Getting paid with plastic used to mean a host of fees, expensive hardware, and complicated gateway services. Those days are long gone now, thanks to a growing plethora of card readers and other payment processors with simple, straightforward fees, access to inventory management tools, Point-of-Sale (POS) systems, and so much more. Now your smartphone or tablet can handle the bulk of your selling needs, making things a whole lot easier if you’re a small business, freelancer, or just want an easier way to accept credit cards and the new EMV chip they house.
A while back, we looked at a number of the big competitors out there that let you set up mobile payments. This year, we’re diversifying. Below, we break down seven different card readers or payment processors that might be the right choice for your business. Each offers a variety of features, along with different fees for accepting credit cards and using their POS solutions.
What are your needs?
Everyone’s business is different, and whether you’re a freelancer with occasional credit card customers or a brick-and-mortar business with a large inventory to manage, there’s something here that will meet your everyday needs. Here, we’ll break down the fees, accessories, and support for each of these payment providers, and spend some time talking about frozen accounts and other issues that might come up while using a mobile card reader.
Intuit QuickBooks GoPayment
Intuit is back with the GoPayment reader, and GoPayment is all about integration. The service is part of the QuickBooks family of products, and offers an easy way to merge your day-to-day business operations with your own QuickBooks accounting software, whether you’re using the old-fashioned software or the new QuickBooks Online.
The App: The GoPayment app finally got the makeover it deserved, with a new look that is as clean on smartphones as it is tablets. Everything you plug into the GoPayment app seamlessly goes into your QuickBooks Online experience, whether it’s inventory management, sales records, or receipts. The app supports GoPayment’s mobile payment platform, which also includes credit cards and e-checks via ACH for $0.50 each.
Fees: Instead of just offering a flat rate for credit card payments, Intuit offers two plans, each with different transaction fees. The regular plan with no monthly fee will cost you 2.40 percent + $0.25 per swiped transaction. It’s lower than most credit cards, but it will definitely hurt if you’re running a lot of small transactions. There are also additional fees if your customer uses a business rewards, Discover, or AmEx card, which range between $0.07 and $0.29 each. For $20 a month, you can get the rate down to a mere 1.75 percent + $0.25 per transaction, but you’ll have to make at least $3,000 a month for it to be worth the extra cost. If you key-in the transaction, it will cost you closer to 3.4 percent + $0.25 and 3.15 + $0.25 percent, respectively. There are also additional fees for chargebacks, a failed bank payment, or a returned check. None of this includes a QuickBooks Online subscription, though, which gives you full integration with QuickBooks accounting tools.
Accessories: If you’re looking for something professional, then GoPayment has you covered. It costs more than $1,000, but the Point of Sale (POS) cash register solutions come turn-key with integration for inventory, QuickBooks accounting, and more. You’ll also likely want to pay the monthly fee to get integration with the rest of Intuit’s tools from Quickbooks. And yes, the new card reader accepts EMV chips.
Support: Since Quickbooks GoPayment is integrated into the rest of Intuit’s services, you get a similar level of customer service across GoPayment. There’s email support, a live knowledge base, and phone support with pretty decent hours. It might take some time to find the right department for your needs, but Intuit offers a wealth of resources, all of which are available through the company’s support lines.
Recommendation: If you use QuickBooks, Intuit offers the best integration, since the company makes both QuickBooks and GoPayment. Other services integrate with QuickBooks, too. You might want to consider Intuit’s solution if you have a brick-and-mortar store, deal with a lot of transactions, or want something extremely robust.
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As one of the oldest mobile card readers, Square focuses on simple and straightforward pricing and design. The company also offers some powerful integration for managing orders and other new POS solutions. For instance, Square now accepts gift cards, compiles invoices, and offers phone support for its customers.
