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How to take card payments

Whether your small business needs to process transactions by card in person, on the phone, via email, or online, learn how to accept card payments here

Whether your business is well established or just starting out, accepting card payments is becoming an increasingly non-negotiable aspect of doing business.

While you might think it’s easier to run a ‘cash only’ business, taking card payments could provide a number of benefits, such as increased security and access to a wider customer base.

The UK Payments Report published by UK Finance found that customers in the UK made 13.2 billion debit card payments in 2017, making it the most frequently used payment method. Cash payments were in second place, at 13.1 billion.

If you’re aware of the need to accept card payments in your business, but find yourself thinking ‘how can I take card payments?’, we’ll provide you with a step-by-step guide to help you get started.

You can read the full guide for a complete overview of the card payment process, or if there’s a particular stage you want to find out more about, just scroll to that specific section.

If you’re ready to compare quotes for merchant accounts straight away, simply complete the form at the top of the page.

On this page, we will cover:

  1. How to take card payments: a step-by-step guide
  2. How to take card payments with Visa
  3. How to take card payments with Maestro
  4. Taking card payments: the FAQs
  5. Next steps

How to take card payments

Step 1: Review how you take card payments

It’s possible to take card payments in the following ways: in person, online, over the phone, or by email. Make sure you choose the methods that best match your business’ needs.

For example, if you run a bricks-and-mortar shop, then you’re likely to need to be able to take card payments in person, whereas if you operate an online business, then online and email are probably going to be your preferred methods.

Remember that card payments include contactless payments, such as from mobile devices and wallets, as well as physical payment cards.
As well as a merchant account, you’ll need at least one of the following things to accept card payments:

  • A card payment terminal
  • A payment gateway
  • A mobile card payment method

The different ways to take card payments include:

  • Card machine – for in person transactions
  • Virtual terminal – for payments via phone or email
  • Payment gateway – for online purchases

Note that merchant accounts are required for all card payments. The way payment will be taken (e.g. face-to-face, mail or telephone order, online) determines if a card machine, virtual terminal or payment gateway is required.

Some examples of different types of businesses and card payment methods are:

  • Card payments by phone – telephone or mail order businesses
  • Online payments – internet businesses, or additional ecommerce functions to a bricks-and-mortar shop
  • In person payments – for shops and food and drink businesses
  • Payment gateway – for payments made online, by phone or via email
  • Integrated payments – this is an additional element which allows your card machine and cash register to interact, keeping all payments unified for your records

While virtual terminals are mainly used in mail and telephone order businesses, they can also be used in shops and restaurants as an additional way to take card payments. They can also be used in office environments to make sales.

Card machines are available in three types: countertop, mobile or portable.

Step 2: Research merchant account providers

You need to have a merchant account in order to accept card payments. Essentially, a merchant account provider acts as a middle ground for holding and sending funds between your customers’ bank and your business’ bank.

Ensure that you meet the requirements and are able to pay the charges. These include charges for setting up or cancelling an account, and the ongoing monthly payments for renting a card machine, for example.

Merchant accounts are available from a variety of providers, including high street banks and specialist providers, with varying plans available dependent on the volume and frequency of card sales your business expects to process.

Read our article on the UK’s best merchant service providers for more inspiration, or, for a quick side-by-side, take a look at the below table detailing the top three merchant providers on the market today:

Provider Best for… Transaction charge
WorldPay Flexibility 1%
PayPal Instant settlement 1.9%
Barclaycard Service focussed at a fair price 0.85 + 3p

Step 3: Set up the equipment

The equipment you need to take card payments is usually provided by the acquirer. It’s also possible to source the equipment separately.

If you opt for a card machine, it usually takes about two to three days, while if you choose a payment gateway method, it should take less time (about 24 hours) to set up.

The best card machines for small businesses include:

Card machine Best for… Transaction charge Device cost (excl. VAT)
SumUp Cheap transaction fees 1.69% £19
iZettle Best all-rounder 1.75% £29
Square Feature fullness 1.75% £29

For a more comprehensive and tailor-made quote, be sure to use the form at the top of the page. We’ll help you find the perfect card payment provider for your business.

Step 4: Decide who will pay the card transaction fees

Each time a card is used as a payment method, there is a fee (find out more about credit card processing fees here). You’ll need to assess whether these charges will be paid by your business, or if you’ll pass them on to your customers.

Step 5: Start accepting card payments

At this stage, you’re now ready to take card payments!

