What Is The Cheapest Card Payment Machine?

Learn what kind of impact a card payment machine can have on your business and which ones are not only the best but the cheapest on the market, too.

Updated: May 22, 2024
Matt Crabtree

Written By

Matt Crabtree

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Even up until fairly recently, you'd probably be able to get away with not having a card machine if you're only running a small business — or you might not even need one at all if you want to take a cash-only approach to avoid paying certain fees — but for the majority of business owners and customers alike, it's just way more convenient if you give people the option of paying for things by card, and this goes for literally any type of business.

As touched on there, though, these card payment machines aren't completely free to use even after you've paid for them, set them up, and performed whatever maintenance needs to be done on them.

While this might not be that big of an issue for, say, a supermarket chain (as their bottom line would be impacted way more by excluding card paying customers than the fees that come with these machines).

It can definitely be a bit frustrating if you're running a local brick and mortar store which needs to provide as payment options as possible for their customers — which is exactly why you see so many businesses have minimum charges for the customer on their card reader.

You'd never want to just outright deny people from paying for things with their credit cards when cheap solutions to this problem do actually exist, so throughout this article, we're going to be breaking down our top six card machines that won't eat up a big percentage of your revenue.

Aside from this, we'll also be walking through some background information so you've got a clear idea of what you should be looking for in one of these machines rather than just blindly taking our word for it, so keep reading to gain some context into why these card payment machines are so vital in the modern age.

ProviderScoreDetails
1. Tyl by Natwest★★★★★Click Here
2. Square★★★★★Click Here
3. SumUp★★★★★Click Here
4. SmartPay Anywhere★★★★Click Here
5. Zettle★★★★Click Here

Best Card Payment Machines — Reviews

Let's break down our top five most affordable choices:

1. Tyl by Natwest

Generally speaking, the Tyl card reader by Natwest is probably one of the most comprehensive options we've got on this list, as few options allow you to not only accept card payments but handle all of your other business expenses on one device — whether you're handling inventory management or creating itemised receipts for your customers.

It's not a ridiculously expensive card reader, but it is something that might price out a lot of small businesses or start-ups in particular, as the transaction fees are fixed at around 1.5% if you're raking in less than £50,000 per year.

You'll also need to pay around £14 per month if you opt for their countertop card machine, so it's definitely not the cheapest option on our list, but it stays as our top choice regardless because of how many additional features it comes with.

Pros

✔️ Excellent range of features available.

✔️ Receive payment in 24 hours.

✔️ It can be used for 8 hours before needing to be charged.

Cons

❌️ Transaction fees are higher than most.

❌️ Only really suitable for medium to larger sized businesses.

2. Square Card Reader

Next up, we have an option that's definitely better for the smaller businesses out there than Tyl is, so if and anyone who's on the go a lot as a business — whether you run a coffee stand or a market stall — you'll definitely like the Square card reader for it's portability and overall convenience.

Your customers can simply tap their phone or card on your reader to make payments, so this is definitely a bit more convenient than having to insert their card and type out their PIN code every time they want to buy something.

Now, the card reader costs approximately £19 (not including VAT), but what's really special about this option is that there aren't any monthly or annual fees, making it one of the most affordable options we'll be covering today. The 1.75% charge per transaction isn't anything to write home about, but it's still comparable to most of the other cheap options on this list.

Pros

✔️ No additional annual/monthly fees.

✔️ Easy-to-use app.

✔️ Perfect for inventory tracking.

Cons

❌️ No physical receipts.

3. SumUp Air Card Reader

SumUp Air is yet another fantastic option for businesses that move around a lot, like market stalls, for instance. As you can probably gather, this is by far a better option for the small business owners reading this article than the larger ones, and that's reflected in the affordable price of just £39 to buy the card reader.

Furthermore, the transaction fees you can expect to pay with SumUp are actually the lowest out of all the other options we'll be covering today, costing only 1.69% every time a customer makes a payment, which makes it perfect for anyone looking to minimise their expenses.

Having said that, the low costs are mostly down to the fact that you're not going to be getting any additional features with this option like you would with Tyl by NatWest, but if you only need the basics, you won't really miss these anyway.

Pros

✔️ Very cheap transaction fees — the most affordable on this list.

✔️ No commitment to contracts.

Cons

❌️ No additional tools like receipt printing.

4. SmartPay Anywhere Card Reader

Our next option is ideal for anyone who already has a Barclays business bank account. SmartPay Anywhere integrates perfectly with existing Barclays customers.

