A reliable credit card machine is an essential part of any modern business. Whether you are looking for a portable reader that can be used with your phone or a more traditional terminal to keep at your checkout counter, these are the best credit card machines available today.
What are the Best Credit Card Machines?
1. Square Reader for Magstripe (Headphone Jack)
- Affordable or even free!
- Connects via headphone jack
- Great for non-iPhone users
- Square ecosystem
- Fast processing
- Cannot scan credit card chips
- Phones without headphone jacks will need an adapter
- Requires Square software
One of the most popular credit card machines available today, the Square Reader for Magstripe is an affordable and reliable card reader that connects to your phone or tablet’s headphone jack. The Square Reader works with the Square Point of Sale app, which is the top-rated POS app available today. Best of all, if you haven’t signed up for the Square app before, you can get a headphone jack card reader completely free of charge when you sign up with Square.
Just be sure your phone has a headphone jack! iPhone users will need to buy a Lightning to 3.5mm headphone adapter.
Using this Square reader is as simple as plugging it into your phone’s headphone jack, installing the Square app, and setting up your account. There are no long-term contracts and it works with all major credit cards, including Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express for a flat rate of 2.6% + 10 cents per swipe. It really doesn’t get any easier than this.
This card reader only has two noteworthy downsides. The first is that it cannot scan credit card chips. To be clear, it can still scan credit or debit cards that have chips; it just can’t scan the chips themselves and is, therefore, slightly less secure than a dedicated chip reader.
The other shortcoming of this reader is that it only works with phones that have headphone jacks—which is becoming less and less common these days. Most notably, any iPhone after 2016 does not come with a headphone jack. If your phone doesn’t have one, you’ll need to buy an adapter that works with your phone. Or if you’re an iPhone user, take a look at the next card reader on this list, which eliminates the need for an adapter.
2. Square Reader for Magstripe (Lightning Connector)
- Lightning connection
- Fantastic Square ecosystem
- Great for customers who don’t have a chip card
- Works offline
- Cannot read credit card chips
- Only compatible with Apple products
- May not work with all phone or tablet cases
This Square Reader for Magstripe model comes with all of the same advantages of the headphone jack model listed above, but it plugs into your iPhone or iPad’s Lightning port. As was the case with the model listed above, the highlights of this card swiper are the ease of use and the Square Point of Sale app. There are no commitments or hidden fees, and the swiper can even work without cell service in the app’s Offline Mode.
The biggest upside of this version, though, is that it eliminates the need for a Lightning to 3.5mm headphone adapter. This reader actually costs a little bit less than the Apple adapter, so there’s no reason not to go with this version if you are an Apple user.
3. MSR90 USB Magnetic Credit Card Reader
- Reads magstripe cards
- Syncs with most POS systems
- Simple and familiar
- Beep and LED to signal successful swipe
- Bi-directional swiping
- Wired only
- Cannot read chips
- More expensive than Square magstripe reader
The MSR90 USB Magnetic Credit Card Reader is a simple payment solution for any restaurant or storefront. Simply plug this reader into your computer or electronic cash register via a USB port, connect it with your POS software system, and you are good to go. This swiper is a particularly good option if you already have POS software that you enjoy and are not interested in working through Square.
The highlight of this card reader is that it is not linked to any particular payment provider. Other great features of this reader are that it supports card swipes in both directions and that it has an LED and an optional beeping noise to let you know when you’ve made a successful swipe.
The biggest downsides of this product are that it requires an electronic cash register or a computer equipped with POS software in order to process payments. It also isn’t as convenient as some of the Square readers listed above for processing on-the-go payment,s and it doesn’t provide any way for customers to sign or enter their PIN.
In short, this is a reliable card reader that will get the job done if you have additional equipment to support it.
4. Square Contactless and Chip Reader
- Reads chip cards and contactless payments
- Comes with Square Reader for Magstripe
- Recharges via micro-USB cable
- Can connect with Square Stand or Dock
- Must be charged
- Magstripe reader is headphone jack only
- Dock costs extra
The Square Contactless and Chip Reader allows you to accept payments from EMV chip cards as well as contactless payment services like Apple Pay, Android Pay, and other NFC payments. Better yet, your purchase of this reader gets you a Square Reader for Magstripe (headphone jack version) for free, making it a no-brainer if you are a small business owner who wants to accept all modern electronic payments.
Another great feature of this credit card machine is that it is completely wireless and connects to your phone via Bluetooth. This eliminates the need for you to manually plug in your Square reader each time you make a payment. A minor downside of this wireless design, though, is that you will have to remember to charge the reader periodically. That said, the battery life is quite good.
