Our best card payment machines for small businesses

Find a card payment machine for your businesses

Find a card payment solution that will let your customers pay the way they want to without costing you a packet.

Our best card payment machines

See costs and fees from our top card payment machines at a glance
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Fact checker
Last updated
October 16th, 2023

What is a card payment machine?

If you run a business, you’ll want to be able to take payments by debit or credit card. Consumers are carrying cash less and less and some businesses now don’t even accept cash.

Put simply, a card payment machine is a device that allows you to take card payments but the traditional terminals you see in larger shops require a physical connection to allow them to connect to a phone line or the internet and are expensive to set up and use. 

Portable card readers have revolutionised payments for small businesses, as they can now buy a device cheaply that can connect to their mobile phone. As well as being affordable, they’re easy for businesses to use whether they have a fixed premises or work in different locations.

For example, you might be a mobile hairdresser or a masseur who visits people in their homes, or you might run a market stall, pop-up shop or food truck. 

There are also card machines that are designed for permanent locations or that integrate with a computerised till.

Whatever your business, you can get an affordable card machine to take payments that can be set up quickly and easily and takes contactless as well as chip and PIN payments.

Portable card readers have revolutionised payments for small businesses.”

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Choosing the best card payment machine for you

Times have changed, and the way people pay for things have changed with them.

The most recent figures show 59% of payments are now made by card, with more than a third of all card payments made in the UK now contactless.

But while this means having a card machine is increasingly essential, there are plenty of options you can choose from.

Your options now range all the way from small card readers that just connect to an app on your phone all the way to a full till service.

To make sure you pick up the right payment machine for you, you need to think about what options you need, then compare fees and charges to make sure you aren't paying more for it than you need to.

Percentage of payments made in cash in 2022[1]
14%

Our best card machine for occasional use

Our editors have picked out our top card machine with no monthly fee, ideal for occasional or infrequent use.

Editor’s pick

No monthly fee and a low cost to buy, this card machine works well for people only using it occasionally or from a temporary stand or stall.

Author image
Senior Editor, Personal Finance
Card
SumUp Air Card Reader
Card Machine Cost
£29.99
Monthly Fee
No monthly fee
Transaction Fee
1.69%
Editor’s pick
Card
SumUp Air Card Reader
Card Machine Cost
£29.99
Monthly Fee
No monthly fee
Transaction Fee
1.69%

No monthly fee and a low cost to buy, this card machine works well for people only using it occasionally or from a temporary stand or stall.

Author image
Senior Editor, Personal Finance

Our best card machine for a permanent location

Our editors have picked out our top card machine for people with a permanent shop, cafe, bar or similar.

Our best integrated card machine set up

Our editors have picked out our best integrated set up - including everything from a till, to a product library as well as card payment solution.

Editor’s pick

Not the cheapest, but if you're looking for a full set up out of the box this has more or less everything you need at point of sale - from a simple interface to the ability to integrate loyalty points and work across multiple stores.

Author image
Senior Editor, Personal Finance
Card
Square Register
Card Machine Cost
£599 + VAT
Monthly Fee
£50 + VAT/mo for 12 months
Transaction Fee
1.75%
Editor’s pick
Card
Square Register
Card Machine Cost
£599 + VAT
Monthly Fee
£50 + VAT/mo for 12 months
Transaction Fee
1.75%

Not the cheapest, but if you're looking for a full set up out of the box this has more or less everything you need at point of sale - from a simple interface to the ability to integrate loyalty points and work across multiple stores.

Author image
Senior Editor, Personal Finance

How to get a card payment machine for your business

Card terminals are linked to a bank account - that's something that's pretty non-negotiable. This can either be your existing one, or a dedicated merchant account you control and administer.

Some business accounts even come with a free payment terminal included - although this is generally only useful for smaller businesses, as it tends to be the most basic option.

For pay-as-you-go machines things are pretty simple – send them the money and a delivery address then wait for it to arrive, although you'll probably need to sign up to an app too.

Contract card payment terminals need a little more.

You need to set up an account to get one - which can mean they need more information up front.

Some typical requirements to sign up for a monthly terminal include:

  • Your business address and VAT number (if applicable).

  • Personal details, such as three years' address history for business partners, shareholders and business owners.

  • Bank sort code, account number and name on account.

cardFinder-credit-card

Compare card payment machines

Check out our best card payment machines at a glance
1
Compare fees
2
Compare unit costs
3
See payment times

Card machine fees explained

Card payment machines charge you in three basic ways - finding the cheapest payment solution for you means you need to balance them.

Card machine cost

This is how much you pay upfront for the machine itself. This can be anywhere from £0 to hundreds of pounds depending on the kit and the ongoing charge.

Transaction charges

This is how much of each sale you give up - expressed as a percentage. So a 1.75% fee means you lose £1.75 for each £100 of sales. Transaction fees can also be dependent on how much money you put through the machine each year.

Monthly fee

As well as transaction fees, you can sign up to a monthly contract. Pay-as-you-go options are available too, but generally come with higher transaction charges.

Which sort of card machine is best for you

Pop ups, stalls and stands

Pop ups, stalls and stands

If you have an occasional pop-up or stall, or only take card payments intermittently, it makes no sense to pay for a monthly contract.

Additionally, you'll want a card payment machine that works over a mobile network - either by connection to your phone or directly.

In this case a pay-as-you go machine - for example the Barclaycard Smartpay Anywhere, Square Reader or SumUp Air - makes sense.

Regular stalls, stands, pitches and more

Regular stalls, stands, pitches and more

If you've got a fixed pitch, plot or more - but lack a dedicated till - extra features can come in handy.

The right card machine can offer a full point-of-sale service you can fit in your hand - including a product library, receipt printing and more.

