Updated June 2, 2024

Best Credit Card Reader for Small Business

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Looking for the perfect small business credit card reader? Explore the best choices here, including options for the credit card swiper you need.

Whether you sell at local markets or travel to your customers, people expect to be able to pay with plastic. A credit card reader lets you easily accept card payments anywhere right on your phone, so you don't need to miss out on sales.

There are lots of mobile readers options, from simple swipe-only devices to EMV and NFC contactless readers. You'll need to consider what your business needs in order to choose the right one for you.

You've probably heard of brands like Square, PayPal, and Clover. How do their readers compare? In this guide, we'll cover these popular readers and more.

Top 5 credit card readers:

Square Reader: Free Mobile Credit Card Reader

Square Reader: Free Mobile Credit Card Reader

  • Pay 2.6% + 10¢ Per Swipe for Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express
  • Accept Credit Cards Anywhere
  • Fast Setup, No Commitments

What is a Credit Card Reader

It's easy to confuse a credit card reader and credit card machine. But they are not the same.

  • A credit card reader is a small device that attaches to your smartphone or tablet via the headphone jack or a Bluetooth connection. You need to pair it with a POS app to accept payments. Therefore, the app is equally important.

  • A credit card machine is a standalone machine that accepts payments without needing a phone or POS app. It can either be wireless or hardwired to a phone or internet line. They can also include other features like a built-in receipt printer.

A credit card reader is great for:

  • Mobile businesses like food trucks, market vendors, pop-up shops
  • Taking payments on the shop floor or tableside
  • Those with side gigs, like house cleaner, trainer, lawnmower

Helcim Card Reader for $109

Helcim Card Reader for $109

  • Tap & Pay
  • Chip & PIN
  • PIN Debit
  • Email receipts
  • Inventory and customer tracking
  • Analytics & reporting
  • Batch history
  • Card on file

Best Credit Card Readers

Before we get into the guide, here's a quick comparison of our top picks:

ReaderReader CostTransaction Fee (per swipe)Monthly Fee
SquareFree (swipe & chip)
$49 (chip & tap)
2.6% + $.10$0
Clover Go$99 (swipe, chip & tap)Starts at 2.6% + $0.10$0 - $39.95
PayPal Zettle$29 for first chip & tap reader
$79 for each additional
2.29% + $0.09$0
Shopify$29 (swipe & chip)
$49 (chip & tap)
Starts at 2.7%$9 - $299
SumUp$19 (swipe, chip & tap)2.75%$0

CreditDonkey READ Rule: Reliability, Ease of use, Affordability, Data security

This rule helps businesses remember the key aspects to consider when choosing a credit card reader:

  • Reliability: Choose a reader known for consistent and dependable performance.
  • Ease of use: Ensure the reader is simple to set up and operate.
  • Affordability: Look for competitive pricing with low transaction fees.
  • Data security: Make sure the reader has strong security features to protect customer information.

National Processing

Free Mobile Swiper

Get approved for a new merchant account and get a free SwipeSimple mobile swiper

Square is known for being the original mobile processor. It offers simple flat-rate pricing with no contract. All cards (Visa, Mastercard, AMEX, and Discover) get the same processing rate.

Square offers 2 reader options:

  • Magstripe Reader
    Square offers a free swipe reader that plugs into your phone (either via headphone jack or Lightning connector). The cool thing is that you can accept payments in offline mode. When you regain connectivity, the transactions will be processed automatically. Additional swipe readers are $10.

  • Contactless & Chip Reader
    Square's EMV and NFC reader costs $59. It lets you accept chip cards and digital wallets. This is a wireless reader that connects via Bluetooth, so it doesn't need to be plugged into your phone. Note that this reader cannot be used offline.

Square has one of the best mobile POS apps with lots of features to help you run your business on-the-go. Straight from the app, you can:

  • Add tax and tip
  • Set discounts and issue refunds
  • Send custom invoices
  • Set installment plan for customers, but you're paid upfront
  • Manage customer database
  • Track employees and inventory
  • Get detailed reports and sales trends


  • Swipe, dip, and tap: 2.6% + $0.10
  • Manual keyed-in: 3.5% + $0.15
  • No monthly fees; no contract
  • Retail operations, restaurants, and appointment-based businesses can opt for an industry-specific POS for an extra cost of $50 - $60/month

  • Free magstripe reader
  • Robust POS app
  • Simple flat-rate pricing
  • No monthly fees
  • Fast and easy to get started
  • Account holds and freezes
  • Limited customer service
  • Not for high-risk businesses

Do credit card readers store information?
Just swiping or inserting a chip card does not store any credit card data. For merchants to store data, you must have a customer database in place in order to store the information for future use. The customer must authorize to have their card on file.

