipeSimple (by Payment Depot) carries less of a risk of an account hold or termination as long as you do not operate an inherently high-risk business. Yes, it’s a little more expensive than Square, but for businesses burned by a third-party processor in the past, that $10/month fee could be well worth it.
Payment Depot offers new merchants a free chip and swipe reader, the Swift B200, which connects via Bluetooth. If you’re interested in contactless payments, you can get a swipe, chip, and tap reader — the Swift B250, pictured above — for just $25.
- Comes with your own merchant account
- Less risk of account holds and terminations
- Free Bluetooth chip card reader
- $25 contactless reader
- More expensive than Square (same processing rate, plus $10 monthly fee)
- A somewhat basic feature set
Helcim is an excellent option for small to medium-sized businesses looking for interchange-plus pricing and a full suite of features. Helcim is also scalable in that you can use it either for mobile processing only or on a tablet or desktop. However, Helcim isn’t well suited to low-volume mobile merchants; it’s suitable for merchants processing at least $5,000 to $10,000/month but ideal for businesses processing upward of $25,000. The more you process, the lower your rates.
Helcim is super transparent about its payment margins, which start at 0.30% + $0.08 for merchants processing $0-$25,000/month and reduces to 0.25% + $0.08 if you process $25,001-$50,000. If you process $50,001 to $100,000, you get another 0.05% price drop, and it keeps going down from there. Like popular payment service providers (PSPs) such as Square and PayPal, Helcim has no monthly fee and bills on a month-to-month basis with no long-term contract. However, the company offers a true, full-service merchant account, minimizing the chance that your account will suddenly be frozen or shut down. Helcim also comes with a slew of features, including customer management, inventory tracking, and foodservice.
As for the reader itself, the NFC-friendly Helcim Card Reader is $199 with an optional $79 reader countertop stand. It works across devices, and while more robust than a traditional mobile card reader — it includes a PIN pad and everything — it is also fully mobile. Helcim is a great compromise for low-risk businesses that want the ease, flexibility, and transparency of a third-party processor (e.g., Square, PayPal Here, Shopify Lite, SumUp, etc.) but the stability of having your own merchant account, with interchange-plus pricing and no long-term contract.
- Interchange-plus fee structure (cheaper for higher-volume businesses)
- The mobile reader can accept debit cards
- Mobile, tablet, and desktop-compatible
- No monthly fees or long-term contracts
- Higher upfront costs than a third-party mobile processor
- Not for low-volume sellers
4. Shopify Lite
Shopify Lite is an excellent mobile credit card processing solution for retailers who sell at craft fairs, pop-up events, or even on social media. While you’ll pay $79/month for the full-fledged Shopify POS designed for a countertop set up with a cash drawer and receipt printer, Shopify’s mobile solution, Shopify Lite, is offered for just $9/month.
Shopify Lite supports sales through social media and a buy button on your website as well as provide access to the mobile POS. The Shopify Lite plan also includes a mobile invoicing feature. Everything syncs between your in-person sales and any online sales through Facebook. In-person transactions with Shopify Payments process at 2.7%; payments typically arrive in your bank account after 24 to 72 hours.
The key POS features are the same in the Lite plan as other Shopify service plans; the big difference is the lack of hardware support, limited staff PIN access, and limited online selling options. Sellers with a brick-and-mortar retail store may prefer the Shopify POS package, which has an in-person processing rate of 2.5% and more advanced features, including a full-fledged Shopify online store.
You can buy a $29 Shopify Chip & Swipe reader when you sign up for Shopify Lite (or any Shopify plan), or you can upgrade to a $49 Tap & Chip Reader to accept contactless payments. Add a $19 case (pictured above) if you want to attach that reader to your iPhone X or Xs.
- The monthly fee is only $9
- Simple flat-rate processing
- Social media integration for online sales
- Mobile invoicing
- Doesn’t include a full online store
- No foodservice features
5. Stax By Fattmerchant Mobile
Stax By Fattmerchant Mobile
While most mobile credit card readers are geared toward micro-merchants, Stax Mobile sets itself apart by offering mobile processing for larger businesses. In addition to mobile processing, Stax by Fattmerchant also offers a whole suite of integrated omnichannel payment options, including a virtual terminal and text payments. Stax can work for mobile-only merchants or for multichannel selling for merchants who need mobile and online selling channels.
Stax offers highly competitive 0% interchange-plus processing fees. Monthly pricing comes to $99/month for processing and $49-$129/month for software (depending on your subscription level), with a rate of 0% interchange-plus $0.15. Though the $99/month membership fee for processing is high compared to our other options, this is an excellent rate for higher-volume mobile merchants processing more than $10K/month, particularly if your average ticket size is at least $75.
Stax offers a few different mobile credit card readers that work with the Stax Mobile app, starting at $75 apiece, with the pocket-size Bluetooth-connected swipe, EMV, and NFC reader Chipper™ 2X BT representing the most affordable NFC-capable option. These mobile readers are pretty basic and similar to the one PayPal Here uses. Still, they are fully capable of accepting Apple Pay, contactless cards, or any other credit card.
