Credit card readers come in all different shapes and sizes. If you’re just starting your search for a small-business credit card reader, you’re likely becoming aware of that fact. To get you started, here's a list of all the very best credit card readers — from the most basic, affordable readers to the most powerful readers.
These small-business credit card readers are low-cost because they require additional technology in order to work, such as a phone, tablet or iPad. Additionally, both require a free card reader app in order to be able to fully process credit card payments for your business.
Magstripe reader from Square
The magstripe reader from Square is the cheapest credit card reader on this best-of list. And that’s because it’s completely free. This free card reader comes with your Square account, plus it will come free as a backup to any additional Square credit card reader hardware you decide to buy.
The free Square small-business card reader will only be able to read card magstripe cards and must be plugged into a phone, tablet or iPad in order to work. The device you are using the card reader with must also be running the Square app in order for the card reader to fully function. All of this makes it one of the less-powerful credit card reader options on the list.
Furthermore, your business will still have to pay Square’s payment processing fees for all the transactions it runs through this free Square card reader. Currently, the rate is 2.60% plus 10 cents. Most all credit card readers come with these payment processing fees on top of the cost of the actual credit card reader, and Square’s rate is actually quite reasonable.
Chip reader from Square
Beyond its basic magstripe reader for phones, tablets and iPads, Square offers many more credit card reader options. The next step up from the free Square card reader is its credit card chip reader. This option is also a credit card reader for phones, tablets and iPads and requires the same credit card reader app as the free Square card reader.
However, this credit card scanner option is able to process card payments through EMV — or chip — technology, which allows for a safer and quicker transaction. This credit card reader costs $35 before the transaction-based payment processing fees from Square kick in. Again, those are 2.6% plus 10 cents per transaction.
A step above your most basic, cheapest small-business credit card reader options will be these mid-level credit card readers.
While most of these options still fall under the category of credit card reader for phones, tablets and iPads, they’re able to accept additional forms of payment, albeit while still needing a mobile application to work.
Square contactless and chip
First up in the best medium cost-range small-business credit card reader options is the Square contactless and chip reader.
Similar to the previous two Square credit card readers, this small-business card reader can work in conjunction with a phone, tablet or iPad running the Square app. However, instead of being plugged into your mobile device, you can simply pair this small-business credit card reader via Bluetooth — making it even more mobile. In addition, if you use a countertop POS system with a Square Stand, the Square contactless and chip card reader can plug directly into it.
Most importantly, it can process all three of the most popular payment methods — magstripe, chip cards and contactless forms payment (via an NFC reader).
Because of these additional perks, this option costs more than the cheapest small-business credit card reader options from Square. The Square contactless and chip credit card reader will cost your business $49, before taking into account Square’s payment processing fees for any transactions you run through it.
The next mid-range credit card reader option is the Clover Go, from Clover. This credit card reader for phones, tablets and iPads is able to connect to your device via Bluetooth. It will also be able to process every type of credit card payment your customers could want: magstripe-only cards, chip cards and contactless payments.
The Clover Go costs $59. Payment processing fees with Clover vary depending on which pricing plan you choose. Register Lite plan subscribers ($14 per month) will be able to process in-person payments at a rate of 2.7% plus 10 cents. Register subscribers ($29/month) can process in-person payments at a reduced rate of 2.3% plus 10 cents.
The final mid-cost small-business credit card reader option is the Square Stand. Unlike many other top credit card readers, this option is designed specifically for a single smart device — the iPad. Users attach their iPad to the Square Stand, and use it as a desktop point of sale. Note that although the Square Stand isn’t a credit card reader for phones, it still relies on additional technology and a credit card reader app.
The Square Stand comes with a built-in magstripe reader. In order to accept chip card and contactless forms of payment, you must also plug in a Square contactless and chip card reader. All in all, the Square Stand will cost your business $199 before transaction-based payment processing fees kick in. It’s a good option for brick-and-mortar merchants looking to provide a more traditional checkout experience.
These are the top-tier, most powerful card readers. Though they might not be portable like a credit card reader for iPhone or iPad, these top-tier card readers don’t rely on additional technology or card reader apps. Plus, they’re much more capable than any credit card reader for iPhone you’ll be able to get your hands on.
At first glance, the Clover Flex looks like an oversized smartphone or a tiny tablet. Upon closer look, you’ll realize that, despite its small stature, it’s a fully functioning credit card reader with every feature you or your customers could ever need. This credit card scanner can process all three credit card payment types, scan barcodes and even print receipts, all within the palm of your hand. Using the Clover Flex you can also manage inventory, view sales data and keep track of your customers’ purchase history. The Clover Flex costs $449. Payment processing rates depend on your pricing plan (Register Lite or Register).
If you’re looking for a countertop checkout experience for your small business — but you don’t want to invest in an iPad like the Square Stand requires — the Clover Mini might be the perfect credit card reader for you. This credit card scanner system will allow your business to accept all types of credit card payments, print receipts and scan barcodes — all in one system. You also get some nifty POS features, including inventory, customer and employee management functions.
Plus, despite being — well — mini, the Clover Mini has a big display that will allow the checkout process to run even more smoothly than it would with smaller credit card readers. The Clover Mini will set you back $599, so be sure you’re ready to invest in order to access the Mini’s perks. Again, payment processing rates depend on your Clover pricing plan.
The most powerful of Clover’s credit card reader options is the Clover Station. This credit card reader allows your business to have it all — quick, secure credit card transactions of all kinds, printed receipts, scannable barcodes and even a cash register. But to say Clover Station was just a credit card reader would be reductive. What you’re really getting is a full-fledged countertop POS system, replete with everything from a reporting suite and marketing tools to operations management tools and enhanced security features.
If you want a full-blown countertop point of sale experience for your small business, the Clover Station is a great choice. That is, as long as you’re willing to invest — this POS system starts at $1,349.
The Square Register is the first fully integrated credit card scanner system from Square. Like the Clover Station, it is a complete countertop POS system that can accept magstripe, chip card and contactless forms of payment. Its software also provides merchants inventory, employee and customer relationship management functions, plus a reporting suite where you can view sales data. The Square Register even comes with additional POS hardware, including a customer-facing display. This small-business credit card reader option will cost your business $799.
Toast POS Great for restaurants that need specific features and 24/7 customer support.
Clover POS Great for small-business owners looking for reasonable prices and versatile hardware options.
Merchant account providers
PaymentCloud Great for businesses in high-risk industries.
Payment Depot Great for cost-effective credit card processing for midsize businesses.
A version of this article was first published on Fundera, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.