There’s a much wider choice of card machines today than just a few years ago. While before, you had to do with a chunky chip and PIN machine stationed at a counter, small businesses can now take advantage of mobile card readers that work just as well.
Unlike traditional options, these app-based card machines are usually contract-free, affordable and without complicated fees – making it much easier for new or small businesses to start accepting cards.
In this shortlist, we look at contactless payment machines suitable for businesses with card transactions of less than £20k per month.
All the below options work in conjunction with an app on an iPhone, iPad or Android device connected to the internet through WiFi, 3G or 4G. Although portable, they work well on a counter too.
How it works
- The portable card machine connects to a mobile phone or tablet via Bluetooth
- An app on the mobile device operates the card machine
- Enter PIN or tap card on the reader just like a normal card machine
None of them have fixed monthly fees or require a contract (though some have subscription options). You just purchase the mobile card machine and pay a transaction fee on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Best card payment machines for small businesses:
|Card machine||Price*||Best for||Offer|
|1. iZettle Reader||£19 ||All-round safe choice for small businesses|
|2. SumUp Air||£29||Very simple, low fixed card rate|
|3. Square Reader||£19||Best free POS and payment features|
|4. PayPal Here||£45||PayPal integration and online payouts|
|5. Worldpay Reader||£69||Round-the-clock phone support|
*Prices excluding VAT.
Widest range of accepted cards
White or black card machine
Fixed rate: 1.75% per transaction
- Payment links from app for 2.5%
The UK market leader, iZettle Reader, is the most versatile card machine on our list. Its PIN pad machine is stylish, tamper-proof and comes in white or black – and there’s no setup or shipping fee.
Signing up is straightforward: on iZettle’s website, you just fill in some details about your business and bank account. They will verify your identity and perform a credit check to ensure everything is in order.
In most cases, you are accepted straight away and can order the contactless payment machine immediately.
iZettle accepts contactless, chip and PIN (or signature), all costing the same fixed percentage even for foreign and premium cards. Visa, V Pay, Mastercard, Maestro, American Express, JCB, Diners Club, UnionPay, Discover, Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay are all accepted.
The newest iZettle Reader 2 has a simple keypad and display asking the customer to enter their PIN, or add a tip if tipping is switched on. You have to keep the card machine connected via Bluetooth to the mobile device to take payments.
The iZettle app is user-friendly and feature-rich, with options to subscribe to ecommerce and more advanced features for your business.
If you need to bill clients remotely, you can send a payment link via text or email invoice so the customer can pay on their phone without being close to a card payment machine. These key-in transactions cost 2.5% each.
Payments are credited to your bank account within 1-2 working days, minus the transaction fee. Refunds are easy and free to process through the app – and you get the transaction fee back.
Accepts the major card brands
Available in white
Fixed rate: 1.69% per transaction
Very simple payment app
SumUp Air is the most economical app-based card machine in the UK. It has the lowest card fee, and the free SumUp app has the basic functions needed to take credit and debit card payments. There is no setup fee or shipping charge. You just pay the one-off price for the card machine, then only a fixed percentage for card payments.
It’s quick to sign up on SumUp’s website, after which you can order the card machine. Shipping takes up to a week, which is a bit longer than the other options on this list.
SumUp accepts contactless, chip and PIN, and chip and signature cards.
The card payment machine is elegant and sturdy, with a shiny, flat surface over its keypad and display. It is user-friendly with the simplified keys for PINs, and contactless cards can be tapped over the card machine display.
SumUp’s free payment app is intuitive to use. You enter a custom amount or tap to add an item from your product library. At checkout, you can choose to pay by card or cash.
The app automatically connects with the card machine via Bluetooth when you pick card as payment method, whereafter the terminal shows the appropriate payment instruction on its display.
It takes 2-3 days for payments to reach your bank account, minus the transaction fee. SumUp charges you the card fee for refunds, if the payment has been paid out already.
Existing SumUp users can in some cases activate over-the-phone payments and mobile payments (SMS, QR codes, payment links) at no monthly cost apart from a 2.95% + 25p transaction fee – but these options have to be approved by SumUp and are therefore not guaranteed.
Most comprehensive free app
Available in white
Fixed rate: 1.75% per transaction
- Email & phone payments for 2.5%
Square Reader is the smallest, most light-weight card machine on this list. Instead of a PIN pad on the card reader, PIN codes are entered on your mobile screen in the free Point of Sale app. The Reader is literally a square-shaped, plastic card machine that’s white all over, but the technology makes it just as reliable as standard POS machines.
To get it, you first fill in Square’s sign-up pages online, then order the Square Reader. It takes about four days to get your bank account verified, but you can start taking payments before that.
The mobile device will automatically connect to the card machine via Bluetooth – provided they are paired already – when ready to accept the card.
