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Updated Feb 14, 2024

How to Get the Best Credit Card Machine for Your Business

Several factors are involved in getting credit card processing hardware that best suits your business.

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Jennifer Dublino, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
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If you do business with customers face-to-face and want to accept credit cards, you need a credit card machine. A credit card machine reads the information from the customer’s credit or debit card, encrypts it, and sends it and the purchase amount to your credit card processor. The credit card processor sends the information to the cardholder’s issuing bank, where the transaction is either approved or declined. If declined, this information will be relayed back to your credit card machine, prompting you to ask the customer for another form of payment. If the next payment attempt is approved, the process of transferring the money from the customer’s account to your account is initiated.

Because credit card machines (also called credit card readers) are so integral to the payment process, getting the right one is crucial. Here’s what businesses need to know about this essential payment processing hardware.

How to get a credit card machine 

There are three options to get a credit card machine, depending on your situation: 

1. Buy a credit card machine from your payment processing company.

Your credit card machine must be compatible with your credit card processor. For this reason, most businesses buy their credit card machines directly from their processor. The best credit card processors offer various hardware options at different price points or can help you obtain compatible third-party machines. In fact, you may select one processor over another because you prefer its credit card machine offerings. 

A payment processing company may give you free or discounted credit card machines when you sign up for its services – another plus of going this route.

Did You Know?Did you know
Credit card imprinters are another type of credit card machine. However, these manual tools have largely been replaced by digital credit card terminals that accept swipe cards, EMV chip cards and NFC tap cards.

2. Buy a credit card machine directly from the manufacturer or distributor.

Some third-party companies sell credit card processing equipment. These offerings are typically compatible with multiple payment processors. 

For example, Clover sells POS systems and other payment processing equipment that businesses can use with Clover’s payment processing service or other processors like Stax. You can also buy credit card readers directly from online resources like Card Machine Outlet and Amazon or your local Staples store.

However, when buying equipment directly from a third-party source, you must ensure you understand and like the credit card hardware’s features and that your equipment is compatible with a suitable payment processor. 

2. Use existing credit card readers.

You may decide to switch to a new credit card processor and use your existing card readers and other equipment – like your POS system, receipt printers and barcode scanners – as long as it’s compatible with the new processor. For example, Verifone, PAX and Clover card readers can often be used with various processors. 

However, this option isn’t always possible. Some processing equipment is proprietary and won’t work with other payment processing companies. If you switch to a processor that doesn’t work with your existing card readers, you’re out of luck – you’ll need to purchase compatible hardware. 

TipBottom line
Read our Square review to learn about a company with robust yet proprietary hardware you wouldn't be able to use with another processor.

Types of credit card machines

Your business’s type and needs will dictate the best credit card machine for you. Here’s an overview of the various types of credit card processing machines, their functionality and what kinds of businesses they’re best suited for. 

Wired credit card terminals

Wired credit card terminals are connected to the internet via Ethernet or phone line or to an internet-enabled POS system via a wire. They may or may not have a numeric pad that allows customers to enter their debit card’s personal identification number (PIN). These devices are usually four to six inches long and four inches wide. Some can print receipts, while others connect to a stand-alone receipt printer.

A credit card terminal with a PIN pad can be a plus for your business. Some processors charge lower transaction rates for debit card transactions with a PIN than credit card or debit card transactions without a PIN.

Best for:

  • Brick-and-mortar sales at a fixed location and one or more cashier stations

Wireless and mobile credit card readers

Two types of wireless credit card machines exist: 

  • Wi-Fi credit card readers: Wi-Fi readers connect to the internet through the business’s wireless router or gateway. Some have a wire to plug into an electrical outlet, while others have a rechargeable battery.
  • Bluetooth card readers: Bluetooth credit card readers use Bluetooth technology to connect to an internet-connected mobile phone or tablet. Few of these devices can conduct offline transactions if the internet signal is too weak or unavailable. In this case, payments are processed later, after an internet connection is reestablished. 

Best for: 

  • Mobile businesses like food trucks
  • Businesses that offer delivery
  • In-home services 
  • Brick-and-mortar businesses with long checkout lines (cashiers can bring the mobile readers to customers in line to speed checkout)
FYIDid you know
Bluetooth mobile card readers can be used anywhere, enabling merchants to accept credit card payments on a mobile phone or tablet at events, pop-up shops and customers' locations.

POS systems and smart terminals

POS systems and smart terminals have the most functionality. They use specialized POS software that can display products and services and their prices for cashiers to select. You can typically add services like warranties or shipping, capture the customer’s name and other information, and input promo codes or other promotions and discounts. 

The best POS systems include additional functionality, like inventory management, employee scheduling, customer profile management and detailed POS reports. Additionally, the best POS systems for restaurants let servers send orders directly to the kitchen and can track ingredients to ensure optimal ordering. 

POS systems and smart terminals are slightly different. POS systems are fixed devices that remain at the cashier station. In contrast, a smart terminal has POS software loaded on a wirelessly connected (Wi-Fi or cellular) tablet that employees can take to different locations. 

Some POS systems have integrated credit card readers, while others connect to an external reader. Smart terminals require an external reader, which is usually connected via Bluetooth.

Best for: 

  • Brick-and-mortar businesses with various product and service choices
  • Businesses looking for a comprehensive business management and payment software solution

Self-service kiosks

Self-service kiosks eliminate the need for a human cashier at each payment location. They are freestanding devices with an integrated POS system and credit card reader; customers can also scan product barcodes with an integrated or handheld scanner. 