The App: Square’s app for mobile devices is stylish and simple. The minimalist design lets you quickly and easily take an order, yet still gives you quick access to all the settings and extra tools — i.e. integration with your favorite inventory management solution — that are unique to your configuration. You can even do some cool stuff if you’re a bar or restaurant, such as open a tab for a customer or accept payments if the internet temporarily goes out.
Fees: Square, like the company’s official mobile app, keeps the fee process simple. Swiping, dipping a chip, or using a contactless payment method with Square is 2.75 percent, no matter the credit card. The fee is higher than that of others, but it doesn’t include hidden fees for minimum sales or rewards cards, so you always know what each card will cost to use. If you key in the transaction, it will cost you 3.5 percent + $0.15. If you pay online, it’s 2.9 percent + $0.30. You can get a better rate if you are a big business, but Square doesn’t say how big.
Accessories: Square’s POS solution is probably one of the easier ways to get your storefront up and running. As long as you have an iPad and Square’s custom dock ($100), you’re ready to go. Another powerful function with Square is the ability to connect the POS technology between multiple iOS devices, allowing you to handle orders, inventory, and more from a network of devices that are spread across your store. Square now offers a contactless chip reader for mobile payment support, too, allowing you to stay ahead of the game.
Support: Square has vastly improved its support experience in the last couple of years, and now offers phone support in addition to its Twitter and email-based support. This comes in addition to all sorts of new services, including payroll, invoicing, and other robust business tools.
Recommendation: Square remains a great option if you want an easy way to accept credit card payments. It’s a terrific platform for starting out, yet, one that also grows into a more robust solution alongside your business. The company also offers decent phone support, and supports offline payments and gift cards. Consider Square if you’re just getting started and don’t know how often you’ll need to support credit card payments.
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Using its own payment services, North American Bancard has also jumped into the ring of potential candidates. Payanywhere focuses on offering both a simple mobile solution as well as a comprehensive storefront and POS solution that comes with competitive rates for businesses and a big network of payment providers for top-notch support services.
The App: PayAnywhere’s app offers a straightforward and simple design. The app is robust with a detailed menu and sale system, inventory management, reports and analytics on your sales, and, of course, the usual inclusion of tax and discount options for your orders. The easy access to analytics suggests that it’s best suited for store owners who want a one-stop shop for managing their finances, and don’t want to depend on a separate website or service.
Fees: Like GoPayment, PayAnywhere offers a two-tiered solution, but with a lot of fine print. For no monthly fee, you can swipe from the mobile app for 2.69 percent, whether you’re dealing with a Visa, MasterCard, or AmEx. According to the terms and conditions, additional fees may apply for a Discover Card, so we’re guessing an additional per-transaction fee of about $0.30. Still, this undercuts Square by just a hair.
If you cough up $13 a month for the “storefront” edition, then you only have to pay 1.69 percent for a Visa, MasterCard, or AmEx. However, business credit cards will still cost 2.69 percent. You’ll also have to also have to pull in at least $5,000 a month, or PayAnywhere will tack on a huge $80 fee to your account. That said, we don’t really recommend you pay for the Storefront service unless you know that you’re going to make the discounted rate worth your while. If you want to key in transactions, it will cost you 3.49 percent + $0.19.
Accessories: Like the others, PayAnywhere offers a comprehensive POS solution for those interested in taking advantage of its payment system in a brick-and-mortar store. Unlike the others, however, the company isn’t making you shell out thousands of dollars for the solution. We don’t see anywhere on the company’s website that they’re still offering a free tablet for customers though, so you’ll want to pick up your own iPad or Android tablet to get started with the Storefront solution.
Support: Backed by North American Bancard and its network of support for all its payment processing services, PayAnywhere has top-notch customer support. This includes phone and chat support, both of which are available 24 hours a day in English, Spanish, and Mandarin. It really doesn’t get any better than that.
Recommendation: If you’re a mom-and-pop shop that depends on credit cards for business, then PayAnywhere might be up your alley. The 1.69 percent rate is killer for most cards, and probably still cheaper than most when you add on the fees for Discover and business cards. It’s also easier to set up than a traditional payment gateway and comes with excellent customer support.
