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Best mobile credit card processors of 2021: credit card readers for offline payments

Best mobile card payment reader
(Image credit: Pexels)
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REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
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REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

The best mobile credit card processing readers make it easy for businesses to process credit and debit card payments offline, such as in store, at a trade fair, or on the go.

Taking card payments is increasingly essential for any modern business, but Point of Sale (POS) terminals are usually tied to an internet connection. What happens if you want to sell at a trade fair, or set up a market stall, or any other kind of pop-up shop?

This is where mobile card readers come into their own for credit card processing, allowing you to take card payments wirelessly and on the go. You don't need a checkout till, you just need a smartphone or tablet that can run apps to connect with a mobile card reader. 

They can even be great for small mom-and-pop shops that are looking to keep their initial costs down, and a tablet running apps on a stand can work in lieu of a till.

Most merchant services providing a mobile card reader offer rates similar to online payment processing systems. Many charge no monthly fee, just transaction fees in the range of 2.5-3.5%. However, there are options to pay a monthly fee in order to reduce transaction fees down to interchange fees only, i.e. the pennies the bank will charge for movement of funds between accounts.

Where mobile credit card processing really comes into its own is its sheer flexibility. Using nothing more than your own smartphone, a downloaded app, and a cheap card reader costing around $25-$50, you can be ready to start taking payments anywhere there is a cellular network signal. Even then, some merchants offer an offline option.

Even better, it's not just the ability to take payments from credit/debit cards with an EMV aka chip-and-pin, but contactless payments can now also be taken, including Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay. 

Here we look at some of the merchant service providers who can provide the best in mobile card readers for taking payments on the go.

(Image credit: Square)

1. Square

The innovative PoS system

Reasons to buy
+Simple to use+Easy and secure+Flat-rate pricing
Reasons to avoid
-You’ll need to register with Square-More compact US version not available in UK

Square provides a range of innovative PoS solutions, and their mobile card reader continues this policy. As with Square's products in general, your mobile device can serve as a checkout and sales center for your retail business, and the card reader remains an integral part of that.

The card reader itself is just a small device that clicks onto your smartphone via a Lightning USB connection for iPhones and iPads, or phone jack connection for Android phones. The attachment can then have cards simply swiped through it to be processed.

The swiping process is easy, but it's also secure with no card or customer data being stored in your phone. Instead it's sent over an encrypted connection for processing, and then that's the processing done.

The basic card reader itself is free, and transaction fees are a flat-rate 2.6% + 10c for Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express. Even better is that there are no monthly fees, either.

However, there is a different device required for contactless payments, which allows not just for chip and pin cards to be read, but also use Apple Pay for payments.

Altogether, Square make taking transactions a painless process, and the card reader is both easy to use and simple to work with. The charges are very reasonable, too.

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(Image credit: SumUp)

2. SumUp

A cost-effective mobile card reader

Reasons to buy
+No minimum on transaction volume  +Affordable card reader that supports chip cards 
Reasons to avoid
-No instant payout  -No keyed-in transactions

SumUp is mobile card reader that is available in 31 countries, although it is a more recent entry to the US market. Notably, it supports cards with EMV, popularly known as the newer ‘chip cards,’ and is powered via a micro-USB port, and has a lithium ion battery.

This mobile card reader solution is well suited to lower volume users as it offers a fixed 2.75% transaction cost, with no monthly fee, or minimum usage level. The card reader is currently available for just $19, and connects via Bluetooth to your smartphone with a downloadable app.    

There is also support for a wide variety of credit cards, including MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Discover Card, as well as the newer services Apple Pay and Google Pay. Payouts to your bank account take an efficient one to two days. Unfortunately, the card reader is required for any transaction to occur, as transactions cannot be manually entered. 

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(Image credit: PayPal)

3. PayPal

The mobile card reader from the online transaction juggernaut

Reasons to buy
+Affordable card reader with accessories  +Tiered transaction fee structure
Reasons to avoid
-Basic card reader may be subject to reserve

PayPal offers a number of mobile payment options via its Paypal Here service, which allows your mobile device to accept cards and contactless payments by using a Paypal card reader and the Paypal payment app.