Using the Stax Mobile app, you can email receipts, add tips, send invoices, and more. In addition to processing payments with the reader or scanning credit cards with the app, you will also have the option to text customers a payment link so that they can pay remotely — which is ideal for socially distanced selling.
The Stax Mobile app does not allow you to connect to any peripheral hardware (such as a cash drawer or hand scanner), so keep in mind that Stax Mobile is a mobile-only solution despite being designed for larger businesses.
- 0% + interchange-plus markup pricing
- Text-to-pay option
- Excellent deal for high-volume businesses with large tickets
- Comes with your own merchant account
- Expensive for low-volume and small-ticket merchants
- Somewhat basic card readers
SumUp is a European company that opened up processing for US merchants in 2017. While it’s not as comprehensive as other options (for instance, it doesn’t include discounts or invoices), it does everything most merchants will need to do. It’s also worth noting that SumUp operates in quite a few countries across Europe (including the UK) as well as South America, which makes it an interesting global solution.
Similar to Square, there is no monthly fee for using the SumUp app, and transactions process at a flat 2.75% each. If you process many small transactions, this rate is better than Square’s because that extra $0.10 Square tacks on adds up for transactions under $10. Funds are deposited in your account in one to two days.
SumUp’s Bluetooth-connected mobile card reader, the SumUp Lite, is similar in appearance to Square’s and Clover’s readers and can accept swiped, tapped, or dipped payments. You can get the SumUp reader for $19 in the US, which is a really good price for an all-in-one reader — I don’t think there is any cheaper NFC-capable reader. Outside the US, prices and card reader options vary. SumUp also recently introduced the SumUp Plus for $39. This nifty-looking pocket reader has a stronger processor and LED screen for displaying the status of transactions and battery power.
- Cheapest contactless reader
- No monthly fee
- International solution
- Basic feature set
- Some issues with holds on funds and account terminations
7. PayPal Here
Next to Square, PayPal Here is probably the best-known mobile credit card app on the market. It’s not as robust as Square, but it does have all the essentials that merchants need, plus invoicing. If you use PayPal to sell online, all of your data syncs up, which is a big draw. PayPal is entirely pay-as-you-go, with no monthly fees. Swiped, dipped, or tapped transactions process at 2.7% each. With its flat-rate pricing and lack of a monthly fee, PPH can work great for any small, low-volume business, even if you’re not a PayPal seller. It’s even more affordable than Square if you have many small transactions under $10.
Another major benefit of PayPal Here is instant transfers to your PayPal account, which you can use for immediate online spending. PayPal also has an instant transfer option to move funds to your bank for a nominal fee of $0.25.
PayPal offers several card readers, including a free basic magstripe reader. However, if you opt for just the magstripe reader, PayPal will place limits on the number of sales you can process per week without incurring holds. For that reason, it’s better if you just skip over the magstripe reader and go for the Bluetooth Chip & Swipe Reader. This EMV reader is currently offered for free on new accounts, but its MSRP is $24.99.
If you’d like to add support for contactless (NFC) payments from mobile wallets, PayPal also offers a Chip & Tap Reader for $79.99. It even includes a dock so that you can use it in countertop register setups.
- Cheaper than Square for small transactions
- Instant transfers to PayPal account
- No monthly fee
- Includes mobile invoicing
- Some issues with holds on funds and account terminations
- Not as many features as Square
Looking For One Of These Mobile Credit Card Readers?
Here’s some information on a few more popular card readers for small businesses that didn’t quite make our list.
Clover Go is a solid mobile credit card reader and processing system, but it doesn’t make sense as a standalone mobile option. Clover Go works better as an add-on for businesses that already use Clover POS; for most other businesses looking for a standalone system, better services are available (including any of the ones on our list). Many different entities sell Clover Go, so the quality of your service depends on the merchant account provider you buy it from. If you do decide to use Clover Go, our recommended merchant accounts are National Processing, Dharma Merchant Services, and Payment Depot.
Like Clover Go, QuickBooks GoPayment is a decent mobile credit card reader if you are a devoted user of that particular software (Intuit products in this case); however, as a standalone option, you can do better. QuickBooks GoPayment charges a $0.25 per-transaction fee (plus 2.4%; or plus 1.6% if you’re on the $20/month plan), which makes small transactions expensive to process. Smaller, newer businesses may also have a harder time getting approved for the Intuit merchant account you’ll need to process with QB GoPayment. However, this app does have the benefit of its seamless integration with QuickBooks accounting software, so you may want to look into this product if that’s important to you.
PayAnywhere is yet another small business credit card reader that, at the outset, looks and functions similarly to Square or any other mobile credit card reader. The company advertises a pay-as-you-go rate of 2.69% for merchants with an average monthly transaction volume of $10K or less. What the company doesn’t tell you is that once you start processing a dime more than that, you are automatically rolled over into an ironclad merchant account agreement. The merchant account includes myriad monthly fees and terms as well as a hefty early termination fee if you want to exit the contract. The company has also been accused of deceptive sales tactics and poor customer service. The actual credit card reader and app are fine, but still, PayAnywhere is not a company you want to get stuck into a merchant agreement with.
