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The Best Mobile Credit Card Processing Solutions of 2020

By
Lori Fairbanks
,
business.com writer
|
Oct 08, 2019
Home
> Finance
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If you don't yet accept credit card payments from your customers, mobile credit card processing is a good place to get started. The signup process is quick, there are no long-term commitments, equipment costs are minimal, and, in most cases, you only pay for the processing you use, as there are no monthly or annual fees. Often, you can apply for an account in just a few minutes, and then all you'll need to begin accepting credit cards is a mobile card reader and a mobile credit card processing app on your iPhone, iPad or Android device.

Mobile processing is ideal for new and very small businesses, seasonal businesses, freelancers, and sole proprietors. It's also a sound option for businesses that have small sales tickets and those that process a low volume of credit card transactions each month.

If you process more than $3,000 per month or need your own merchant account, check out our reviews of full-service credit card processors. If you need a comprehensive point-of-sale system, see our POS system reviews

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Mobile Credit Card Processing Rates

Most mobile credit card processing companies have flat-rate pricing. Typically, you pay a percentage of each sale, and the swipe rate is the same no matter what type of cards your customers use. Rates are higher for transactions you manually key in or accept online, but again, you pay the same rate, whether the card is debit or credit, regular or rewards, consumer or corporate.

Flat-rate pricing initially looks more expensive than other pricing models because the rates are higher than the starter rates that many processors advertise. However, one of the hallmarks of flat-rate pricing is that you pay fewer fees than you would with a full-service payment processor; in fact, the best mobile credit card processors don't charge any at all. This makes these mobile processors very attractive options, especially if you process a low volume of credit card transactions, such as if you're a new business or most of your receivables are cash or check.

Flat rates can be one of two models:

  • Percentage of sale only (usually 2.25% to 3.5%).
  • Percentage of sale plus a per-transaction fee (usually 10 to 30 cents). With this type of plan, the percentage is usually lower than those that only charge a percentage rate.

If you sell large-ticket items, pricing with a lower percentage rate will probably be more cost-effective, even with the addition of the per-transaction fee. If you sell small-ticket items, you'll want to choose a payment processor that doesn't charge a per-transaction rate, since this can quickly eat into your profits. For example, although a per-transaction fee of 25 cents is a nominal amount, if your average transaction is only $5, you're paying 5% of your transaction on top of whatever percentage rate you pay.

These are some possible variations in flat-rate pricing:

  • Some processors charge a slightly higher rate for American Express and international cards.
  • Some processors charge the same rate regardless of how the transaction is processed, which may be a good model to look for if you also accept payments over the phone or online.
  • Some processors charge different rates for debit and credit cards, which may save you money if your customers prefer to make debit card payments.

If you plan to use a full-service payment processor, mobile rates are usually the same as retail (in-person) rates and use the same interchange-plus or tiered pricing model. See our credit card processing review for an explanation of these pricing models.

Mobile Credit Card Processing Fees

Mobile credit card processors typically charge fewer fees than full-service ones, and the best don't charge any regular fees. That means no monthly fee, monthly minimum, monthly payment gateway fee, or PCI compliance or noncompliance fees. There are no setup fees, payment gateway setup fees or early termination fees either.

In most cases, the only additional cost you'll see is a chargeback fee if a customer disputes a charge. These tend to be more common with online sales than in-person sales, though they may occur if your customer is dissatisfied with a purchase or doesn't recognize your business name on their credit card statement.

If, however, you arrange your mobile credit card processing service through a full-service payment processor, you can expect to pay all the same fees you would for retail processing. If you process a high volume of sales each month, you may save more money working with a full-service processor because rates are lower. Conversely, if you process a low volume of sales each month, it's more cost-effective to choose a merchant aggregator that only charges processing costs, with no account-based fees.

