Small business credit card machines

More people than ever pay by card today. Is it time you got a card machine for your small business? Decide what works for you

A credit card machine can make all the difference for your small business when it comes to driving sales and taking the hassle out of payment processing.

The UK Card Association found that in the UK today, 96% of people have a debit card, and 60% a credit card. Over a third of all purchases in the UK are now made by card. This number is growing still, and set to reach 53% by 2026.

Contactless payments are also booming. To give you an idea, the total spending on contactless today is more than double the previous eight years combined – at around one in three transactions.

Did you know?
78% of retail sales in the UK are paid by card

Clearly, card payments are becoming more and more popular. But how can a card machine help your small business? Mostly, people enjoy the convenience and protection cards provide – and these advantages benefit customers as well as businesses.

Below, we explore the various options available to you and explain everything you need to know when choosing the best type of card machine for your small business or startup.

In this article you will learn

What are the best card machines for small businesses?

Card machines are more popular than ever, thanks to the added convenience they offer both customers and small businesses owners in the UK.

For those new to using a card machine, the range of options can seem bewildering. Might a free card terminal be up to the job? Or would investing in devices save more in the long run? Don’t worry, this article should help you work it all out.

When making your decision, you will want to think about:

  • Cost
  • Design
  • Functionality

We will unpick these later. To start, here is our ultimate pick of the top five card machine providers for small businesses in the UK today.

They all score top marks in the three key areas – the rest will depend on your unique business needs, which we will help you understand better below.

Service Type Top feature Rating Compare
iZettle Mobile card machine 25% faster than other mobile readers ★★★★★
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VX 820 Duet by Verifone Countertop card machine Durable and easy to use ★★★★★
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iCMP Mobile or portable card machine Versatile and easy-to-use ★★★★
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Portable Barclaycard Card Machine Portable card machine Can connect with 3 portable machines ★★★★
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iCT 200 series Countertop card machine Designed with merchants in mind ★★★★
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Compare the best card machine options for your small business today


iZettle Small Business Credit Card Machine Great for: Busy small businesses looking for speed and ease-of-use
Type: Mobile
Cost: £59
Fees: No monthly or set-up fees
Features: 25% faster than competitors, 8-hour battery life, slick design, easy to use, made for small businesses

The iZettle card reader is a mobile card reader which enables chip and PIN as well as contactless payments. Their basic charge per device can start from £29, and they are perfect for staff who move about.

iZettle are proud of their reputation for being 25% faster than other mobile card readers. Even their transfers are speedy: the money will hit your account the next day, and the battery life lasts around eight hours.

The iZettle card reader can be used with all major credit cards as well as Apple and Android Pay. In addition, you can use iZettle with receipt printers, cash drawers, and barcode scanners, so it can work as part of a complete PoS system.

VX 820 Duet by Verifone

VX 820 Duet Small Business Credit Card Machine Great for: Small retailers who value security and durability
Type: Countertop
Cost: Dependant on quote
Fees: Dependent on contract
Features: Easy to use, tough, durable, secure, lots of memory (for more transactions), large colour touchscreen

This countertop credit card machine is a life-saver for small businesses. It works for both chip and PIN and contactless payments.

The VX card machine is easy to use, tough and durable. It has a large memory, so you can process a number of transactions, along with other applications.

The VX 820 even links to the PAYware Ocius service platform. With Point to Point Encryption (P2PE), this device is highly secure and a popular choice for small businesses.


iCMP Small Business Credit Card Machine Great for: Small businesses looking for their first card reader
Type: Mobile
Cost: Dependant on quote
Fees: Dependent on contract
Features: Easy to use, durable, secure, can become ‘portable’, a great entry-level device, pocket-sized

This credit card reader lets you turn your mobile device (whether Apple or Android) into a PoS solution.

The iCMP works for EMV chip and PIN, magstripe and contactless payments. It uses Bluetooth and is so small it fits in your pocket.

This one is designed to be a mobile option but can also operate on a ‘portable’ basis.
Versatile and easy to use, the iCMP credit card reader is an excellent entry-level choice for small businesses, especially for staff who need to move around.

Portable Barclaycard Card Machine

Barclaycard Small Business Credit Card Machine Great for: Small businesses looking for their first card reader
Type: Portable
Cost: Dependant on quote
Fees: £15 plus VAT per month/machine
Features: Easy to use, durable, secure, 100m Bluetooth range, Barclaycard support

This slick portable card machine accepts all major credit and debit cards, including contactless.

It has an impressive 100m Bluetooth range, making it ideal for the majority of small businesses who need to be able to process payments away from the main till.

