The 6 best card machines for small businesses
More people than ever pay by card. Discover the best card machine for your small business on this page
We are a team of writers, experimenters and researchers providing you with the best advice with zero bias or partiality.This article was co-authored by:
Did you know that card payments overtook cash payments for the first time in 2019, accounting for 51% of all payments?
If you want to succeed in this increasingly cashless society, you need a small business card machine that will take the hassle out of payment processing and help to drive sales.
And in the time of Covid-19, a card machine is the best way to keep you and your customers safe while taking payments.
But with so many different card machines on the market, all promising the world, how do you choose the one that’s going to help your business succeed?
That’s where we can help. We’ve been advising startups and small businesses for more than 20 years, helping them to find the products and services that suit their needs. Our quick and free card reader comparison tool can do just that for you. Just answer a few simple questions, and our expert team can do the comparison legwork to match you with the best card reader for your business.
Or, check out our in-depth reviews of the 6 best card machines currently available to small businesses to help you make your decision. Below, we break down the costs, features, and pros and cons of each, and answer some of your most frequently asked questions about choosing a card reader.
Traditional card machines, mobile card readers, chip-and-pin machines: What's the difference?
While traditional card machines are associated with banks and merchant account providers, mobile card machines are supplied by independent businesses that tend to provide all-in-one payment taking solutions that include:
- A merchant account
- A payment gateway
- Point of sale equipment
So which is the best option for small businesses?
A mobile card reader is a small but mighty piece of hardware. It connects to a tablet or smartphone, and accepts payments from debit and credit cards, and mobile payment apps including Google Pay and Apple Pay.
Great for businesses like coffee shops, beauty salons, bars, restaurants and any form of retail, a mobile card reader will quite literally mobilise the way your business takes payments, boosting sales and increasing your capacity for great customer service.
A traditional card machine is the type of card reader that customers are probably most used to seeing, as all big stores and supermarkets use them. These card readers are often rented from suppliers, and can either be wired or wireless.
While mobile card reader suppliers often charge businesses a set transaction fee, banks that supply traditional card readers will charge a transaction fee that’s dependent on your total volume and value of sales.
…And what about chip-and-pin machines? Both of the above will offer the option to use chip-and-pin technology to take card payments. Technically, a chip-and-pin machine is any device in which a card can be inserted or swiped and a PIN code entered for a transaction to be made.
However, with contactless payments having become a much more popular payment method over the last few years, people often associate the term ‘chip-and-pin' with the older-looking, larger card machines than the smaller, more recently designed card readers.
Traditional card machines vs mobile card reader quick comparison
|Mobile card reader||Traditional card reader|
|WiFi connection required?||No||Yes|
|Set transaction fee?||Yes||No|
|Point of sale integration?||Yes||Yes|
|Merchant account required?||No||Yes|
|Accepts mobile payments||Yes||Yes|
Whether you’re looking for a card machine with the lowest transaction fees, or one that you can set up with your smartphone, below we review the UK’s leading options; from the cheapest card payment machine to the best mobile card reader for small businesses.
Read on for a full-fat breakdown of the six best card machines for small businesses.
But before we start, here are our three top pointers for finding the best machine:
|1. As we’ve said above, your business's specific requirements will determine which card machine is best for you, which means finding one that's appropriate for your business size, the number of monthly transactions you expect to process, and the industry you're in. Don’t worry, we can do all that hard work for you. Just tell us about your needs, and we’ll match you to a range of top UK providers.|
|2. Card machine providers charge a range of initial costs and recurring fees. Make sure all pricing information is clear before you commit.|
|3. Planning to scale or take on more staff? Make sure you choose a solution that can grow with your business!|
How we chose our top card readers
Best card machines for small businesses: UK top 6
Let's see how they compare.
|Card Reader||Best for...||Device Cost (exc. VAT)||Transaction Fee|
|Sum Up||Cheap transaction fees||£59||1.69%|
|iZettle||All-rounder||£29 on offer here||1.75%|
|Square||Card machine features||£19 on offer here||1.75%|
|Worldpay (Simplicity plan)||Flexibility||£4.99/month||1.5%|
|PayPal Here||Growing business||£45 on offer here||1.5%|
|Barclays Anywhere||Being a trusted payments brand||£29||1.6%|
1. SumUp card reader
Best for: cheap transaction fees
SumUp pros and cons
|Top rate of 1.69% transaction fee||Basic reporting|
|No monthly fees||POS software potentially too simple for cafes and restaurants|
|Great customer support|
SumUp card reader costs
|Cost of hardware (card reader)||£19|
|Card transaction fee||1.69%|
|Virtual terminal fee||2.5%|
Which cards does SumUp accept?