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PayPal may be king of the online storefront, but it continues to be just one contender among many in the mobile card reader space. Its PayPal Here mobile payment solution is part of the overall PayPal package, which integrates with your PayPal debit card and online account. The idea is that you can seamlessly run your online store and in-person payments through PayPal with fast access to your funds and invoice history.
The App: Even though PayPal already has a stylish app available for the masses, they also built a version of the PayPal app specifically for accepting payments. One cool feature of the app is that you can use your GPS signal to attract buyers, who can search for local businesses that accept PayPal or use PayPal Here. This also means you can simultaneously accept payments by credit card or online through PayPal’s payment service, thus killing two birds with one stone.
Fees: When you use PayPal, you can accept credit cards, PayPal funds, and even checks. When you use credit cards, it’s a flat fee of just 2.7 percent, no matter the type of card. If you accept payment by check, it’s free, but you have to wait a few days for the money to clear. If you key in a transaction, you’ll pay 3.5 percent + $0.15. Non-U.S. cards also have an additional fee of 1 percent. If you receive micro payments, PayPal offers an attractive 5 percent + $0.05 deal with a minimum volume, plus a reduced rate of 2.9 percent + $0.30 for online transactions compared to the key-in rate.
Accessories: PayPal doesn’t offer a very impressive POS solution since it still uses the cheap plastic dongle that you can use with any other device. However, it does integrate with third-party solutions like ShopKeep, which cost even more. One advantage of PayPal is that you can use your funds immediately if you pay with a PayPal debit card. Plus, since the card offers 1 percent cash back, any payments you make with the PayPal debit card will help further reduce your transaction fee. If you prefer sending money to a bank like most people, though, then you’ll have to wait a few business days. You can also accept chip payments and Bitcoin, though the card reader costs $150 with a $100 rebate on $3,000 in transactions made.
Support: PayPal’s support for its card reader is part of its overall support services for the online merchant company. This means you have extensive support for PayPal Here because it’s technically a part of your overall PayPal account. You can call between 4 and 10 p.m. PDT on weekdays and between 6 and 8 p.m. PDT on weekends, which is a longer window than you see with most payment processors that offer phone support.
Recommendation: If you own a PayPal store or depend on PayPal already, you’ll find it easy to start accepting payments with the Here reader. PayPal’s chip reader is expensive, though its micropayment fees are very attractive if you deal with a lot of small transactions. PayPal is also integrated with a lot of alternative payment options, such as Bitcoin and Venmo, which makes it easy to accept a lot of different payment types.
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If you’re running a business that’s a standard brick-and-mortar operation, Shopify offers integration between its intuitive POS service and easy-to-use payment processors like Stripe. If you’re running a store that uses an old-fashioned POS system, or something that depends on an expensive third-party gateway provider, then Shopify offers a middle ground with its sleek POS solution, one that seamlessly integrates with your accounting tools and provides its own fairly priced payment processor.
The App: Shopify’s app is all about ease of use for businesses that depend upon a well-managed inventory. Whether you’re a local clothing shop, arts and crafts fare, or any business that really wants a way to get out of the stone age of selling. From the app, you can not only handle purchases, but everything you business needs to run its inventory, stock, sales performance, and other essential analytics. While you’re using one of their packages as a combined register, card reader, and receipt printer; you can use another device to monitor sales and run your online store too. Each device can have a separate PIN to ensure the people up front can’t see what the manager sees as they check out your customers.
Fees: Shopify requires a base fee for its POS solution, ranging from $9 a month to $179 or more. The retail package, featuring a card reader, is also $40 a month, a bit steep but fully ready for your storefront. When reading credit cards, Shopify charges 2.7 percent in person for any card, and 2.9 percent + $0.30 for any payments made from your online store. You can also use a third party payment provider of your choice, but Shopify will charge a 2 percent service fee for that privilege.
