Best credit card machines for small businesses – 2020 guide

By Rob Binns | Senior Writer | 22 June, 2020

Credit and debit cards have overtaken cash as the UK’s favourite way to pay, and all signs point to the onset of a completely cashless society. If your business still isn’t accepting cards, you're losing out to the 56% of small businesses that do.

But if you’re selecting a credit card (PDQ) machine for the first time, which one should you get? What features do you need, and which would lead to inflated costs? With plenty on the market, how do you pick the right one for your unique business without hours of research?

That’s where we can help. We’ve compiled research on top UK card machine suppliers and the types of businesses they work best for. Our 15 years of expertise means we can match you with the best supplier for your company’s size, budget and scalability goals.

In this article, we share with you our top picks for UK credit card machines and how they can benefit your small business. What are the different types available? How much do they cost, and – most importantly – how can they benefit your business? Let’s take a look.

What’s the best credit card machine for small businesses?

We get it – it’s difficult to choose the right PDQ machine for your business when they all seem to promise the same benefits.

Sure you want a chip-and-pin machine, that’s a given, but do they all facilitate smartphone payment? What about a swipe function for magstripe cards? And PCI compliance — that’s important, right?

It can all get a bit confusing.

So to make your life easier, we’ve picked out the best mobile, countertop and portable card machines on the market.

Whether you’re looking for a countertop, wireless or mobile card machine, we’ve got you covered. Read on for our reviews of the iZettle card reader, Ingenico iCT220, Ingenico’s iWL series, Sumup Air, PayPal Here, and Worldpay Reader – or jump straight to a supplier by clicking the list below.

Best mobile card machine

iZettle card reader

iZettle has shaken up the mobile payments industry in recent years. Its distinctive iZettle Reader is a cost-effective card processing solution designed specifically for small businesses. Costing just £29 (+ VAT), it connects with the iZettle App to allow businesses to take payments via a smartphone or tablet.

Overall Rating :

Key Features

  • Accepts a wide range of credit and debit cards
  • No monthly fee. Repeat: there are no monthly fees
  • Battery life — up to 8 hours
  • No set-up fees
  • Card reader costs £59, but it’s more or less constantly discounted to £29
  • UK-based support
  • PCI and EMV compliant

Compare quotes >

Best countertop card machine

Ingenico iCT220

The iCT220 from Ingenico is a great example of an all-around countertop card terminal. It’s practically indestructible by PDQ machine standards. (Seriously. In a fight between an Ingenico ICT220 and a wall, we think the Ingenico would win.) With crystal-clear backlit display and jumbo, finger-friendly keys the ICT220 allows you to easily enter payment details even in low-light conditions. And as a tasty bonus it comes with a speedy built-in receipt printer.

Overall Rating :

Key features

  • Multi-merchant capability (ideal for multiple self-employed workers sharing one payment terminal)
  • Accept smartphone payments
  • Swipe function
  • Ethernet connection available
  • Backlit keypad
  • Large buttons
  • Built-in receipt printer
  • PCI and EMV compliant

Compare quotes >

Best portable card machine

Ingenico iWL series

The iWL card machine from Ingenico is a lightweight, feature-heavy handheld card terminal. Users can choose to connect using GPRS, 3G, WiFi or Bluetooth technology. And what’s more, iWL series card terminals are water and shock resistant, making them an ideal choice if your business operates in an outdoor space.

Overall Rating :

Key features

  • Up to 650 transactions on a single charge
  • Accept smartphone payments
  • Swipe function
  • Water and shock resistant
  • PCI compliant

Compare quotes >

Did You Know?

Cash payments are decreasing on a global scale and new digital payment technology is taking its place. Mobile wallet payments now make up more than a third, (36%), of all payments in China and, even in the UK, mobile wallet payments account for around one in twenty, (5%), of payments.

Best of the rest

Here are three contenders that didn’t quite make our list, but still deserve a full review:

SumUp Air

SumUp is a trendy startup bidding to dethrone rivals iZettle as the king of mobile card machines. The company offers a flat transaction fee of 1.95% and no fixed monthly costs. Their pocket-sized card reader, the SumUp Air, measures just 84 x 84 x 23 mm. It can be bought outright for the downright competitive price of £19 + VAT.