Each base unit can connect with a maximum of three portable card machines at once, and it operates using either your business phone line or broadband. Extra card readers are available for just £15 plus VAT per month.

iCT 200 series

iCT 200 Series Countertop Chip and Pin Machine Great for: Small businesses after compact quality
Type: Countertop
Cost: Dependant on quote
Fees: £15 plus VAT per month/machine
Features: Easy to use, durable, secure, 100m Bluetooth range, Barclaycard support, large colour screen

The iCT 200 series offers compact quality. This is a user-friendly option that accepts all major card payments.

Designed with security as a primary concern, you will be putting your small business in the best of hands with this one. The connectivity will also be hard to beat, as it is powered by Ingenico and Telium 2 technology.

To find out which supplier is right for your small business, don’t miss our top credit card processing companies page.

What can a card payment machine do for my small business?

To get technical, card machines are a form of PDQ (Process Data Quickly) equipment.

Their aim is to get the transaction done quickly, safely and efficiently. For businesses of any size, this will help you up your revenue and meet your customers’ expectations.

Did you know?
70% of people prefer paying by card

A recent Barclaycard survey found that 70% of people prefer paying by card. And that’s not all – 2 out of 5 people are using their cards more now than a year ago, and 37% carry under £10 with them on a typical day.

All this means that now more than ever, small businesses without a card machine risk losing out on customers.

What are the main advantages?

Whether you need a credit card machine will vary from business to business. Here, we talk you through the advantages and disadvantages to help you understand what would work best for you.

There are many advantages. Here are the main ones for small business owners:

  • Increased sales – Around a third of customers would consider walking away from a purchase if they cannot pay by card. Simply put, customers today expect to be able to pay using their card, and if they can’t, you may miss out on sales.
  • Credibility – Barclaycard’s research has shown that 43% of people would have a lower opinion of a business if it didn’t take card payments. Credit card machines make small businesses seem more professional.
  • Profitability – As well as making the transaction process easier and more efficient, businesses who are able to accept more types of payment are more profitable. You also increase your competitive advantage over similar businesses who do not offer card payments.
  • Security – Credit card machines boost your security in many ways. You will be able to store less cash on the premises, and all card payments are more secure at the point of sale.
  • Less admin – As well as saving time on “bank runs”, you can link credit card machines to the PoS (Point of Sale) system (from a cash register to an iPad), reducing the overall administration of payments. You will also have access to data analytics on your customer base, making it easier to grow your business.
  • Ecommerce and telephone payments – Most credit card machines allow small businesses to take advantage of e-commerce channels and telephone payment options.
  • Efficiency – Of course, cash is fast. But you also need to factor in the time spent taking your earnings to the bank, and making sure you have enough change to serve your customers. With card machines, you should still receive funds within 2 days.

Are there also disadvantages?

As with all investments, it is important to consider the full picture. Here are some potential disadvantages:

  • Charges – Most small businesses worry about charges from their merchant bank. Of course, this option is not free. But in many cases, the ability to accept credit card payments brings with it a return on investment that more than justifies the cost. To keep your charges low, we have selected some of the best value options for you to choose from.
  • Cost-Effectiveness – Most credit card machines are cost-effective. But there are some instances where this may not be the case. For example, if your customers are most likely to expect to pay by cash or cheque, then it may be in your interests to avoid charges this way. That said, these cases tend to be rare. You can find out more from our chip and PIN machine costs page.

Small business credit card machine terminals

What are the credit card machine requirements?

There are two main requirements when choosing a credit card machine for your small business:

  1. The merchant account (or supplier)
  2. The terminal (or hardware)

Most credit card terminals for small businesses work using either the internet, a phone line, or a mobile connection, to send data from the chip and pin machine to a processor. From here, funds can be transferred from the customer’s account to your merchant account.

What should I know about merchant accounts?

A merchant account is a specific type of bank account which allows your small business to accept credit card payments. It acts as a holding pen for your customers’ money before they enter your business bank account.

This extra layer provides security both for you and your customers. It allows for checks to ensure your customers have sufficient funds available and makes the transaction safer. The payments then enter your business account, minus the merchant fees.

Usually, merchant accounts are available from a credit card processor – either the Payment Service Provider (PSP), or directly from a bank or other financial institution (Acquiring Banks).

Setting up a merchant account requires jumping through a few hoops, but will ultimately stand your business on an excellent footing. Generally, the steps involved are not complicated. Similar to taking out a loan, they are just there to check your eligibility.

What should I know about terminals?

You will no doubt have paid using a terminal at a till before. It’s more commonly known as the card machine and is simply the device you use to enter your PIN and authorise the payment.

It is easy to confuse the terminal with the entire PoS (Point of Sale) system, but the card machine is just one part of it. Other parts include the hardware to do with the sale (such as the cash register and printer), as well as software (like the computer systems which make sense of the sales, transactions, inventory control, and more).

