Best Card Machines for Small Businesses

Read on to find out the best card machines for small business.

Updated: April 16, 2024
Matt Crabtree

Written By

Matt Crabtree

|
Rebecca Goodman

Edited By

Rebecca Goodman

 
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Card payments are on the rise and if you own a small business, you'll want to give your customers the option to pay by credit or debit card.

To do this, you'll need a card machine or card reader, so you can process customer payments with your merchant account. But there are lots of card readers to choose from, and you'll want one that suits your business and one that doesn't charge expensive fees.

In this article, I explain how card readers work, give you some top tips on how to pick one for your business and I'll look at the best card machines on the market.

Card MachineScoreDetails
1. Revolut Card Reader★★★★★Click Here
2. Barclaycard Mobile Card Reader★★★★★Click Here
3. Zettle Card Reader 2★★★★★Click Here
4. Square Card Reader★★★★Click Here
5. Barclaycard Smartpay Anywhere Card Reader★★★★Click Here
6. Dojo Go Card Reader★★★★Click Here
7. Worldpay Card Reader★★★★Click Here
8. Tyl Pocket by NatWest★★★★★Click Here
9. SumUp Air Card Reader★★★★★Click Here
10. Elavon Business Booster★★★★★Click Here

What is a card machine for small business?

A card machine for small businesses is a card reader that processes a customer transaction.

When a customer buys goods or services, the card reader ensures that a customer can pay using a credit or debit card or even through a digital wallet or a smartphone.

Providing a card machine in your business makes it easier for customers to pay, gives them another way to make payments, and could boost your sales. However, using a card machine will cost your business money as the card provider will charge you for using it.

A traditional card reader will be mounted next to the cash register, although handheld card readers are becoming more common. You can also find mobile card readers with a built-in GPRS SIM card to connect and process customer payments wherever you are.

Best card machines for UK small businesses

Which card machines are the best option for your small business?

Here I've picked some of the best around to help you decide.

Card MachineHardware CostUK Transaction FeesMonthly CostConnection Type
1. Revolut Card Reader£49 + VAT0.8% + 2p£0Chip and PIN and Contactless
2. Barclaycard Mobile Card Reader£0From 1.6%£7.50 + VAT (18 months contract)Chip and PIN and Contactless
3. Zettle Card Reader 2£29 + VAT (first reader)1.75%£0Chip and PIN and Contactless
4. Square Card Reader£19 + VAT1.75%£0Chip and PIN and Contactless
5. Barclaycard Smartpay Anywhere Card Reader£29 + VAT1.6%£0Chip and PIN and Contactless
6. Dojo Go Card Reader£01.4% + 5p£20 (6 months contract)Chip and PIN, Contactless, and Magstripe
7. Worldpay Card Reader£01.5%£17.50 – £19.95Chip and PIN and Contactless
8. Tyl Pocket by NatWest£01.5%£9.99 + VAT (12 months contract)Chip and PIN and Contactless
9. SumUp Air Card Reader£49 + VAT1.69%£0Chip and PIN and Contactless
10. Elavon Business Booster£0from 0.99%£15 – £18Chip and PIN and Contactless

1. Revolut Card Reader: Best for low transaction fees

Features:

  • Compatible with major currencies
  • Numerous integrations
  • Accepts credit and debit cards
  • Zero monthly costs

Prices:

  • Card reader cost: £49 + VAT
  • Card reader transaction fee: 0.8% + 2p
  • Online transaction fee: 1% + 20p

Revolut offers a white card reader and it can process all major currencies.

There are also lots of different business programmes which can be added to the Revolut account, such as web-based accounting software, to automatically update your records.

Customers can make payments with debit and credit cards and there's a low transaction fee of only 0.8% of the transaction value, as well as a 2p fixed fee, for the business. These are some of the lowest fees charged for business card readers.

It also lets customers pay online with a transaction fee of 1%, plus a fixed fee of 20p.