Overall Rating :

Key features

  • Accept all major debit and credit cards
  • Accept smartphone payments
  • No fixed monthly costs
  • Short-term contract
  • Low upfront costs -the reader itself costs just £29
  • PCI compliant

Compare quotes >

PayPal Here

PayPal Here is a mobile card reader that integrates seamlessly with your PayPal account. By doing this, it allows merchants access to funds from card payments just seconds after approval. The Paypal Here falls behind the iZettle Reader and the SumUp Air because of its slightly higher price (£54). But other than that, there’s not much to pick between the three.

Overall Rating :

Key features

  • Integrates with your PayPal account
  • Gives access to funds from a transaction just seconds after approval
  • Compatible with both Apple Pay and Google Pay
  • No fixed monthly costs
  • No fixed term contract
  • PCI compliant

Read our PayPal Here review for more info.

Compare quotes >

Worldpay reader

The Worldpay reader is this global payments giant’s answer to the iZettle and SumUp mobile card readers. Designed specifically for small businesses, the Worldpay reader can be bought outright for just £39.99. The keypad is covered with a 12-month warranty, and users can choose to issue receipts via email or SMS at the press of a button. If that wasn’t enough, the Worldpay reader comes with a virtual terminal for taking card payments over the phone.

Overall Rating :

Key features

  • Take card payments face-to-face and over the phone
  • Issue receipts via email or SMS with the press of a button
  • Keypad is covered by warranty for a year
  • Pay-as-you go payment plan with no monthly fees
  • PCI and EMV compliant

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Ingenico iCT250 countertop card machine

The Ingenico iCT250 is a robust, cost effective countertop terminal ideal for retail businesses. Its keys are so large even your gran could use them, and sports a vibrant colour screen display. And crucially, it meets the payment industry’s highest security requirements for a PDQ machine. And because it plugs straight into both the power and the internet, you’ll never have to worry about the Ingenico iCT250 running out of juice.

Overall Rating :

Key features

  • PCI and EMV compliant
  • Compact, intelligent, and easy to use
  • Crisp display to drive increased brand power
  • Telium 2 technology for fast, secure transactions
  • Accepts all kinds of payment options
  • Built-in printer churns out 18 lines a second

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Vega3000 countertop card machine

The Vega3000 Countertop PDQ terminal is one of the most widely used — and colourful — PDQ
machines in the industry. Boasting WiFi, GPRS, Bluetooth and USB connectivity (the full house!) it
provides a fast, reliable and cost-effective solution for small businesses. It’s equipped with
the latest high-tech software to safeguard transactions at lightning-quick speeds. And to top it all off, there’s even a touchscreen model available!

Overall Rating :

Key features

  • Accepts all payment types
  • Optional rechargeable backup battery for mobility
  • PCI and EMV compliant
  • Smooth, visually appealing interface
  • Powerful microprocessor enables speedy payments

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Ingenico Desk/3000 countertop card machine

The Desk/3000 from Ingenico belongs to a new era of PDQ machines, for a new generation of small businesses. It’s capable of handling over 2,500 payment applications in 170 countries, including Apple and Android Pay. And it’s not just fast; it’s flexible, too. The Desk/3000’s intuitive operating system, Telium, integrates with a host of smart business apps. So you won’t just be taking payments; you’ll be getting more insights into sales and employee performance. Which means you can work smarter – not harder.

Overall Rating :

Key features

  • Accepts many payment methods at the counter, including Google Pay
  • Wide range of connectivity options
  • Backlit keypad with full colour display
  • User-friendly interface
  • PCI and EMV compliant

Compare quotes >

Verifone VX680 wireless card machine

The VX 680 is Verifone’s most compact payment terminal yet, but it doesn’t compromise on features. It boasts an almost IMAX-sized colour touchscreen display, as well as Bluetooth, 3G, 2G and WiFi connectivity. And when you add in its Herculean battery life and quick processing speeds? Well, then the VX 680 weighs in as of the most versatile mobile PDQ machines on the market – and perfect for small businesses.

Overall Rating :

Key features

  • Integrates with a wide range of apps
  • Quick payment processing speed
  • Optional base stations offer flexibility
  • Long-lasting battery
  • Durable and reliable

Compare quotes >

What is a PDQ machine and how does it work?

How can you accept card payments for your small business

You can’t just grab a device and start taking payments – there’s more to it than that. To start accepting card payments for your small business you’ll need an EPOS system and a merchant account, too. And to take payments online and over the phone, you’ll also need a payment gateway and a virtual terminal.

