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13 Best Credit Card Readers for Small Businesses

These are the top readers to fit your business needs and budget.
Last updated on January 5, 2022

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A credit card reader is essential to many small businesses, and choosing the right card reader can help your company operate more smoothly. The best choice depends on your budget, features needed and whether you're accepting payments at a counter or on the go.
Below is a list of the best credit card readers for small businesses and what they can do for your business.
Quick comparison: Take a quick side-by-side look at our top picks in this table.

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SquareStripe

Square Contactless and Chip reader

Best free option with basic functions

A man holds the contactless and chip reader by Square while running a credit card

Image courtesy of Square

Square’s contactless and chip card reader enables you to accept credit cards with chips and digital wallets, such as tap-and-pay credit cards and smartphone apps, including Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay. It uses Bluetooth technology instead of connecting directly to a device, which means you don’t have to keep your cell phone or tablet out with you all the time.
The reader must be charged, but the charging dock can double as a support for the reader for a counter or table. You can also charge it with a USB charger.
Square Contactless and Chip Reader
Deciding Factors
Style
Connects to a compatible phone or tablet via Bluetooth.
Price
$49 for reader and $29 for optional dock.
Fees
2.6% plus 10 cents for most in-person transactions; no monthly fees.
Pros
  • Has a compact design.
  • Reads chip cards, digital wallets and contactless cards.
Cons
  • Doesn't swipe credit cards.
  • Takes up to two hours to charge.

Square Reader for contactless and chip

Clover Go

Best for on-the-go payments for all card types

A white square Clover Go card reader

Courtesy of Clover

This credit card reader by Clover works with phones and tablets via Bluetooth. It also processes every type of credit card payment your customers could want: magstripe-only cards, chip cards and contactless payments. It costs $49 and requires users to purchase a monthly plan.
Features depend on the plan you choose. The Essentials Plan for $14.95 per month provides basic payment processing, inventory management, taxes, reporting and employee management with 24/7 support.
Clover Go
Deciding Factors
Style
Connects to compatible phone or tablet via Bluetooth.
Price
$49 for reader.
Fees
Varies from 2.3% plus 10 cents up to 3.5% plus 10 cents depending on method.
Pros
  • Includes interest-free installment plans.
  • Charges via standard USB charger.
  • Uses passcodes for employees.
Cons
  • Takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes to charge.
  • Requires a monthly fee for advanced POS features.

PayPal Zettle

Best for PayPal and Venmo payment options

The PayPal Zettle card reader sits on a coffee shop counter

Image courtesy of PayPal

PayPal’s Zettle accepts chip and contactless payments, but it doesn’t read magstripes. It does, however, let customers pay with QR codes on PayPal and Venmo platforms. Its POS software offers invoice creation, inventory management, tracking sales performance and more.
Transaction fees generally fall in line with competitors with lower rates available for transactions made by QR code. All funds go into your PayPal account rather than a bank account. You’ll need to request a transfer to move the funds to your business bank account before you can use them outside of PayPal.
PayPal Zettle
Deciding Factors
Style
Connects to compatible phone or tablet via Bluetooth.
Price
$79 for reader; new customers can get their first one for $29.
Fees
Varies by method, starting at 1.9% plus 10 cents for PayPal and Venmo QR code transactions over $10.
Pros
  • Has lower rates for PayPal and Venmo platforms.
  • Includes new customer discount for first reader purchase.
  • Has a screen to show transaction details.
Cons
  • Deposits funds into your PayPal account, not a bank account.

SumUp Plus

Best for a low-cost do-it-all reader

A customer holds a credit card up to the SumUp Plus reader

Image courtesy of SumUp

Powerful and compact, the SumUp Plus credit card reader works through Bluetooth with Apple and Android devices and promises more than 500 transactions on one charge. In addition to having a screen to show transaction details, the reader comes with a few helpful POS software features, like inventory management and permissions for employee access, as well as customizable invoicing. However, you might find that the overall POS is lacking when compared with the more robust options on the market.
SumUp charges only for transactions and doesn’t require a monthly fee. You can order the reader for $19 and start accepting card transactions in a matter of minutes once it’s connected to the SumUp app.
SumUp Plus
Deciding Factors
Style
Connects to compatible phone or tablet via Bluetooth.
Price
$19 for reader.
Fees
Varies from 2.75% and up depending on method.
Pros
  • Accepts swiped, inserted and contactless payments.
  • Has a screen that displays transaction details.
Cons
  • Has less robust POS software features.

