You’ll want to accept credit card payments wherever and however customers want to pay. That’s the case no matter what type of credit card transaction you accept, including: in person at your business or another location, online, over the phone and through mobile apps.
Once you decide how to accept credit cards, address what kind of credit card processing equipment you’ll need. The best processing equipment will meet these standards.
EMV chip cards
All card readers can accept magnetic stripe cards, but you want a model that can accept EMV chip cards (Europay, Mastercard and Visa microchip card payments). EMV card technology protects you from liability for fraud occurring at the point of sale. EMV card readers also allow you to skip signature authentication, which can speed up the checkout process.
Ideally, the card reader will also have NFC technology, which allows you to accept mobile wallets like Google Pay and Apple Pay. This way, you won’t have to upgrade your equipment again as this payment method becomes more popular.
Nearly every credit card processor sells processing equipment, and in most cases, you’ll get at least your card reader from the company. If you already own a terminal, the processor may be able to reprogram it, though there is sometimes a fee for this service. If you want to buy peripherals from a third-party vendor, you’ll need to check with the processor for compatibility.
Upfront payment methods
Plan to buy your credit card payment processing equipment upfront, as installment plan payment models can escalate in price. One merchant signed a lease for $99 per month with a 48-month term for a machine – in effect, paying $4,800 for a machine that costs $300 to purchase. The FTC cautions against leasing credit card processing equipment for the same high-cost reason.
Be wary of free credit card processing equipment, as you may be charged higher rates and additional fees – such as an insurance fee or some sort of equipment maintenance fee. Most payment providers also require you to return the equipment when you close your account.
With those tips in mind, let’s examine several solid credit card payment processing hardware and technology options.
Mobile credit card reader
This is a portable device you use with a smartphone or tablet and a credit card payment app. Some models plug into the headphone jack or lightning connector on your phone or tablet, but many newer models connect via Bluetooth. Many processors give customers a free credit card swiper, but you should upgrade to a model that accepts EMV chip cards and NFC contactless payments. These usually cost less than $100.
Mobile card readers can be used as stand-alone devices or as part of a larger system. You could utilize these if your company accepts credit cards on the go. They’re also useful to process transactions from anywhere in the store during busy seasons, or if your company only runs a few transactions each day.
Credit card terminal
This type of card reader often has a built-in receipt printer and keypad for PIN debit transactions. Countertop models connect via dial-up or Ethernet. Wireless models connect via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 3G or GPRS. All new models are EMV compliant so that you can accept chip cards, and most have NFC technology to accept mobile payments. Credit card terminals usually cost between $150 and $600.
Payment terminals are the most common type of processing equipment. They would be ideal for your business should your firm need a card reader to connect to or work alongside a POS system, or if you don’t need the credit card processing system to do anything but accept payments.
This is a complete checkout station that typically includes software, a tablet or touchscreen, a card reader, cash drawer and receipt printer. Some systems have built-in card readers, while others connect to or are used alongside a credit card terminal or mobile credit card reader. You can add barcode scanners and other peripherals.
Available for purchase from merchant account providers or POS companies, POS systems’ pricing depends on the type of system you choose. Tablet-based systems that work with third-party hardware are usually the least expensive. These systems are best for your company’s physical location, particularly if you want to connect to other business software. Review our best accounting solutions for software recommendations to consider.
If you want to accept credit cards online – for example, if you sell goods or services through your website or an e-commerce platform – you need a payment gateway. Most credit card processors can set you up with this technology and help you connect it to your site. Some processors have proprietary payment gateways, and others set you up with a third-party gateway like Authorize.Net.
There’s usually an additional monthly fee for this service, and some processors charge a gateway setup fee and another per-transaction fee.