In terms of functionality, though, this device works pretty similarly to two of the mobile card readers we've already covered, SumUp and Square, in that it lets you accept payments from customers using both debit and credit cards via a mobile connection from your phone.

As a result, it's perfect for all the same use cases — when you're running a stall or even accepting payments from your home, for instance. Now, the reader itself is slightly limited in its capabilities, but it does have a quality app you can download to sync with it so you can handle things like inventory tracking — all for the same price of £29 and the added VAT (with no additional monthly or annual fees!).

Just keep in mind that although the 1.6% transaction fees are highly impressive, you'll not be able to accept payments with every type of card — it only accepts Mastercard and Visa. So, it may be a little bit more limited in this regard, but along with the app you can use, it's still an exceptional card payment machine.

Pros

✔️ Incredibly low transaction fees — good for firms making lots of small sales.

✔️ Easy to set up.

✔️ Long battery life and energy-efficient modes for conserving battery power.

Cons

❌️ The mobile app is solid but can be a little bit glitchy at times.

❌️ Doesn't accept all the most common cards.

5. Zettle Card Reader

Finally, let's round things off with one of the cheapest options on our list (that also comes with a pretty nice app), Zettle. The device itself costs around £29 plus any VAT you need to pay, which makes it the same as some of the options we've covered already, like Smartpay and SumUp.

In fact, one of the only real differences between these options is that Zettle has marginally higher transaction fees than SumUp, with SumUp charging around 1.69% in comparison to Zettle's 1.75%.

Having said that, it actually used to be a lot worse around a year ago with Zettle, as some of their charges would rise as high as 2.75%, so it at least shows a willingness to make their product more affordable for the average small business owner.

Crucially, Zettle doesn't charge you for any of your customers' declined card payments, which is quite common among other card payment machine providers.

Pros

✔️ Works seamlessly with both iOS and Android operating systems.

✔️ Enjoy swift payouts from transactions, typically within 24-48 hours.

Cons

❌️ Requires constant connection to a phone or tablet for operation.

❌️ Lacks the functionality to set up an online store directly within the app.

What Are Card Payment Machines?

Card payment machines are sometimes referred to as card readers or terminals, but they're basically all the same thing — an electronic device that lets your customers pay for things — whether you run a local corner shop or a high fashion clothing store — straight from their credit or debit cards.

Obviously, cash is often preferred if we're talking about the former example of a corner shop, but the facts remain that people just don't carry cash around with them anywhere near as much as they used to, so you're going to need to get with the times and give the people what they want.

These sorts of devices actually come in a bunch of different forms — you've got your classic countertop terminals, mobile card readers that are way more portable and streamlined, and there are virtual terminals, too, for any business that takes a lot of online transactions.

Essentially, whatever card machine you choose doesn't really make a difference; the main thing they have in common is that they act as a kind of bridge between your customer's bank account and your merchant account.

Yes, it's a little bit more convoluted than taking a note off your customer and giving them some change (especially if you're making them scan a code or download an app to make the payment), but there are still plenty of benefits of offering this kind of payment method which we'll come onto in a little bit more detail later.

How Do Card Payment Machines Work?

Moving forward, let's take a look at how these card machines actually work because if you're going to be choosing one of the options on our list, it's obviously important to know the process behind it.

Fortunately, they're not that difficult to get your head around — whenever one of your customers goes to purchase something using their card, your machine will communicate with their bank so the transaction can be verified.

Security is naturally a pretty important aspect of this, so all of the customer's data is fully encrypted during this process, from their card number to the overall transaction amount.

Then, once the transaction has been authorised, all of the funds are transferred from their account to yours via something known as a merchant account, which is basically a specialised bank account merchants use for receiving card payments, so it's not going directly to your personal bank account and complicating things.

It sounds like there's quite a lot going on here, but this entire process actually happens within a matter of seconds, so it's generally fairly comparable to someone handing you cash and you giving them change in return.

Every one of the card machines we'll be covering today comes with marginally different features from the next, but they generally share more similarities than differences. So, let's walk through some of the main features you can expect to see across the board with these tools:

Tailored Customer Support

Generally speaking, you can probably expect to receive better customer service if you're opting for one of the more expensive card payment machines out there (rather than the cheaper ones), but that certainly doesn't mean you'll struggle to handle any problems you run into with one of the six options we'll come onto later.

You can't really run into any trouble when accepting cash, but like pretty much all technology, there'll probably come a time when you require assistance for some kind of technical issue — whether it's down to the Wi-Fi connection or there's something wrong with the hardware itself.