The reader on its own is great for portable payments, but pair it up with a Square Stand (below) or Dock for Square Reader and it’ll also work excellently for traditional countertop payments. The included magstripe reader is also great to have, just in case you run into any customers who have yet to migrate to the new EMV chip cards. Just be sure you have the right adapter for your iPhone or Android phone.
5. Square Stand for Magstripe
- Transforms iPad into POS register
- Clean white design
- Simple, sturdy, and secure
- Keeps iPad charged
- USB hub for accessories
- Requires a compatible iPad
- Difficult to take iPad out
- Some durability issues
- Base model cannot scan chips or accept NFC payments
The Square Stand for Magstripe is a simple POS solution that transforms a regular iPad into an attractive countertop register. The Stand is compatible with several different iPad models and comes with a built-in bi-directional magstripe reader. The Square Stand is an appealing option for anyone who wants an easy and affordable Square POS station, and it’s particularly great if you already own a compatible iPad.
Setting up the Square Stand is as simple as inserting your iPad and locking it in. From there, you’ll download the Square POS app, go through an initial setup, and then be ready to start accepting payments. Simply enter the items a customer is purchasing, swipe their card, and then swivel the stand so that the customer can tip and sign. The swivel feature works very smoothly, and it’s much more professional than handing your customer an iPhone to sign.
The one thing to be aware of before purchasing a Square Stand is that they are not compatible with all iPads. Supported iPads include 2017- and 2018-model iPads, the iPad Pro 9.7″, and the iPad Air 1 and 2.
If you want to turn the Square Stand into a more complete point of sale system, then take a look at this bundle, which comes with a cash register, a Square Contactless and Chip Reader, and a receipt printer. You can also pair the Square Stand with a Contactless and Chip Reader without any of the additional equipment.
6. Verifone VX520 Credit Card Machine
- Scans chips, magstripe cards, and NFC
- Tactile buttons
- Built-in receipt printer
- Includes phone cable
- Optional battery for mobile use
- Ethernet cord not included
- High fees
- Not particularly stylish
The Verifone VX520 is one of the more popular countertop credit card machines available today because it is simple, fast, and comes with a built-in receipt printer. The VX520 is able to accept all major credit and debit cards, including magstripe cards, EMV chips, and even NFC payments like Apple Pay. Pair it up with a pole stand and you instantly have a professional-looking storefront.
The VX520 is powered by the time-tested Verix operating system, which is used in over 7 million devices worldwide. This machine processes payments extraordinarily quickly and can be connected to the Internet via an Ethernet port or a phone line. It uses a clever cable management system to ensure there are no unsightly cables cluttering up your payment area, and the setup process takes just a few minutes.
Payments are handled through a service called Verifone Reporting, which is Verifone’s transaction collecting service. Transactions are sent to the service at a user-defined time every day, after which the transactions will be sent to your bank account.
All in all, the VX520 is a great credit card machine because it handles all modern payment types and it gives you an easy-to-use tactile keypad. The design is a little old-fashioned compared to high-end tablets like the Square Terminal or Square Register (below), but it gets the job done and it’s a heck of a lot less expensive.
7. Ingenico iWL250 Wireless Credit Card Machine
- Wireless handheld system
- Bright color screen
- Rugged design for mobile use
- Backlit for outdoor use
- Compatible with multiple payment processors
- Built-in receipt printer
- Slightly technical initial setup
- Looks a little dated
- Not cheap
The Ingenico iWL250 Wireless Credit Card Machine is another widely used credit card machine that is purposely built for mobile use. It’s completely wireless and can connect to the Internet via 3G/GPRS, WiFi, or Bluetooth. It’s also shock-resistant, water-resistant, and has stellar battery life—all of which make it a great option if you are looking for a credit card machine you can comfortably bring with you outside of your store.
In addition to the features listed above, one of the great things about the Ingenico iWL250 is that you aren’t restricted to using it with a particular piece of software. This model is specifically designed for use with WorldPay, but it’s also compatible with First Data, Chase Bank, Elavon, and Heartland. The freedom to choose your preferred payment processor is something you won’t get with any of the Square products.
Other strong points of this reader include the built-in receipt printer and the battery life, which will easily last through a complete workday. The only real downsides of this product are that it is fairly expensive and that the first-time setup is a little more technical than for the Square products. Otherwise, this is a great credit card machine.
8. Square Terminal Credit Card Machine
- Sales, payments, and receipts in one place
- Accepts chip, magstripe, and NFC payments
- Super fast processing
- Square software ecosystem
- Battery lasts more than a full business day
- Sometimes loses WiFi
- Less portable than Square Readers
The Square Terminal is a gorgeous credit card machine with a built-in touchscreen where customers can enter their PIN or signature. It accepts all major credit and debit cards, as well as all major NFC payment types, and is capable of processing chip cards in just two seconds. It makes a beautiful addition to any storefront, and it can even be used wirelessly with its built-in battery.