To accept card payments for your small business you’ll need a combination of the following:

  1. EPOS system
  2. Merchant account
  3. Payment gateway
  4. Virtual terminal
  5. Card reader/PDQ machine

1. EPOS system

First up, if you serve customers face-to-face, you will need an Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) system to pair with the credit card reader. This is essentially the till: a cash drawer, user interface and usually a receipt printer.

2. Merchant account

Next, you’ll need a merchant account with a merchant bank.

A merchant account is a type of credit account that allows your business to accept credit and debit card payments. It’s where the money sits while the bank checks that the customer has the sufficient funds to make payment. It also serves as protection against fraud.

PDQ machines are most commonly leased as part of a merchant account agreement. A merchant account can be setup with a dedicated merchant bank, such as Worldpay, or by special arrangement with a PSP (payment service provider) or ISO (Independent Sales Organisation).

Our guide to the best merchant account providers in the UK is essential reading for those looking to start accepting credit card payments.

3. Online payment gateway

To take card payments online you’ll need what is known as a ‘payment gateway’.

Integrated with the shopping card your website, a payment gateway is a secure piece of software that encrypts the customer’s card details and transmits them to the merchant bank.

4. Virtual terminal

And businesses that need to accept credit card payments over the phone or by email will require a ‘virtual terminal’.

Like a payment gateway, a virtual terminal secures sensitive payment details while the bank authorises the transaction. Unlike a payment gateway, card details are entered into the system by the merchant, rather than the customer. This type of transactions is known as a MOTO transaction (Mail Order / Telephone Order).

5. PDQ machine

Once you’ve got all that sorted, then you can go about choosing a card reader or PDQ machine for your business.

The best PDQ machine for your business will vary depending on your specific requirements as a merchant. What works for a static brick-and-mortar business such as a coffee shop, probably won’t suit a food vendor who trades in a different location each week.

PDQ machine costs vary, so it’s important to choose the type that’s best suited to the unique needs of your business. Let’s take a closer look at the different types of devices available in the UK.

Did You Know?

Cash payments have declined by 43% since 2016 and thousands of ATMs are disappearing from UK high streets every year. As paying by card becomes the norm, our researchers estimate that cash machines could become extinct by 2041.

Types of Card payment machines

Pick a Card Machine Type..

mobile card machines

wireless card machines

Countertop card machines

Mobile card machines

mobile card machine

Mobile credit card machines allow you to accept card payments anywhere with mobile network coverage. They offer users ultimate flexibility, and have opened the door to a whole host of remote businesses for which a card reader was previously out of the question.

Remember when you used to have to ask the cab driver to stop at a cashpoint before dropping you off? Those days are over because of mobile card machines.

Most work via a pre-installed SIM card that connects your machine to a mobile network. Recently, though, more modern mobile card readers (like the iZettle card reader) have done away with the need for a SIM and instead connect to your phone via an app.

The benefits of a mobile card reader are:

Portability — great for merchants such as food vendors and market traders

Minimum hardware required — with some models, all you need is the card reader and a smartphone or tablet to connect it to

No long-term contract — most mobile card reader providers offer short-term contracts tailored specifically for UK small businesses

Perfect for UK businesses such as: food truck vendors, cab drivers, pop-up shops.

Wireless/portable card machines

Wireless card machine

A portable card machine allows merchants the flexibility to move around and take payments without relying on mobile network coverage. They’re the perfect choice for a restaurant or bar setting where the point-of-sale is often at the customer’s table.

Wireless terminals usually connect via WiFi, but if you don’t have an internet connection they can be hooked up to a traditional landline too. Most will operate for around eight hours before needing to be recharged and work at a range of up to 200 ft.

Benefits of a portable card machine include:

Improve customer service — bring the card terminal to your customer. Ideal for hospitality businesses

Flexible with a stable connection — not reliant on mobile network coverage for connection

Choice of Wifi or Bluetooth connectivity — connect to the network via the internet or a traditional phoneline

Perfect for UK small businesses such as: cafes, restaurants, bars.

Countertop card machines

Countertop Card Machine

Many small businesses choose to rely on countertop card machines to process payments. With a hardwired connection, they’re sturdy, reliable, and often the cheapest option in terms of upfront cost.

This varies from provider to provider, but you can expect to pay around £100 to buy a countertop card machine outright, compared with £200-£300 for a portable machine. The savings are real.

So for businesses like coffee shops, where the customer pays at the counter, a countertop card machine is often the best option.