There are two card readers to choose from, the first being a simple chip and swipe reader, for swiping credit and debit cards directly in person, which is free for new accounts. The second is the chip and tap, which as well as allowing for card swipes for payment also allows for contactless payments using Apply Pay or Google Pay.

You can also use the service on your mobile device to take PayPal and Venmo payments through a touch-free QR. 

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(Image credit: Intuit)

4. QuickBooks GoPayment

The small business accounting software mobile card reader

Reasons to buy
+Tightly integrated to QuickBooks ecosystem  +No minimum volume of usage+Free card reader
Reasons to avoid
-Higher transaction fees 

Intuit, best known for TurboTax, produces the QuickBooks small business accounting offering, and under that umbrella is its mobile card reader effort, which is known as QuickBooks GoPayment.

The GoPayment smartphone app is notable, and this has a companion card reader, both of which come for no additional charge. Unlike free card readers from competing services, this one from Quickbooks can handle both mag-stripe and chip methods of entry, and connects to the smartphone wirelessly via Bluetooth.

Another benefit of this service is that there is no setup fee, or any minimum usage level, making QuickBooks  more attractive for the lower volume user. 

Transaction fees are 2.4% plus $0.25 for each swipe, and for a keyed entry this rises to 3.4% plus $0.25 for each transaction. Overall, if you're already a QuickBooks user, QuickBooks GoPayment could be your priority choice.

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(Image credit: Shopify)

5. Shopify

Taking your business anywhere

Reasons to buy
+Free trial+24/7 support+Free reader
Reasons to avoid
-Not a standalone service

Shopify offers an entire suite of merchant services. Here we are focusing on its mobile POS system, that targets selling at “fairs, markets, pop-ups, and everywhere in‑between,” making this an attractive solution for an existing Shopify business on the move with a pocket-sized card reader The chip and swipe reader is also free, sweetening this deal even further.

In addition to the mobile card reader offering, this also integrates into Shopify solutions including the Shopify POS smartphone app. However, do note that the mobile reader comes as an extension to existing Shopify services, and isn't provided as a standalone.

Shopify offers three plans, with the starting tier being the Basic Shopify Plan costing $29 per month. Merchants can opt to pay a higher monthly fee to reduce transaction costs.

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(Image credit: iZettle)

6. iZettle

The iZettle 2 card reading system offers freedom and flexibility

Reasons to buy
+Super simple+Pretty cheap
Reasons to avoid
-Monthly fee for wider support

iZettle is a new and improved version of the card reading service that has been around in one form or another for a while now, since 2010 in fact and it's also now owned by PayPal. It’s proved to be very popular and the latest incarnation is likely to boost that appeal. The great thing about it, and perhaps the main reason that it has been a hit with so many people, is that it is one of the simplest solutions out there for taking payments. 

The iZettle is a compact card machine that works alongside a very impressive app on your phone to make the processing of payments a doddle. This edition of iZettle is just as attractive as the earlier model and proves to be very affordable, which means that it continues to be hugely popular with small business owners who want a cheapish way to process payments. 

Once you’ve bought the card reader you’ll then be charged a fixed rate for each transaction, which makes it a sensible option and monthly fee-free alternative to some of its competitors. The app, incidentally, is free. 

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(Image credit: PayAnywhere)

7. PayAnywhere

Accept credit card payments from any location

Reasons to buy
+Excellent app+Quality hardware
Reasons to avoid
-Custom package pricing vague-Inactivity fee for dormant accounts

PayAnywhere has been in existence for around a decade or so now, although it's only in the last couple of years that it has been improved enough to be called a serious player in the card processing stakes. 

PayAnywhere currently comes with two different packages for the mobile market, so currently you can opt for their pay-as-you-go package, which has a 2.69% transaction fee attached to it. That covers transaction processing of under 10k per month for swiped, dip or tap payments. 

Meanwhile, keyed entries cost 3.49% plus $0.19 each while there’s also an apparent inactivity fee per month. However, PayAnywhere states on its site that this is applicable only to merchants who do not process a transaction for 12 months. When processing resumes, the inactivity fee will no longer be charged.