20 Benefits To Using Credit Card Readers For Small Business
Why does it matter if businesses can accept credit card payments?
Mobile credit card readers can come in handy in a lot of business situations. Mobile credit card readers can be used for the following:
- Occasional mobile sales at trunk shows, farmer’s markets, pop-up shops, craft fairs, or any other event
- Selling on the floor or checking out customers while they wait in line rather than at the counter
- Full-time mobile business sales, such as food trucks, mobile dog groomers, personal trainers, etc.
- As a backup point of sale if your main POS goes down
- Independent contract work, e.g., hairdressers who rent a booth
- As a mobile invoicing solution for plumbers, contractors, exterminators, or any business that performs services at someone’s home or a job site
- New businesses that don’t have a merchant account yet
- Any small business that wants a simple, lightweight POS with a small footprint
Mobile credit card apps carry many benefits for small businesses and not just mobile businesses without a physical storefront. Some more of these benefits include:
- Access to customers who don’t carry cash
- Make mobile sales when you’re on the road (at trade shows, conventions, pop-up events, etc.)
- Accept contactless NFC payments (such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, contactless credit cards)
- Run a cashless business — which many businesses are doing now for hygienic reasons during COVID-19
- Receive lower rates for in-person transactions (compared to a virtual terminal)
- Get paid faster (compared to paper invoices)
- Lets you approach customers personally and close the sale before they leave (due to hesitance about a purchase, being deterred by a long line, etc.)
- Allows you to collect upfront payments rather than chasing invoices later or dealing with higher card-not-present fees with a virtual terminal
- Accept credit cards without a traditional POS
- Accept credit cards without a traditional merchant account
- Free/inexpensive POS — all you need is your phone, a free mobile app, and a credit card reader, which you may also be able to get for free
- Not just a credit card reader — can also include functions, such as basic inventory, web store integration, invoicing, social media selling, and more
8 Things To Consider When Choosing A Mobile Credit Card Reader
So how should you wade through the large list of mobile credit card processors and figure out which one is best for you? What should you prioritize? As follows are some important considerations and things to look for when it comes to finding the best credit card reader for your small business:
- No Long-Term Contract: Pay-as-you-go (e.g., Square) or month-to-month pricing (e.g., Helcim) is ideal. You don’t want to be stuck in a pricey contract for a service you don’t like.
- Solid POS App: Not just the reader itself, but the app that accompanies the reader needs to be robust and easy to use, with all the features your business needs.
- EMV Support: Being able to accept chip cards makes things easier for customers to pay (not all cards have a magnetic stripe anymore) and to protect your business in terms of your EMV liability.
- NFC Support: NFC support makes it easy for customers to pay with their phone, Apple Watch, or contactless credit card. More and more, customers are expecting NFC support, especially during these socially-distanced times.
- Good Battery Life: Since you’ll likely be using the reader on the go, you need one that will go at least a day without a charge.
- Fast Funding Times: One to three days is standard, but ideally, it’s nice to have next-day deposits and an instant transfer option.
- Good Customer Support: Things commonly go wrong in the world of payment processing, so reliable, 24/7 support is a must.
- Bluetooth: It’s certainly not a bad thing to have a plug-in reader as a backup, but a wireless Bluetooth credit card reader ensures maximum compatibility, regardless of the phone or tablet maker/model. A wireless credit card reader that connects via Bluetooth will also typically be EMV-capable and usually (though not always) be able to accept NFC payments as well.
Which Credit Card Reader Is Best For My Small Business?
What is the best card reader for small businesses? No one reader works for everyone, so you will have to consider your business’s particular needs. Having a good understanding of the payment processing industry makes finding the right solution much easier.
For example, what is your monthly processing volume? A higher-volume merchant will likely benefit from a mobile reader that comes with your own merchant account. Do you sell online or only in-person? Online sellers need a mobile POS app that includes eCommerce. Your industry, budget, and customer needs are some other factors to consider.
In my opinion, Square has the best all-around credit card reader, as it can work for any industry and is compatible with virtually any device, with both plugin and wireless credit card reader options. It’s also free and has all the features most businesses will need. However, other mobile payment processors on this list have advantages for different kinds of sellers.
Check out these resources for more help choosing the best credit card reader for your small business:
- 5 Best Mobile POS Apps
- Everything You Need To Know About NFC Technology & Why NFC Payments Are The Future
- The Best Free Credit Card Readers For Small Businesses
- The Best Credit Card Reader Apps For Android
- The Best Mobile Credit Card Readers For iPhone & iPad
- Square VS Merchant Account: How Does Square’s Credit Card Processing Compare To A Good Merchant Account?
In Summary: The Best Credit Card Readers For Small Business
- Square POS: Best for low-volume businesses in any industry.
- Payment Depot Mobile: Best for low-volume businesses that want their own merchant account.
- Helcim: Best for high-volume businesses that want their own merchant account.
- Shopify Lite: Best for small retailers that are active on social media.
- Stax By Fattmerchant Mobile: Best for high-volume mobile businesses with large tickets.
- SumUp: Best for the most affordable NFC reader.
- PayPal Here: Best for PayPal sellers.