Disclosure: Our editorial staff write reviews independently. We may be compensated if you sign up for a service through our affiliate links.
Square was the first company to introduce a solution for cell phones to accept card payments with an inexpensive credit card reader.
Card processing is still the core offering, but Square sells their own equipment to use with the Point of Sale app and card readers. They also offer capital and other services to help startups and small businesses.
Unlike banks and merchant service providers, Square is contract-free so you can start taking payments for a simple transaction fee.
With Square, you can accept Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express through any of their terminals. You can also add Afterpay as a Buy Now Pay Later option in store or online.
Square POS pricing
The Square payment system has a very simple, transparent fee structure. There is no setup fee, no fixed monthly fee for the account or Point of Sale app, and no account termination fees. You only pay when you accept a card transaction. Since there is no contractual commitment, there is no early termination fee either.
|Point of Sale app||Free|
|Chip, tap & swipe payments||2.6% + 10¢|
|Keyed entry payments||3.5% + 15¢|
|Online payments||2.9% + 30¢|
|Afterpay transactions||6% + 30¢|
Swipe, EMV (chip dip) and contactless tap cards incur the same credit card fee through any of Square’s card terminals: 2.6% + 10¢. The card fee is the same for Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express cards. Square does not charge additional fees for payments made with international cards, which is great if you regularly serve international customers.
Then you have 3.5% + 15¢ for card-on-file transactions or where the card number is typed in manually. The higher fee reflects the higher risk of such transactions being fraudulent. Online Store, Square Online Checkout (payment links) and Square Invoices cost 2.9% + 30¢ per online transaction.
Unlike most competitors, Square also does not apply chargeback fees – even chargeback dispute support is free. It is still expected that you make an effort to be compliant with Square’s best practice guidelines (certain goods considered high-risk are not covered).
The card readers and other Square hardware cost the following:
|Magstripe reader||First one free with dip & tap reader, $10 per extra one|
|Square Reader (EMV, contactless)||$49|
|Square Stand+ Square Reader (swipe, EMV, contactless)||$149
or $16/mo for 12 months
|Square Terminal (swipe, EMV, contactless)||$299
or $27/mo for 12 months
|Square Register (swipe, EMV, contactless)||$799
or $39/mo for 24 months
Any hardware costing $49-$5,000 are eligible for monthly payments over 3, 6, 12 or 24 months, if you pass Square’s credit checks.
The competitive, predictable pricing is one of the main reasons for Square’s popularity. Some merchants consider the card fees on the steep side, but you would be hard put finding better value for money elsewhere, especially if you also take full advantage of the free Square Point of Sale app.
It’s possible to purchase the card terminals from retailers like Walmart, Amazon, Best Buy and Apple, but rarely for a better deal than through Square’s own website.
Different credit card terminals
Newly signed up merchants get the tiny Square Reader for Magstripe card for free – either one with an audio jack for Android or a Lightning connector for iPhone. The credit card swiper plugs into a smartphone to connect with the Square Point of Sale (POS) app, and then the magstripe reader can accept swipe cards.
However, using swipe-only carries risks – merchants are liable for fraudulent swipe card purchases if the card was also equipped with a chip (EMV). In other words, if you use the Magstripe Reader to take a payment with a chip card and the card turns out to be false, you won’t be able to recover the losses.
Square magstripe reader with Lightning jack (for iPhone) and headphone jack (for Android).
Unless you only process card payments very sporadically and for small amounts, we recommend purchasing Square Reader for Contactless and Chip.
This sleek little device is EMV-compliant and accepts both chip cards and contactless payments with NFC cards, Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay. It’s chunkier than the credit card swiper, but still pocket-sized and easy to carry everywhere.
Photo: EC, Mobile Transaction
Square Reader with chip card.
Some users find the battery life shorter than expected. For brick and mortar businesses, this can be solved by purchasing a countertop Dock for Square Reader. The Dock can be connected to a power outlet with a wall adapter.
The Square card reader for contactless and chip does not have a slot for magnetic stripe cards, so you will need to carry the swipe reader with you as well to offer all payment methods. It does come with a magstripe reader in the box, but it may not be convenient carrying two different card readers for different types of cards.
Some merchants have complained that the magstripe reader is easily lost, and that it wears out rather quickly. Given that it sells for only $10 in retail stores, it might be a good idea to keep a couple of spares, especially for important events where you expect to make many transactions.
The latest Square Stand has a built-in card reader.
The Square Stand for iPad has an inbuilt magstripe reader, ideal for brick and mortar businesses at a fixed checkout. The latest Square Stand actually has a built-in contactless and EMV card reader, so you don’t need a separate card reader next to it. If swipe is required, you can insert a magstripe reader underneath the side of the screen.
A smaller Stand Mount is available if you prefer a more discreet, upwards-facing iPad screen on a desk, or need it stuck onto a wall like a flat screen.
Photo: ES, Mobile Transaction
Square Terminal accepts magstripe, EMV and NFC cards and has an inbuilt receipt printer.