Accessories: Shopify can run on any major Android or iOS device, but they offer their own complete package if you don’t already have a printer or card reader. It’s $40 a month, which is quite pricey, though it supports not just EMV chips, but also tap-and-pay support, expanding your audience of customers. Shopify also supports online storefront tools, Facebook storefront options, analytics, and a way to essentially manage your business sales, wherever you may be, right from your smartphone.
Support: Shopify provides probably the most robust support offering out of these payment processors. Since they handle your entire shopping experience, including payments, they can help with anything 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This includes not just phone and email support, but live chat support for those who prefer multitasking. It’s especially helpful when you can’t get a customer’s credit card to work during a 1 A.M. rush hour at your post-pub sandwich shop.
Recommendation: Shopify offers a turn-key solution with a ton of support both in-store and on your website, but that entire package can quickly turn into a $200-a-month solution.
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Dwolla isn’t actually a platform for accepting credit card payments, but hear us out before you get your pitchforks out. If you ever deal with bank payments, checks, or large individual transactions that are better left outside the world of credit cards, then Dwolla is totally up your alley as a new-and-improved way to receive that cash. Customers small and large can make payments to your Dwolla account right from their bank account, which can all be transferred for free.
The App: Dwolla’s app is not a register, but just a personal way to set up an account and monitor recent transactions. It’s really designed for the individual freelancer or employee trying to find an alternative to accepting checks. You can request money and send money back to your bank account from the app, and Dwolla supports both personal accounts and business accounts.
Fees: And here’s the kicker: Dwolla charges 25 cents or less per transaction, that’s it: no other fees. If you’re selling anything in your store, online or in the real world, for more than $10, then Dwolla is the cheapest way to accept your customer’s money. On your website, Dwolla can integrate seamless in the checkout experience. In person, Dwolla has an app for sending and receiving payments from others with a Dwolla account, and it supports businesses and individuals through its payment system.
Accessories: Dwolla’s app is geared toward individuals, not businesses, but works for accepting bank payments in a pinch. If you want a more professional experience, you’ll want to take advantage of a service like ShopKeep, which supports Dwolla, PayPal, and others for accepting payments at the register.
Support: Dwolla provides rather basic support to its customers, as the operation is a bit different from handling a credit card payment processor or POS solution. You can review online forum topics, but beyond that the rest is handled through email support.
Recommendation: If you want a cheap alternative for the occasional large service or bank transaction, Dwolla offers an easy way to avoid $10 to $20 in credit card fees after each payment. It’s more secure than taking a check and faster too. Still, it doesn’t take credit cards, and isn’t meant to replace the way you accept money, but instead augment your existing solution.
CapitalOne Spark Pay
One of the new kids we’ve seen come to the block is CapitalOne’s own service: Spark Pay. It’s been around quietly for a while, and has recently gotten a makeover with a fresh mobile app and online store solution for those businesses looking for a simple way to handle their payments both online and in-person.
The App: The Spark Pay app handles the usual stuff for accepting payments. You can add products — the same you list on your online shop — and create a basket that the customer can check out from. Then, you swipe the card or dip the chip, so they can pay. Spark Pay also gives you access to customer data through an integrated dashboard, plus custom account modes for your different employees, so they can only view the register mode while you view everything else.
Fees: Spark Pay offers a two-tiered payment system. If you opt for the free plan, credit cards will run at either 2.65 percent + $0.05 or 3.7 percent + $0.05, the latter for AmEx, and the former for everyone else. If you’re willing to pay $20 a month, Spark Pay will drop the rate to 1.99 percent + $0.05 or 2.8 percent + $0.05, the latter for AmEx. It’s not the lowest rate, but it has the lowest additional charge at just five cents per swipe. The only problem is that you’ll have to pay $250 (with a $250 rebate later) for its EMV reader, as the the free reader only supports swiping.
