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Small Business Credit Card Readers: The Best Options

Maddie Shepherd

Contributing Writer at Fundera
Maddie Shepherd is a former Fundera senior staff writer and current freelance writer. Maddie has an extensive knowledge of business credit cards, accounting tools, and merchant services, but specializes in small business financing advice. Maddie has a bachelor's degree in Spanish and Latin American cultures from Barnard College.
Editorial Note: Fundera exists to help you make better business decisions. That’s why we make sure our editorial integrity isn’t influenced by our own business. The opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations in this article are those of our editorial team alone.

Credit card readers come in all different shapes and sizes. If you’re just starting your search for a small business credit card reader, you’re likely just becoming aware of that fact. Whether you’re searching for a way to accept credit card payments on your phone, or something more sophisticated, there are no shortage of options on the market. In short, you’re going to have to do a considerable amount of digging in order to find the product that makes the most sense for your business. 

Or, you can allow us to do the digging for you. In this article, we’re going to streamline your search for the best small business credit card reader. We’ve compiled a list of all the very best credit card readers—from the most basic, affordable readers to the most powerful readers. 

Because the credit card reader market is so saturated with options, we’re going to break down our recommendations into three tiers: Low-cost, medium-cost, and high-cost options. Within each of our three tiers of small business credit card readers will be many different types of credit card readers. Generally speaking, credit card readers for phones and tablets that require an additional credit card reader app tend to be low-cost options. More sophisticated credit card readers that won’t rely on additional technology are higher cost options.

Let’s get to our breakdown.

Small Business Credit Card Readers: Low-Cost Options

Credit Card Reader Brand What It Reads What It Costs
Magstripe reader
Square
Card magstripes
Completely free reader, plus payment processing costs
Chip card reader
Square
Chip card technology
$35 for the reader, plus payment processing costs

Our low-cost tier comprises the two most basic, affordable credit card readers.

These small business credit card readers are low-cost because they require additional technology in order to work, such as a phone, tablet, or iPad. Additionally, both require a free card reader app in order to be able to fully process credit card payments for your business.

Are these credit card readers worth the extra technology and effort they require? Let’s take a look:

Magstripe Reader From Square

The magstripe reader from Square is the cheapest credit card reader on this best-of list. And that’s because it’s completely free. This free card reader comes with your Square account, plus it will come free as a backup to any additional Square credit card reader hardware you decide to buy.

The free Square small business card reader will only be able to read card magstripe cards and must be plugged into a phone, tablet, or iPad in order to work. The device you are using the card reader with must also be running the Square app in order for the card reader to fully function. All of this makes it one of the less-powerful credit card reader options on the list.

Furthermore, your business will still have to pay Square’s payment processing fees for all the transactions it runs through this free Square card reader. Currently, the rate is 2.60% + $0.10. That said, most all credit card readers come with these payment processing fees on top of the cost of the actual credit card reader, and Square’s rate is actually quite reasonable. 

Chip Reader From Square

Beyond their basic magstripe reader for phones, tablets, and iPads, Square offers many more credit card reader options (several of which we’ll talk about later). The next step up from the free Square card reader is their credit card chip reader. This option is also a credit card reader for phones, tablets, and iPads and requires the same credit card reader app as the free Square card reader.

However, this credit card scanner option is able to process card payments through EMV—or chip—technology, which allows for a safer and quicker transaction. This credit card reader costs $35 before the transaction-based payment processing fees from Square kick in. Again, those are 2.60% + $0.10 per transaction. 

Small Business Credit Card Readers: Medium-Cost Options

Credit Card Reader Brand What It Reads What It Costs
Go
Clover
Magstripes, chips, and contactless payments
Varies, but typically around $59, plus payment processing fees
Contactless and Chip Reader
Square
Magstripes, chips, and contactless payments
$49 for the reader, plus payment processing fees
Stand
Square
Magstripes, chips, and contactless payments
$169 for the reader, plus payment processing fees

A step above your most basic, cheapest small business credit card reader options will be these mid-level credit card readers.

While most of these options still fall under the category of credit card reader for phones, tablets, and iPads, they’re able to accept additional forms of payment, albeit while still needing a mobile application to work. These credit card reader options can provide a middle ground between versatility and modest pricing, so let’s take a look at what they bring to the table.

small business credit card reader

Square Contactless and Chip

First up in the best medium cost-range small business credit card reader options is the Square contactless and chip reader.

Similar to the previous two Square credit card readers, this small business card reader can work in conjunction with a phone, tablet, or iPad running the Square app. However, instead of being plugged into your mobile device, you can simply pair this small business credit card reader via bluetooth—making it all the more mobile. In addition, if you use a countertop POS system with a Square Stand, the Square contactless and chip card reader can plug directly into it (more on the Square Stand later).

Most importantly, it can process all three of the most popular payment methods—magstripe, chip cards, and contactless forms payment (via an NFC reader).

Because of these additional perks, this option costs more than the cheapest small business credit card reader options from Square. The Square contactless and chip credit card reader will cost your business $49, before taking into account Square’s payment processing fees for any transactions you run through it.  