What are the different types of terminals?

When selecting a credit card machine for your small business, remember that not all terminals are born equal. Have a read through the key differences between how they work below, and think about the specific needs of your business.

In general, there are four types of terminals:

  1. Countertop card machines
  2. Portable card machines
  3. Mobile card machines
  4. Virtual card machines

Choosing which one is right for you will depend on four main factors:

  1. Your size
  2. Your business type
  3. Your customers
  4. Your location

Now, let’s dig a little deeper.

Countertop card machines

Countertop Credit Card Machine Great for: Retail shops, fast-food restaurants
Ease-of-use: ★★★★★
Mobility: ★★
Security: ★★★★★
Durability: ★★★★★
Affordability: ★★★★★
Customer trust: ★★★★★

Countertop card machines are ideal for taking card payment at a counter or desk, for example in a shop. You will likely be most familiar with this type, as they are still the most frequently used.

Countertop terminals work on a fixed-point basis, just like a fixed till. They connect directly to your merchant account, usually via your business phone line.

They are fast, efficient, and robust ways of taking credit card payments, either in person or over the phone.

Many small businesses may only need one of these card machines. But if you have more than one check-out point or multiple premises, then you might want more.

You can add multiple countertop card machines to the same merchant account. If ever you hear of a free credit card machine, it usually means one of these is being offered as part of a package with the merchant account.

To summarise:

  • Perfect for retail stores
  • Easy to use and understood by consumers
  • Robust and secure
  • Accept the majority of debit and credit card
  • One of the most trusted options

Portable card machines

Portable Credit Card Machine Great for: Cafes, restaurants, bars
Ease-of-use: ★★★★★
Mobility: ★★★★
Security: ★★★★★
Durability: ★★★★★
Affordability: ★★★★
Customer trust: ★★★★★

Portable card machines are perfect for small businesses who need to take payment in different places within their premises, for example in a café or restaurant. They are similar to countertop terminals in terms of functionality and design.

But, of course, they are more flexible. Whereas a countertop machine will need to stay hooked up at the countertop, you can use a portable terminal anywhere within a defined area. This more efficient way of taking payments has been a dream come true for hospitality businesses.

Portable card machines link to your main terminal using either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. As you have no doubt seen yourself, you can complete the transaction (including adding any tips or vouchers) from a number of spots.

To summarise:

  • Perfect for hospitality (especially table service)
  • Easy to use in various parts of your business
  • Safe and durable
  • Accept most debit and credit cards
  • Available from various suppliers to match varied budgets

Mobile card machines

Mobile Credit Card Machine Great for: Event-based businesses
Ease-of-use: ★★★★★
Mobility: ★★★★★
Security: ★★★★★
Durability: ★★★★
Affordability: ★★★★
Customer trust: ★★★★

Mobile card machines are ideal for small businesses who need to be able to process customer card payments away from their physical premises, such as in event-based commerce.

It’s easy to confuse this type of card machine with portable devices. But there is a key difference. Portable devices work by connecting to your Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, whereas mobile card machines use GPS technology, so you can take them wherever you have signal.

Because they can be used remotely, mobile card machines are popular in a number of situations – from events and trade fairs to exhibitions and markets.

To summarise:

  • Perfect for mobile businesses and non-local sales
  • Safe and secure
  • Accept most major debit and credit cards
  • Available from a range of suppliers, with low-budget options

Virtual terminal card machines

Great for: Phone and online ordering
Ease-of-use: ★★★★★
Mobility: ★★★★★
Security: ★★★★★
Durability: ★★★★
Affordability: ★★★★
Customer trust: ★★★★

Finally, there are virtual terminal card machines. These are for when you need to take payments without a customer being present. They are also known as MOTO (Mail Order Telephone Order) transactions because they are mostly used for mail or phone orders.

Virtual terminals used to be popular in call centres, but more recently they are helping more and more small businesses in any industry take payments securely from customers located elsewhere.

Like all the card machine options, virtual terminals are available from a range of suppliers. Of course, their main advantage is the flexibility they offer. But remember, you may still need another form of card machine in order to accept payments in store.

To summarise:

  • Perfect for when customers are not present
  • Useful in a range of sectors
  • Safe, with various security options available
  • Accepts most major debit and credit cards
  • Requires no physical card reading equipment


What do I need to process card transactions?

Without a merchant account, you will be unable to process credit card transactions.

These accounts work by charging a small fee for each transaction they handle on your behalf.

Typically, the more transactions you complete, the lower the fees. This can, therefore, put smaller businesses at a disadvantage. But the advantages offered by new payment options generally outweigh this.