Clover Flex

Best for an all-in-one handheld system

A hand holds a white Clover Flex credit card reader

Image courtesy of Clover

The Clover Flex is a small but powerful handheld credit card reader. It can process all three credit card payment types, scan bar codes and even print receipts. It's one of the few options in this category that has its own screen, removing your personal device from the equation and allowing customers a bit more of a professional experience when checking out on the spot.
Depending on your monthly plan, the Clover Flex can help you manage inventory, view sales data and set up individual logins for employees. It costs $499, but the company offers payment plans to break up the cost. Payment processing rates depend on your pricing plan.
Clover Flex
Deciding Factors
Style
Standalone handheld reader.
Price
$499 for reader; monthly contract required.
Fees
Varies from 2.3% plus 10 cents up to 3.5% plus 10 cents depending on monthly plan.
Pros
  • Works without connecting to a personal device.
  • Has payment plans available.
  • Has a free monthly plan for basic features.
Cons
  • Requires an initial investment.
  • Requires monthly plan for advanced features.

Helcim Card Reader

Best for low-cost transaction fees with volume-based discounts

Image courtesy of Helcim

Helcim’s card reader processes all three types of payments and connects via Bluetooth, meaning it needs to be charged. It also provides POS software with well-developed features, including customer management and inventory tracking that notifies you when your supply gets low. A standout feature is its self-service portal, which allows customers to log in to see their payment information and purchase history.
Helcim’s processing fees can be difficult to calculate because it bases its fees on the type of card and interchange fees, which are set by card networks. It also offers volume-based discounts based on transaction tiers. The more you average in transactions per month, the higher your discount. The processor doesn’t require you to sign a contract, choose a monthly fee or pay to cancel your service.
Helcim Card Reader
Deciding Factors
Style
Connects via Bluetooth.
Price
$109 for the reader.
Fees
Varies by card type and monthly average transaction total.
Pros
  • Has volume discounts available.
  • Has robust POS software features.
Cons
  • Might change processing rate if monthly transaction average drops.
  • Might be difficult to calculate monthly cost in advance.

Helcim

Helcim
NerdWallet rating 

Toast Go 2

Best for tableside payments at restaurants

The handheld Toast Go 2 swiping a credit card.

Image courtesy of Toast

The Toast Go 2 allows you to submit orders at tables and accept all three styles of payment. It's also spill proof, will hold a charge for 24 hours and has a 6.4-inch touchscreen for quick checkout. The free version of Toast’s POS software comes with basic features, including point-of-sale and payment processing, but advanced features are available with paid plans.
The free pay-as-you-go monthly plan with basic features has a processing rate of 2.99% plus 15 cents for every in-person transaction. That rate drops to 2.49% plus 15 cents if you pay for your hardware upfront. Other plans come with quote-based pricing. One downside: The company requires contracts with a standard term of two years.
Toast Go 2
Deciding Factors
Style
Standalone handheld reader.
Price
$389 plus $50 per month.
Fees
Typically quote-based; lowest listed price is 2.49% plus 15 cents per in-person transaction in Standard Starter plan.
Pros
  • Is designed specifically for restaurants.
  • Offers 24/7 customer support.
  • Is versatile and durable.
Cons
  • Requires quotes for advanced monthly plans.
  • Requires a contract.

