Want to jump straight to the answer? The best credit card reader for most people is Square Reader or Clover Go.
Credit card readers are handy for accepting in-store payments. The technology has improved tremendously over the years, slowly phasing out bulky credit card terminals and machines. In addition, today’s mobile card readers are portable, allowing you to accept payments at events, trade shows, or at a client’s work site.
With the growing demand for chip and contactless payments, a credit card reader is a must-have for most businesses. Read on to find out about the best credit card readers on the market and how to choose the best one for your business.
The Top 5 Best Credit Card Readers
- Square Reader for Contactless and Chip — Best for Most
- Clover Go — Most Reliable Mobile Credit Card Reader
- Helcim Card Reader — Best Card Reader for Volume-Based Discounts
- Toast Go 2 — Best Card Reader for Processing Table-Side Payments
- PayPal Zettle — Best Card Reader for PayPal Users
Below are our top picks for the best credit card readers on the market.
Square Reader For Contactless and Chip – Best for Most
- Instant setup
- Free magstripe reader included
- Transparent pricing
- Connect with a free online POS
The Square Reader makes accepting credit card payments more accessible than ever. The pocket-size reader quickly connects with your Android or iPhone, so you can take dip or tap card payments in no time. Plus, Square throws in a free swipe reader, so you can also accept payments the old-fashioned way.
Need a point-of-sale(POS) system as well? No problem. This reader connects to Stripe’s free online POS so you can manage online and in-store sales in one place. The POS also offers advanced features, such as sales reports, email and text, low-stock alerts, and inventory management.
You can technically accept credit card payments for free with Stripe. You only need a stripe account and can claim your free magstripe reader. Then, you’ll only need to worry about the transaction fees. However, you’ll be limited to swipe payments, with no option to accept chip cards or Apple pay.
That’s why we recommend the Square Reader for Contactless and Chip. You can set everything up in a few minutes with zero technical skills or experience. And you can accept multiple types of payments, including EMV chips, Google Pay, and Apple Pay.
The card reader costs $49, which is very affordable. The pricing is also straightforward. You’ll only need to pay a flat rate of 2.6% + 10 cents on every in-person transaction. Otherwise, there are no extra costs or hidden fees. Only keep in mind that Afterpay transactions cost 6% + 30 cents.
Clover Go – Best Reliable Mobile Credit Card Reader
- Reliable payment processing
- Pocket-sized card reader
- Competitive transaction fees
- Free mobile processing app
Clover Go is another terrific card reader for most businesses. It is an excellent choice if you’re mostly interested in reducing your per-transaction costs. The reader also accepts swipe, dip, or contactless payments, so you’ll never need a separate reader for magstripe transactions.
Clover Go also accepts Samsung Pay in addition to Apple Pay and Google Pay. Clover Go is similar to the Square Reader for Contactless and Chip. The portable devices are roughly the same size. Plus, you can connect Clover Go with Clover’s free online POS. You also get advanced POS capabilities like configuring tax rates, tips, and discounts.
However, Clover Go shines because of its reliability. Unlike Square, Clover provides its customers with a dedicated merchant account. You get a First Data merchant account that ensures payment stability throughout. As a result, there are fewer chances that your payments will be held for arbitrary reasons, which happens pretty often with third-party merchants.
The Clover Go card reader costs $49. The transaction costs vary but range between 2.29% + $0.15 cents and 2.60% +15 cents for in-person payments. The costs for online transactions vary between 3.10% + $0.15 and 3.40% + $0.15 depending on the transaction volumes.
Clover also charges a monthly fee to use its software, starting from $9.35 per month for Register Lite and $39.95 per month for the Register plan. Finally, Clover offers some of the best payment processing hardware when it’s time to scale your system.
Helcim Card Reader – Best Card Reader for Volume-Based Discounts
- Unbeatable volume-based discounts
- Free desktop stand included
- No monthly fees
- Dedicated merchant account
Keeping transaction costs low is even more important when dealing with high-volume sales. That’s where the Helcim card reader comes to the rescue. Helcim offers terrific volume-based discounts to help keep your costs at a minimum.