- V Pay, Maestro
- American Express
SumUp accepts chip and PIN, contactless, and chip and signature cards as well as Google Pay and Apple Pay.
Is SumUp for me?
With one of the lowest transaction fees on the UK market (just 1.69%) and crystal-clear, flat-rate pricing, the SumUp Air card reader comes up trumps for affordability – perfect for beginners and savvy business owners wanting to keep things simple and the costs low.
Whether you’re running a mobile coffee stall, or simply want something a little more compact in-store, SumUP Air travels well and has a long lasting charge to boot. This makes it a popular option amongst businesses fresh on the startup scene.
SumUp keeps its users happy with stellar customer support and a no-nonsense app that’s perfect for first-timers in the world of using card machines.
Just don’t expect all the bells and whistles at this price point – this is an uncomplicated card reader with a simple app, but it has everything you need.
And, for such a cheap card machine, SumUp offers plenty of features you might not expect (such as virtual terminals and SMS payments).
iZettle card reader pros and cons
|25% faster than competitors||Account suspensions (unauthorised users)|
|8-hour battery life||No weekend customer support|
|4.7 / 5 on App Store|
|Flat rate fee of 1.75%|
iZettle card reader costs
|Cost of hardware (card reader)||£29|
|Card transaction fee||1.75%|
|Virtual terminal fee||2.5%|
Which cards does iZettle accept?
- V Pay
- Union Pay
- American Express
- Apple and Android Pay
iZettle accepts chip and PIN, contactless and chip and signature cards as well as Google Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. Plus, the same fixed transaction fee percentage applies even for premium cards and cards of foreign banks.
Note: iZettle is one of the only card readers to take payments from JCB, Union Pay and Discover.
Is iZettle for me?
iZettle is proud of its reputation for being 25% faster than other mobile card readers. And even its transfers are speedy: the money will hit your account the next day.
You can also use the iZettle card reader with hardware like receipt printers, cash drawers, and barcode scanners, so it can work as part of a complete POS system, or just hooked up to your smartphone or tablet for ease. And if it makes things even easier, iZettle also offers tailored all-round EPOS system solutions.
With ultra-low costs and one of the highest quality apps around, iZettle is a great alternative to traditional ways of processing card payments, and great for more innovative and budget-conscious businesses.
iZettle is well-suited to startups looking to take payments quickly in a no-fuss fashion. If you’re good with basic tech, and don’t often pick up the phone for customer support, then this is the reader for you.
Square pros and cons
|Low transaction rates (1.75%||Pin on glass is unusual|
|Transparent pricing||App integrations cost extra|
|One of the most features-heavy|
|No monthly fees, no lock-ins|
|Great, comprehensive app|
Which cards are accepted?
- American Express
- Visa Electron
The Square Reader accepts chip and PIN, chip and signature and contactless cards as well as mobile wallets, Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay (note that PIN codes are entered on your mobile device, not the Square reader). A magstripe reader (that can attach to your mobile device's earphone socket) is included for international magnetic stripe cards.
Is Square for me?
Square's card reader is designed for small business owners wanting to keep costs low without missing out on the good stuff – like the option to integrate its accompanying POS software with food delivery apps or customer relationship management systems.
The card reader itself is a high-spec device that allows customers to enter their pins on the glass of your phone or tablet, rather than tapping buttons on a keypad. While unconventional, you can be reassured that Square adopts the highest security standards when it comes to developing its products.
Clean and simple, Square’s card reader adds a breath of fresh air into the payment process, and shows that it’s putting itself at the forefront when it comes to pioneering the future of the payments market.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one payment solution, you may want to check out the Square terminal, which also allows you to manage items and print receipts from one device.
4. Worldpay card machines
Best for: Security and Flexibility
Worldpay pros and cons
|Voted favourite by small businesses||Pay-as-you-go plan not value for money|
|Business Manager tool|
|Decent fraud protection|
|Range of card readers|
|Wifi-free payments possible|
No contract: Worldpay pay-as-you-go plan
|Cost of hardware (card reader)||£69 (excl. VAT)|
|Card transaction fee||2.5% + 4p|
Contracted: Worldpay Simplicity plan (18 month contract)
|Cost of hardware (card reader)||£4.99/mo (ecl. VAT)|
|Card transaction fee||1.5%|
Cards accepted by Worldpay:
- Mastercard credit and debit cards
- Visa credit and debit cards
- American Express
- Visa Electron
- Visa Purchasing
Exactly what card payment options you'll be able to accept with Worldpay depends on the plan/device you opt for.
