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 also take advantage of mobile card readers that work just as well.

In this shortlist, we look at contactless payment machines suitable for businesses with card transactions of less than £20k per month.

Two of the options are traditional card machines for a till, table-side payments or mobile use. They are rented on a monthly basis with contractual lock-in, but then you get a unique merchant account and fees tailored for your business.

The others are mobile card readers that work with or without an app. These are no-contract, affordable and without complicated fees – making it much easier for new or small businesses to start accepting cards. They have no monthly fees, just a fixed rate per transaction after purchasing the card machine.

Best card payment machines for small businesses:

Card machine Price* Best for Offer
1. Zettle Reader £19 (full: £59) Popular choice for small businesses
2. SumUp 3G & Printer £129 (full: £169) Cheapest standalone terminal and low rate
3. Square Reader £19 Best free POS and payment features
4. Worldpay Monthly rental Custom fees and 24/7 support
5. Takepayments Monthly rental Short card machine contracts
6. Barclaycard Business Monthly rental Traditional, reliable acquiring bank

*Prices exclude VAT.

Price* Offer
1. Zettle Reader £19 (full: £59)
2. SumUp 3G & Printer £129 (full: £169)
3. Square Reader £19
4. Worldpay Monthly rental
5. Takepayments Monthly rental
6. Barclaycard Business Monthly rental

*Prices exclude VAT.

Zettle Reader – all-round safe choice

Our rating
  • Widest range of accepted cards

  • Works with iOS or Android app

  • Fixed rate: 1.75% per transaction

  • No contract, no monthly fees

The UK market leader, Zettle Reader (recently rebranded from ‘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. Neither has it got contractual commitment or monthly fees, so all you’re paying is a fixed rate of 1.75% per transaction.

Zettle Reader card machine

Signing up is straightforward: on Zettle’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 for £19 + VAT.

Zettle 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 Zettle 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 payment machine connected via Bluetooth to the mobile device to take payments.

The Zettle app is user-friendly with important POS features for most businesses. You can also subscribe to Zettle Food & Drink for more hospitality features.

Accepted cards

VisaVisa ElectronV PayMastercardMaestroAmerican ExpressDiners ClubJCBUnion PayDiscoverContactlessApple PayGoogle PaySamsung Pay

If you need to charge clients remotely, you can send payment links or email invoices so the customer can pay on their phone. These key-in transactions cost 2.5% each. QR codes can also be shared with customers who can pay through their PayPal app.

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.

Learn more: Zettle by PayPal review – UK’s favourite choice of card reader with app

SumUp 3G – excellent value for money

Our rating
  • Accepts the major card brands

  • With or without receipt printer

  • Fixed rate: 1.69% per transaction

  • No contract, no monthly fees

SumUp 3G is the cheapest standalone card machine in the UK. It has the lowest fixed card rate and there is no setup fee or shipping charge. You just pay £99 + VAT for the card machine – or £129 + VAT if you want the receipt printer too – then only a fixed percentage for card payments.

SumUp 3G card machine

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 3G accepts mobile wallets, contactless and chip and PIN payments from most card brands. It is user-friendly with the simplified keys for PINs, and contactless cards can be tapped over the card machine display.

The optional SumUp printing cradle doubles as a charging stand that’s ideal for countertops. Otherwise, you can use SumUp 3G – with or without the receipt printer attached – anywhere with a WiFi, 3G or GPRS connection, since it has a SIM card built in free of charge.

Alternatively, SumUp offers a cheaper card reader called SumUp Air for £29 + VAT. Air works with a user-friendly app that has many more features than just accepting cards, but the card reader is then unable to work independently.

Accepted cards

VisaVisa ElectronV PayMastercardMaestroAmerican ExpressDiners ClubUnion PayDiscoverContactlessApple PayGoogle Pay

It takes 1-3 days for payments to reach your bank account, minus the transaction fee. With the complimentary SumUp Card, you can receive payouts in an online account the following day, even on weekends. SumUp charges you the transaction fee for refunds, if the payout has been processed already.

SumUp users have access to payment links, email invoices and a basic online store creator at no monthly cost, just a 2.5% transaction fee. SumUp Virtual Terminal is available for eligible merchants for 2.95% + 25p per transaction.

Learn more: SumUp 3G – the most affordable 3G terminal in the UK

Square Reader – worthy point of sale app

Our rating