Granted, the initial cost is high compared to most card readers reviewed here. You’ll fork out $109 for the card reader. Plus, you’ll have to pay an extra $79 for the Bluetooth thermal receipt printer. Of course, this is optional but worth it if you’d like to print paper receipts on the go.
Still, the card reader comes with everything you need to process card payments, including tap & pay, chip, pin, and magstripe. In addition, the reader accepts debit card payments, including PIN debit and debit tap.
The card reader also easily connects to your preferred device. The supported devices include Android and iOS tablets, smartphones, PCs, and laptops. Plus, the intuitive Helcim app offers a complete POS experience. Here, you can track customers and transactions, save or send email receipts, and manage inventory from one convenient location.
The best part is there are no monthly fees. Unlike Clover, you don’t need a recurring subscription to enjoy Helcim software. You also don’t have to worry about deposit fees, setup fees, cancellation fees, user fees, PIC fees, or any extra fees. All this is free with Helcim.
Finally, the most attractive aspect of the Helcim card reader is the low transaction costs. For example, processing up to $25,000 worth of in-person transactions costs 0.30% + 8 cents. You’ll pay 0.50% + 25 cents for keyed and online transactions. The transaction costs go even lower as you process more payments.
Helcim may be expensive, but you’ll recoup the initial investment in the saved processing fees. Plus, you’re getting an unbeatable deal when you factor in what you save in no monthly fees or extra charges. These factors make Helcim the best choice if you process high-volume payments.
Toast Go 2 – Best Card Reader For Processing Table-Side Payments
- Durable restaurant-grade hardware
- Flexible payment options
- Accepts digital wallet payments
- Free setup and dedicated customer support
We’ve looked at some terrific card readers so far. However, restaurants have special needs, so you need equipment that can handle harsh restaurant environments. We’re talking about heat, spills, grease, and frequent use. Toast Go 2 is specially designed for restaurants and food service environments.
The hand-held card reader handles all your crucial credit card payments, including swipe, tap, and insert. You can also accept digital wallet payments such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay.
However, unlike most hand-held card readers, the Toast Go 2 comes with table-side features. For example, you can take orders directly from the card reader. Similarly, the reader also alerts servers when orders are ready.
Of course, you can also expect restaurant-grade hardware. For example, the card reader is spillproof, drop resilient, and dustproof and holds the charge for up to 24 hours. Toast also boasts a 3X faster processing speed than similar card readers.
Toast offers two pricing plans for this card reader. You can pay either $609 upfront or $69 per month. This option will decrease the processing fee to 2.49% + 15 cents per transaction. Alternatively, you can pay the higher processing fee of 2.99% + 15 cents per transaction. In this case, you won’t have to pay an upfront or monthly fee.
The card reader also comes with an indoor wireless access point, point-of-sale software, router, and free setup. The Toast Go 2 is especially ideal if you upgrade to other Toast hardware, including POS, kitchen display system, and self-ordering kiosk.
You can purchase the hardware individually while slowly upgrading your payment system. Alternatively, you can buy hardware bundles to save costs.
PayPal Zettle – Best Card Reader for PayPal Users
- Get paid directly to PayPal
- No monthly fees or contracts
- Quick and easy setup
- Portable card reader
Most card readers transfer funds to your bank account. But PayPal users can avoid the hustle and cost of moving money by receiving funds directly to PayPal. For example, the PayPal Zettle card reader deposits money directly to your PayPal account in as little as one business day.
Customers can tap, swipe, or insert credit and debit cards. For in-person sales, you can also accept peer-to-peer, PayPal checkout, and QR code payments.
The card reader is easy to set up, and you can start accepting payments in just a few minutes. You also get a free PayPal Zettle app on your Smartphone or tablet to manage payments and track sales.
The card reader is also PCI-compliant out of the box. PayPal Zettle doesn’t charge monthly fees or setup costs. You also won’t get locked into a monthly contract.
Finally, the card reader is very affordable. It costs only $29. However, you’ll have to pay $79 for each additional card reader. The transaction fees start at 2.29% plus 9 cents per transaction for in-person sales. Online or keyed-in transaction fees start at 3.49% plus 9 cents per transaction.
Overall, it’s a terrific card reader for business owners who get paid via PayPal.