Mobile Credit Card Processing Contracts

Most mobile credit card processors have online applications, and their user agreements, or terms of service, are shorter and more straightforward than standard payment processing contracts. It's important that you take the time to read them thoroughly, along with any linked documents, before you fill out the application. If you can't find the user agreement on the application or the company's website, you should contact the company and ask for a link so you can review it before signing up.

These are some of the things you want to look for in the user agreement:

  • Fee schedule. Many mobile payment facilitators include a list of rates and fees in the user agreement, or link to a page that explains pricing in greater detail.
  • Term length and cancellation policy. Although mobile credit card processors usually have generous pay-as-you-go or month-to-month service terms, a few have standard processing contracts with three-year terms that automatically renew for one or two more years. If the processor you want to work with has such a contract, make sure to call your rep and see if they can give you a waiver for month-to-month service with no early termination fees or liquidated damages.
  • Identity verification and underwriting. Mobile processors often need minimal documentation to set up your account, such as your phone number, driver's license, Social Security number and a credit card. Some also request a business license, tax ID number or your employer identification number (EIN). A few may require you to submit to a credit check.
  • Compliance with the PCI Data Security Standard and card network rules. All merchants that accept credit card payments are subject to card network rules and PCI standards.
  • Permitted use. Some mobile payment processing services can only be used by businesses. Others allow individual use.
  • Prohibited businesses and goods. Make sure your business type and the goods or services you sell are allowed. If they're not, the company will freeze your funds and close your account.
  • Chargeback fee and procedure. If a customer disputes a charge, most processors charge you a fee, usually $15 to $25, and you're liable for the amount of the transaction if the dispute is settled in the customer's favor. The processor may request documentation related to the transaction, hold your funds, or create a reserve account to cover future chargebacks and fees. If you have too many chargebacks, the processor may close your account.
  • Reserve account. Most processors have the right to create a reserve account to cover possible chargebacks. If you have chargebacks or transactions that the processor considers suspicious, it may create a reserve account and hold your funds.

If you're working with a full-service processor that offers mobile payment processing, your rep may send you just the application or merchant agreement. This isn't the complete contract, but if you fill it out and sign it, you're agreeing to it. For this reason, it's important to ask for the terms and conditions (or terms of service) and the program guide.

You want to read through all three of these documents before signing anything. If you don't, you may find yourself locked into a lengthy, automatically renewing contract with steep cancellation fees. You specifically want to look for information on processing rates, fees and cancellation terms – including the procedure you'll need to follow to exit your contract. Also look out for clauses that automatically enroll you in additional services.

What Features Do You Need?

Whether you choose to work with a payment facilitator, an ISO/MSP or a direct processor for your mobile processing, you should expect the service to include basic features that allow you to accept payments. It should do the following:

  • Let you accept all major credit cards, including Discover and American Express
  • Provide a free credit card payment app
  • Sell mobile EMV card readers at a reasonable cost
  • Provide customer support by email or phone

Credit Card Payment Apps

Before selecting a mobile payment facilitator, make sure its free app is compatible with your smartphone or tablet. Although the best payment facilitators have apps for both iOS and Android devices, some only support one platform. Most processors have lists of compatible devices on their websites, or they can email their lists to you upon request.

Even when an app is available for both platforms, the features may differ, and one version may have more functions than the other. Likewise, some iPad and tablet apps have more features than phone apps.

Every mobile credit card payment app includes register or basic POS software that you can use to ring up sales. You should be able to do the following with it:

  • Manage a product catalog so you can easily find and add items to a ticket
  • Prompt customers for tips
  • Accept customer signatures on the phone or tablet screen
  • Email, text or print receipts
  • Generate sales reports
  • Connect to a cash drawer, barcode scanner and printer

Mobile Credit Card Readers

One of the chief appeals of mobile credit card processing is that it requires very little equipment, keeping your upfront costs low. All you really need is a phone or tablet with cellular or internet service, a credit card payment app, and a mobile card reader.