The portable Square Terminal is a handy solution for swipe, EMV and contactless cards – and it has an inbuilt receipt printer. Despite being wireless, it only works with secured WiFi on your premises, not cellphone networks, so it is not intended for payments on the go. But Square Terminal can connect with other POS systems than Square’s own.
More ambitious merchants can opt for Square Register, which is a complete POS tablet and terminal setup of Square’s own design. This is more expensive, but looks classier in dark surroundings since it matches with its dark grey color. More importantly, Square Register does not require a commercial-grade tablet since there is a tablet built into the hardware.
Square Register consists of a stand with inbuilt tablet and detachable card terminal with screen.
In general, you can add compatible cash drawers, receipt printers, kitchen printers and barcode scanners to the card terminals for a more comprehensive POS system.
Transfers, checking account and debit card
Quick transfers are one of Square’s competitive advantages. When signing up, your account will be set to the default option ‘next business day transfer’, which means that funds will arrive in your bank account one or two business days after each credit card sale.
If you need your money immediately, an Instant Transfers option instantly deposits transactions to your bank account for an additional fee of 1.5% of the transaction total. To use this option, your Square account must be linked to a supported US-issued Visa or Mastercard debit card.
Alternatively, you can order a Square Debit Card which is a Business Debit Mastercard with real-time access to your Square Checking Account balance. This in an online account where your Square POS transactions are paid into immediately, and the Debit Mastercard enables you to spend that money online or in stores straight away.
There are no fees associated with the card – it has no sign-up, monthly or withdrawal fees. You can use this card as your primary business account, which would benefit any small business without a dedicated business account.
Square Card is a Debit Mastercard.
Point of Sale app features
Square does a lot more than credit card processing. The Square Point of Sale app (formerly called Square Register) includes most, if not all, the tools needed to run a business.
Square Point of Sale is unparalleled by any other free POS system out there. The interface is extremely intuitive and easy to use, and the features are on par with many fee-based POS systems.
The app runs on both iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, but looks best on iPad. For example, certain inventory management functions are only available on iPad.
Here are some of the main Square POS app features:
Product library: Add photos, item categories, variants, item modifiers, prices, barcodes, stock levels and more to individual products. This way, you can keep track of stock and analyze sales of e.g. different product groups.
Payment methods: Apart from taking physical cards, you can key in card details manually, send email invoices or charge a card on file (attached to a customer profile), or take cash. Invoices can be managed separately in the Square Invoices app which is free to use. Receipts can be printed or sent via email or text message.
Photo: ES, Mobile Transaction
Square Point of Sale app has a stylish checkout interface that’s easy to navigate.
Discounts, gift cards and customer loyalty: Add discounts to transactions or items or sell gift cards that can be redeemed in your store. Customer profiles can be created so transactions can be linked to people, and Card on File details recorded for loyal customers. After each transaction, customers can submit feedback about your service on the digital receipt.
Employee accounts: Create individual user accounts with different permissions and PINs for the POS app. This allows you to analyze sales according to staff members and maintain control over, say, who can perform refunds.
Offline mode: Square Point of Sale works offline, so internet outages are no problem. If you accept a credit card, the transaction will pend for up to 72 hours so make sure you are online again before that so the payment can be processed online.
Restaurant owners will appreciate the tipping options, open tabs and splitting bills between different credit cards. Furthermore, a free online ordering page can be created which links to a QR code for you to print and place on tables. This allows customers to scan the QR code, order food and pay on their phones so you can just focus on preparing the food as part of a socially distanced setup.
A single Square account can be used to manage multiple locations. Different products, prices and discounts can also be applied to specific locations.
Online and remote payments
Perhaps the most valuable benefit in these coronavirus times is Square’s integration with its own online payment system.
Square POS users get free access to ecommerce payments via Square Online. Even the free Square Online plan allows you to build a basic online store, send payment links to customers, embed payment links on an existing website, send invoices, and set up an online ordering page for curbside pick-ups, takeaway and delivery orders.
Image: Mobile Transaction
The Square Online website builder is quite basic, but easy to navigate.
The Square Online Checkout links can be created for individual products or open donations. The links can be added to social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest as well as your website. This opens up a whole new sales channel that many businesses benefit from these days.
A paid Square Online plan (from $12 per month) includes more advanced features for an online store for retail or food and drink.
If you need someone else to deliver products for you, the Square system can integrate with several takeaway delivery platforms like Chowly, PostMates and Deliverect for e.g. Uber Eats. In fact, many integrations are available for any complex software you may need in your business.
You can also accept telephone and mail order payments through Square Virtual Terminal. There’s no monthly fee for this, just a transaction fee for payments accepted.
Square Dashboard and reporting
Square Dashboard is a handy piece of business software accessed in any browser, whether it’s on a computer, tablet or phone. On iPhone, there’s an app specifically for the Dashboard.
All transactions and payouts can be viewed at a glance through the Dashboard. The virtual terminal, invoices, online store, in-person and online sales are managed through this alongside a product library, employee permissions and much more.
You can also generate many kinds of analytical reports on best-selling products, average customer spend, new versus returning customers, and generate sales reports for accounting.