To purchase the Revolut card reader, you will need to pay a one-off cost of £49 + VAT for the hardware.

2. Barclaycard Mobile Card Reader: Best for reliability

Features:

  • Contactless and Chip and PIN acceptance
  • 18 month contract
  • Zero cancellation fees

Prices:

  • Monthly card reader rental cost: £7.50 + VAT
  • Transaction fee: 1.6% of the purchase value

The Barclaycard mobile card reader is a reliable choice that rests on the reputation of one of the biggest service providers in the world.

Customers can choose to pay with their credit or debit cards to process contactless or chip and PIN-transactions. 

This card reader from Barclaycard costs £7.50 plus VAT each month and you must sign up to an 18 month contract. However, zero cancellation fees apply.

When a payment is processed, a transaction fee from 1.6% of the purchase value is applicable. 

3. Zettle Card Reader 2: Best for zero monthly costs

Features:

  • Battery life: 8 hours
  • Compatible with major currencies
  • Accepts credit and debit cards
  • Zero monthly costs

Prices:

  • Card reader cost: From £29 + VAT
  • Charging dock: £39 + VAT
  • Card reader transaction fee: 1.75%

The Zettle Card Reader 2 is one of our favourite choices for small businesses. Each card reader possesses a battery life of 8 hours, and can be purchased in a choice of black or white.

Being compatible with all major currencies, Zettle is a card reader from PayPal and has no monthly fees.

The Zettle Card Reader 2 costs from £29 plus VAT (1st reader, each additional card reader £59 plus VAT). You will also need to purchase the charging dock which is £39 plus VAT.

When a customer makes a payment using the card reader, a transaction fee of 1.75% of the purchase value will be charged to your business.

4. Square Card Reader: Best for fast transfers

Features:

  • Transfers funds the next working day
  • 8-hour battery life
  • Accepts credit and debit cards
  • Zero monthly costs

Prices:

  • Card reader cost: £19 + VAT
  • Charging dock cost: £25 + VAT
  • Card reader transaction fee: 1.75%
  • Online transaction fees: 1.4% + 25p for UK cards, 2.5% + 25p for non-UK cards

The Square card reader ensures that you receive customer payments the next working day. It costs £19 plus VAT.

Customers can use their credit and debit cards to pay for purchases using the Square card reader. However, this is a contactless-only card reader with no keypad, so the reader does not process chip and PIN transactions.

It has an 8-hour battery life and it's £25 plus VAT for the charging dock. 

Transaction fees are 1.75% of the purchase value, and for online transactions a fee of 1.4% is charged for UK cards, along with a 25p fixed fee.

Non-UK cards face a transaction fee of 2.5% which is in addition to the standard 25p fixed fee.

5. Barclaycard Smartpay Anywhere Card Reader: Best for pay as you go

Features:

  • Barclaycard brand
  • Pay-as-you-go option
  • Zero monthly fees

Prices:

  • Card reader one-off cost: £29 + VAT
  • Transaction fee: 1.6% of the purchase value

The Smartpay Anywhere card reader from Barclaycard is a great pay-as-you-go option with zero monthly fees.

To purchase this card reader, you will need to pay a one-off fee of £29 plus VAT but there are no ongoing monthly costs to pay.

When a customer buys something, you will pay a transaction fee of 1.6% of the purchase value. This is an average transaction fee that many card reader providers charge.

6. Dojo Go Card Reader: Best for clear prices

Features:

  • 6-month contract
  • 10-hour battery life
  • Receive funds in one working day

Prices:

  • Monthly cost: £20
  • Transaction fee: 1.4% + 5p

The Dojo Go card reader requires a 6-month contract, while some other service providers require businesses to sign up to longer 18-month contracts.

The pricing structure of the Dojo Go card reader is clear so you know where your business stands. The card reader possesses a 10-hour battery life so you can take payments through the entire working day.