Is Worldpay for me?
With Worldpay, it’s all about the options. Not only does it offer a range of contracts and transaction fee rates, which you can select based on your monthly sales income, it also offers a range of card readers, too.
To secure the best transaction fee rate, we suggest that you opt for Worldpay’s Simplicity plan; an 18 month contract which sees the percentage you pay per transaction drop from 2.5% to 1.5% – one of the lowest rates around.
Worldpay is for those who prioritise security over everything, so you can look forward to robust fraud protection and complete PCI compliance (security standards for processing card payments). Plus, with 24/7 support, you’ll never be left in the dark.
Whether you’re looking for a mobile card reader to take on the road, or a fixed terminal for your shop point of sale area, Worldpay’s payment taking solutions are robust options for small businesses.
5. PayPal card machine
Best for: Growing businesses
PayPal pros and cons
|Cheapest for high volume sales||USB and Diners Club cards not supported|
|Fastest for transfers (instant)||Need at least Bluetooth 2.0 on phone|
|Top rated app|
|PayPal Seller Protection|
|Syncs well with other platforms|
PayPal card reader costs
|Cost of hardware (card reader)||£45 (excl. VAT)|
|Card transaction fee||1 – 2.75%|
PayPal transaction fees
|Monthly sales||Transaction fee|
|Less than £1,500.01||2.75%|
|£1,500.01 – £6,000||1.75%|
|£6,000.01 – £15,000||1.5%|
|More than £15,000||1%|
Which cards does PayPal accept?
- American Express
PayPal Here accepts chip and PIN, chip and signature, contactless and swipe cards as well as Apple Pay and Google Pay.
Is PayPal for me?
Having already proven itself in the ecommerce space, the PayPal Here card reader shows this company to be a leader in making payments easy – offline as well as online.
PayPal Here stands out in a few key areas for small businesses: your money lands instantly into your PayPal account and can be transferred to your business bank account in a few hours. Also, its transaction rates are the best for high volume businesses.
Overall, PayPal Here is an intuitive card machine and complete sales system from a trusted brand. Once you’re bringing in over £6,000 a month, the transaction fees are cheaper than with any other provider – and for the mega earners, it’s a lot cheaper (1%).
With the option to transfer funds from your PayPal account to your business bank account within two hours, PayPal Here is a great option for those looking for complete control over their money.
6. Barclays Anywhere card reader
Best for familiarity and low transaction fees
Barclays card machine pros and cons
|No monthly fees or lock-ins||Only accepts Visa and Mastercard|
|Clear pricing||Need a Barclays account|
|A trusted payment gateways brand|
|Mobile, easy-to-use card reader|
Barclays Anywhere card reader costs
|Card reader cost||£29 (excl. VAT)|
|Card reader transaction fees||1.6%|
What cards does Barclays Anywhere accept?
Barclaycard Anywhere accepts chip and PIN, chip and signature, contactless and swipe card payments.
Is Barclaycard Anywhere for me?
Barclays’ nifty little device accepts credit and debit card payments from your smartphone or tablet, and through chip and pin and contactless.
On top of that, you’ll benefit from decent Barclays phone support and a straightforward (if not too basic) app.
At 1.6%, the Barclaycard Anywhere offers one of the lowest transaction rates going, but your compromises are that the card reader only accepts Visa, Mastercard, and Maestro payments and refunds cost 75p to process.
Barclaycard Anywhere is one for those who would prefer to stick with a bank they can trust, and the Barclaycard Anywhere card machine will save you hassle if you already have a Barclays account.
Best card readers for small business: the verdict
As you can see, there are plenty of options for small businesses looking to take card payments.
In the list below, we've summarised our reviews of the best card machines for small business in the UK:
- Sumup – best for cheap transaction fees; no monthly fees, easy-to-use app and great customer support
- iZettle – best for all round use; excellent for new businesses and 25% faster than competitors
- Square – best for features; a comprehensive app and no monthly fees or ‘lock-ins'
- Worldpay – best for flexibility; counter-top, mobile and mobile readers available, voted best by small businesses
- PayPal – best for a growing business; has a top-rated app and is fastest for depositing funds into a bank account
- Barclays – best for familiarity and flexibility; mobile, easy-to-use card reader and clear pricing
Still not sure which is the most appropriate card reader for you? We get it, there’s a lot to consider. But you don’t need to spend hours trying to work out whether you’ll benefit more from Sumup or Square’s features – we've designed our card reader comparison tool to do just that. All you need to do is answer a few simple questions, and we’ll provide the answers.
