Payment processing isn’t an optional part of running a business. No matter what products or services you sell, you need a way to collect payments quickly and easily from your customers.
According to Nilson, consumer and commercial credit and debit cards generated $9.773 trillion in 2021, up 22.5% from 2020. By 2026, this is expected to reach $14.075 trillion.
To meet this rising demand, businesses require a reliable Portable Card Machine (PCM). But with so many PCM options available on the market, it can be overwhelming for businesses to decide which provider is best for their needs.
In this blog, we’re going to explore what types of PCMs are available, and offer a round-up of the best PCMs for different business needs.
- Portable Card Machines (PCMs) are used by merchants to process in-person payments, as well as virtual and Card Not Present payments. Unlike a Point of Sale system (POS) which offers additional business management tools, a PCM’s primary purpose is to accept payments.
- Merchants have a choice between countertop, wireless, and mobile card machines. Countertop machines offer better security than wireless or mobile readers, but are less convenient as they can’t be moved around as easily.
- The best Portable Card Machine for your business will depend on your budget, payment options, and how much portability you want within your storefront.
What is a Portable Card Machine Used For?
Portable card machines (PCM) more commonly known as credit card readers or credit card terminals, allow retailers and small businesses to accept in-person payments.
Common payment methods include credit and debit cards such as Visa and Mastercard (via either EMV chip or magnetic stripe). Some PCMs also take contactless NFC payment options, such as Apple Pay.
Like a traditional POS (Point of sale) system, PCMs enable business owners to manage payment processing quickly and conveniently. However, POS systems typically offer a wider range of merchant services than a card reader, which is only designed to process credit card payments.
Other differences include:
- POS systems often feature additional hardware i.e. a cash drawer, touchscreen, receipt printer, and barcode scanner.
- A POS deals with other critical business functions, such as inventory management, sales reporting, employee time clocks, and more.
- A POS accepts a wider range of payment solutions, such as gift cards and checks.
Types of Portable Card Machines For Credit Card Processing
Not all Portable Card Machines are designed to the same specifications and features. The most appropriate PCM for your business will depend on a variety of factors, including processing fees, what sorts of payments you want to accept e.g. American Express, and the set-up of your storefront.
Countertop credit card machines
A countertop credit card terminal is common within brick-and-mortar storefronts, where it’s usually situated at the checkout for customer support staff to ring up purchases. Countertop terminals, such as Ingenico or Verifone, are capable of processing a variety of payment types, from chip cards to mobile devices, and also feature a pin pad and swipe slot for magstripe payments.
Because they are often wired in to receive an internet connection, the terminal cannot be conveniently moved around from place to place. Most readers can also be used as virtual terminals to process eCommerce and Card Not Present transactions.
Wireless credit card machines
A wireless credit card terminal relies on BlueTooth or wifi to process card payments. Because they are more streamlined and don’t require a wired connection, wireless terminals can be easily used by staff on the go within a storefront or outside at external events, unlike a countertop reader.
Businesses will pay either a flat fee or a monthly fee to rent the card reader and the payment processing software that comes with it. However, wireless readers are less secure because there is a risk that payment information can be intercepted during a transaction.
Mobile credit card readers
Similarly to wireless readers, mobile terminals are highly portable and can be carried around the shop floor by store associates, rather than forcing customers to queue at checkout. Mobile readers take the form of a device that attaches to an iPhone or iPad. Usually, the provider will charge a one-off fee to purchase the reader, making them a cost-effective option for small businesses.
Best Portable Card Machines for Credit Card Processing in 2023
Stax – Best unified payment option
Offering a suite of payment solutions, Stax offers businesses far more than just a card reader. Thanks to its unified payment ecosystem, merchants using Stax can seamlessly manage a full spectrum of payment types, from mobile to contactless or in-store.
With Stax, merchants have two PCM options available: Mobile payments via a Bluetooth card reader and the Stax Mobile app, or a cloud-based countertop terminal that offers advanced data analytics. Both options are PCI compliant and accept swipe, chip, and tap card transactions, making it easy to manage in-person payments. As part of the monthly fee, businesses can also access a fully virtual terminal via payment options such as payment links and Text2Pay.
Stax is the most cost-effective option for businesses with either a large monthly sales volume or who need to scale quickly. Thanks to the 0% markup on interchange fees charged by credit card companies, this fee quickly pays for itself.
Payments accepted: Magstripe, contactless, and chip reader card payments, Apple Pay, Google Pay, payment links, Text2Pay, and recurring billing.
Pricing: Starts at $99 per month, free terminal or mobile card reader included.
Card-present transaction: Interchange fee + $0.08
Card-not-present transaction: Interchange fee + $0.15
SumUp – Top mobile card reader
Primarily a mobile credit card processing option, SumUp offers several card reader options, in addition to a free app for both iOS and Android. As well as accepting in-person card payments, SumUp also allows businesses to process payments via invoices and payment links. This offers a lot of flexibility for businesses with multiple sales channels. SumUp requires no monthly fees or contracts, meaning you aren’t tied into using the service for a fixed amount of time.