Now, you're obviously back to square one if you're sat there in your shop with a broken card machine and having to turn down paying customers, so all of the options we're talking about today come with dedicated support teams to help you with troubleshooting so you aren't stuck with this issue all day.

Transparent Monthly Fees

We'll cover the rest of the cons in a bit more detail soon, but monthly fees are probably at the top of this list for the time being and are generally one of the main reasons people stay away from card payment machines and stick to cash.

Now, this would be manageable and easy enough to incorporate into your list of expenses if it were predictable, but unfortunately, there are a lot of providers out there who aren't so clear about their expenses and leave a not so nice surprise for you at the end of the month in the form of hidden fees.

Even if the fees are high, it's way more commendable that they tell you this beforehand rather than leaving it for you to discover on your own.

Because of this, you should outright steer clear of any card machine company that isn't explicitly clear about their pricing structures, as there's a good chance they're not going to be transparent about a bunch of other things, too. So, just make sure you know exactly what you're paying for each month if you want better budgeting and financial planning.

Competitive Transaction Fees

Following on from the previous point, it's nice if they're at least open about their high monthly fees and transaction fees, but that's not going to cut it if you're working on a budget — you've got to make every penny count and only choose a card payment machine provider that offers low transaction fees so you know that you're maximising your profits with every sale.

Whether you're processing debit card payments or credit card transactions, minimising transaction costs is a slightly new responsibility for you if you've previously been used to cash, but an essential one nonetheless if you actually want your business to succeed and not make a fraction of the amount you would normally be making.

Seamless Integration With Merchant Accounts

As mentioned earlier, you're going to need to set up some kind of merchant account if you want to use a card payment machine, and there are generally a bunch of different reasons for this, so let's walk through a couple of them now:

Firstly, we talked a little bit about why mixing personal and business finances can sometimes get confusing, but it's worth delving into this further since it's something that a lot of people still do and then wonder why they're so unorganised.

Handling Tax Issues

The main issue here is that you can't track your business expenses half as easily as you could if they were in their own dedicated account — filling out your taxes is already a big enough hassle on its own, but now you're having to scroll through huge bank statements filled with family grocery shopping expenses and subscriptions to things like Netflix while trying to work out how much your business spent last month.

As a result, this is naturally going to lead to some pretty big inefficiencies in your accounting, and the last thing you want as a small business owner is the tax man knocking at your door for something that could easily be avoided by sending funds from card transactions directly to your merchant account where they can then be deposited into a business account.

This probably sounds like a bunch of extra steps, but it's absolutely worth it if you want to ensure accurate record-keeping.

Additional Features

Even aside from the disadvantages of not having a merchant account, you'll be missing out on so many business-specific features that come with them if you're sticking with your personal account — things like detailed transaction reporting and fraud protection tools, for example, are benefits you're just not going to receive otherwise with a regular bank account.

So, whichever card payment machine you ultimately settle on, just make sure you link it to your merchant account so you can process all your transactions in a more efficient manner.

Oh, and remember that with all the encryption protocols that come with these sorts of accounts, all of your financial data is completely safe, so you don't need to worry about any kind of leaks or even customer information getting out.

Versatile Payment Options

If you're going to be offering card payment opportunities to your customers, you may as well go a bit further and provide even more options, given how many people value flexibility when trying to pay for things.

That's not to say you need to go all out if you're only a small business owner, as this sort of thing obviously depends on the kind of demographic you cater to the most.

There's not really much point in seeking out a card payment machine that accepts cryptocurrency transactions if you're running a local corner shop and your primary demographic is older customers; no one's going to pay 0.00039ETH for a carton of milk when they can just hand you £1.50 in coins instead (not to mention all the gas fees involved in smaller transactions like this would be more the actual price of the item itself).

Still, what can be useful is including a few different payment links and ensuring your card payment machine integrates with Google Pay and Apple Pay — offering support for various different credit and debit cards can help here as not everyone (especially foreign customers) has access to the same cards.

At the end of the day, though, if it's affordable enough for you to provide a wide range of payment options, you may as well explore it, as it'll help cater to some of the more diverse preferences of your customers.

Mobile Card Readers for On-the-Go Transactions

This is generally less of a requirement if your company stays in one place, but for any businesses that need to move around a lot, mobile card readers in particular (rather than fixed countertop models that you'd see in supermarkets, for instance) can be an absolute game-changer.