If you have a card machine, the process should be:

  1. Your customer presents their card at the card terminal
  2. The cardholder authenticates the transaction (by entering their PIN, swiping their contactless card, or signing for it)
  3. The card details are sent from the card terminal to the acquirer
  4. The acquirer sends the details to the card issuer (the issuer may authorise the transaction and send it back to the acquirer)
  5. The terminal prints two copies of the receipt: one for you and one for your customer
  6. The customer takes the purchased items and the customer copy of the receipt
  7. The merchant copy of the receipt is kept by you for your business’ records
  8. The transactions are processed and deposited into your merchant bank account within set timeframes (see below)

For those using a virtual terminal, you’ll need to access it online – so be sure to have a secure, reliable internet connection and a web browser. You’ll usually need to follow these steps:

  1. Log in to your virtual terminal payment portal
  2. Enter the customer’s payment information
  3. Submit the transaction to be processed

Step 6: Receive funds in your bank account

After a card payment has been processed, you should receive the funds in your bank account. How long this takes will depend on the way in which the card payment was collected. The approximate timeframes are as follows:

  • In person – four working days or less
  • Mail or telephone order – four working days or more
  • Internet – 30 working days or more

Glossary box

Here are some key words and phrases that you’re likely to come across when accepting card payments.

  • Acquirer – The bank that provides the merchant account
  • Card scheme – This refers to the type of payment card, such as Visa, Mastercard, Maestro
  • Issuer – The bank that provides/issues the card
  • PCI compliance – Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) are a set of security standards that determine how card payments should be processed

How to accept card payments: Visa and Maestro

In this section, we profile two of the most popular card issuers – Visa and Maestro – to help you understand how to accept these types of payment cards.


Firstly, we’ll cover all you’ll need to know about accepting Visa payments, including:

What is a Visa card?

What are the different ways of accepting Visa cards?

Are there any other options?

What are the potential positives for your business?

Visa in a nutshell

What is a Visa card?

Offering the payment service to the card issuer, Visa’s role is to check, confirm and process the details necessary for a transaction to take place. Visa is available in two types: credit and debit.

Visa credit card – funds are available on a pre-agreed line of credit from the customer’s credit card issuer.

Visa debit card – money is coming directly from the customer’s bank account.

Visa is accepted in 123 countries in the world, making it one of the most popular card types.

What are the different ways of accepting Visa cards?

There are a number of ways to take and process payments with Visa cards. So which one is best for your business?

PDQ machine (or chip and pin machine) – Offering a convenient, fast and secure way to pay, card machines with chip and pin functionality are an ideal way to process Visa cards. As it’s widely accepted, you can be sure to find a machine that suits your business needs and accepts Visa, whether they’re credit or debit cards.

Using the smart chip in the card and the pin your customer enters, you can process payments at the pay desk, out on the floor, or wherever there is mobile signal – depending on the type of machine you use or the kind of business you run.

It’s also possible for customers using Visa cards to make payments via swipe and sign.

While not best practice in the UK, this way of authorising payments is still very popular in the US, although it’s gradually being phased out there too. So if your business relies on tourists – such as a bed and breakfast or a travel agency – it’s worth considering accepting Visa cards to cater for overseas customers.

Mobile card readers – This type of device connects to your compatible smartphone or tablet via an internet connection.

These devices are ideal for small businesses that don’t have a traditional store or physical location but still want to take card payments, and a plus for your customers who want to pay by card. Visa is accepted by many of the top mobile card reader brands.

Offering chip and pin and contactless payments, these kind of machines work in a similar way to traditional card machines, except that they’re portable and use wireless technology.

You may also want to create a merchant account. Essentially, it’s a type of account that acts as a gatekeeper for funds between your business’ bank account and your customer’s account. This type of account is suitable for a range of businesses, including those that offer high risk services.

Similarly, a payment gateway offers an online service through which your customers can make card payments. It works by receiving and processing the information required to process transactions paid with cards.

Your business can accept a Visa card by using:

  • Chip and pin machines
  • Mobile card readers
  • Merchant accounts
  • Payment gateways

Are there any other options?

Visa and Apple Pay – Customers can use their compatible Apple device, along with their Visa card, to create a mobile wallet for making payments.

By accepting Visa cards in this way, you can stay up-to-date with the latest technological trends.

Plus, it can allow contactless payments above the usual £30 threshold.

Visa and PayPal – Also accepted by PayPal, Visa cards can be processed in this way using a business account.