Square can be integrated with many third-party tools including accounting and tax compliance software such as QuickBooks, Xero and Snitch Labs, ecommerce platforms (e.g. Weebly, WooCommerce), employee management systems (TSheets, WheniWork) and more.
Square Analytics show insightful data about sales, for instance bestselling product categories.
Beyond the free app
In addition to the free POS features, Square provides additional fee-based services. Where most other software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers offer a limited number of standardized service packages, Square has opted for an à la carte menu where you choose – and only pay for – the services you actually need and will use. Here are some of the add-on services available:
Square Appointments (free for solo entrepreneurs, from $50 for teams) enables clients to see your availability and book appointments online. Your schedule is synced across all your devices, and the software sends automated reminders to minimize no-shows.
Square Marketing (starting at $15 per month) is an email marketing tool for setting and automating email marketing campaigns and posting promotions on a Facebook page.
Square Loyalty (from $45 per location each month) is a customer loyalty tool. Customers join the program simply by entering their phone number. You customize loyalty stars, rewards and other settings from your Square Dashboard, and stars and rewards are issued automatically when your loyalty program members make a purchase.
The Team Management service ($35 per month per location) includes a time-tracking service enabling employees to clock in and out at the point of sale. Different employees or roles can also be given advanced access settings to the Square account, and you can run employee performance reports. The Point of Sale app does include free Mobile Staff accounts, but these have very limited settings compared to the paid staff accounts.
Square Payroll ($29 base fee plus $5 per employee or contractor each month) enables you to import employee time cards, calculate overtime and manage taxes. Sick leave and paid time off calculations are included too.
Retail businesses with a large number of SKUs and more complex inventory requirements can subscribe to Square for Retail ($60 per register per month), an enhanced version of Square Point of Sale. Features include alerts when stock is running low, the ability to quickly and easily create and send purchase orders to your vendors, and multi-location inventory tracking and transfers. You also get more sophisticated reports than the free POS app, with functions such as cost of goods sold and margin calculations.
Image: Mobile Transaction
Square for Restaurants has advanced floor plans and order functions.
For a similar price, Square for Restaurants (get a free trial here) gives advanced POS features for food-and-drink establishments. For instance, it allows you to create floor plans and food menus in detail, and also advanced reports related to the restaurant performance.
Then you have Square Loans, a cash advance service for POS merchants. This service gives out business loans of $300-$250,000 which only cost a flat fee – there’s no interest rate.
Account holds an issue
With such amazing services at a very competitive price, what’s holding us back from giving Square a five-star review?
Unfortunately, Square’s ultra-simple sign-up and acceptance process has a downside. The risk Square is taking by not vetting your credit history before approving your account is mitigated by strict, but undisclosed, measures to limit fraud — including placing automated holds on transactions which algorithms consider suspicious.
As a result, a large number of merchants have reported that their funds have been placed on hold suddenly and without notification, usually for more than 30 days. Some even had their accounts deactivated with no recourse.
At the time of writing, Square’s profile at the Better Business Bureau shows an A+ rating and Consumer Affairs show a 3.3/5 star rating with some complaints from business owners about withheld funds or account deactivation.
These policies mean that Square can be a little risky especially for high-ticket merchants. To minimize risk, make sure your processing patterns are accurately described in the application, and avoid processing unusually large transactions if at all possible.
Adding to the frustration for many of these merchants, Square’s customer service can be difficult to reach and not always effective. Of course, this is the logical consequence of their business model — a great product at very low cost — but if thousands of dollars are being withheld from you for no obvious reason, you might not be very sympathetic to this argument.
That said, Square has clearly made efforts to step up their game in this area. From email-only support in the early days, Square now offers support via email, phone and Twitter from Monday through Friday, 6am to 6pm Pacific Time.
Photo: EC, Mobile Transaction
Square Reader is shipped in a stylish package.
Square is a great payments platform, and in our opinion the best free point of sale solution you’ll find. Its strongest-selling points are ease of use, competitive and predictable fees, no long-term commitments, and the impressive suite of tools – both free and paid – to manage all aspects of a small business.
The sophisticated POS system and inventory features are especially valuable for merchants with a large number of SKUs. Food and drink businesses on a tight budget would benefit from the free online ordering page for table-side orders and curbside pickups. Pretty much all businesses today can benefit from Square’s ecommerce features that are easy enough to figure out even for non-techies.
|Costs and fees||4.3||Good/Excellent|
|Transparency and sign-up||4.7||Good/Excellent|
|Service and reviews||3.8||Good|
We would have preferred to use the same card reader for magstripe, chip and contactless payments without paying at least $299 for the higher-end Terminal. For mobile merchants, the need to carry a separate reader for magstripe cards is a drawback, albeit not a very important one.
Our main reservation is Square’s obscure fund holding policy and limited customer support. As a result, we are hesitant to recommend the service if you have a high transaction volume or sell high-value items, especially if high-ticket transactions are irregular and sporadic.
Small businesses with a low risk of running into account problems, however, should Square for their credit payment processing and point of sale. The best alternatives on a budget are SumUp and PayPal Zettle, the former having the most free payment features.