This is probably more useful for smaller business owners rather than larger ones, but if you're a food truck vendor or even a freelancer who needs to meet clients in various different locations, you're generally not going to find a more convenient option than a mobile card reader.

Even in comparison to cash, as you don't need to carry a bunch of change with you wherever you're going; the customer can just tap their phone on the reader and be done with it.

Aside from just being portable and easy to carry around with you, another one of the key advantages mobile card readers have over any other payment method is how easily you can set them up and connect them to the internet.

They usually utilise either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi technology, but whatever it uses, it'll sync with your smartphone or tablet, which essentially transforms your mobile device into a point-of-sale system — pretty impressive stuff.

You can get this started with literally just a few taps on your screen, as well, which is a lot more simple than having to read through a bunch of manuals to learn how to start processing payments and sending digital receipts — all without being tethered to a traditional countertop terminal.

Pros and Cons of Card Payment Machines

So, now that we've broken down a few of the main things you should be looking out for with your chosen card payment machine let's weigh up some of the pros and cons of incorporating these devices into your daily business operations before getting into the review section of the article:

Pros

To kick things off, let's start on a positive note and walk through some of the main advantages you can expect with pretty much every card machine — cheap or not:

Increased Sales Opportunities ✔️

Firstly, one of the more obvious benefits is that you're going to be able to make your shop, stall, or whatever business you're running a lot more accessible and ultimately expand your customer base since you're not limiting them to cash only payments.

You obviously don't need to stop accepting cash, but if you're also accepting credit and debit card payments, you're going to cater to way more people who prefer cashless transactions.

The facts remain that people just don't carry as much cash around with them as they used to, particularly younger people who are savvy enough with technology to use features like Apple Wallet and Google Pay, so you're pointlessly limiting yourself by sticking with cash only in 2024.

Furthermore, offering multiple different payment options generally just makes things a lot more convenient for your customers — people aren't going to come back if they're forced to hit up an ATM before coming to your store, but they will if they know they can use whatever payment method they want.

Streamlined Transaction Processing ✔️

Gone are the days of lengthy queues and having to process every single payment painstakingly manually; these sorts of machines streamline transaction processing so you can serve your customers way more efficiently and ultimately let your customers checkout faster.

With swift authorisation and seamless integration with merchant accounts, you can minimise wait times and enhance the overall shopping experience for your clientele.

Access to Valuable Data Insights ✔️

Beyond just giving you a faster way of making transactions, card payment machines can actually provide some pretty useful insights into consumer behaviour and their overall purchasing patterns by analysing things like transaction data — giving you a chance to spot any trends or opportunities for you to grow your business.

Once you've got a collection of these insights, you can tailor your marketing strategy so it's best fitted to one specific demographic.

Cons

We've alluded to a couple of issues involved with these sorts of payment options already in the article (namely that they can be a little bit expensive at times), but we've only really talked positively about the impact card payment machines can have on your business thus far.

Unfortunately, though, like pretty much every payment option, even cash, there are certainly plenty of disadvantages that maybe don't get talked about as much as they should — not even specific flaws with particular card payment machine providers; we're talking about across the board issues with these tools in general.

So, throughout this next section, we're going to dive a bit deeper into some of the things you should watch out for if you're considering moving from a cash only business to one that accepts card payments, too.

Ultimately, the severity of a lot of these flaws is dependent on the kind of business you're operating and your size/budget, so bear in mind that not everyone is going to experience the same issues:

Dependency on Technology ❌️

If we're being completely honest, there are generally a lot more positives to using card payment machines than there are negatives, but they do also introduce a degree of dependency on technology that you'd never see with cash.

Unfortunately, things like technical glitches, network outages, or even malfunctions with the hardware itself are more common than you might assume with card payment machines, and these can lead to some pretty major disruptions in your business operations — especially if you don't accept cash for whatever reason.

As such, it's absolutely imperative you've got some sort of contingency plan in place so you can mitigate some of these risks.

I can tell you from personal experience from working in a corner shop as a young adult it gets incredibly stressful when these kinds of things happen.

No more so than when you're in your busiest hour and there is a queue of people waiting in line while more are still coming in; picking up items without knowing that they're physically not going to be able to pay for them by card and need to put them back on the shelves (or leave them on the counter for you to do, another fun job that makes your life easier…).

Fortunately, all of the card payment machine providers we'll be covering in the review section later are not only affordable, but their customer service teams are super helpful in walking you through these kinds of problems so you're not spending the day without your card machine.