In the UK there are two key types of merchant account:

  1. Dedicated merchant accounts – This is set up specifically for your business, and you negotiate the rates
  2. Aggregated merchant accounts – Alternatively, this option acts as a ‘pool’ along with other businesses. It is simpler, but you won’t be able to negotiate fees so easily, or control the process for accessing your funds

What are the credit card machine fees for small businesses?

Many merchant accounts offer free credit card machines as part of a package for having an account with them. But you may choose to rent or buy this directly.

Any fees fall into these categories:

  • Merchant account service charges – The fee you pay per transaction, usually worked out as a percentage of the sale
  • Terminal hire – Some may be provided with the account free of charge, others may come with a rental fee
  • Authorisation fee – A set fee for each transaction
  • Minimum monthly service charge – The minimum amount you will be charged, regardless of whether you process enough transactions
  • Set up and exit fees – Different accounts will have different set up and exit arrangements

Of course, your fees will vary considerably depending on the payment method you opt for. Choosing to rent or lease rather than buy, for example, will affect your costs.

But to give you an idea of how the various options compare, here is a break-down of what you could be paying:

Terminal Fees
Countertop machine £15/month or £180/year
Portable machine £19/month or £228/year
Mobile machine £22/month or £264/year

Read next: How much will it cost to process card transactions?’

How much do credit card machines cost?

Credit card machine costs vary considerably. It all depends on the terminal or plan you choose, as well as the fees (mentioned above) that will come into play.

Here is an idea of the approximate credit card machine costs you could pay:

Terminal Cost
Basic chip & pin terminal £30 to £80
Mid-level chip & pin terminal £80 to £180
Advanced PDQ terminal £180 to £300

But remember these costs are only an outline. You will need to look around to find what works for you.

Should I be accepting contactless payments?

If many of your transactions are under the £30 limit, contactless payment options will definitely be worth considering. Today, two-thirds of manned terminals can now accept contactless payments, and that number is rising thanks to consumer demand.

Easy and flexible ways of paying have become something customers increasingly expect, and contactless devices will also speed up your ability to process sales.

Did you know?
Contactless payments grew by 321% in 2017

What issues do I need to consider?

Of course, your business needs are unique. So, to help you find the credit card machine provider that is best for you, here are the key questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I need a credit card machine? – Consider the pros and cons for your business, now and in the future. Card processing comes with fees but may save you time and money in the long run
  • How mobile are my sales? – Depending on how you will use the machine, you may prefer a countertop, portable, or mobile card payment device
  • How many devices do I need? – Remember to factor the device costs into your workings out
  • What types of card do you 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
  • Which merchant account is best, and what are their fees? – You will want to balance the merchant’s reputation with their fees
  • Is the credit card machine included with the merchant account? – Remember to check all additional costs before buying
  • Will I be accepting contactless payments? – For products of lower price points, this may be a great option

Which are the best card machines for startups?

Card machines for small business will often be an excellent choice for startups too.

Even if you are still finding your feet, it’s a good idea to be able to take payments as early as possible. All the options above will work well for startups. But here are some of the best value options for more budget-conscious businesses:

Service Type Features Cost Rating
iZettle debit card reader Mobile card machine Accepts debit card payments £35 ★★★★★
iZettle credit/debit card reader Mobile card machine Accepts payments from credit and debit cards £59 ★★★★★
Paypal chip and pin machine Mobile card machine Accepts card payments £35 ★★★★
Paypal contactless card machine Mobile card machine Accepts chip and pin and contactless card payments £35 ★★★★

What else do I need to know?

Startups will have many of the same considerations as small businesses when choosing the right card machine.

But these will be the key ones:

  • Cost – How much can your startup reasonably pay for your card machine?
  • Fees – Will you be paying fees on top of the initial cost?
  • Accessories – Will you need to add extra accessories to your order?
  • Contactless – Will chip and pin be enough, or will you require contactless
  • payments?

  • Software – Often, software comes with card machines: what kind will work best for you?

Break it down for me

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 to stop them from walking
  • Build your credibility – Card machines make you seem more professional, which is especially important if your small business is still fresh out the oven
  • Save on admin – Forget the bank runs and streamline your account management by linking your terminal to your computer
  • 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

Compare credit card machine for small business quotes

The information on this page should help you to understand what kind of value a small credit card machine for small business might offer. To find out more and to receive tailored information based on your exact requirements, simply complete the form at the top of this page.

Completing this form will help us to put you in touch with top UK credit card processing companies who can provide quotes based on your needs.

This quote comparison process is free, quick and easy, and it could save your small business both time and money. Find out today with Startups!

Compare Card Payment Quotes Today. Compare and save.

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