Card machine price: how much will one cost me?
When it comes to card reader costs, there are two parts.
- The cost of the device itself
- The transaction fees that the supplier charges to process the transaction
We've put the costs of our top 6 small business card readers in a table so you can compare prices side by side.
|Card reader||Device cost||Transaction fee|
|WorldPay (Simplicity plan)||£4.99/month||1.5%|
Chip and pin machines: Buying vs renting
Whether it makes sense to buy or rent a card machine depends on your appetite for flexibility as well as your individual business set-up.
Buying a card machine
Chip and pin machines don’t have to cost the earth, and getting your own device will often save you in the long term with no monthly commitment or exit charges.
These are the pros and cons of buying a chip and pin machine:
- No monthly commitment
- Cheaper in the long-term
- Pairs with EPOS systems
- Your device, your rules
- Competitive advantage
- Initial costs
- No replacements
- Can go out-of-date
Renting a card machine
Long or short term card machine hire is a popular option for small businesses. Perhaps you only work seasonally, or you just like the added maintenance and support that comes with renting equipment.
These are the pros and cons of card machine hire:
- No purchase costs
- Maintenance included
- Ideal for short-term
- Support team on hand
- Latest device renewals
- No ownership
- Higher costs long-term
- Contract lock-ins
- Possible exit fees
Card machine success stories
Block & Bottle’s customers like paying by card
“We often have people asking if we take card when they come to the shop, and they are always very happy when they hear that we do.”
– Katie Cullen, Owner of free-range shop Block & Bottle in Gateshead
Florist Hilda Valerie has seen a sales boost
“The majority of our customers want to pay using a card, and without the ability to process card payments, we would have lost a sizeable number of customers.”
– Natasha Bartlett-Twivey, Floral Designer at Hilda Valerie
Benefits of card machines for small businesses
Is a card machine right for your small business? Of course, it varies from business to business. But this is what it could do for you:
- Up your sales –
Today’s customers expect to pay by card, and giving them what they want will help stop them from walking
- Build your credibility –
Card machines make you seem more professional, which is especially important if your small business is still fairly newborn
- Save on admin –
Forget the bank runs and streamline your account management by linking your terminal to your computer or smartphone
- Take safer payments –
Card machines have extra security built-in to protect both you and your customers
- Be ready for the future –
Cash is drying up, and it’s a good idea to think ahead – so fill in our handy quote finder without delay, and get the cardreader ball rolling for your business.
Key questions when choosing a card reader
We've answered some key questions that customers have when choosing the right card reader
Do fees differ between providers?
Some providers have flat rates whereas others will offer cheaper fees the higher your sales volumes. Check that your sales volume will match the provider’s minimum requirements to make the most of any deals to be had
What is a mobile card reader?
A mobile card reader is a device that you can take to your customers when it's time to take payment. It's especially helpful if you’re in the hospitality industry and it helps with social distancing measures in the current Covid-19 pandemic
How many card readers should I have?
Customers don’t like waiting to pay, and poor service might stop them coming back – make sure you have enough machines to allow maximum payment efficiency
Which types of card do I need to accept?
Most people understand that small businesses may only be able to accept a limited number of cards, but the more options you give your customers to pay with, the better. Most card readers will accept Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, and American Express
Why should I start accepting contactless payments?
One in three UK card payments are made using a contactless card or e-wallet. Therefore, having a contactless point of sale option is a must, especially if you’re often making sales of £45 or less
What's the best card reader for iPhone?
All mobile card readers are compatible with the iOS operating system and so are the majority of accompanying apps. However, some accompanying apps, such as iZettle Food and Drink for hospitality businesses, are only compatible with iPads.
Next steps: compare card machines
The rise of easy-to-use, strings-free and cheap card machines have become a game-changer for ambitious small businesses wanting to make taking card payments easy and affordable.
The next step is to talk to the UK’s leading credit card processing providers. But there's no need to get on the phone. We've taken all the hassle out of the process, and can help you save time and money. If you’d like to be matched with the best card readers for your small business, all you need to do is select an option below and we'll pair you with top providers.