Written by Rob Binns Updated on 18 March 2021 On this page Step 1: Choose an EPOS system Step 2: Sign up for a merchant account Step 3: Get a payment gateway and virtual terminal Step 4: Start selling! Expand Learn how to start accepting card transactions for your business – in four easy stepsSo you want to take credit card payments? Good decision. More and more consumers are avoiding cash only businesses, while a staggering 87% of retail purchases are now made online, with – you guessed it – a credit or debit card.So just how do you take credit card payments?We’ve broken it down into four simple steps. Here’ you’ll find out how to take credit card payments, what you’ll need, who the providers are, and how much it will cost. Let’s take a look.How to take credit card payments:Step 1: Choose an EPOS systemStep 2: Sign up for a merchant accountStep 3: Get a payment gateway and a virtual terminalStep 4: Start selling! Step 1: Choose an EPOS system What is it?An Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) system lets you accept card payments at the point of sale. The best EPOS systems track stock, monitor sales, and provide a seamless customer experience.EPOS includes hardware components for taking card payments, such as:Your till or cash registerThe screen you use to log transactionsA receipt printerA barcode scannerA PDQ machine or mobile card reader for accepting credit cardsEPOS also includes software elements such as:Inventory managementCustomer loyalty discount schemesIntegration with your ecommerce sales and accountingA good EPOS system makes selling easier for your staff – and adds a level of professionalism for customersSo, when learning how to take credit card payments, why is choosing an EPOS system the first step?Well, an EPOS system determines the look of your counter. It’s what your customers will see when ordering, and what your staff have to be able to use day in, day out – with ease and comfort.Also, some EPOS systems come with the built-in ability to process card payments. This type of ‘all-in-one’ EPOS system offers a simple approach. You get a complete EPOS system, with card payment processing included, from a sole supplier. These systems usually offer straightforward, flat-rate transaction fees, too.Card payment processors such as Zettle, Square, and PayPal offer all-in-one EPOS solutions. They process your card payments through their own merchant account, and provide all the EPOS hardware you need to start taking credit card payments.Alternatively, you can choose a traditional EPOS system and integrate it separately with a merchant account. This is ideal for bigger businesses – skip to Step 2 to find out more. EPOS system providersEPOS NowCloverTouchBistroLightspeedEPOS system costsTraditional EPOS systems set you back anywhere from £1,000 to upwards of £3,000. EPOS system costs depend on how advanced or industry-specific you need your system to be.All-in-one EPOS and card payment processing providers tend to offer much cheaper (albeit more basic) systems. In many cases, you'll simply set up your POS with just an iPad and a card reader. To sum up: Choosing an EPOS system provider is the first step towards taking card payments. Small businesses should consider all-in-one (card payment processing and EPOS system) providers for their simplicity and value. Step 2: Sign up for a merchant account What is it?A merchant account is a type of bank account that allows you to accept credit and debit card payments. However you plan to take credit card payments – online, on the phone, or over the counter – you’ll need some form of merchant account.Merchant accounts are where credit card payments go to be settled. Banks take a fee, then move the balance from your merchant account to your (separate) business account. You can apply for a merchant account through an acquiring bank or provider (such as Worldpay). Or, you can get one through a third party card payment processor, such as PayPal.So, you’ve got your EPOS system in place – congrats! But if you still want to accept card payments, you’re not finished yet.Because you’ll still need a merchant account to accept credit card payments (if you didn't select an all-in-one provider already, that is).A traditional merchant account works out cheaper if your business has a high sales volume. It’s more difficult to set up (and understand!) than with an all-in-one provider. You'll face a credit check, for instance. But its low transaction fees make it cheaper in the long run.Is it possible to get an EPOS system with my merchant account?Yes! Most merchant account providers work with EPOS suppliers to offer their customers a more complete card payment solution. takepayments, for instance, works with EPOS Now to offer merchants the whole package.The drawback? You won't be working with the EPOS supplier directly. That means it it's more difficult to get the right technical support when you need it.Merchant account providers that also offer EPOS solutions:ClovertakepaymentsBarclaycardClick a supplier to visit our 2021 review of its merchant services.CostsHow much you’ll pay to take card payments depends on the provider – and the plan – you choose. It’ll also be affected by your card sales volume, too. Check out our comprehensive merchant account fees breakdown for more info. To sum up: If you don’t go with an all-in-one EPOS solution, you’ll need to get a merchant account. Your merchant account provider gives you a card machine that slots into your existing EPOS system. This works out to be a more cost-effective option for