What is a card machine?
According to the European Central Bank, the number of card payments in the euro area increased in 2020 by 3.2% to 23.1 billion and the total value increased by 10.3% to €155.8 trillion.
Card payment systems are unavoidable for businesses today, no matter their size. But what is a card machine? And how do you choose the right payment system for your enterprise? A credit card machine, also known as a POS system, is a device that reads credit and debit cards to process and complete transactions such as a sale or withdrawal.
With the wide selection of payment methods, small to mid-size businesses are battling to select the right payment solution. The options seem endless: from credit and debit cards to app-based payments and smartphone wallets to cash.
We have compiled a comparative table to help you choose the most suitable payment processor for your business needs.
Card payment machines for small businesses
|Company||Card Machine||Costs||Sign-up||Key Facts|
|No card machine
Use your Smartphone or tablet
|£4.99–£19.99 per month
Transaction fee from 1.40% .
|Short online form, quick acceptance. No commitment||Take payments anywhere, no hardware needed.
Low fixed rates and transaction fees
|£29–£129* (purchase)||No monthly fee
No lock-in Transaction fee 1.69%
|Short online form, quick acceptance.||Cheapest standalone terminals and low fixed rate|
|£16–£149* (purchase)||No monthly fee
No lock-in Transaction fee 1.75%
|Short online form, quick acceptance.||Best free POS and payment tools for all sales channels|
|£29–£199* (purchase)||No monthly fee
No lock-in Transaction fee 1.75%
|Short online form, quick acceptance.||Ergonomic terminals, easy and simple app|
The top 8 ‘pay-as-you-go’ card machines
SimplyPayMe is a perfect payment solution for those wanting to get rid of their hardware. You can take payments anywhere, with your smartphone or tablet and a 3G connection. Scan the card using your smartphone camera, enter the CVC, and your amount will be transferred with a small transaction fee from 1.40%. For those in the UK, the Pay by Bank app provides a contactless payment option: request payments from your customers through a text and receive instant payment with a fully contactless transaction. It’s simple, easy and safe.
- No hardware needed
- Easy set-up
- Multiple payment options
- Low transaction fees
- No hardware available
“I love the software, and customer service is exceptional and fast and efficient.”
Sumup Air is a good solution for those looking for a cheap card machine with no monthly fees. There are no setup or delivery costs – so you can purchase the device and start your payments with a fixed transaction fee of 1.69%. Sumup also offers a pay-as-you-go plan, meaning that you won’t need to pay charges if you don’t take payments. However, they only provide a limited amount of integrations and shipping is known to be lengthy.
- Easy-to-use card machines
- Easy set-up
- POS app too simple
- No evening helpline
- Customer service issues
- Limited integrations
“Sometimes the reader stalls when processing a lot of quick transactions but is easy to re-start it to get it going again.”
Square is a digital payment processing company that offers simple, durable solutions for small businesses. The Square card reader is small and accepts contactless, Chip and Pin, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Android Pay. It also accepts payments via the Square mobile application, with transaction fees ranging from 1.75 to 2.50%.
- No set-up or exit fees
- Easy-to-use card machine
- Dedicated account manager
- Accounts freeze due to irregular activity
- Not cost-effective for high-volume transactions
- No phone helpline
“I like how easy it is to use, but it doesn’t work seamlessly for all operations.”
Takepayments is a payment solution explicitly tailored toward your business needs. Some benefits include a fast start (within 24 hours), no need for setup fees, and flexible payment plans. Takepayments is a popular choice for SMEs wanting to take advantage of lower rates with a small 12-month commitment. Nonetheless, pricing is not apparent as companies require a tailored quote, with a minimum 12-month contract on some plans.
- Free to start
- No monthly fees in Basic Plan
- Large range of hardware
- Reliance on third-party merchant accounts
- Complicated contracts and unclear pricing
- Contracts renew automatically which can catch out business owners
“Friendly and kind customer service team but long service delays.”
If you prefer a long-standing brand, then Zettle might be for you. The PayPal Here’s POS system and card reader accepts most cards, such as Android Pay and Apple Pay and delivers payments to your PayPal account almost immediately. Though you will have to wait 3-5 business days to transfer your money to your bank account, and online tools are limited.
- Low hardware cost
- Fast transaction process
- Some payment methods are only available in specific countries
- Relatively high rates
“Great app, but the only thing I dislike about this app is the percentage it takes from your pay.”
If you are a small business owner and your monthly sales fall below £150,000 (or equivalent), Dojo could be an option. Dojo Go subscription from Paymentsense is suitable for SMEs wanting to avoid expensive contracts but offers customers access on-demand without commitment! The service provides a 6-month trial and can be cancelled anytime. However, quotes and monthly fees are required with better deals for turnovers over £150k+/year
- Monthly plan possible
- Good POS terminal
- Fast payouts
- 6-month contract with a low turnover
- High monthly fees
“A great machine, but just missing a cash back option.”