The advantages of countertop card machines include:

Reliable connection — you're not reliant on WiFi or mobile network coverage

No charging — there’s no risk of the dreaded low battery warning

Save on upfront costs — countertop card terminals are generally cheaper than portable and mobile card machines

Perfect for UK small businesses such as: coffee shops, newsagents, beauty spars.

Contactless Card Machines

Accepting contactless payments

Contactless payment is the fastest and most convenient payment method for customers. Modern PDQ machines come with a contactless payment facility as standard. So while there’s not much to compare in terms of hardware, it is important to compare transaction fees, as these can vary a lot.

Some providers will charge as much as 4p to process contactless payments, others won’t charge at all. To ensure you’re getting a good deal for your business it is important that you compare quotes from multiple providers.

Did You Know?

Contactless card limits differ massively across the globe; whilst Poland and Brazil have limits of just £10, China has a much larger cap of £100+. In the UK, nearly two-thirds, (63%) of people pay using contactless cards with a cap of £30 per transaction.

▶ Read more: Contactless card payments

Pros + cons of card machines for small businesses

Advantages of accepting credit cards

Higher revenue — card payments account for over half of all UK transactions, and that number is set to rise year-on-year. That's right by 2025, only one in four of all transactions will be made with cash. Businesses that don’t accept card payments will be left in the dark ages.

Credibility — as a business, if you don’t accept debit and credit card payments you look amateur. That’s a fact.

Better end-to-end customer experience — a quick tap or swipe of a credit card is much more convenient for a customer than laboriously counting out cash. Streamline their shopping experience with a card reader. Remember: a satisfied customer is a loyal customer.

Better cash flow — providers that specialise in making the best card machines for small businesses prioritise a speedy transfer of funds as part of their service. Cashflow can be a major problem, so having having quick access to the money from card payments is a major benefit.

Upsell — it’s been proven that customers typically spend more when paying by card. Why? Well, when they aren’t physically parting with any cash, a quick stop for coffee can easily turn into a full blown lunch (and maybe even a muffin for dessert!)

Security — handling large amounts of cash poses an obvious security risk to your business. Reduce this risk by accepting payments electronically. Plus, the EMV computer chip in modern cards makes them extremely difficult to clone, further reducing the chance of fraud.

Disadvantages of accepting credit cards

Cost and transaction fees — you will be required to pay a transaction fee for every card payment processed. Fees vary depending on the volume of transactions; the more transactions you process, the lower your rates will be. This poses an obvious problem to small businesses who tend to process a low-volume of card payments. Don’t worry though, the providers reviewed on this page specialise in PDQ machines for small-scale business operations, with fees to match.

Chargebacks — dealing with chargebacks can be a long and arduous process for business owners. Customers have the right to challenge any card payments they see on their statement, which can sometimes mean business owners have to refund the transaction plus a chargeback fee of around £15.

Fraud — fraudulent transactions may be few and far between, but when they do occur it is usually the merchant who loses out.

best credit card machines for small businesses

Save money on the cost of a card machine by comparing quotes with Expert Market

How much do credit card machines cost for a small business?

A card machine is usually rented as part of a merchant account agreement. But if you can afford to swallow the upfront cost, in the long run it pays to buy the terminal outright.

Aside from a charge for the payment terminal itself, there are two other fees you need to know about: transaction fees and a minimum monthly charge.

Type of costPrice
Card machine rental£20 to £30 per month
Purchase device outright£100 to £300
Transaction fees1-3% + 2-4p fixed authorisation fee
Minimum monthly spend£5 to £25

▶ Read more: PDQ machine costs

Transaction fees for debit cards are typically around 1% and credit cards 2%, while the authorisation fee for both is the same.

The minimum monthly spend is the minimum amount in fees you will pay each month, regardless of the number of transactions processed. For smaller businesses especially it pays to choose a merchant account with a low minimum monthly spend to avoid unnecessary charges.

How do I get a PDQ machine for my small business?

Simply fill in this form and compare quotes from the UK’s leading card machine providers. It’s quick, easy and there are no hidden fees.

The questions asked are designed to match you with the most suitable suppliers, and there’s absolutely no obligation to buy.

Rob Binns Expert Market
Rob Binns Senior Writer

Rob writes mainly about the payments industry, but also brings industry-specific knowledge of CRM software, social media monitoring, and invoice finance. When not exasperating his editor with bad puns, he can be found relaxing in a sunny corner, with a beer and a battered copy of Dostoevsky.

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