Square Terminal

Best compact countertop reader

A woman inserts a credit card into the Square terminal

Image courtesy of Square

Square Terminal allows you to accept all three methods of credit card payments: chip, contactless and magstripe. And priced at $299, it comes in on the lower end of the all-inclusive card readers.
The company's standard flat-rate processing fees apply and depend on whether you run the card in person or enter it manually. There's no monthly contract.
Square Terminal
Deciding Factors
Style
Standalone countertop reader.
Price
$299 for the reader.
Fees
Varies from 2.6% plus 10 cents up to 3.5% plus 15 cents depending on method; no monthly fees.
Pros
  • Doesn't require a separate device.
  • Shows transaction details.
  • Is compact and easy to use.
Cons
  • Can take over four hours to charge.

Square Terminal

Square Stand

Best iPad-compatible register

A customer signs on a Square Stand card reader in a bike shop

Image courtesy of Square

The Square Stand is designed specifically for a single smart device: the iPad. Snap an iPad into the Square Stand, and use it as a desktop point-of-sale. The configuration allows you to provide a larger screen for transaction details, and the swivel feature allows customers to sign on the iPad without having to pass the device around. It can process magstripe, chip and contactless payments and connect with a receipt printer. However, it works only with certain iPad models.
The company's standard fees of 2.6% plus 10 cents apply for credit cards and can raise up to 3.5% plus 15 cents for methods outside a swipe, chip or contactless payment.
Square Stand
Deciding Factors
Style
Register that connects to compatible iPad.
Price
$169 for the reader.
Fees
Varies from 2.6% plus 10 cents up to 3.5% plus 15 cents depending on method; no monthly fees.
Pros
  • Swivels for customers to use.
  • Can be mounted to a countertop.
Cons
  • Only works with certain iPad models.

Square Stand

Clover Mini

Best all-in-one register

A Clover Mini card reader

Image courtesy of Clover

The Clover Mini is a countertop setup that doesn't require a tablet. It allows your business to accept all types of payments, print receipts and scan barcodes. You also get some nifty POS features, including inventory, customer and employee management functions with paid monthly plans.
This product is $749. Payment processing rates depend on your Clover pricing plan.
Clover Mini
Deciding Factors
Style
Standalone countertop register.
Price
$749.
Fees
Varies from 2.3% plus 10 cents up to 3.5% plus 10 cents, depending on monthly plan.
Pros
  • Can be mounted to a countertop.
  • Works without an iPad.
  • Has free monthly plan available.
  • Has payment plans available.
Cons
  • Requires paid monthly plan for advanced features.

Clover Station Solo

Best full register with a single screen

A Clover Station with a screen faces the reader with a chip reader beside it

Image courtesy of Clover

The Clover Station Solo is a register-style system that offers merchants a 14-inch high-definition screen and a receipt printer for the full checkout experience. The system works with Clover’s POS for retail, offering payment processing, inventory and staff management, reporting and more. For restaurants, the Station Solo fits nicely with customizing and tracking orders, managing table mapping and much more for streamlined service.
Clover Station Solo
Deciding Factors
Style
Standalone countertop register.
Price
$1,349.
Fees
Varies from 2.3% plus 10 cents up to 3.5% plus 10 cents, depending on monthly plan.
Pros
  • Has fingerprint login.
  • Uses fast processing speeds.
  • Has robust POS software options.
Cons
  • Requires one of the larger upfront investments.
  • Doesn't have a free monthly plan option.

Square Register

Best full register setup with a customer-facing screen

A customer pays with their cell phone on the Square Register in a bakery

Image courtesy of Square

The Square Register is the first fully integrated credit card scanner system from Square and is a complete countertop POS system that can accept magstripe, chip card and contactless forms of payment. It boasts two screens — one for the employee and one for the customer to show transaction details — for a seamless experience. It also offers an extra-long cable that allows businesses to separate the Register and customer's screen to encourage social distancing. Its software provides merchants inventory, employee and customer relationship management functions, plus a reporting suite where you can view sales data.
This small-business credit card reader option will cost your business $799, but there are payment plan options available. It processes transactions at the standard Square rates.
Square Register
Deciding Factors
Style
Standalone countertop register.
Price
$799 for reader.
Fees
Varies from 2.6% plus 10 cents up to 3.5% plus 15 cents depending on method; no monthly fees.
Pros
  • Has two screens.
  • Can be mounted to a countertop.
  • Has advanced apps and software options.
Cons
  • Must be plugged in at all times.