Most Popular
Square Reader: Free Mobile Credit Card Reader

Square Reader: Free Mobile Credit Card Reader

  • Pay 2.6% + 10¢ Per Swipe for Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express
  • Accept Credit Cards Anywhere
  • Fast Setup, No Commitments

Clover Go

Clover (from Fiserv) is one of the biggest competitors to Square. It's popular for its line of sleek processing equipment and feature-rich POS app.

The Clover Go card reader ($99) is designed for mobile processing on-the-go. It's a Bluetooth reader that accepts swipe, chip, and contactless payments. It can also accept offline payments for up to 7 days.

You can choose to purchase Clover equipment and processing plans directly from Clover itself. If so, you'll get a flat-rate pricing. There are no contract or termination fees.

There's no monthly fee if you only use Clover Go for payment processing only. But if you want to use Clover's POS software as well, there's a monthly fee.

Cost (plans through Clover)

  • Clover Payments (to process payments only)
    • Swipe, dip, and tap: 2.6% + $0.10
    • Manual keyed-in: 3.5% + $0.10
    • No monthly fee

  • Clover Essentials (basic POS features)
    • Swipe, dip, and tap: 2.6% + $0.10
    • Manual keyed-in: 3.5% + $0.10
    • $9.95/month for POS software

  • Clover Register (more advanced POS features)
    • Swipe, dip, and tap: 2.3% + $0.10
    • Manual keyed-in: 3.5% + $0.10
    • $39.95/month for POS software

You can also get Clover equipment from a reseller. So if you really want to use a Clover product, you could shop around for providers and look for the one with the best rates. Some recommended providers include Payment Depot, Dharma, and National Processing.

For example, Dharma offers low interchange-plus pricing at just 0.15% + $0.07 per swipe. And Payment Depot offers subscription pricing for high-volume merchants at even lower rates.

  • Feature rich POS app
  • Shop around at different processing providers
  • Higher upfront cost for equipment
  • POS software fee

Square vs. Clover
Square is a proprietary system, meaning that Square machines can only be used with a Square account. This means you don't have a choice in processing fees.

Clover is a First Data product, so it can work with a variety of merchant account providers using the First Data processing platform. You can choose the best providers with the best rates.

PayPal Zettle

PayPal Zettle offers the most range of payment options to customers. The biggest advantage is being able to accept PayPal and Venmo QR codes for in-person payments. This is a huge pro as a lot of the younger generation uses Venmo.

PayPal offers one credit card reader by Zettle. It accepts chip and contactless payments, as well as digital wallets. The cost is $29 for the first Zettle reader. Additional ones will cost $79 each.

You can also buy a dock to turn the mobile reader into a countertop terminal.

PayPal Zettle's POS app doesn't have as many features as Square and Clover. But as mentioned, you can accept PayPal and Venmo, so that's a big plus. You can issue refunds, set tips, send invoices, and send custom receipts. It also seamlessly integrates with its ecommerce program, letting you manage your business in one place.


  • Chip and tap: 2.29% + $0.09
  • QR code transactions $10.01 and above: 1.90% + $0.10
  • QR code transactions $10 and under: 2.40% + $0.05
  • Keyed-in transactions: 3.49% + $0.09
  • No monthly fees; no contract

  • Free chip and swipe reader
  • Accept PayPal & Venmo
  • Simple flat-rate pricing
  • No monthly fees
  • Account holds and freezes
  • Reader more expensive compared to others

Shopify Payments

Shopify is a popular ecommerce platform, and also offers in-house credit card processing through Shopify Payments. It has several processing plans at different pricing tiers.

For small mobile businesses, Shopify Lite is an excellent option. You can access the mobile POS, add "buy" buttons to your existing website and social media pages, and send custom invoices.

The biggest difference is that you don't get a Shopify store, so you don't get some online features. If you want a full fledged Shopify eCommerce store, you can opt for one of the other plans.

For mobile processing, Shopify offers two card readers (both connect wirelessly via Bluetooth):

  • Chip & Swipe Reader for $29.
  • Chip & Tap Reader for $49 (also supports Apple Pay, and Google Pay)

The Shopify mobile POS comes with a lot of great features. You can set custom discounts, split bill, gift cards, inventory management, and customer profiles. All sales and customer data sync with your online Shopify store.