Self-service kiosks are growing in popularity, helping retailers optimize space and shorten checkout lines. 

Best for: 

  • Brick-and-mortar retailers with long lines, such as big-box stores (Home Depot, Walmart) and grocery stores
  • Fast food restaurants (without the scanning capability) to process payments and preorders for food
  • Vending-type machines for small, higher-value products like postage stamps

How credit card machines and payment types work together

Before deciding on a specific credit card machine, you must know the payment types you want to accept. Your goal is to generate sales and make it highly convenient for customers to pay you. Multiple payment options increase customer satisfaction and improve the customer experience. 

While most credit card machines can handle traditional card payments, not all can support various other payment options. Merchants should understand any potential reader’s full capabilities to ensure they meet their customers’ needs. Consider which of the following payment types you want to accept, and ensure your card reader can accommodate them.

Swipe, insert and tap card payments

Many credit card readers can accommodate swipe, insert and tap card payments.

  • Swipe: Traditional credit cards use a magnetic stripe on the back of the card that is swiped through the credit card reader. 
  • Insert: To improve security, many newer cards, called EMV cards, also contain a chip. EMV cards must be inserted into a particular slot in the credit card reader. 
  • Tap: The newest security technology for credit cards is near-field communication (NFC). This is a contactless wireless technology where the customer holds the card very close to a designated area on the credit card reader.

Digital wallet payments 

Digital wallets, also called mobile wallets, facilitate contactless digital payments using NFC mobile payment technology and the customer’s smartphone. The customer opens a payment app and holds their phone over the tap area on the credit card reader to complete payment. The app sources payment from a credit or debit card the customer added to the app. All payment information is encrypted for every transaction, making these payments highly secure. 

Accepting digital wallets can help accommodate younger consumers. 

Did You Know?Did you know
Popular digital wallets include Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay, which are widely accepted by e-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores.

P2P payments

“P2P” stands for “peer-to-peer.” P2P payments are usually thought of as people sending money digitally to family and friends via apps like Venmo. However, P2P providers have branched out into merchant services, allowing businesses to accept payments for goods and services via P2P apps. 

PayPal and Venmo are popular merchant-enabled P2P payment services. Like digital wallets, businesses may want to consider accepting these payment forms to accommodate younger and more tech-savvy customers. 

Best credit card machines

Consider the following excellent credit card hardware options as you work with potential credit card processors:

Best wired credit card terminal: Dejavoo Z8 Tri Comm 

The Dejavoo Z8 Tri Comm terminal can connect via Ethernet or Wi-Fi. It has a color LCD screen and a privacy-screened PIN pad for debit transactions. It accepts swiped, tapped and inserted cards, and supports Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Pay, Visa payWave and Mastercard PayPass NFC payments. It also has a built-in receipt printer in a compact device. 

This card reader is compatible with multiple credit card processors, including Stax, and costs $49 to $230. Stax charges a monthly fee instead of a transaction rate; small business plans start at $99 per month for up to $500,000 in annual processing. Learn more in our detailed review of Stax.

Best wireless mobile reader: PayPal Zettle

The PayPal Zettle mobile reader is compact and attractive. It comes in black or white and includes a PIN pad. It takes chip, magnetic stripe and NFC cards, as well as Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, PayPal and Google Pay. It also comes with Zettle’s POS software for free.

The battery lasts eight hours, or about 100 transactions, between charges. The first Zettle mobile card reader purchased through PayPal Zettle is $29 when you sign up for Zettle payment processing; additional units are $79 each. You can use this reader only with PayPal Zettle, which has a competitive transaction rate of 1.75%. Learn more in our comprehensive review of PayPal.

Best POS system with integrated payments: Square Register

Square Register is an integrated POS system with two digital screens: a product selection screen facing the cashier and a payment screen facing the customer. It is sleek and attractive and takes credit and debit cards by swiping, dipping and tapping. It also supports NFC payments via Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay. The customer-facing screen provides a digital PIN pad. 

Compatible accessories, such as a cash drawer, receipt printer and handheld scanner, are sold separately. The Square Register costs $799, including the POS software, which is the most comprehensive retail and restaurant industry-specific POS system on the market. 

The Square Register is compatible only with Square payment processing, which costs 2.6% + $0.10 per transaction. The basic plan does not have a monthly fee. Learn more in our complete review of Square.

Best self-service kiosk: Ingenico Self/2000

The Ingenico Self/2000 payment terminal integrates with a self-service kiosk or vending machine and can be used inside or outside. It accepts NFC and chip cards, Apple Pay and Google Pay. The device has an LCD color touchscreen and a camera for scanning QR codes. It can integrate with an external speaker for sound alerts and voice prompts and has Bluetooth and 4G connectivity. Contact the manufacturer for custom pricing.

author image
Jennifer Dublino, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
Jennifer Dublino is an experienced entrepreneur and astute marketing strategist. With over three decades of industry experience, she has been a guiding force for many businesses, offering invaluable expertise in market research, strategic planning, budget allocation, lead generation and beyond. Earlier in her career, Dublino established, nurtured and successfully sold her own marketing firm. Dublino, who has a bachelor's degree in business administration and an MBA in marketing and finance, also served as the chief operating officer of the Scent Marketing Institute, showcasing her ability to navigate diverse sectors within the marketing landscape. Over the years, Dublino has amassed a comprehensive understanding of business operations across a wide array of areas, ranging from credit card processing to compensation management. Her insights and expertise have earned her recognition, with her contributions quoted in reputable publications such as Reuters, Adweek, AdAge and others.
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