But unlike more complete mobile POS systems, there are a lot of key features that SumUp lacks, especially for US-based merchants. This includes processing eCommerce transactions, adding discounts, or any form of recurring billing. SumUp is not well-suited for CNP transactions, as merchants require approval to use their card reader as a virtual terminal.
Payments accepted: Magstripe and chip reader card payments, QR codes, Apple Pay, Google Pay.
SumUp Plus reader: $35 per unit
SumUp Solo reader: $99 per unit
In-person payments (swipe, chip, and contactless payments): 2.75% per transaction.
Remote payments (via phone or payment links): 3.25% + $0.15 per transaction.
Invoicing: 2.90% + $0.15 per transaction (once invoices are paid).
Custom rates are available for businesses with over $10,000 in monthly revenue.
Clover Go – Combined card reader / POS system
Clover Go offers a convenient mobile terminal option for brick-and-mortar businesses via its card reader and free mobile app. It’s a logical choice for businesses who are already using Clover as their POS system in-store, as this ensures that your inventory and sales data will sync up seamlessly. It’s also a good option for businesses that host a lot of pop-up or sales events or want to reduce queues at the checkout.
Clover Go does come with an associated merchant account, unlike third-party options such as Square or PayPal. However, this does mean that it takes a bit of extra time to set up and be ready to accept payments.
It’s worth noting that Clover’s free plan only offers basic payment processing and sales tracking. For additional features such as inventory management and tax reporting, businesses will have to upgrade to their Clover Essentials plan, which costs an extra $15 per month. This can prove expensive for merchants with small sales volumes. If you’re a small business wanting additional functionalities, there may be better value options out there.
Payments accepted: Magstripe and chip reader card payments, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay.
Pricing: $49 for hardware, 2.6% + $0.10 processing fee per transaction.
Square – Good for new businesses
Because it’s easy to set up and provides next-business-day deposits, Square has become a firm favorite with startups and small businesses who want a low-maintenance payment solution. Square offers a free Square reader to accept Magstripe payments via its mobile POS system, where merchants only have to pay transaction fees. To access in-person and online contactless payments, merchants need to upgrade to the full Square terminal for $49.
However, Square POS lacks 24/7 customer support service for those who aren’t on a paid plan. As a third-party processor, merchants should be aware that Square reserves the right to freeze or terminate accounts if it spots an issue. This may present a problem for brands selling high-risk goods.
Payments accepted: Magstripe and contactless credit cards, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Pay, Cash App, gift cards
Pricing: $49 for hardware.
In-person transaction fee: 2.6% + $0.10 per transaction
Online transaction fee: 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction
Keyed-in transaction fee: 3.5% + $0.15 per transaction
Shopify Payments – Best for predominantly online and Shopify merchants
Shopify offers merchants an integrated payment option for both in-store and online sales as part of any Shopify plan. Shopify terminals can accept swipe, chip, and contactless payments, and come in the form of either a mobile reader or a full wireless terminal. The cost of accepting payments will depend on what plan you have, with higher-tier plans charging the lowest transaction fees.
If you already have a Shopify plan, accepting payments is easy to set up and requires no integration. But businesses who want to accept payments via another provider other than Shopify will be charged an alternative gateway fee in addition to transaction fees. This makes Shopify payments the best option for merchants who want to run all of their eCommerce services via the Shopify system. Note that Shopify Payments is not available in all countries.
Payments accepted: Magstripe, chip, and contactless card payments, gift cards, PayPal, Apple Pay, and Amazon Pay.
Pricing: $49 for hardware
2.4%, 2.6%, or 2.9% + $0.30 for online payments for Advanced, Shopify, or Basic plans, respectively.
2.4%, 2.5%, or 2.7% for in-person payments for Advanced, Shopify, or Basic plans, respectively.
PayPal Zettle – EMV and contactless payments
In addition to the better-known online payments arm of the business, PayPal now offers in-person payment capabilities following its acquisition of the Swedish payment startup iZettle. PayPal Zettle is a mobile card reader that accepts a variety of card payments, in addition to its own PayPal and Venmo services. Card Not Present payments can also be processed using Zettle but incur a higher transaction fee. Magstripe payments are not accepted.
The Zettle app offers a variety of extra features, including sales tracking, inventory management, and discounting. This makes PayPal a good choice for new businesses that want a low-cost payment processing solution. Businesses also have the option to upgrade in the future to Zettle’s full portable card terminal, which doesn’t require a mobile device. However, businesses will require a PayPal account to receive funds, as they cannot nominate a bank account of their choosing.
Payments accepted: Contactless debit/credit cards, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Cash App, gift cards, PayPal, and Venmo.
Pricing: $29 for hardware, $79 for additional readers
Card Present transactions: 2.29% + 9 cents per transaction.
Manual Card Entry Transactions: 3.49% + $0.09 per transaction.
QR code Transactions 2.29% + $0.09 per transaction.
This blog has provided a neat round-up of the top PCM options for emerging and established businesses. Before you commit to any of the above providers, make sure that you have a thorough understanding of what your business needs from your credit card terminal and how this may evolve/change over time. Selecting an easily scalable PCM solution like Stax ensures that your business can continue meeting customer expectations for seamless service.