Barclaycard's Smartpay Touch and the Square Terminal are good options here.

Fixed shops, bars, cafes and restaurants

Fixed shops, bars, cafes and restaurants

If your business operates from a fixed location, having a freestanding card machine at the point of sale - or that you can take to a customer's table - works well.

The Barclaycard Flex Mobile Card Reader and SumUp Solo are both good options here.

If you're regularly taking payments while out and about

If you're regularly taking payments while out and about

If your business means travelling to clients – taking payments on the go or similar - you'll want a machine that either connects to your mobile or directly to a network.

A simple machine like the SumUp Air or Square Reader - which work through a connection to your phone - can let you take payments when out and about, while the CardAlpha ePOS gives a more integrated solution, lower transaction costs, and doesn't charge any monthly fees.

Which sort of card machine is best for you

Pop ups, stalls and stands

Pop ups, stalls and stands

If you have an occasional pop-up or stall, or only take card payments intermittently, it makes no sense to pay for a monthly contract.

Additionally, you'll want a card payment machine that works over a mobile network - either by connection to your phone or directly.

In this case a pay-as-you go machine - for example the Barclaycard Smartpay Anywhere, Square Reader or SumUp Air - makes sense.

Regular stalls, stands, pitches and more

Regular stalls, stands, pitches and more

If you've got a fixed pitch, plot or more - but lack a dedicated till - extra features can come in handy.

The right card machine can offer a full point-of-sale service you can fit in your hand - including a product library, receipt printing and more.

Barclaycard's Smartpay Touch and the Square Terminal are good options here.

Fixed shops, bars, cafes and restaurants

Fixed shops, bars, cafes and restaurants

If your business operates from a fixed location, having a freestanding card machine at the point of sale - or that you can take to a customer's table - works well.

The Barclaycard Flex Mobile Card Reader and SumUp Solo are both good options here.

If you're regularly taking payments while out and about

If you're regularly taking payments while out and about

If your business means travelling to clients – taking payments on the go or similar - you'll want a machine that either connects to your mobile or directly to a network.

A simple machine like the SumUp Air or Square Reader - which work through a connection to your phone - can let you take payments when out and about, while the CardAlpha ePOS gives a more integrated solution, lower transaction costs, and doesn't charge any monthly fees.

Card payment machine features compared
Card machineChip and PINContactlessWi-FiBluetoothMobileReceipt printing
Barclaycard Flex Mobile Card ReaderYesYesYesYesGPRSYes
Barclaycard Smartpay TouchYesYesYesundefined4GYes
Square ReaderYesYesYesYesNoNo
Barclaycard Smartpay AnywhereYesYesNoYesNoNo
SumUp Air Card ReaderYesYesNoYesNoNo
Date Updated 18 May 2023

How card payment machines work

Customer presents their card

When a customer presents their card, its chip sends the transaction details to your merchant bank account. This sits aside from your business bank account and holds funds while the payment process trundles on.

Payment request is sent

The merchant bank sends the payment request via broadband or a phone line to the customer’s card provider – usually Visa, Mastercard or American Express.

Customer's account is contacted

The card provider transmits a request for payment authorisation to the customer’s bank or credit card provider.

Payment is made, or declined

The transaction goes through if the card details are all correct and if there’s enough money in the account. The payment gets declined if the card details aren’t correct or the customer doesn’t have enough money to cover the transaction.

How people pay for goods
Percentage of consumer transactions by payment method.

FAQs

How long will it take for the payment to register in your account?

Depending on the time of the day, and whether it occurred at a weekend or on a bank holiday, it can take up to three days for the payment to appear on your account.  

Do I need a new account?

No, but you might find it's cheaper to use one. That's because when someone buys something with a credit or debit card, the payment service - Mastercard, Visa or American Express in most cases - sends the cash to a merchant account. This can be yours, or one run by the card payment machine that later transfers the cash to you. The first one might take longer to set up and cost a fee, but should work out cheaper if you're making a lot of sales. The second can be set up in a few minutes, but often comes with higher transaction costs.

What card issuers are covered?

Nearly all card payment machines accept payment by Visa and Mastercard, although some will exclude American Express. Apple Pay, Google Pay and more are also common - check the details on the machine you choose to see the full list.

How fast can you get one delivered?

For a pay-as-you-go machine, you can apply online and have it arrive within a few days - or even pay more for same day delivery in some cases - with most taking no more than a few minutes to set up once they arrive. If you're applying for a pay monthly service things might take a little longer as checks are made and accounts set up by the provider.

Can UK card payment machines accept foreign cards?

As long as the payment provider is accepted - for example if it's a Visa or Mastercard - they should work. But processing transactions can take longer.

Can you have multiple card payment terminals?

This depends on the card payment machine you choose. Pay monthly machines can frequently have multiple handsets attached to the same account - even across different business locations - but some pay-as-you-go machines will need a specific account set up independently for each terminal.

How secure are card payment machines from fraud?

Your card terminal is securely linked to a bank account - meaning the process of taking money from the customer and depositing it in the bank account is remarkably safe. Security on credit and debit cards mean for face-to-face payments by contactless or chip and PIN, as long as the payment goes through, the seller is not liable if the card is being used fraudulently. However, if you use the magnetic stripe, key in the long number manually or use a signature as confirmation, you might be liable for a claim if it turns out the card is being used fraudulently.

In depth guides

Find out more about how card machines and business bank accounts work
A customer paying with their phone in a shop
How payment terminals work - and how to get one
People sitting round a table at a work meeting
How business current accounts work
An online seller looking at a product
What insurance do I need for my business?

About the author

James Andrews
James has spent the past 15 years writing and editing personal finance news, specialising in consumer rights, pensions, insurance, property and investments

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References

1. UK Finance: Payment Markets Report 2023