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
Zettle Reader £19 (full: £59) Popular choice for small businesses
SumUp 3G & Printer £149 (full: £169) Cheapest standalone terminal and low rate
Square Reader £19 Best free POS and payment features
Takepayments Monthly rental Short contracts and tailored fees
Worldpay Monthly rental Different price plans and 24/7 support
Barclaycard Business Monthly rental Fees better for high sales volume

*Prices exclude VAT.

Card
machine
Price* Offer
Zettle Reader £19 (full: £59)
SumUp 3G & Printer £149 (full: £169)
Square Reader £19
Takepayments Monthly rental
Worldpay Monthly rental
Barclaycard Business Monthly rental

*Prices exclude VAT.

Zettle Reader – all-round safe choice

Zettle
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.

SumUp 3G – excellent value for money

SumUp
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 £149 + 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.

Square Reader – worthy point of sale app

Square
Our rating
  • Many payment tools included

  • Works with iOS or Android app

  • Fixed rate: 1.75% per transaction

  • No contract, no monthly fees

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.

Square card reader

To get it, you first fill in Square’s sign-up pages online, then order the Square Reader for £19 + VAT. It takes about four days to get your bank account verified, but you can start taking payments before that.

The mobile device automatically connects to the card machine via Bluetooth – provided they are paired already – when ready to accept a card.

Square accepts contactless cards and mobile wallets, chip and PIN, and chip and signature cards. Included 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 as well as 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.

Accepted cards

VisaVisa ElectronV PayMastercardMaestroAmerican ExpressContactlessApple PayGoogle PaySamsung Pay

Frankly, Square Point of Sale has the most POS features for retailers and hospitality out of all the free card machine apps. You can also send e-invoices, accept phone payments and enter card details in the app for 2.5% per transaction and no monthly cost. Transactions through Square’s online store, payment links and QR codes cost 1.9% for UK-/Europe-issued cards and 2.9% for international cards.

If you prefer a standalone credit card machine, Square Terminal connects directly with a WiFi network. It has a touchscreen with Square Point of Sale features built in – perfect as a portable checkout on your premises. You can get this for £199 + VAT.

Payments are usually deposited in your bank account the day after each transaction. 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.

Takepayments – shortest card machine contract

Takepayments
Our rating
  • Mobile, portable & countertop models

  • Touchscreen terminal for 6 users

  • Fees best for high transaction values

  • 12-month contract

Takepayments is a popular merchant service provider in the UK, its main selling point being the short 12-month contracts. If you are going to have contractual commitment, but can’t be sure of how your business fares beyond the next year, then Takepayments is one of the few that offers card machine rental with less than 18 months’ lock-in.

Takepayments contactless card machine

The card machine rental starts from £10 + VAT per month depending on which of their Ingenico or Verifone terminals you choose. There are mobile, portable and countertop options and a ‘Multipay’ smart POS terminal to share between six users. The latter is a PAX A920 model with a large touchscreen so it can be used as a mobile checkout.

Transaction fees depend on your average transaction value, turnover and cards accepted, ranging between 0.3%-2.5% + flat fee.

There’s no setup fee or monthly cost for the merchant account, but you commit to an early cancellation fee equivalent to buying out the contract if you do not give an exit notice of two months. Otherwise, the contract auto-renews.

If you make less than an agreed amount during a month, a monthly minimum service charge applies. Monthly or annual fees for PCI-DSS compliance apply, and there are charges for chargebacks and refunds.

Accepted cards

VisaMastercardAmerican ExpressContactlessApple PayGoogle PaySamsung Pay

Takepayments actually signs you up for two contracts – one for themselves and one for Barclaycard Business who provides your merchant account for card processing. Next-day settlement with Barclaycard is free.

For an additional cost, remote payments can be added, such as pay by link, telephone payments, QR codes for table-service, and an online payment gateway for ecommerce. Card machines can be integrated with Epos Now as part of a monthly package – no other POS systems can currently be integrated.

Signing up requires talking to a Takepayments sales rep, most likely in connection with a physical visit to your premises. After onboarding, you have access to customer support over the phone every day within working hours.

Worldpay card machines – best for custom fees

Worldpay
Our rating
  • 24/7 customer support

  • Mobile, portable & countertop models

  • Fees depend on turnover and more

  • Traditional payment company

A major credit card processor in the UK, Worldpay continues to be a popular choice for traditional card machines. You can choose to rent a countertop, mobile or portable card machine with a contract of 18 months. Card processing fees depend on your turnover, business and type of cards, and there are different pricing plans to pick from.

Worldpay card machines

To receive a quote on fees, you just need to sign up online and await a callback from a Worldpay consultant. Card machine packages are unique to your business, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all arrangement.

Card machine rental starts at £17.95 + VAT for a standard model, and then you have transaction charges and merchant account fees on top. While Zettle by PayPal, SumUp and Square use their own merchant account for card processing, Worldpay gives you a unique merchant account that is better for payments stability.

Most businesses choose a Custom price plan with tailored costs, but there is also Simplicity with simplified costs and Pay As You Go without lock-in (but a £150 + VAT setup fee instead of monthly rental).

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 failing to complete certain paperwork costs a £9.99 PCI non-compliance fee every month.

Accepted cards

VisaMastercardMaestroJCBDiners ClubDiscoverUnion PayAmerican ExpressContactlessApple PayGoogle PaySamsung Pay

The contactless card machines are high-quality, traditional models by Ingenico. There’s a stationary chip and PIN machine for the countertop (iCT250), portable terminal for table-side payments (iWL252 or iWL258) and mobile card machine for on-the-go payments (Move/5000). A new addition is the PAX A920 terminal with a large touchscreen that doubles as a portable checkout system.

Worldpay accepts Visa, Mastercard, Maestro, Diners Club, Discover, UnionPay, JCB, Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay, and optionally American Express with a separate agreement. Settlement takes up to three working days.

Email invoicing, an online payment gateway (for ecommerce), virtual terminal for phone payments and payment links are available from Worldpay at an additional cost.

A great thing about Worldpay is the free phone support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Barclaycard Business – fees better for bigger businesses

Barclaycard
Our rating
  • Accepts the major cards

  • Mobile, portable & countertop models

  • Fees depend on turnover and more

  • 18-month contract with setup fee

Barclaycard Business is one of the UK’s biggest credit card processors (competing with Worldpay). Many of its card machine contracts are sold through independent sales organisations, but you can also set up a merchant account and rent card payment machines directly from Barclaycard.

Barclaycard card machines

Barclaycard offers a full range of Ingenico card machines for portable, stationary and mobile use. They can be integrated with a wide range of POS systems or used on their own. Contracts are 18 months long, where the monthly rental depends on the terminal models: £15 + VAT/month for a desktop terminal, £20 + VAT/month for a portable model and £25 + VAT/month for a mobile card machine. On top of this, you get a merchant account with separate ongoing costs.

Rates depend on the type of card, transaction value and sales volume, but typically range between 1.5%-2.5% + fixed fee for a small business. A monthly minimum service charge applies when your turnover does not reach an agreed threshold. The best rates are reserved for high-volume businesses, not small ones.

The only way to know the exact costs is to ask Barclaycard, as they are tailored for your business. The application process is a bit stricter than others, since Barclays looks at your borrowing history and financial circumstances. This means new businesses or financially risky merchants may be rejected.

Accepted cards

VisaMastercardDiners ClubDiscoverAmerican ExpressContactlessApple Pay