Worldpay is a great payment provider if you’re looking for low transaction fees. It allows payments via Visa, Maestro, Mastercard, Google Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, with bank transfers taking up to 3 days. Although the most expensive card reader on the market with simple features, it offers an 18-month contract and rental plan. Moreover, your transaction fees depend on your monthly turnover, though monthly fees are not ideal for sales below £20k/month.
- Accepts all major cards
- Good POS terminal
- The most expensive card reader on the market
- Overly simply features
- Technical issues
“Good product initially and secure and base unit very good; however, we experienced many internet connection issues.”
Affiliated to Worldpay (PayPal), Barclaycard Anywhere uses the same mobile card machine with low transaction fees set at 1.60%. However, the mobile application is basic and doesn’t hold many features – especially compared to its competitors and contracts are between 12 to 18 months, with a mandatory set-up fee.
- One simple cashback rate
- No annual fee
- Low transaction fee
- Basic mobile application
- Balance transfers incur a fee
- Minimum income of £20,000
“I love their customer services. They respond always super fast! But reporting in the web interface is very limited.”
What are the different types of card machines?
As seen above, most payment system providers require a card machine to take payments. For those that do, a wide variety of smaller credit card machines exist, with different functionalities for different requirements. Here are a few types with their configurations.
Static/countertop card terminal
- Used by the vast majority of retailers
- The terminal connects through direct IP or PSTN feed
- It automatically connects to preferred merchant banks
- The card terminal is contactless, allowing instant payments with a fast connection
Portable card terminal
- Most suited for restaurants and bars
- It can be placed anywhere without needing an IP or GPRS connection
- Its main benefit is speed with both instant and contactless payments
- The device is connected with an IP/PSTN line, but can work remotely up to 100 metres away
Wifi card terminal
- This terminal is the latest in “chip and pin” contactless technology
- No hardwired phone line or internet connection is required
- Like a mobile phone, the credit card terminal will need the SSID and password to connect to your dedicated Wi-Fi connection
- The payment speed of the Wi-Fi credit card terminal is instantaneous and the fastest device in the industry
GPRS card terminal
- Perfect for businesses on the move as the terminal uses GPRS coverage and the WTS Roaming Sim
- It does not require fixed line connections via broadband or phone line
- GPRS credit card terminals allow fast contactless payments, faster than a standard “chip and pin” transaction
- This machine can be hired short term or long term
What to check when choosing a mobile card machine
Choosing your provider and the card terminal you need for your business can be tricky. Thanks to numerous providers, the high competition means you are no longer stuck with a bad deal. So, what do you need to look out for when choosing a suitable machine for you?
The cost of a credit card machine can vary depending on whether you purchase or rent the device and the company you choose. Most card machines charge between 1.60% to 1.75% per transaction. However, some, such as SimplyPayMe, charge less. It is essential to compare options before signing up with any one supplier.
Every business is different and has specific needs, from retailers and restaurants to on-the-go sole traders. When choosing your mobile card machine, you must consider the POS functionalities to suit your enterprise. Furthermore, companies such as SimplyPayMe specifically cater their onboarding towards small businesses. Other solutions (such as banking solutions) ask for details that a small business or sole trader may not have access to.
Card payment types
Depending on your type of business and where you are based, the kind of cards your machine can accept is important. For example, AMEX can lead to pricey transactions. If you are an SME or sole trader, accepting American Express payments might not be necessary; however, it is if you work in a touristic industry.
Some card readers offer a basic level of functionality, while others have many customisable options. Make sure you consider the type and amount of payments that will be needed before starting with your next payment provider and purchasing a card reader.
There are two main types of card readers: those that use Wi-Fi and those that use built-in SIM cards. The card machine you choose depends on your location, your activity, as well as the strength of your mobile signal.
How much does a card machine cost?
Card machines are now affordable, ranging from £16 to £49, with some contracts allowing you to rent your card machine for the long or short term. Nevertheless, when considering your options, you shouldn’t think of the card machine cost alone. Some companies offer lower transaction fees, and some more expensive; this needs to be taken into consideration when calculating your overall costs.
What is the cheapest way to take card payments?
The best way to determine the cheapest payment method is to compare providers beforehand. Some companies offer more affordable transactional fees, some offer cheaper plans and some cheaper card machines. It would be best if you found out what is best for your company in the long run.
How to take payment over the phone on a card machine?
The online software functionality allows for customer information input when there’s no card present. This will enable merchants more sales as customers don’t have to send paperwork or wait around on hold. If your provider allows this functionality, you can accept payments by phone with a virtual terminal. It is a step-by-step process and can vary depending on your payment provider.
Do you need a business bank account for a card machine?
No, you don’t need a business bank account to use a card machine, although it is highly recommended. Most of these companies work with sole traders; thus, you will need an account that matches the person’s name on the card reader and/or the company name.
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