Clover Go

The next mid-range credit card reader option is the Clover Go. This credit card reader for phones, tablets, and iPads is able to connect to your device via bluetooth. It will also be able to process every type of credit card payment your customers could want: The Clover Go credit card reader can read magstripe-only cards, chip cards, and contactless payments—all in one.

The Clover Go costs $59. Payment processing fees with Clover vary depending on which pricing plan you choose. Register Lite plan subscribers ($14/month) will be able to process in-person payments at a rate of 2.7% + $0.10. Register subscribers ($29/month) can process in-person payments at a reduced rate of 2.3% + $0.10.

Square Stand

The final mid-cost small business credit card reader option is the Square Stand. Unlike many other top credit card readers, this option is designed specifically for a single smart device—the iPad. Users attach their iPad to the Square Stand, and use it like a desktop point of saleNote that although the Square Stand isn’t a credit card reader for phones, it still relies on additional technology and a credit card reader app.

The Square Stand comes with a built-in magstripe reader. In order to accept chip card and contactless forms of payment, you must also plug in a Square contactless and chip card reader. All in all, the Square Stand will cost your business $199 before transaction-based payment processing fees kick in. It’s a good option for brick-and-mortar merchants looking to provide a more traditional checkout experience. 

Small Business Credit Card Readers: High-Cost Options

Credit Card Reader Brand What It Reads What It Costs
Flex
Clover
Magstripe, chip, and contactless payments
$449, plus payment processing fees
Mini
Clover
Magstripe, chip, and contactless payments
$599, plus payment processing fees
Station
Clover
Magstripe, chip, and contactless payments
$1,349, plus payment processing fees
Register
Square
Magstripe, chip, and contactless payments
$799, plus payment processing fees

Our final grouping of small business credit card reader options are the high-cost products. These are the top-tier, most powerful card readers. In other words, each of these small business credit card readers is fully equipped and self-sufficient.

Though they might not be portable like a credit card reader for iPhone or iPad, these top-tier card readers don’t rely on additional technology or card reader apps. Plus, they’re much more capable than any credit card reader for iPhone you’ll be able to get your hands on.

Let’s see if these credit card readers are worth the considerable investment they require.

Clover Flex

At first glance, the Clover Flex looks like an oversized smartphone or a tiny tablet. Upon closer look, you’ll realize that, despite its small stature, it’s a fully functioning credit card reader with every feature you or your customers could ever need. This credit card scanner can process all three credit card payment types, scan barcodes, and even print receipts, all within the palm of your hand. Using the Clover Flex you can also manage inventory, view sales data, and keep track of your customers’ purchase history. The Clover Flex costs $449. Payment processing rates depend on your pricing plan (Register Lite or Register)

Clover Mini

If you’re looking for a countertop checkout experience for your small business—but you don’t want to invest in an iPad like the Square Stand requires—the Clover Mini might be the perfect credit card reader for you. This credit card scanner system will allow your business to accept all types of credit card payments, print receipts, and scan barcodes—all in one system. You also get some nifty POS features, including inventory, customer, and employee management functions. 

Plus, despite being—well—mini, the Clover Mini has a big display that will allow the checkout process to run even more smoothly than it would with smaller credit card readers. The Clover Mini will set you back $599, so be sure you’re ready to invest in order to access the Mini’s perks. Again, payment processing rates depend on your Clover pricing plan. 

small business credit card reader

Clover Station

The most powerful of Clover’s credit card reader options is the Clover Station. This credit card reader allows your business to have it all—quick, secure credit card transactions of all kinds, printed receipts, scannable barcodes, and even a cash register. But to say Clover Station was just a credit card reader would be reductive. What you’re really getting is a full-fledged countertop POS system, replete with everything from a reporting suite and marketing tools to operations management tools and enhanced security features. 

If you want a full-blown countertop point of sale experience fir your small business, the Clover Station is a great choice. That is, as long as you’re willing to invest—this point of sale system starts at $1,349.

Square Register

The Square Register is the first fully integrated credit card scanner system from Square. Like the Clover Station, it is a complete countertop POS system that can accept magstripe, chip card, and contactless forms of payment. Its software also provides merchants inventory, employee, and customer relationship management functions, plus a reporting suite where you can view sales data. The Square Register even comes with additional POS hardware, including a customer-facing display. This small business credit card reader option will cost your business $799. 

Finding the Best Small Business Credit Card Reader

Now that you’ve made it through this ultimate list of the very best small business credit card readers, it’s time to make some moves.

Which of these top card readers is right for your business? Perhaps you’re looking for an economical, no-nonsense credit card reader for phones like the ones Square offers. Or maybe you want to pull out all the stops to optimize your checkout process with a powerful countertop card reader like the Clover Station or the Square Register.

Either way, there’s a perfect small business credit card reader option out there for you.

Maddie Shepherd

Contributing Writer at Fundera
Maddie Shepherd is a former Fundera senior staff writer and current freelance writer. Maddie has an extensive knowledge of business credit cards, accounting tools, and merchant services, but specializes in small business financing advice. Maddie has a bachelor's degree in Spanish and Latin American cultures from Barnard College.

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