Perhaps you have an important event coming up, a trade show, pop-up shop, festival or last-minute opportunity to sell for a weekend. Or you may just need a temporary card machine for a month, whereafter things are uncertain.

Whatever your reasons, the two best ways to get a card machine for a short period are:

  1. Short-term card machine rental
  2. Purchase of contract-free card reader

Let’s compare pros and cons of each.

Why consider short-term credit card machine hire?

Traditional card machines usually come with long contracts of minimum 18 months, sometimes up to five years. During this time, you pay monthly fees for e.g. rental, merchant account and a minimum sales volume penalty fee if you don’t sell enough for a month.

With competitive card rates, such a solution is okay if you’re in it for the long run, but not so good if you can’t commit to a consistent sales volume for that long.

With short-term rental, you get the same traditional card machine package, but then the costs are higher pro rata. Compared to a long contract, though, short-term hire can still be better for:

  • Events and festivals
  • Seasonal businesses
  • Exhibitions
  • Trade shows and conferences
  • Charity events
  • Mobile caterers and bars
  • Pop-up shops and stalls
  • Market stalls

Some businesses who already have card machines may temporarily need more terminals during busy times, in which case short-term hire can fill that gap. If you haven’t accepted cards yet, you may also want to try a traditional card terminal to test if it makes a difference to your turnover.

Short-term hire specialists are particularly set up to deliver speedy solutions, often requested at the last minute. If accepting card payments face-to-face within the next 24-48 hours is important, this might be the only way to do that.

mobile card machine rental

A traditional, mobile card machine works by entering transaction totals, not product details.

Card reader vs. hire costs

Why consider buying a card reader when you don’t need it afterwards? Because it’s the cheapest option for many small businesses, and then you own it for events in the future. With short-term rental, there are often more fees than you bargained for, but sometimes these are made up for if you sell a lot and the transaction fees are low enough.

Let us compare costs. The cheapest card readers in the UK are currently iZettle Reader, Square Reader and SumUp Air. They have very similar fees, so we’ll group them together here.

As for short-term hire, we contacted Wireless Terminal Solutions who gave us the quotes below. They are based on needing one mobile card machine for an estimated card turnover of £1k-£5k over a weekend, week or month. Moreover, payouts are made through a temporary merchant account rather than using an existing one.

Purchase of card readerShort-term terminal hire
ProvidersiZettle, Square, SumUpWireless Terminal Solutions
Upfront cost£19-£59*£250* deposit (refundable)
Shipping chargeNone£21*
Delivery time1-5 daysNext day
Ongoing feesNone1-3 days: £60* per terminal
1 week: £100* per terminal
1 month: £125* per terminal
Visa, Mastercard Maestro rates1.69%-1.75%1.5%
American Express rate1.69%-1.75%1.9%
Premium card rate1.69%-1.75%2.5%
PCI complianceFree£5* per active month

*Pricing excludes VAT.

Purchase
of card
reader
Short-term
terminal
hire
Providers
iZettle, Square, SumUpWireless Terminal Solutions
Upfront cost
£19-£59*£250* deposit (refundable)
Shipping charge
None£21*
Delivery time
1-5 daysNext day
Ongoing fees
None1-3 days: £60* per terminal
1 week: £100* per terminal
1 month: £125* per terminal
Visa, Mastercard, Maestro rates
1.69%-1.75%1.5%
American Express rate
1.69%-1.75%1.9%
Premium card rate
1.69%-1.75%2.5%
PCI compliance
Free£5* per active month

*Pricing excludes VAT.

No other fees are required than the above. However, Wireless Terminal Solutions does have a £15 minimum sales volume service charge, only chargeable if you do not make a required turnover, as well as these optional extras:

  • £10 + VAT insurance
  • £2 + VAT rental of protective carry case

In the cases of SumUp, iZettle and Square, there may be a chargeback fee (£10 or free) for disputed transactions. You also get a free point of sale (POS) app, accessed on a mobile device connected to the card reader.

With a traditional card machine from a short-term hire specialist, you only have the card machine where you cannot itemise bills or use additional features other than accepting card payments. You may be able to hire a POS tablet, though, which would incur additional costs.

iZettle Reader pop-up stylist

iZettle Reader works with a POS app on iPad, Android tablet or smartphone.

It’s common for short-term hire specialists to offer two payout options: a temporary merchant account created just for the hire duration, or connecting payments to an existing merchant account you already use for another card machine. The costs can vary because of this, and there may be fees for bank account settlement. With the purchased card readers, transactions are cleared for free in your bank account.

Generally with short-term hire, there may be hidden costs such as setup fee, return fee, service contract (for quick replacement if the machine breaks down) and authorisation fee for transactions. You also have to factor in receipt rolls for the inbuilt receipt printer, which iZettle and SumUp do not have. Square Terminal (£199 + VAT) is an option with built-in POS features and receipt printing.