Having said that, this isn't the case with every provider, and oftentimes, you'll need to wait significantly long periods of time to not only get through to an advisor but actually get the problem dealt with

In the meantime, you're just losing more and more money by turning down customers and forcing them to come back another time (which they're not always going to do).

So, the quality of your chosen card machine's customer support team cannot be understated here, as the money you'll miss out on by declining customers will far outweigh the money you need to pay to ensure quality.

Risk of Chargebacks ❌️

Let's talk about chargebacks next because these can, unfortunately, pose a pretty big challenge to any business accepting card payments.

In essence, chargebacks are basically a mechanism that's designed to protect consumers from any unauthorised transactions or disputes with merchants, which is innocent enough at first glance.

When the customer disputes a charge that's been made on their credit or debit card statement, they have an opportunity to initiate a chargeback through their card issuer or bank, which basically just reverses the transaction and refunds them the money they originally spent — debiting you, the merchant, for the disputed amount.

Now, dealing with chargebacks is not only annoying and time-consuming, but it can actually result in some pretty big financial losses if you don't handle it effectively.

Even worse, although chargebacks are primarily used correctly by customers so they don't become victims of fraud, there are certainly times when some people might try and abuse this system for their personal gain.

Claiming, for instance, that the product they received was damaged when you both know fine well that it wasn't. In this example, you'd be the one suffering here, so bear this in mind as an albeit rare possibility.

So, just make sure you've implemented some kind of robust fraud prevention measures into your business so you can hopefully minimise the overall risk of chargebacks and ultimately protect your bottom line.

Costs Associated With Fees ❌️

While all of the benefits of card payment machines we've already covered are pretty undeniable, there's really no getting around the fact that these are expensive to maintain — yes, even the cheap ones we'll be exploring shortly (in comparison to strictly accepting cash, which obviously doesn't come with any additional charges).

Whether it's a transaction fee for actually processing the payment or the monthly service for simply owning the product, these end up becoming some pretty hefty expenses that can absolutely add up over time and impact your bottom line — especially if you're only running a small business and need to avoid as many additional expenses as possible.

We've already mentioned hidden fees, but it's worth reiterating that these are relatively common, even though card payment machine providers we'll be breaking down later don't have any.

As such, it's obviously pretty important that you scrutinise the pricing structure of any provider we're not covering very carefully so you don't run into any unexpected expenses — take a look at the contract terms in general, too, so you know you're not paying way more than you should be, even if they are being transparent about it.

Limited Accessibility for Certain Customers ❌️

Card payment machines are insanely common these days, and you'll generally struggle to find a business that only accepts cash, but it's definitely still worth mentioning that although they've been widely adopted, not all of your customers are going to have access to credit or debit cards.

This might actually end up excluding certain demographics, such as people with limited banking access or those who prefer cash transactions, for instance, so it can be a pretty slippery slope if you embrace card payment machines and abandon cash.

Yes, specific card payment machines like mobile card readers are incredibly useful, but that doesn't mean you should write off an entire demographic who prefers traditional payment methods by turning your business into a cashless one.

As a result, it's up to you to find a balance between catering to cashless preferences and still being able to accommodate the needs of other customers through slightly more alternative payment methods.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, it's pretty clear that card machines aren't going anywhere and are absolutely essential for a modern business to have if it wants to see any level of success — cash only businesses are generally a thing of the past, and when you see how these tools can broaden your customer base and help you learn a bit more about your customers, it's really no surprise.

Nevertheless, it's still imperative that you do a bit of further research into your chosen card payment machine provider, as the last thing you'd want is to have all your profits eaten up by transaction fees and additional monthly expenses.

Related Guides:

FAQs

Are There Any Particular Advantages to Accepting Cash Over Other, More Traditional Forms of Payment?

Can My Business Accept Cryptocurrency Payments?

Can My Business Implement a "Pay What You Want" Pricing Model?

Can My Business Integrate In-Game Purchases or Virtual Currency Payments?

How Do I Choose the Right Card Payment Machine for My Business?

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Mentioned Banks

About Barclays Bank Barclays is a British multinational investment bank and financial services company. It was founded in 1690 and is headquartered in London. Barclays originated...
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About Havin Bank Havin Bank, formerly known as Havana International Bank, or HIB, was founded in the United Kingdom in 1972. It received its banking authorisation the following...
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NatWest, or National Westminster, is a retail and commercial bank based in the United Kingdom. It is one of the ‘Big Four’ UK clearing banks and has more than 7.5million personal banking...
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