The key difference between the Square Terminal and the Square readers listed above is that the Terminal does not require your customers to interact with your phone. Instead, customers can enter or swipe their cards on the Terminal and enter their information (including the option to tip) directly onto the Terminal itself. This eliminates the slightly awkward step of having to give your phone to a customer to enter in that information.
Another great feature of the Square Terminal not found in the Square readers is that it has a built-in thermal receipt printer. With the above Square Readers, the only receipt option for customers is to receive it via text or e-mail. The Terminal lets you create fully customizable printed receipts, which some customers are sure to prefer over their digital counterparts.
9. Square Register Credit Card Machine
- Two touchscreen displays
- Sleek modern design
- Professional-looking interface
- Great user experience for customers
- Premium price
- Cannot run additional software
- Limited accessories
- Not portable
The Square Register is Square’s top-of-the-line credit card machine that comes with two touchscreen displays—one for the cashier and one for the customer. It’s a gorgeous device that would look great on any countertop, and it’s easily the best credit card machine available today.
The highlight of the Square Register are the two large touchscreen displays. The larger display comes with a built-in stand and is meant for the cashier to enter in items using the intuitive Square POS software. The smaller display faces the customer and can either be attached to the same stand or placed directly onto the counter, depending on what makes the most sense for your business.
While the displays themselves are great, the user interface on them is even better. Customers are treated to an ultra-clean UI with clear directions that make the payment process a breeze. By now, many of your customers will likely have interacted with Square Registers before, and having one on your countertop leaves a positive impression and gives your business an air of legitimacy, especially compared to more out-of-date payment terminals.
The two biggest downsides of the Square Register are that it is not portable and that it has limited accessory support. Most notably, the Square Register does not include a receipt printer or an actual cash register. Users who want to complete their Square Register setup may want to pick up the Square POS Hardware Bundle, which gives you a payment setup that any business would be proud of.
Choosing a Credit Card Machine
Choosing a credit card machine is an important decision for any business. Picking the right one for you depends on your needs, your budget, and which payment provider you would like to do business with. We’ll take a closer look at each of these factors to give you some food for thought as you make your decision.
Portable vs Countertop
The first thing you will want to think about is whether you want something portable or not. If you’re a small business owner that sells goods in a variety of locations like farmers’ markets, flea markets, trade shows, and other such events, then you will need a machine that you can bring with you wherever you go.
The three Square readers and the Square Terminal are all excellent portable options that connect with your phone and facilitate mobile payments. They can even operate without an Internet connection while in Offline Mode. The Ingenico iWL250 is another great portable option that comes with some extra flexibility.
If, on the other hand, you operate your business primarily in one place and are looking for a more permanent POS station, you will likely want to get a countertop credit card machine. The MSR90 is a great choice if you want a no-frills magstripe reader to connect with your existing register or POS service. While the Square Stand is a good option if you already have a compatible iPad or if you are interested in purchasing one.
Finally, the Square Terminal and Square Register are premium countertop products that have become the go-to choices for many modern storefronts. They look great inside any business, and they provide a top-notch user experience for both you and your customers.
If you’re an individual running your own business and are just looking for a simple way to accept credit card payments, you will likely be very pleased with one of the Square Readers. I would recommend the Square Contactless and Chip Reader, as it comes bundled with a Square Reader for Magstripe and will give you everything you need to accept all modern payment types, including NFC payments like Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Google Wallet.
As stated in the previous section, these are particularly good options if you do not have a traditional storefront and operate primarily as an individual. Just make sure you pick up a Lightning to headphone adapter if you’re an iPhone user.
If you’re running a business in a fixed location and are looking for a proper payment station, your most affordable option will be the MSR90 followed by the Square Stand and the Verifone VX520. That being said, neither the MSR90 nor the VX520 comes bundled with card processing services, so there will be additional expenses before your payments are up and running.
It goes without saying that the Square Terminal and the Square Register are the least budget-friendly options on this list, but this is an instance in which you get what you pay for. These devices look clean and professional, and they come bundled with Square software which is intuitive and familiar to many customers. There’s a strong argument that investing in one of these products will pay for itself in no time.
POS Software and Card Processing
Last but not least, you will want to consider what POS software and card processing service you would like to use. The majority of the products in this list are made by Square and come bundled with Square’s hugely popular POS software. Square also processes its own payments, with competitively priced fees of 2.6% + 0.10c per swipe.
The MSR90, on the other hand, does not come with any POS software or card processing service, and the Ingenico iWL250 and Verifone VX520 can both be used with several payment processors. This could be a benefit if you already have a payment processor that you enjoy using or if you are willing to shop around and find the service that you like the most. But it could also be a hassle if you are looking for a simple solution to get started making payments right away.