These days, it isn’t easy to survive financially as a small business, so every expense matters. That’s why being stuck in a card machine contract hurts, and it hurts more the longer that’s left of the term.

To penalise early cancellations, merchant service providers typically demand an early exit fee equivalent to the remaining costs due in the locked-in contract term.

On top of this, there’s often a specific timeframe for cancelling it in writing, for instance by 3 months prior to the end of the contract. Many fail to do this and inadvertently get stuck into another term.

But fret not – options exist even in a contract with months or years left. Let’s look at what you can do to end, amend or transfer to a different deal.

Switch to another provider that can buy you out

The card machine market has become more competitive, with a wide range of commitment-free card readers or short contracts. Not only that – some merchant service providers offer to buy you out of an existing card terminal contract, covering its early termination fee.

Others can waive the monthly fee of a new contract to compensate for the remaining costs left in your existing deal.

Merchant service providers have different ways to facilitate the switch from old to new deal, and they don’t always advertise it on their website. Some are able to handle the process for you, while others need you to cancel the old deal yourself (but not until you’ve consulted the new terminal provider).

We therefore recommend finding the card machine deals you’re most interested in, then arm yourself with key information about your turnover and transaction patterns before contacting them.

Buy a cheap card reader to supplement

If your current transaction charges are too high, and that’s why you want to switch, it might be worth buying a cheap card reader without contractual lock-in. This allows you to accept cards through another payment solution, usually for a fixed, predictable rate per transaction – and no monthly cost.

But if your existing plan has a monthly minimum service charge (minimum to pay for transactions per month) or fixed transaction bundle, it may work out cheaper to just stay with your current card machine.

Merchant service providers generally don’t encourage using two payment providers in parallel, but we have witnessed local businesses using a backup card reader from a different brand or provider than their main, rented card machine.

Negotiate with existing provider

If the reason for being stuck with a deal is a change or closure of business, then it’s worth contacting your card machine provider to ask about options. They may have special considerations in place for unforeseen circumstances that apply to your scenario.

This also opens up the opportunity to negotiate better rates or switch to an alternative product by the same provider. If the reason for being “stuck” is a change of sales volume from low to higher, you can often reduce transaction rates accordingly by talking to a customer representative.

Make the best of your current situation

Is your payment terminal unreliable or unsuitable for your requirements? Perhaps the issue can be fixed by addressing the exact things standing in the way of business.

For example, you could get a terminal replacement if it’s not working, or improve the on-premise WiFi or broadband connection that the card machine relies on. Rethinking the physical till setup and using a card machine cover to make it more aesthetically pleasing are options too.

If high transaction fees are the issue, encourage a backup payment method like cash (though this could put off some customers) or hide the terminal behind the counter until a customer asks if they can pay by card.

At the other end of the spectrum, if customers are now using click-and-collect more than in-store payments, encourage people to pay in store instead. Contactless and chip and PIN transactions are nearly always cheaper than online payments, so try to incentivise people to pay in person.

Pay the early termination charge

If worse comes to worst, it might be best just to fork out the exit fee required to end the contract early. Although typically, this should be the same as just letting the contract fizzle out (with the required cancellation notice given in time), sometimes the early termination fee is cheaper than that.

The only way to find out is to identify your exit fee and realistically calculate which is the greater monetary loss: to pay that, or make the best of your remaining time with the product.

If you’re going to stop taking card payments altogether, it is almost always worth just paying the exit fee to avoid further hassle with the payment provider, unless that’s more costly.