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Best credit card machines for small businesses - 2018 guide

A credit card machine, otherwise known as a PDQ machine or credit card terminal, allows businesses to accept card payments electronically.

The cost of not accepting card payments can be crippling. But what kind of card machine should you get? With plenty on the market, how do you pick the right one for your business?

Well, that’s where we can help.

▶ Find out more: Cost of a PDQ machines

This page contains all the information you need to find the best credit card machine for your small business. We’ve explored the different types of card machines available, and their benefits. We’ve looked at how much they cost, and compared six of the best card machines available in the UK.

What's on this page?

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

We know, it’s difficult to choose the best card 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. Now all you have to do is choose the one that suits your business best.

Best mobile card machine

Whether you’re looking for a countertop, wireless or mobile card machine, we’re here to help you pick the best one for your business. See our reviews of the top models: iZettle card reader, Igenico iCT220, Ingenico’s iWL series, Sumup Air, PayPal Here, Worldpay Zinc.

The best card machines for small businesses:

  1. iZettle card reader
  2. Igenico iCT220
  3. Ingenico’s iWL series
  4. Sumup Air
  5. PayPal Here
  6. Worldpay Zinc

iZettle card reader

iZettle card machine for small businesses

iZettle has shaken up the mobile payments industry in recent years. Their distinctive iZettle Reader is a cost-effective card processing solution designed specifically for small businesses. Costing just £59, 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
  • UK-based support
  • PCI compliant

Compare quotes >

Best countertop card machine

Igenico iCT220

The iCT220 from Ingenico is a great example of an all-around countertop card terminal. It’s practically indestructible by card machine standards. (Seriously. In a fight between an Igenico ICT220 and a wall, we think the Igenico 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 terminal)
  • Accept smartphone payments
  • Swipe function
  • Ethernet connection available
  • Backlit keypad
  • Large buttons
  • Built-in receipt printer
  • PCI compliant

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Best portable card machine

Ingenico’s iWL series

ingenico iWL card machine for small businesses

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 for businesses that operate 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

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Best of the rest

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

Sumup Air

Sumup Air card machine for small businesses

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 machine, the SumUp Air, measures just 84 x 84 x 23 mm. It can be bought outright for the downright competitive price of £59 + VAT.

Key features

  • Accept all major debit and credit cards
  • Accept smartphone payments
  • No fixed monthly costs
  • Short-term contract
  • Low upfront costs - just £59 for the card machine
  • PCI compliant

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PayPal Here

PayPal card machine for small businesses

PayPal Here is a mobile credit card machine 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 price (£79). But other than that, there’s not much to pick between the three.

Key features

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

Read our PayPal card machine review for more info.

Compare quotes >

Worldpay Zinc

Worldpay Zinc card machine for small businesses

The Worldpay Zinc is Worldpay’s answer to the iZettle and SumUp mobile card readers. Designed specifically for small businesses, the Zinc 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 Zinc comes with a virtual terminal for taking card payments over the phone.

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 compliant

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What is a credit card machine and how does it work?


How can you accept card payments for your small business

You can’t just grab a credit card machine and start taking payments, there’s more to it than that. Other card essentials include: an EPOS system, a merchant account, 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 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.

▶ Find out more: HSBC merchant services

Card 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.

▶ Read: Compare UK Merchant Account Providers

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.

▶ Read: UK Payment Gateway Comparison

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).

▶ Read: Compare Virtual Terminal Providers

5. Card machine

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

The best card machine, or 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 can vary, so let’s take a look at the different types available.

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 machine 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 Reader) have done away with the need for a SIM and instead connect to your phone via an app. You can read more about this type of card machine below.

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 machine 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 card 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.

▶ 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. In fact, 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.

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 card 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.

Small Business Card Machines
Save money on the cost of a card machine by comparing quotes with Expert Market

How much do credit card machines cost?

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

Type of cost
Card machine rental
£20 to £30 per month
Purchase card machine outright
£100 to £300
Transaction fees
1-3% + 2-4p fixed authorisation fee
Minimum monthly spend
£5 to £25

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 card 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.