Square Register

Clover Station Duo

Best system for full checkout experience

Clover's Station Duo with a screen on top of a cash drawer, a receipt printer beside it and a customer screen facing the reader.

Image courtesy of Clover

The Clover Station Duo ups the game with a combination of a 14-inch screen for you and a 7-inch screen for your customers. This makes it easier for customers to confirm orders and pay however they want — credit card, debit card, and contactless payment methods. Designed for retail and restaurant environments, the Station Duo offers the same features of the Station Solo with more power.
While this option tops the list for the most expensive system, the Station Duo is currently sold with a cash drawer and a receipt printer, giving you the gamut of checkout features.
Clover Station Duo
Deciding Factors
Style
Standalone countertop register with dual screens.
Price
$1,649.
Fees
Varies from 2.3% plus 10 cents up to 3.5% plus 10 cents, depending on monthly plan.
Pros
  • Has fingerprint login.
  • Uses fast processing speeds.
  • Has robust POS software options.
  • Has two screens.
Cons
  • Requires one of the larger upfront investments.
  • Doesn't have a free monthly plan option.

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Credit card readers comparison table

Reader
Style
Cost
Payments accepted
Fees
Additional device required
Square Contactless & Chip Reader
Bluetooth.
$49 (reader); $29 (dock).
Chip and contactless.
2.6% plus 10 cents and up.
Compatible smartphone or tablet.
Clover Go
Bluetooth.
$99.
Chip, contactless and magstripe.
2.3% plus 10 cents and up.
Compatible smartphone or tablet.
PayPal Zettle
Bluetooth.
$79.
Chip and contactless.
1.9% plus 10 cents and up.
Compatible smartphone or tablet.
SumUp Plus
Bluetooth.
$19.
Chip, contactless and magstripe.
2.75% and up.
Compatible smartphone or tablet.
Clover Flex
Handheld.
$499.
Chip, contactless and magstripe.
2.3% plus 10 cents and up.
None.
Helcim Card Reader
Bluetooth.
$109.
Chip, contactless and magstripe.
Varies by card type and monthly transaction average.
Compatible smartphone or tablet.
Toast Go 2
Handheld.
$169.
Chip, contactless and magstripe.
2.49% plus 15 cents and up.
None.
Square Terminal
Register.
$299.
Chip, contactless and magstripe.
2.6% plus 10 cents and up.
None.
Square Stand
Register.
$169.
Chip, contactless and magstripe.
2.6% plus 10 cents and up.
Compatible iPad.
Clover Mini
Register.
$749.
Chip, contactless and magstripe.
2.3% plus 10 cents and up.
None.
Clover Station Solo
Register.
$1,349.
Chip, contactless and magstripe.
2.3% plus 10 cents and up.
None.
Square Register
Register.
$799.
Chip, contactless and magstripe.
2.6% plus 10 cents and up.
None.
Clover Station Duo
Register.
$1,649.
Chip, contactless and mapstripe.
2.3% plus 10 cents and up.
None.

What is a card reader?

A card reader is a device merchants use to detect and transmit information on credit cards, debit cards or other payment cards, such as account number, authorization code or account name.

How to choose a card reader

The best card reader for you will depend on a number of factors. Answering these questions can help you make the right choice:
  • How much do you want to spend? A card reader without a screen is the cheapest option, and sometimes free. But depending on brand, type and features you want, you could pay more than $1,000. Remember to keep processing costs in mind: If a free reader charges more per transaction, you may not actually save money.
  • How will you accept payments? Some card readers — such as those that work with iPhones — are portable and can turn a mobile device into a card reader, if you want to accept payments on-to-go. Other options are fixed attachments to a register, making them a better fit for counter-based businesses.
  • What features do you need? If you want to simply accept magstripe, chip and contactless payments, a basic card reader can likely do the job. But if you're looking for more sophisticated features, like inventory management or advanced sales analytics, consider a comprehensive POS system instead.
A version of this article was first published on Fundera, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.