Accessories: Spark Pay offers both online store and in-store solutions for its customers. Its whole terminal system is a bit pricey at $1100, but includes an EMV-compatible reader. If you need just a card reader for EMV, it will set you back $250 — but Spark Pay will refund you the entire cost, plus $50, after running $5,000 in transactions.
Support: If you need help, Spark Pay is available during extended hours 7 days a week. They’re around 5 AM to 8 PM Pacific Time for your questions and concerns.
Recommendation: Spark Pay is another solid option to consider among the rest. If you want a cheap way to start an online store that’s seamlessly connected to your in-store experience, they offer an easy way to get that started without a lot of additional fees, starting at just $40 a month. You need to be a pretty busy business to make the money back on the terminal, but it might suit your needs depending on the type of storefront you want to run.
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Remember to read the fine print
Almost all of these mobile card readers advertise themselves as having no “hidden fees.” In reality though, there are always extra fees you have to dig a bit to learn about.
While it is true that the transaction fees are exactly as advertised, you can end up paying hefty fees for common merchant costs such as chargeback fees, NSF fees, and more. In reality, there’s no real way to know the exact costs unless you read through the terms and conditions of each card reader and call up the company.
These fees are part of the bigger picture of accepting credit cards: While these seven companies are helping you complete the transaction, there are also numerous credit card processing firms that have a number of policies and fees related to things such as charge backs, card inquiries, and more.
For more information about what kind of fees exist, take a look at this article. As for specifics, most of these companies charge between $10 and $25 depending on the type of fee, and the fee often comes directly from the credit card processing firms. Be aware these mostly come after a transaction is disputed by a customer. These companies may advertise that they have no additional fees, but they usually still have these fees in the fine print as they’re considered irregular from day to day business.
Will my assets be frozen?
Another concern our readers asked us about was how and why their accounts get frozen. Sometimes, often after large or uncommon transaction history, your account may become frozen without warning or any explanation of how to resolve the issue. We collected your feedback and reached out to these mobile card reader companies to learn more.
According to a number of sources, the causes vary greatly depending on the kind of business you run and whatever flags appear on your account based on the kind of transactions you do. Your account can also become frozen for tax reasons, especially if you don’t run your mobile card reader under a tax ID and instead do business as yourself, or a sole proprietor. Often when you sign up, the mobile card reader company is giving you instant approval for a certain threshold of income allowed without further tax information on file. If you exceed that threshold, you may be required to provide additional tax information to continue doing business. There are also tax documents, such as the 1099-K, that you may be required to file along the way for using a credit card processor.
All of these reasons occur on a case-by-case business and we are not offering you any advice or insight on how to avoid getting your account frozen. This is just what we learned from these seven companies. If your account is frozen, reach out to your provider and ask how to proceed. Keep in mind these are all potential situations, but your individual situation could be different and we can’t suggest how you handle your own tax situation.
Do I need a chip reader (EMV)?
EMV is the new standard for secure credit card payments that launched in the U.S. back in October 2015. Rather than the old fashioned magnetic stripe you’re probably used to seeing on your credit card, the EMV chip reader uses a smart chip located typically on the front of your card that looks very similar to a SIM card you might see in a cellphone.
The EMV reader encrypts the card information as it’s transferred, and while you can continue to accept payments via magnetic stripe, since October, the merchant is responsible for any fraud that occurs. If you don’t accept EMV, you accept the risk of a fraudulent charge coming from a customer and having no way to get your money back. Most of the payment processors we mentioned so far support EMV, though they have different prices for their EMV readers and that’s an additional cost you’ll have to endure when getting started. Keep this in mind as you consider the various processors. You may also want to consider support for tap-and-pay and other contactless card readers to support services like Android Pay or Apple Pay.
The bottom line
In the end, your needs will determine which of these many card readers is the choice for you. Feel free to share with us other card readers to consider, or any other questions you have about which card reader is right for you. All of the ones we listed are good choices that offer a quick an easy way to accept credit cards or other payment methods from almost anywhere.