Many processors offer to give you a free card reader, but these are typically not EMV compliant and only read the magnetic stripe on credit and debit cards. You should plan on upgrading to a reader that accepts EMV chip cards so you won't be held liable if you unwittingly accept a payment with a counterfeit card.

The best mobile EMV card readers have NFC capabilities as well, allowing you to accept every payment type, so your customers can swipe their magstripe cards, dip their EMV chip cards, and tap their contactless cards (or their phones if they prefer to use a mobile wallet like Apple Pay or Google Pay). Such mobile card readers are very affordable, nearly always costing under $100. SumUp's contactless reader costs just $19, which is the lowest price we've seen.

Some mobile payment facilitators sell card readers at chain stores, so you can replace them easily, which is reassuring if you're worried about downtime due to equipment failure. For example, you can buy Square credit card readers at the Apple Store, Best Buy, Staples and Target. You may also be able to find PayPal credit card readers at your local stores.

In addition to mobile card readers, many payment facilitators offer accessories such as receipt printers, cash drawers and barcode scanners so you can set up a full checkout station. These accessories can speed up the checkout process, make it easier to accept both cash and credit card payments, and provide printed receipts to customers who prefer them to email or text receipts. The accessories mobile processors offer tend to be less expensive than similar products used with standard retail processing solutions.

If you wish to accept credit cards using only your phone, some mobile processors use newer technologies that eliminate the need for a card reader. Apps such as Flint and QuickBooks GoPayment capture your customer's credit card information using your phone's camera. Since the card isn't swiped, it's treated as an e-commerce transaction, so the rate is higher than what you'd pay if you accept payments using a mobile credit card reader.

Our Methodology

Our search for the best mobile credit card processors began by asking small business owners which companies they use and what they like about them. We then searched industry, business and review websites for additional options. We compiled this information into a list of more than 100 companies, adding mobile processors that contacted us requesting to be reviewed as well as those we were already familiar with.

We then researched each company's website, studying support resources such as knowledgebases, how-to guides, articles and blogs, and video tutorials when available.

Eventually, we narrowed our list down to 12 finalists. To determine our best picks, we looked for companies that charge minimal fees and offer competitive pricing, because we realize that affordability is a top priority when you're looking for a mobile payment processor. We wanted to find companies that provide month-to-month or pay-as-you-go service and don't charge early termination fees, because you should be able to switch processors without incurring penalties if you find better pricing or service elsewhere.

We also considered how quickly and simply companies set up accounts, their application requirements, and startup costs, including equipment. Although most standard credit card processors offer mobile processing as a stand-alone service, for this review we focused on payment facilitators and companies that offer transparent, flat-rate pricing and minimal fees.

Mobile Credit Card Processing FAQs

Q: Does my small business need to accept credit cards? Can't I just accept cash only?

A: Some businesses only accept cash payments, but before you decide on this business model, consider how your customers prefer to pay. If your customers don't carry cash or they prefer to pay by credit or debit card, you may lose sales if you only accept cash. According to the 2018 TSYS U.S. Consumer Payment Study, only 14% of consumers prefer to pay by cash, while 26% prefer credit cards and 54% favor debit cards.

Q: Can individuals accept credit cards?

A: Although all full-service payment processing companies and many mobile credit card processors require their customers to be actual businesses, a few mobile processors – like Square and PayPal – also work with individuals and allow them to use their services for things like garage sales and fundraisers. Another provider, SumUp, works with sole proprietors – even if their businesses are very small, such as crafters who sell at local events a few times a year.

Q: Is mobile credit card processing safe?

A: Data security is a top concern for the payment industry, and mobile processors proactively comply with the Payment Card Industry's Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), which has proven effective in discouraging hackers. According to one study, 96% of merchants that experienced data breaches in 2011 weren't PCI compliant.

Mobile card readers use tokenization and point-to-point encryption to securely capture and transmit payment data, and many are now EMV compliant. EMV adoption has been a significant force in the war against fraud; Visa recently announced that EMV-compliant merchants have seen counterfeit fraud losses drop by 87%.