The key thing to remember is that short-term rental always has a unique quote based on number of terminals, projected card turnover, length of hire, and more. Wireless Terminal Solutions is a popular provider of such solutions, but other companies offer similar pricing. iZettle, SumUp and Square have the same pricing for everyone joining.

So is it cheaper to rent short-term than buy a card reader? It might be if you get a better quote than Wireless Terminal Solutions’ above. Otherwise, buying a card reader is noticeably cheaper, as you see in the table below.

Cost itemSumUp AirWireless Terminal
Solutions
Visa & Mastercard fee£2,000 sales = £33.80 fees
£10k sales = £169 fees
£2,000 sales = £30 fees
£10k sales = £150 fees
Amex fee£250 sales = £4.23 fees
£1,250 sales = £21.13 fees
£250 sales = £4.75 fees
£1,250 sales = £23.75 fees
Fee of other premium cards£250 sales = £4.23 fees
£1,125 sales = £21.13 fees
£250 sales = £6.25 fees
£1,250 sales = £31.25 fees
Total card fees**£2,500 sales = £42.26 fees
£12.5k sales = £211.26 fees
£2,500 sales = £41 fees
£12.5k sales = £205 fees
1 week’s use£29 terminal price*
=£29 (£34.80 incl. VAT)
£100 hire*
£21 shipping*
£5 PCI compliance*
=£126 (£151.20 incl. VAT)
+ £250 deposit
1 month’s use£29 terminal price*
=£29 (£34.80 incl. VAT)
£125 hire*
£21 shipping*
£5 PCI compliance*
=£151 (£181.20 incl. VAT)
+£250 deposit

* Excluding VAT. **Transactions composed of 80% Visa/Mastercard, 10% American Express and 10% other premium cards.

SumUp AirWireless
Terminal
Solutions
Visa & Mastercard fee
£2,000 sales = £33.80 fees
£10k sales = £169 fees
£2,000 sales = £30 fees
£10k sales = £150 fees
Amex fee
£250 sales = £4.23 fees
£1,250 sales = £21.13 fees
£250 sales = £4.75 fees
£1,250 sales = £23.75 fees
Fee of other premium cards
£250 sales = £4.23 fees
£1,125 sales = £21.13 fees
£250 sales = £6.25 fees
£1,250 sales = £31.25 fees
Total card fees**
£2,500 sales = £42.26 fees
£12.5k sales = £211.26 fees
£2,500 sales = £41 fees
£12.5k sales = £205 fees
1 week’s use
£29 terminal price*
=£29 (£34.80 incl. VAT)
£100 hire*
£21 shipping*
£5 PCI compliance*
=£126 (£151.20 incl. VAT)
+ £250 deposit
1 month’s use
£29 terminal price*
=£29 (£34.80 incl. VAT)
£125 hire*
£21 shipping*
£5 PCI compliance*
=£151 (£181.20 incl. VAT)
+£250 deposit

* Excluding VAT. **Transactions composed of 80% Visa/Mastercard, 10% American Express and 10% other premium cards.

Although there are small gains to be made with the lower Visa and Mastercard fee on a hire plan, if you make £2,500-£12.5k with some Amex and other credit cards accepted, there’s hardly a difference in card fees. If you’re renting two of more terminals and provide a higher estimated card turnover, you may get lower quotes on renting.

With Wireless Terminal Solutions, the upfront deposit is redeemable after your short term hire, but even so, it is still a large amount to pay if you’re a small business needing the capital.

We also contacted Independent Merchant Services for a quote based on the same requirements, but they said outright that SumUp would offer a better deal.

SumUp, iZettle and Square: Compare the best card readers of 2019

So is it best to buy a card reader?

If cost is the deciding factor, getting a SumUp Air, iZettle Reader or Square Reader is the cheapest option with an expected turnover below £10k (probably even higher). These card readers are small, come with a free POS app with useful features, but they also require a smartphone or tablet to operate. If you want a standalone card reader that doesn’t require a POS app, the SumUp 3G costs a bit more.

If you’re set on a traditional card machine that’s bigger and more hard-wearing, short-term rental is the only option. It is also the only option that guarantees next-day delivery of a terminal ready to use immediately. A purchased card reader can take a few days to arrive, but then you don’t need to send it back again since you own it.

You can leave a card reader in the drawer for a year and use it again, and all that’s charged is the fixed card rate.

A final consideration is: are you likely to use the terminal again? Buying a card reader can be the best option simply because there are no ongoing fees and only the card rate when you accept transactions. For example, you can leave it in the drawer for a year and use it again, and all that’s charged is the fixed card rate.

That said, if you’re planning to sell for a very high volume, a short-term hire agreement could be more economical and with the best customer support. You might also want it if you already have a dedicated merchant account for your business and prefer getting payouts through that same account.