Funds from payments processed by the card reader will be sent to your business account in one working day.

Transaction fees for purchases made by the card reader are 1.4% of the purchase value. However, a fixed fee of 5p is also applicable for every transaction processed.

7. Worldpay Card Reader: Best for choice

Features:

  • Worldpay business dashboard
  • Choose a monthly plan or custom plan
  • Additional add-ons to tailor your package
  • Large touchscreen reader
  • 18-month contract
  • Zero up front fees, zero auth fees and no premium charges

Prices:

  • Simplicity — POS: £17.50 per month plus transaction fees of 1.5%
  • Simplicity — Gateway: £19.95 per month plus transaction fees of 1.5%
  • Tailored pricing: Variable pricing options, no joining fee

The Worldpay card reader offers a reliable and comprehensive service that can be tailored to your business needs. Choose from a monthly plan or a custom plan.

Typically, Worldpay will require an 18 month contract for you to access the large touchscreen card reader. Add-ons and integrations are also available, such as a Worldpay Business Dashboard integration.

8. Tyl Pocket by NatWest: Best for freelancers

Features:

  • Minimum 12-month contract
  • 8-hour battery life
  • Receive funds by one working day

Prices:

  • Monthly cost: £9.99 + VAT (3 months free)
  • Transaction fees: 1.5% of the purchase value

The Tyl Pocket card reader from NatWest is a great choice for freelancers and sole traders, offering flexible contracts to meet your own needs.

The Tyl Pocket card reader has an 8-hour battery life and costs £9.99 plus VAT, with no other costs payable until a customer makes a purchase from your business.

When a customer buys something, there is a transaction fee of 1.5% of the purchase value. Additionally, funds paid by your customers will clear to your account within one working day.

9. SumUp Air Card Reader: Best for low sales volumes

Features:

  • Suitable for online business
  • Process over 500 transactions on a single charge
  • No extra fees or monthly minimums

Prices:

  • Card reader cost: £49 + VAT
  • Card reader and charging station: £59 + VAT
  • Transaction fees: 1.69%

The SumUp Air card reader is a great choice for online businesses and businesses whose sales volumes remain typically low.

The transaction fee for purchases processed with the SumUp card reader is 1.69% of the purchase value.

Process over 500 transactions on a single charge with a battery life of up to 12 hours. A micro USB cable is included for charging.

10. Elavon Business Booster: Best for established businesses

Features:

  • Portable card reader
  • Receive money the next day
  • Technical support 24/7

Prices:

  • Monthly plan: Tetra Desk £15 and Tetra Move £18
  • Transaction fee: From 0.99% of the purchase value

The Elavon card reader offers different options and it's most suitable for established businesses.

The Business Booster Tetra Move plan offers you a portable card reader that can process wireless payments. You will receive the funds from customer transactions the next working day. The monthly cost for this plan is £18 whilst the transaction fee for payments is from 0.99% of the purchase value.

At a glance: Pros and Cons

Here are some of the main pros and cons of using a card machine in your small business:

Pros

✔️ Chip and PIN payments: your business can accept chip and PIN credit card payments

✔️ Contactless payments: many card readers accept contactless payments

✔️ Customer choice: your customers can choose whether to pay with a contactless transaction, a chip and PIN transaction, or a cash payment

✔️ Automation: your card reader will automatically provide a record of the purchases made

Cons

❌️ Set-up costs: there may be a set-up cost of up to £50 before you even use the card machine

❌️ Contracts: some service providers require you to sign up to a contract for up to 18 months

❌️ International payments: some service providers charge a higher fee for international cards

❌️ Fixed fees: there are usually fixed fees on too of transaction fees

How does a card machine for a small business work?

A card machine for small business lets a customer use their credit or debit card to pay for goods or services, tapping the card reader with their card or inserting their card and entering their PIN.

The card machine sends the customer’s details to the merchant account for verification, and then the card machine will indicate whether the transaction has been authorised. The money will leave their account and should be in your business account within one business day.