You can accept payments online, or in person with the PayPal Here card reader. PayPal is internationally recognised, and offers an alternative way to process card payments.

Whichever device or platform your business uses, one of the most important details is the Visa debit card number or the Visa credit card number. This key piece of information allows the transaction to take place.

When processing card payments, it’s essential to be compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). These are a set of 12 requirements used globally to manage card data security.

What are the potential positives for your business?

Wider customer appeal – As more and more consumers turn away from cash purchases, the ability to take card payments – especially those from one of the biggest providers in the world – is something your business needs to offer sooner rather than later.

You can also reach more customers and make your business offering available to more people, further increasing its appeal.

Increased payment options – Card payments make your business more flexible in how it can take and receive money. Whether it’s online, in-person or over the phone, cardholders expect to be able to pay in a variety of ways.

Enhanced security – With the Verified by Visa scheme available for online payments, you can rest assured that accepting this type of payment is secure.

These are additional checks made when customers pay for goods or services online, ensuring that the payment details are valid. So this also offers an extra layer of security and protection for the funds you receive too.

Improved business image – By displaying signs in-store or logos online that show you accept Visa cards, your business image is likely to improve as well.

Visa is a recognisable brand worldwide, which can help your business with its professional image too.

Taking card payments is a way to secure your business’ position in the modern day marketplace.

Visa in a nutshell

We’ve covered a considerable amount of information in this article. Here are some key points to remember:

  • Visa is one of the most well-known card payment types in the world
  • Visa debit cards and Visa credit cards are commonly issued and accepted in the UK
  • Choose between chip and pin machines or mobile card readers to take card payments
  • Merchant accounts and payment gateways are other processing options too
  • Visa cards are compatible with Apple Pay and PayPal
  • Increase your payment options and help to increase your customer base as well
  • Offer a secure, established, and internationally recognised card payment option

How to take card payments with Maestro:

Now, let’s take a look at Maestro, another popular payment choice. The following section will cover:

What is a Maestro card?

What are the types of Maestro card?

How to accept Maestro cards

What are the benefits for your business?

Maestro in a nutshell

What is a Maestro card?

Founded in 1988, Maestro is a payment card which forms part of Mastercard. Available from the bank that provides customers’ current accounts, it’s part of a global network of ATMs, stores and websites that accept this form of payment.

Maestro is available in 13 million locations in 100 countries.

Customers can withdraw cash from ATMs (with the Maestro logo), as well as make payments in person or online. As Maestro cards can be used at home or abroad, you may find that overseas customers use this type of card as well.

If you take a lot of foreign currency payments, it may be worth offering Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) so that you can offer your customers the option of which currency to pay in – their own or the local currency.

What are the types of Maestro card?

With two types of Maestro bank card on offer, customers may present a Maestro debit card or a prepaid card. While both can be processed in the same way, it’s useful to know what the differences are.

Maestro debit card

  • Linked to a customer’s current account
  • Spending limited by amount of funds in the account
  • May have an overdraft facility attached
  • Can be used for in-person, online or phone payments

Prepaid card

  • Not linked to a bank account, meaning no overdraft facilities
  • Customers can only access the amount of money on the card
  • Funds loaded onto the card in advance
  • Can be used for payments in the same way as debit cards

Is there anything else you should know?

  • Prepaid cards are offered by banks or online issuers
  • Maestro cards can be linked and connected to PayPal accounts
  • Unlike other card providers, Maestro credit cards are not available

How to accept Maestro cards

Just like any other card, a Maestro bank card can be accepted in a variety of ways. If you operate a bricks-and-mortar store, then you can use card machines to process payments from Maestro cards.

Using a credit card machine allows you to accept Maestro cards, along with a number of other bank cards.

Depending on your business needs, you may opt for a countertop terminal, a mobile card reader, or a portable machine.

Which type of card machine is best for your business?

  • Countertop terminal – providing a central point of payment, these fixed machines are ideal for corner shops and petrol stations
  • Mobile card reader – offering flexibility and wifi connectivity, this type of machine suits on-the-go or pop-up businesses, such as a market stall
  • Portable machine – making the most of your business space, portable machines allow you to take the payment point to the customer, fitting for restaurants and other hospitality businesses

Alternatively, if you’re looking for an online payment solution (or as an addition to your current offering), then you could consider a merchant account and a payment gateway.

Merchant accounts are a type of account that acts as a collection point between your customer’s payment account and your business account that receives the funds.