larger businesses wishing to accept card payments. Compare Tailored Merchant Services Quotes and Save Do you already have a merchant account? Yes No It takes just 30 seconds... Step 3: Get a payment gateway and virtual terminal What are they?A payment gateway is what you’ll need to take credit card payments online. Acting like a sort of ‘virtual EPOS system’, it authenticates and secures payments made through your website.A virtual terminal is a secure webpage that lets you take payments over the phone. You just log into the page from your device, enter your customer’s card details, and take the payment.Want to accept credit card payments online? You'll need a payment gateway firstSo, now you're more familiar with a few ways to accept card payments online. So how do you get them?Well, it’s easy actually. Both a payment gateway and virtual terminal are add-ons you can opt for when you’re accepted for a merchant account. If you’ve gone for an all-in-one solution for accepting card payments, then a virtual terminal service should be included as standard. However, payment gateways aren’t always included. If this is the case, don’t fret – simply set one up separately, with a third party provider.Third party payment gateway providers offer a more dynamic (but more complicated!) approach to getting paid online. We recommend you entrust your online card payment services to a single merchant account provider. Payment gateway providersAuthorize.NetSage PayAmazon PayStripe is another top selection here. To find out whether it's the right supplier for your business, check out our Stripe review.CostsAgain, the best card payment option for you depends on your sales volume and value. All-in-one providers usually charge a percentage on every ecommerce transaction you take. Traditional merchant account suppliers, on the other hand, charge monthly, so they’re less feasible avenues for smaller businesses. To sum up: Payment gateways and virtual terminals are provided with your merchant account – if you want them. All-in-one providers, though, don’t always offer ecommerce solutions – so you may need to use a third party provider. Step 4: Start selling!You’ve chosen an EPOS system, set yourself up with a merchant services provider. That means you're now able to accept card payments online and over the phone. Time to start selling!Before you rush off, though, read our top tips on how to accept credit card payments below.It’ll take a minute, and will help save you cash. Top 4 tips for accepting credit card paymentsSales environmentOur first tip? Think about where you’ll be accepting card payments from. Purely online? From a bricks and mortar establishment, or maybe at a market stall? Your sales environment is crucial, because where you trade will determine how you take credit card payments.Mobile card readers are better for remote businesses, as they're able to take card payments without wifi. Countertop card machines are ideal for retail businesses, while restaurants will need a less static solution. And if you just want to sell online, sign up to a payment gateway provider such as Stripe. It's quick, with little hassle and few checks.Sales volumeWe’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. When it comes to card payment fees, your sales volume will always make a huge difference. Let’s quickly recap:Higher sales volume? Go for a dedicated merchant account with Handepay or takepayments. Fixed monthly fees (and low transaction fees) make it more affordable in the long run.Lower sales volume? Try a mobile card reader – SumUp and Zettle both work. They also offer EPOS add-ons, and make great all-in-one solutions for taking face-to-face payments. Card payment fees are higher, but the lack of setup or ongoing monthly costs makes it worth your while. Read more: The Best Credit Card Machines for Small Businesses in 2021Customer supportThis one’s a biggie. Before you sign up with a merchant account provider or begin browsing EPOS systems, have a think. Do they offer a dedicated account manager? What about 24/7 customer support? Can you get card payment advice over the phone, or just online? Can you reach them at the weekend?It may not seem like a big deal now. But when you’re dealing with a big queue and your card machine stops working, you’ll want the best – and the quickest – support available.Contract lengthIf there’s one pitfall that claims new merchants when first taking card payments, it’s this one. The less scrupulous merchant account providers will offer amazing deals to rope you into lengthy contracts.All we’ll say is, no new business should have to put up with massive early termination fees and long contracts. So read the small print carefully. And if you are ready to start taking card payments, we can help.Just fill out our quick, no-obligation webform today. We’ll do the rest. What that means is that you'll receive tailored quotes, from industry-leading merchant account suppliers.It's free, takes about 40 seconds, and will empower you to boost sales through accepting card payments. Try it now! Compare Tailored Merchant Services Quotes and Save Do you already accept credit card payments at your business? Yes No It takes just 30 seconds... Rob Binns Senior Writer Rob writes mainly about the payments industry, but also brings to the table industry-specific knowledge of CRM software, business loans, fulfilment, and invoice finance. When not exasperating his editor with bad puns, he can be found relaxing in a sunny (socially-distanced) corner, with a beer and a battered copy of Dostoevsky.