How does a card reader process a payment?

It takes just a few seconds for money to be transferred, here are the steps a card reader follows to process a card payment:

  • Presenting the card: A customer taps their credit card or debit card on the card reader, or they insert the card so the machine can read the data stored on the chip. They then enter their PIN into the card reader keypad.
  • Verifying the card: The business’s merchant account will contact the issuer of the card, such as a Visa credit card to verify the card. The issuer of the card is the bank or building society who has given the card to the customer.
  • Authorising the payment: Once the card issuer has verified the card, they will check how much money the customer has in their bank account to determine whether they can afford the purchase
  • Confirming the purchase: If there is enough money, the card issuer informs the merchant account that the transaction can be approved. The card reader will state that the transaction has been ‘approved’ or ‘declined’.

Are there different types of card machines?

How can you take card payments in your business? Here are three different types of card machines that you could consider using:

1. Countertop card reader

Countertop readers are fixed to your premises next to the cash register. They will be connected to the main power and will require an internet connection. 

These card readers will usually be used to process chip and PIN payments, where the card is inserted into the reader, as well as contactless payments where the card taps the reader.

2. Portable card reader

Portable card machines can be carried around and passed to the customer when payment is required. This is common practice in restaurants so the customer can pay whilst seated at their table.

Portable card readers are battery powered and will use WiFi.

3. Mobile card reader

A mobile card reader has its own battery that can be charged for at least 8 hours of use. It will also have its own SIM card and internet connection. This type of card reader is typically used when businesses sell goods or services at outdoor locations, such as at food festivals.

How does a contactless card reader work?

A contactless card reader relies on an internet connection and wireless capabilities, known as Radio Frequency Identification, to work. 

The customer will tap their card onto the card machine when they want to make a payment. When a successful connection is made, the card reader will signal a ‘beep’ noise within seconds to show that the transaction is approved. 

The same process takes place with contactless transactions, and customers can also use a digital wallet, such as Apple Pay or Samsung Pay, to pay. This works in the same way as a contactless credit or debit card, yet the data and card information are stored inside the customer’s mobile phone.

Many different cards and card types can be stored in one digital wallet including expense cards, travel money cards, and fuel cards.

When a customer wants to make a contactless transaction using their digital wallet, they will open the digital wallet application on their phone and choose the card they want to pay with. 

They will then tap the contactless card reader with the mobile phone device and the merchant bank seeks verification and authorisation from the card issuer. 

The card issuer will then send a signal back to the contactless card reader to state whether the purchase has been approved or declined.

What are the benefits of contactless transactions?

Flexible contactless transactions are fast and efficient for both the customer and the business. The customer does not need to insert their credit card or debit card into card payment machines and so a PIN is not required.

A simple tap of the card on the card payment machine saves time and reduces queuing times but contactless transactions can decrease security. If your card is lost or stolen, a thief can use your credit card or debit card without entering the PIN into the card payment machine.

Most card issuers allow a £100 contactless limit, so a thief could make numerous expensive purchases without a PIN until you cancel the card with your bank or building society.

However, if contactless transactions are made using a digital wallet such as Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay, you can add biometric authentication to your card details. 

This means that facial recognition or a fingerprint is required to use the cards stored in your digital wallet to make a contactless transaction.

How does a chip and PIN card reader work?

A chip and PIN card reader can be fixed to the countertop or it can be mobile.

Depending on the type, it might be connected to the mains power and WiFi, or it could have its own battery and internet connection.

When a customer wants to make a purchase using a chip and PIN card payment machine, they will insert their card into the card reader and then enter their PIN.

The data stored in the card chip and the PIN will be sent from the merchant account to the card issuer to seek verification and authorisation. The card issuer will inform the merchant bank of whether the transaction has been approved or declined.

What are the benefits of a chip and PIN reader?