Payment gateways are the online service that receives card payment information and processes transactions.

How to let your customers know you’re accepting Maestro cards

  • Display the Maestro logo in your shop front to let customers know you accept it
  • Update your website and online payment platforms with Maestro signs
  • Share on social media and via email, as well as other ways you may connect with your customers

What are the business benefits?

Quicker processing times – Card payments cut down the amount of time it takes for you to serve customers, and with the rise of portable machines and mobile card readers, processing card payments is becoming easier and easier.

Plus, Maestro bank cards can be used to make contactless payments as well. With Maestro PayPass, customers can make payments up to £15 by tapping their card on a compatible reader.

Security features – For payments made online, each Maestro card has SecureCode, which offers every card a unique code. This helps to ensure that the person making the payment matches the details held with the card issuer.

As a small business owner, that means you can be more confident with the purchases and orders that come in online.

Maestro cards don’t have a Card Verification Value (CVV) number on the back. Once a customer enters their card details online, the mandatory field to enter a number in this box should disappear.

Increased customer base – By adding more ways to pay, you’re increasing the number of people that can use the service or buy the products that your small business offers.

And while it’s impossible to predict profits, if your business has a wider customer base to draw from, then there’s potential for a higher income too.

Maestro card in a nutshell

This article has provided you with an overview of Maestro cards – what they are, how to accept them, and what benefits your business could expect. While we’ve offered detailed information throughout, here are the key takeaways:

  • Maestro cards are part of Mastercard and form a global network
  • There are two types of Maestro bank cards available: debit and prepaid
  • The cards are provided by a bank or an online issuer
  • Process payments from Maestro cards with a card machine or a payment gateway
  • Inform customers you’re accepting Maestro cards with shop signs or online logos
  • Keep up with your competitors by accepting Maestro cards if you run a retail business
  • Enhance your payment offering and stand out from the crowd in other sectors
  • Accepting Maestro bank cards offers your customers a fast, secure, and globally recognised payment method

American Express and Diner’s Club perform all three aspects of the card payment process: acquirer, issuer and card scheme.

While Visa, Maestro and Mastercard are some of the most common card issuers in the UK, you may or may not be able to take other options too, such as American Express or Diner’s Club cards.

The key difference is that while other card schemes deal solely with the card, and the merchant account and issuer are different organisations, American Express and Diner’s Club perform all three aspects of the card payment process: acquirer, issuer and card scheme.

Taking card payments: the FAQs

How do you take card payments over the phone

Once you have a virtual terminal follow these steps to start taking payments over the phone:

1. Log into your payment provider account and select the “Virtual Terminal”.

2. Use the on-screen instructions and enter the long card number, card expiration date and card security code.

3. Provide additional security information, which is usually:

  • The cardholder name as it appears on the card
  • The cardholder’s postcode

4. Use the ‘Submit’ or ‘Complete Transaction’ button to process the payment. Remember to keep the customer on the phone line while the transaction is being processed.

5. Once complete, make sure you remember to write ‘paid by phone’ on your copy of the receipt, in case you need to refer to it at a later time.

How do you take card payments over email?

To take card payments over email, sending a link from your secure online terminal. All your customers need to do is click it and enter their card details.

Which is the best merchant account provider?

This depends on your individual business needs. PayPal is great for high volume transactions, whereas Stripe is brilliant for efficiency and payment protection. Take a look at our page detailing the best merchant service providers to make up your own mind.

What is the best card machine for small business?

Again, this depends on the nature of your business. If you want smooth, sleek design at a good rice, then Square is the one for you. If it’s familiarity you’re looking for, WorldPay or PayPal might be a better option.

Take a look at our handy comparative guide to make up your own mind: The 6 best card machines for small businesses.

What are the next steps?

From reading this guide, you’ve learned what the necessary elements are for taking card payments – such as the different ways to collect payments by card and what equipment you’ll need – along with a step-by-step guide to setting up card payments for your start-up. Plus, we’ve provided a detailed look into two of the various cards you can accept, Visa and Maestro.

Next, read our article on PDQ machines for an in-depth understanding of this way of accepting card payments.

Alternatively, to compare quotes for merchant accounts right away, just head to the top of the page and fill in the form.

Scarlett Cook
Scarlett Cook

Scarlett writes about a wide range of topics on the site, from business security to digital marketing and EPOS systems. She can also be found writing about diversity and sustainability in business, as well as managing the Just Started profiles.

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