Your transaction fees vary based on the Shopify plan chosen. The swipe, dip, and tap fees are:

  • Basic Shopify ($39/mo): 2.7%
  • Shopify ($105/mo): 2.5%
  • Advanced Shopify ($399/mo): 2.4%

  • Robust POS that integrates with online store
  • Simple flat-rate pricing
  • 24/7 live support
  • 14 day free trial
  • Account holds and freezes
  • Other plans have hefty monthly fees


SumUp is a relatively new processing company in the US, though it's been one of the most popular providers in Europe since 2012.

It's aimed towards small everyday business owners without complicated needs. It's ideal for mobile vendors, freelancers, and local service workers (gardeners, house cleaners, etc.). There is no eCommerce processing.

The SumUp Plus Card Reader accepts magstripe, chip, and contactless payments. It connects via Bluetooth and can process over 500 transactions on a single charge. It costs $19, which is among the cheapest available for a 3-in-1 reader.

However, the SumUp mobile POS is more basic. You can add tipping, record cash, email receipts, and request remote payments via link. It does the job if you don't need inventory and employee management or robust reporting options.


  • Swipe, dip, and tap: 2.75%
  • Remote payments: 3.25% + $0.15
  • Invoices: 2.90% + $0.15
  • No monthly fees; no contract

  • Affordable credit card reader
  • Simple flat-rate pricing
  • No monthly fees
  • Account holds and freezes
  • Limited features
  • No eCommerce processing

Other Credit Card Readers to Consider

Here are some other card readers that didn't make our top list. But that may suit your business.

Best credit card reader for craft shows
Square, our pick for top overall credit card reader, is the easiest credit card reader for craft shows. If you don't want to spend any money upfront, use the free magstripe reader and collect your payments. You can set up an online store with the free POS. Or, use it to manage the back-end of your business and keep track of your sales and inventory. You can even use the Square POS to track cash and check payments.

Intuit Quickbooks GoPayment

Quickbooks GoPayment is Quickbooks' mobile processing solution. It could be a good option if you already use QuickBooks for business accounting. You get instant QuickBooks integration, which helps to cut down on bookkeeping efforts.

Quickbooks supports the following card readers:

  • QuickBooks Card Reader for $49 (Currently the only mobile card reader available for purchase)
  • QuickBooks Chip and Magstripe Card Reader
  • QuickBooks All-in-one Card Reader

The GoPayments POS app has basic features. You can add tax and tip, set discounts, create an item library, and email digital receipts. It's meant to just be a way to take mobile payments.

To get the full range of tools, you need to use Quickbooks Online. This could be limiting, especially since POS apps like Square provide robust tools to help run your business.


  • Swipe, dip, and tap: 2.4% + $0.25
  • Manual keyed-in: 3.4% + $0.25
  • Invoices: 2.9% + $0.25
  • No monthly fee; No contract

Quickbooks pricing is more expensive for small ticket sizes. For example, A $15 transaction costs $0.61 with Quickbooks GoPayment vs $0.49 with Square.

  • Free chip & swipe card reader
  • Simple flat-rate pricing
  • Automatically syncs with Quickbooks
  • Processing fees are high for small transactions
  • Limited POS app features


Payanywhere is the mobile processing service by North American Bancard. It offers decent equipment and could be a good option for micro businesses, though you have to be careful. We'll talk about that in a bit.

Payanywhere offers two card readers:

  • 2-in-1 Reader for free (with each additional for $29.95). Accepts swipe and chip credit cards, and can accept offline transactions.
  • 3-in-1 Reader for $49.95. Adds ability to accept NFC contactless payments, like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay.

Every Payanywhere plan includes a virtual terminal, custom invoicing, employee management tools, inventory management, and customer database.

Payanywhere offers a "Pay as You Go" plan with flat-rate pricing for low-volume merchants. But if you exceed the processing limit, you're automatically converted to a direct merchant account agreement, which has a contract and early termination fee. That's not a situation you want to be stuck in.

It's recommended to only get the month-to-month plan if you process less than $10,000 per month. If you do more than that, then it's best to talk to them about a custom rate.

If you exceed $100,000 in charge volume for any of the card associations (Visa, Mastercard, Discover) in a rolling 12 month period, you'll be converted to a direct merchant account agreement, and be bound by its terms.

Costs (for Pay as You Go)

  • Swipe, dip, and tap: 2.69%
  • Manual keyed-in: 3.49% + $0.19
  • $3.99/month inactivity fee after 12 months of inactivity

  • Free chip and swipe reader
  • Accept offline payments
  • Good for those processing less than $10,000/mo
  • Limited pricing disclosures
  • Limited customer support

Benefits of a Card Reader vs. Terminal

Here are some benefits of using a card reader over a traditional terminal-based credit card machine.