A chip and PIN card reader is more secure than contactless transactions as a PIN is required, helping to prevent bank fraud.

There is no £100 limit with chip and PIN transactions, and they take a few seconds longer than a contactless transaction.

What's the best option for my business?

The most suitable card reader for you, depends on the nature of your business and the type of transactions your customers make. If I were to choose, I'd go for flexibility giving customers a range of options, but the best option for you will depend on your business.

For example, if you set up in different locations, such as at markets or festivals, a mobile card reader is the best choice as you can take it to any location.

You might decide that a contactless-only card reader suits your business, particularly if transactions are of a low value, such as a street food truck business.

However, if you are selling high value clothing in a permanent store, countertop chip and PIN card payment machines may be the best choice for you.

However, it's also worth looking at a combined contactless and chip and PIN card reader, increasing options for your customers so they can choose how to pay.

What other features should I look for in a card reader?

Whichever type of card reader you choose, the following extras could be helpful:

Integrations

Many merchant account card readers offer integrations with other software applications to make your life easier when working in business. 

These can include cloud-based software such as Xero web-based accounting software or QuickBooks .

Every time a customer makes a purchase using the card reader, Xero or QuickBooks will automatically receive the information of the transaction. Your accounting records will be automatically updated.

Omni-Channel

Most businesses will accept contactless and chip and PIN payments from customers, as well as cash payments and online purchases. Depending on your business, you might also accept telephone payments.

Integrating an omni-channel solution into your processes will combine all transactions automatically so you can accurately record purchases, regardless of the payment method. This is substantially beneficial for your business for improving accuracy of your records.

Support

Depending on the service provider you choose, you could receive 24/7 support and assistance. This includes problems that arise with a card reader, or with customer purchases.

How much do card readers cost?

Every card reader will charge your business a transaction fee for purchases. This is typically between 1% to 5% of the purchase value, meaning that you might pay a transaction fee of £1 to £5 when the customer makes a £100 purchase.

A fixed fee is sometimes also charged for every transaction processed, and is usually an amount of between 10p and 40p for each payment.

In addition to transaction fees and fixed fees, you might need to pay a one-off set-up cost as well as a monthly fee.

Can I get a card machine without a contract?

Yes, there are several options if you don't want to tie yourself into a contract.

For example, the SumUp card reader is a contract-free plan. There is a set-up cost of £29 plus VAT but afterwards, you will only pay a transaction fee once a customer makes a purchase.

There is no contract so if you decide to stop using the card reader or change to another card reader service provider, you can do so immediately without incurring further costs.

How do I set up a card machine?

Once you have compared providers and picked a card machine that works for you, after you have signed up you will receive your card reader in the post. Take the card reader out of its packaging and charge the it. You may receive a charging dock, or you may be able to plug the card payment machine into a power source to charge it.

Once the card reader is ready to go, you need to establish an internet connection. Connect the card reader to WiFi, or set up SIM if the card reader has its own internet connection.

Do I need a business bank account?

You do not need a business bank account to use a card machine. You do need a merchant account, however, which is used to process payments when a purchase is made using the card reader.

The merchant account acts as an intermediary between your business and the customer’s bank or building society. The merchant account safeguards your customer’s data and your own data, storing the funds in the middle of the transaction until the purchase has been approved.

Card machines for small businesses: the verdict

There are many providers out there so shop around to find the best deal to suit your business. I've listed some of the best card machines around but the best option for you will depend on your business.

If you make a high number of sales on a regular basis, try to find a low transaction fee. If you don't want to tie yourself into a contract, choose a card reader you can pay for with a one-off fee, and cancel at any time.

Before you agree to anything, always check all of the costs involved including those for things like delivery of the machine and when transactions are made with non UK cards so you know exactly what you're paying for.

Related Guides:

10 Best Card Machines for Small Businesses: FAQs

Which is the cheapest card payment machine?

Can I use payment links with my card reader?

What happens if my card payment machine stops working?

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