A few years ago I went to one of my state’s annual celebrations. It was my first time and it was so exciting. There were hundreds of booths set up and people sold things varying from purses, to garden art, to wooden toys, even wall art made from antique dishes. My family looks forward it every year.

As of 5 years ago, many of the booths started accepting credit and debit cards. They invested the money into a standard credit card terminal and it must have benefited because each year more and more booths started accepting cards. But, the majority of the booths still accepted cash only. Then, I went this year.

I took a bunch of cash with me, anticipating having to use it for most of my purchases. As we walked up to the first booth I noticed a sign on it that read, “Now accepting cards!” I started walking around the rest of the booths and to my surprise nearly every single one had that same sign. Honestly I was a little shocked. I wondered what change had come about that now every booth I went to accepted my card. Then it hit me, they didn’t have standard credit card terminals, they had mobile card readers.

It made so much sense. Everyone and their dog own a smartphone now (maybe not their dog, but their 8 year old kid does). Mobile card readers made so much sense for these businesses. We live in a plastic nation. Most Americans prefer to use their card over cash; it’s quick, easy and convenient. As I saw that day in those booths, accepting credit cards will undoubtedly increase your customer base.

Since that day I have been noticing mobile card readers pop up everywhere; our local small town theatre, wedding planners, caterers, lawn care services etc. They all have them. It has made me wonder what benefits, besides mobility, do they have over standard card readers.

They both gather necessary card information, transmit that data to a service provider to be authenticated and then send the funds to the merchant. That’s their basic function, but what else do they provide?

Mobile Card Readers


- These are 100% portable. If your business travels, such as a boutique, a landscaping company or a food truck this would be a good option. You can take it everywhere you go.

- They can work over Wi-Fi or 4G. As long as your phone or tablet has a signal, you’re good to go.

- You don’t have to bill customers; you can accept payment right away. This is great for business since you don’t have to hassle with unpaid bills.

- It requires no monthly fee or set-up charge.

-Generally there is a low swiping fee that you pay to your merchant service provider.

- It is convenient. It is easy to move and store. You don’t have to worry about it taking up space on a counter.


- It is so small you could misplace it fairly easily.

- You can only swipe credit or debit cards.

- If you don’t get service on your WiFi or 4G, you can’t use it.

- Sometimes it can be hard to swipe a card and you may have to do it several times.


Standard Credit Card Readers


- These are a stationary machine. You’ll always know where they are.

- They can read credit cards, debit cards, gift cards and in some cases, checks. You’re not limited to just credit or debit cards.

- You can make remote purchases. If a customer isn’t at the location, they can give you a credit card number and the employee can enter it in on the key pad.

- They are traditional, reliable and well-known. Customers are used to seeing them and won’t be hesitant.


- You have to have the necessary hardware and software to operate it. This includes a landline or an internet connection through a desktop. You also have to pay an installation fee in some cases.

- These require a month to month operating contract.

- These can get expensive. You have the option to buy or lease them. They can range anywhere from $50-500 depending on the brand, capabilities, etc.

Merchant Account Providers

As a small business, if you decide that a mobile card reader is the way you want to go, there are several merchant account providers you can choose from. Some of the more popular are:

  1. Square Card Reader

Many people like the ease of Square. It’s easy to understand and use. It was the first mobile card reader to come out. It reads card easily and many people say they don’t have to reswipe very often. But many business owners have also said that the card reader will turn while they are swiping the card and it takes some time to get a rhythm down.

When it comes to customer service, Square doesn’t offer over the phone help. You have to access them through Twitter and carry on a conversation there.

  1. Intuit Merchant Services

Intuit can be confusing for some people. It has 2 different versions of the software; one for your phone and one for your tablet. Once you get past that, it’s fairly easy to learn. It’s the best built of these 3 options and many people have said it has a similar feeling as swiping your card in a standard card reader.

  1. PayPal

This merchant provider probably has the most options and features but it also has the most problems. These problems arise from either the software itself or user error (because of confusion or lack of common sense).

The provider you go with will depend on your preferences, your device and how much you are willing to pay. Their monthly fees all vary and you want to make sure you read the fine print. You can be charged fees for swiping certain types of cards or swiping several times. You have different options out there, so do your research and find out what will work best for you.

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