Q: What is the best iPhone credit card reader?

A: The best credit card readers for Apple phones and tablets have both EMV and NFC technology so you can accept chip cards and contactless payments – including both contactless cards and mobile payments like Apple Pay and Google Pay. Usually, these credit card readers attach to your iPhone or iPad via Bluetooth. Most of the time you'll need to purchase one, as the free swipe reader that the mobile credit card processors give you only read the magnetic stripe on cards – not the EMV chip – which leaves you open to liability if you inadvertently accept a counterfeit credit card. Swipers also lack NFC capabilities, which may frustrate your customers who prefer to use Apple Pay.

The swipers usually have a headphone jack that plugs into your device, so if you have an iPhone 7 or newer, you'll need a Lightning adapter in order to use it. Square offers a newer credit card swiper for iPhone that has a Lightning port, but it can still only be used to swipe a card with a magnetic stripe, so you'll want to plan on upgrading to an EMV/NFC card reader.

Q: How can I save money on mobile processing?

A: Mobile credit card processing companies that post their rates and fees online usually don't negotiate their rates and fees unless you process a high enough volume of transactions each month to qualify for volume discounts or custom pricing.

However, there are things you can do to lower your mobile credit card processing costs or ensure that you're getting the best possible rate. Flat rates make it easy to calculate exactly what you'll pay for your processing, so if you know your average sales ticket size, you can do the math to figure out which mobile processor will save you money. Generally, the following guidelines apply:

  • If you have large sales tickets, look for a mobile credit card processing company that has lower percentage rates, even if that means you pay a per-transaction fee.
  • If you have small sales tickets, look for a mobile credit card processor that doesn't charge per-transaction fees. The percentage rate will be higher, but it will still be less expensive.

If your business is seasonal, a processing company that has pay-as-you-go or month-to-month terms with no monthly minimum can save you money, since you won't be paying fees for a service you aren't using during the offseason.

Also consider the cost of value-added features in your calculations. For example, some payment facilitators provide you with free POS software as long as you use their processing services. If it meets your needs, calculate whether it would be cheaper than subscribing or purchasing POS software elsewhere.

Q: What is the difference between a mobile credit card processor and a full-service processor?

A: As a small business owner, you may wonder what the difference is between a mobile credit card processor and a full-service one, and which one is the better fit for your business. Both types of processors can set you up to accept payments using a mobile device, but there are some key differences that can affect your costs, commitment length and overall satisfaction with your account.

The biggest difference between the two is that a full-service processor sets you up with your own merchant account, while a mobile processor sets you up as a submerchant under its master merchant account.  

A submerchant account is faster to set up and has minimal application requirements. There's usually not a contract, many don't charge any monthly or annual fees, and the processor takes care of PCI compliance – which are all good things. The downside is that mobile processors have less risk tolerance . If there's something abnormal about your account, such as a sudden spike in your monthly processing volume, or a transaction that's much larger than average or otherwise looks suspicious, the processor may freeze your funds or suspend your account. There are also some industries that mobile processors consider high-risk and don't work with, so you'll want to read the user agreement before signing up to make sure your business type is supported.  

Another difference is that some mobile credit card processors, such as PayPal and Square, allow individuals to sign up for accounts, which may be useful for solopreneurs, freelancers, and very new businesses that are still getting set up and may not yet qualify for an account with a full-service processor.  

Generally, mobile processing is the most cost-effective payment processing solution for businesses that process less than $3,000 per month because, in most cases, you pay as you go for the processing services you use and there are no monthly or annual fees. It's also a good solution for businesses that don't yet know what their monthly processing volume will be. The trade-off is that you pay higher transaction rates than you'd pay a merchant services provider. If the processor only charges a percentage for each transaction and doesn't tack on a flat per-transaction fee, it's also an affordable option for businesses with low-dollar sales tickets – even those processing well over $3,000 per month. 