  • Process on the go. You just plug the card reader into your phone and can take it anywhere. This is great for mobile shops, food trucks, pop-up stores, and freelancers.

  • Serve customers quicker. You can take the reader to customers to pay tableside or on the shop floor. They don't need to line up to pay.

  • Less equipment. You don't need to connect a receipt printer. You can send digital receipts and invoices right from the phone.

  • Contactless payment. Contactless payments are secure and great for health safety concerns.

  • Backup. A card reader is inexpensive and can be a great backup to a traditional POS.

What to Look for in a Credit Card Reader

With all of the credit card reader options available, how do you know which one is right for you? Here are some good places to start.

Look closely at fees for:

  • Card processing
  • Equipment (typically a one-time charge)
  • Transactions
  • Monthly fees
  • Monthly minimum requirement
  • Early cancellation fees

Consider how you'll connect your credit card reader. If you're in a physical store, you probably have Wi-Fi. But if you are out and about, you will need a strong cellular data connection.

Ease of Use
Most credit card readers are simple to operate — just plug it into your headphone jack or connect via Bluetooth. But you'll want a POS app that's equally user-friendly, particularly in how it integrates with your ecommerce store.

Make sure the mobile POS app provides features you need, such as:

  • Inventory
  • Invoicing
  • Tipping
  • Discounts
  • Tax calculations

Use a credit card processing company that includes PCI compliance. Managing it on your own is risky. You also need a platform that offers end-to-end encryption and doesn't store credit card data.

How often would you use your credit card reader per week?

Understanding Pricing

When you choose a credit card reader, you're paying for the credit card processing too. Different providers have different fee structures. Be sure to watch for:

  • Monthly fee
    Some providers may have a fee simply to use the software. You pay each month, even if you don't process any payments.

  • Processing Rates
    Most popular mobile processing companies (like Square and PayPal) have flat-rate pricing. This makes things simple, but the rate tends to be higher overall. You'll also want to compare the rates to see what's best for you.

    For example, PayPal's rates are better for businesses with smaller transactions. Say you have an average of $20 ticket size. With Square's 2.6% + $0.10 per swipe, the processing fee will be $0.62. In comparison, PayPal charges 2.7% per swipe, which comes out to $0.54.

    If you truly want to get the lowest processing rates, it's best to look for an interchange-plus provider. The interchange rates are separated from the provider markup. You benefit from lower interchange rates for different cards.

  • Equipment Costs
    You also pay for the credit card reader itself. Some providers may offer one basic swipe & chip reader for free. But if you want to accept digital payments, you'll need to buy a contactless reader. You'll also need more if you have employees or multiple locations.

Can you use a credit card reader on a laptop?
Most mobile credit card readers don't work on computers or laptops. However, each of the readers on our list includes a free virtual terminal. You can key in the card information instead of swiping, tapping, or dipping the card. Just watch out for the fees, as keyed-in transactions usually cost more.

How to Manage Risk When Using Mobile Card Readers

Card readers are also susceptible to cyberattacks and security breaches. Here are some things you can do to protect yourself and customer data:

  • Choose PCI compliant equipment. Make sure the card reader adheres to PCI DSS requirements. It should have built-in encryption, at the very least.

  • Update software. Whenever there's a software update, don't put it off. You should always use the most up-to-date software to ensure that there are no holes in security.

  • Dip when possible. If it's a choice between swiping or inserting the chip, dip instead. EMV chips use encryption to keep card data safe, so it's a lot more secure.

  • Practice good password habits. Keep your merchant account safe with a strong password. You should also change it every 3 months.

  • Keep your phone safe. Since you're using the card reader with your smart device, be sure to keep it safe from malware. Don't download random things or click suspicious links.

What the Experts Say

CreditDonkey asked a panel of industry experts to answer readers' most pressing questions. Here's what they said:

Bottom Line

A credit card reader can help level up your business by allowing you to take payments from anywhere. Instead of being caught up on the brand of credit card reader you want, it's best to look for the right credit card processing provider for you, and then look at their reader options.

Be sure not to jump at the first free reader you find. You should take some time to review the provider's fees and POS features.

Write to Kim P at feedback@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

Note: This website is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content. You do not have to use our links, but you help support CreditDonkey if you do.

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Square Reader: Free Mobile Credit Card Reader

Square Reader: Free Mobile Credit Card Reader

  • Pay 2.6% + 10¢ Per Swipe for Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express
  • Accept Credit Cards Anywhere
  • Fast Setup, No Commitments

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About CreditDonkey
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