How to Find The Best Credit Card Reader For You
Finding the right card reader for you shouldn’t be too difficult if you know how to compare your options. Here’s what you should be looking at when shopping for a credit card reader:
Ease of Setup
At the very least, your credit card reader should be easy to set up. Ideally, you should start accepting payments a few minutes after unboxing the reader. The card readers on our top list, except the Toast Go 2, are easy to set up.
For example, setting up the Square credit card reader is simple and doesn’t require technical knowledge or experience. You only need a compatible Android or iOS device such as a smartphone or tablet. You’ll also need to download the free Square app on your preferred device.
Next, turn on your device’s Bluetooth and open the Square app. Don’t forget to charge and turn on your card reader. Then, go to Settings > Hardware > Card Readers > Connect Reader from the Square app to connect the card reader. That’s it!
Most other card readers, including PayPal Zettle, work similarly. You can set everything up in just minutes and start processing payments. However, not all card readers are this easy to set up.
Famously, the Toast Go 2 is more difficult to set up. You’ll almost certainly need expert support. Fortunately, Toast offers free setup and technical support with your purchase. This doesn’t make Toast a bad card reader.
You only need to prepare for the setup process in advance. So ensure you check the reader’s online specifications and guides to ensure you’re well equipped to set it up.
Bank Deposit Funding Time
You’ll need to find out how long it takes for the credit card payments to hit your bank account. The funding time varies between credit card readers. However, some options, like Square reader, offer same-day transfers to your debit card, account, or routing number in some cases.
It’s worth noting that most card readers take up to two business days to transfer funds to your bank account. Furthermore, this timeframe may vary depending on your bank. So ensure you read the fine print before purchasing your credit card reader.
Costs and Service Fees
It’s good to price shop to find the best deal for your credit card reader. You’ll need to consider the hardware cost and subsequent service fees, including transaction fees and monthly subscriptions.
You can get an excellent mobile card reader for as little as $49. This is the typical price range, so compare additional charges. For example, PayPal Zettle and Clover Go both cost $49. Their transaction fees are also similar.
However, PayPal Zettle doesn’t charge for its software, monthly subscription, or contract. On the other hand, you’ll need to pay at least $9.35 per month to use the Clover Go software. Alternatively, you can spend more on your hardware with the promise of lower transaction fees.
For instance, the Helcim Card Reader costs $109 per month. It’s expensive compared to similar readers. However, with transaction costs starting from 0.30% + 8 cents, you’ll be able to recoup your investment in the long term.
Finally, check for setup costs and other additional fees. Most credit card readers don’t charge setup fees. Even Toast Go 2, which may require professional installation, doesn’t charge a setup fee. Still, it’s worth confirming that this is the case.
Cloud POS App
It’s no longer necessary to have POS hardware unless you want it. Cloud point-of-sale systems are standard with today’s credit card readers. You only need to connect your card reader to a mobile device such as iPhone or android smartphone. Then, you can use the device as a POS to manage payments.
The main thing to look for is compatibility. Ideally, you shouldn’t have to purchase a separate device to enjoy the POS feature. Most modern card readers support the main operating systems, including android and iOS.
Finally, check for POS features. This is the main difference between vendors. For example, PayPal Zettle is light on features compared to most credit card readers on our list. So it might not be the top choice if POS is essential to your business.
Finally, some of the crucial cloud POS features to look for include:
- Omnichannel reporting
- Offline mode
- Reporting and analytics
- Real-time records
- Payment processing
- PCI compliance
- Order tracking
- Inventory management
- Customer management
Ideally, you shouldn’t have to pay extra to enjoy all these features. The Helcim card reader is a great example. You can access all its advanced POS features without a monthly subscription or additional cost.
The Top 5 Credit Card Readers in Summary
Modern credit card readers accept various types of payments, including magstripe cards, EMV chips, and contactless and mobile payments. This way, you don’t need separate hardware to process different types of payments. And, with cloud point-of-sale (POS) apps, credit card readers are more accessible than ever.
The Square Credit Card Reader and Clover Go are the best options for most businesses. These readers offer transparent fees, come with a cloud POS, and are affordable and reliable.