Mobile credit card processing has minimal hardware requirements, so you can start accepting credit cards with very little upfront cost. If you already have a phone, the only processing equipment you need to buy is a mobile credit card reader. These cost under $100 (and often $50 or less) for a model that can accept chip and contactless cards as well as mobile wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay. With just your phone, the free mobile processing app, and the card reader, you can ring up sales and accept card payments wherever you do business, whether you're at a job site, a trade or truck show, or even your brick-and-mortar location. As your business grows, you can purchase peripherals like a receipt printer, cash drawer, barcode scanner and tablet stand. 

Established business owners have the option of working with a full-service processor and adding mobile credit card processing to their account or working with a mobile processor. Their employees can then use mobile card readers with tablets or phones as line busters to speed up the checkout process or, for restaurants, to accept tableside payments.

If you decide that a mobile processor is the best fit for your business, our reviews can help you identify the companies you want to learn more about, but you'll still want to contact the companies directly to verify that you have the pricing and terms that apply to your specific business. This call will also allow you to feel out the quality of a company's customer service. Finally, before signing up for an account, you should read the user agreement or contract to make sure that the processor works with your business type and the items or services you sell aren't prohibited.  

If you prefer to work with a full-service processor, see our credit card processing review for our recommendations. Our point-of-sale systems review is another helpful resource to check out if you plan to add this technology to your business.

Common Mobile Credit Card Processing Questions & Answers

Have a mobile credit card processing question of your own?
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What's the best online credit card processing with SSL?

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We use Stripe and it's been super easy for us and you don't pay any fees unless you process transactions. It really depends on the volume though. I think the Stripe transaction fees are slightly higher, but again, you don't have any ongoing maintenance and other fees. If you are processing a large volume of transactions, setting up a merchant account and processing through a traditional bank might make more economic sense. You just have to walk through the fees and run an analysis.

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Mobile Payments: What every small and mid-sized business should know

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In this report, we will examine all facets of mobile payment processing, beginning with a very brief history of mobile payments and forecasts for the future. We will then explore the benefits of mobility for small and mid-sized businesses, the ease of processing mobile payments, the equipment required and the issues small and mid-sized businesses should take into consideration when taking your business mobile.

More Customers? Increased Revenue?
More Customers?  Increased Revenue?

Yes, Please!

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It’s become fact that businesses see increased traffic and revenue when they accept credit cards as a form of online or in-store payment.  Furthermore, new technologies are making it easier and more affordable to include credit card payments.  Don’t miss out on the chance to increase your bottom line – find out who you’re losing and how you can gain from adding credit cards to your payment mix.

Our Benefits to Credit Card Processing infographic is completely free. Simply register your email to download it now.

Credit Card Processing Fees
Credit Card Processing Fees

The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Your Fees (and How to Find the Best Rates)

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When you accept credit cards, you lose part of every sale to the credit card processing company’s fees. Do you know what elements make up those fees or how the banks decide how much to charge you? In this whitepaper, you’ll learn what types of charges make up your credit card processing fees and what you can do to make sure your business is paying the lowest possible rate.

Overview of Credit Card Processing
Overview of Credit Card Processing

Consumers expect to be able to pay for anything with plastic. Our guide to credit card processing makes it easy for you to make this happen.

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There’s a television commercial for a major credit card
company that shows people zipping through a checkout
line to make purchases. Then along comes some guy
trying to pay with cash, and everything slows down,
causing the cashier considerable angst’not to mention
the customers at the back of the line.

These days, almost everybody uses plastic to pay for
even the smallest items. There was a time when you
couldn’t use a credit card to buy anything under $10.
Now, you can buy a pack of gum and put it on your
card. Consumers are so used to the convenience of
credit and debit cards that it’s no longer an option for a
merchant to take plastic-it’s a necessity.

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List of the The Best Mobile Credit Card Processing Solutions of 2020