Square accepts contactless cards and mobile wallets, chip and PIN, and chip and signature cards. Included in the package is also a magstripe reader to plug into the earphone socket on your mobile device (for international magnetic stripe cards only).
A decent range of cards are accepted, including Visa, V Pay, Mastercard, Maestro, and American Express. The card machine also accepts Google Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay.
It’s simple to add items from your product library to the shopping cart or enter a custom amount at checkout, before choosing payment method.
Hands down, the Square POS app has the most features of all the free card machine apps. On top of the free app features relevant to retailers and food-and-drink businesses, you get email invoicing and an in-browser virtual terminal for phone payments at no extra monthly cost apart from a 2.5% transaction fee applicable to all keyed-in payments. Entering card details in the app is possible at checkout.
Payments are usually deposited in your bank account the day after each transaction, depending on your bank’s processing times. Immediate payouts are also possible for an added 1% fee per transaction. Refunds are free to process, i.e. both the transaction amount you received and Square’s fee are returned to the customer.
Accepts the major cards
Available in black
Card fees: 2.75%–1% + other charges
Fees depend on volume and card type
The PayPal Here card machine is integrated with your PayPal Business account for an overview of both face-to-face and online PayPal transactions. The machine accepts contactless, chip and PIN, chip and signature and swipe cards, and comes in black only.
All you need to get started is order the card machine from PayPal’s website and download the free PayPal Here app on your tablet or smartphone. If you don’t already have a PayPal account, you will be prompted to sign up for one. Verifying your bank account is usually quick, but some cases may require additional documentation.
While other card machines on our list automatically deposit payments to your bank account, PayPal Here transactions go directly in to your PayPal account.
Transfers are in most cases immediate, but you then have to manually withdraw the money to your linked bank account.
The card reader only accepts the major cards Visa, Mastercard, Maestro and Amex, but also Apple Pay and Google Pay.
The payment app has the most important features needed for a mobile point of sale.
You also have the option to send electronic invoices and take payments over the phone – both of which incur higher fees than contactless and chip payments.
The fee system is complicated, to say the least. PayPal Here operates on a sliding fee scale starting at 2.75% per transaction until you sell for over £1,500 per month where it goes down to 1.75%. Above £6,000 per month, you pay 1.5%, and 1% if you sell for over £15k. Because this is calculated on a per-month basis, you pay the fee qualified for the previous month. If you sell for less this month, your fee will be higher next month.
Chip and contactless Amex cards are always charged 2.75%, and manual entry and swipe cards 3.4% + 20p. Foreign cards have additional fees added on top.
In other words, PayPal has no “simple fixed rate”, so costs can vary month on month.
24/7 phone support
Available in black
Fees depend on turnover and more
Traditional payment company
Worldpay Reader is Worldpay’s attempt to break into the app-based mobile payment market. It is the priciest card machine on this list, costing £69 + VAT plus “purchase fee” if you choose the pay-as-you-go plan without lock-in. After that, you pay a transaction fee determined by your monthly turnover, plus extra fees for premium cards and transaction authorisation fees. There is also a rental plan starting at £4.99/month, but this involves an 18-month contract.
You can order the Worldpay Reader card machine by signing up online, after which you will receive a quote on the fees.
Beware that Worldpay may not be transparent about all fees, so make sure you get them to explain all the costs and responsibilities involved. For instance, they require PCI compliance, and if you fail to complete certain paperwork, you will be charged a £9.99 PCI non-compliance fee every month.
Worldpay only accepts Visa, Mastercard, Maestro, Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay, and settlements take up to three days. The card machine is the same as that used by PayPal Here.
The accompanying Worldpay POS app is straightforward and frequently updated. There’s a product library with images you can tap to add to the bill, or enter a custom item, before proceeding to payment by card.
The mobile device will connect with the card machine through Bluetooth so the customer can enter their PIN on the keypad, swipe a card or tap a contactless card, phone or Apple Watch.
It’s possible to send email invoices, accept over-the-the-phone payments and remote payments via payment links, but these incur extra costs from Worldpay.
Worldpay’s main advantage is the free phone support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Not making the cut
Barclaycard Anywhere is another card machine of the same model used by PayPal Here and Worldpay. It doesn’t make the cut, largely because the app is buggy and very basic, although the card fee is the lowest of all fixed rates: 1.6%. But given the fact it only accepts a few card brands and uses an unreliable app, we consider it too risky for merchants reliant on a smooth experience.
The Shopify POS card reader also comes with the attractive 1.7% rate, but this requires a minimum monthly cost of £7 (Shopify Lite subscription). Shopify POS and the card reader can make sense for businesses that already sell online through Shopify.
A few services have gone out of business: Elavon MobileMerchant (replaced by other terminals offered by Elavon), WorldPay Zinc (replaced by Worldpay Reader), Payatrader and Intuit Pay. We believe these did not measure up to the current top five. In the end, the fittest survive – which is good news for small businesses.