Updated October 16, 2023

Free Card Reader

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POS equipment can get expensive, so here's a list of the best affordable (if not free) card readers available on the market.

What are the best free card readers?
Here are the top 4 free credit card readers available now:
  1. Best Overall: Square
  2. Best for Mid-Sized Businesses: National Processing
  3. Best for Established Businesses: Clover Go
  4. Best for Android Devices: SecureGlobalPay

There are a ton of free card readers out there. But just because they're free doesn't mean you should pick them up. Some "free" payment processors will have expensive processing fees or even long-term contracts.

If you have a new or small business and aren't looking to spend on a credit card reader, here's a list of some of the best free ones on the market.

Free Card Readers for Large and Small Businesses

Smart terminals and other point-of-sale system hardware can get really pricey. But card readers won't hurt your wallet. Here are some of the best ones right now:

What is a card reader?
A card reader is a small device that can read the information on a credit or debit card's microchip or magnetic strip. This allows business owners to take credit or debit card payments with ease.

1. Square: Best Overall

Square offers one of the best POS systems out there. When you apply for an account, you get a free magstripe reader (swipe payments only). If you need more readers, you can buy an additional magstripe reader for $10 or a contactless reader for $59.[1]

With the Square Reader, you won't need to worry about battery life. The free reader will work as long as it's plugged into your device.

The Square POS app is compatible with most smartphones and tablets. The reader even has a built-in Offline Mode, making it a great choice for mobile businesses like food trucks.

How to get a free Square Reader:
After signing up for an account, your free Square Reader will be delivered to you in 7-10 business days.[2]

Once you place your order, you should get a confirmation email and shipping updates as soon as the reader is sent out. You can also track your order from your dashboard from the POS app.

Is the Square Reader really free?
The Square magstripe reader really is free—but only when you sign up for an account. If you need more card readers for your business, it'll cost you at least an additional $10. There also isn't a free Square contactless reader, but you can buy one for $59 to take contactless payments.

Pros + Cons

  • First card reader is free
  • Free Square POS app
  • No battery charging required
  • High transaction fees
  • Separate card reader required for contactless payments
  • Additional charges for extra card readers

Square's processing rates:[3]

Type of TransactionCost
In-person2.6% + $0.10
Online2.9% + $0.30
Keyed-in3.5% + $0.15
Invoices3.3% + $0.30

Although Square's fees are a bit pricey, they're still ideal for small businesses. You're only charged when you make a sale, which is way better than paying a monthly fee (even without sales).

2. National Processing: For Mid-Sized Businesses

National Processing offers more than just free mobile readers. They also throw in a free gateway setup and free reprogramming for your equipment.

The free reader they offer is called the SwipeSimple B250. It allows you to take magstripe, chip cards, and contactless payments. However, they connect wirelessly, which means you'll need to keep an eye on its battery at all times.

Other terminals and hardware are available to use as a backup if ever your card reader is down. You can purchase the SwipeSimple A920 terminal or use the SwipeSimple Virtual Terminal to keep taking card payments and keep your business running.

How to get the SwipeSimple B250:
The free mobile reader comes with your monthly subscription. Some plans even offer a free terminal or other free equipment, so be sure to pick one that fits you and your business.

The catch here is that if you want to cancel or terminate your contract early, you'll have to pay for early cancellation and equipment fees.

Pros + Cons

  • POS hardware bundle
  • Transparent processing rates
  • Tailor-made plans for specific businesses
  • Supports magstripe and contactless payments
  • Early cancellation fees
  • Expensive fees for subscription and ACH services

National Processing's fees & monthly costs:[4]
National offers two different pricing programs. Smaller businesses can start with interchange-plus pricing, which has different rates for different businesses.

Larger businesses can opt for subscription pricing, which has a higher monthly fee, but lower markups.

Account TypeTransaction FeesMonthly Costs
Interchange Plus Pricing Plans
RestaurantInterchange + 0.14% + $0.07$9.95/mo
RetailInterchange + 0.18% + $0.10$9.95/mo
eCommerceInterchange + 0.29% + $0.15$9.95/mo
Non-ProfitInterchange + 0.12% + $0.06$9.95/mo
Subscription Pricing Plans
SubscriptionInterchange + $0.09$59/mo
Subscription PlusInterchange + $0.05$199/mo

3. Clover Go: For Established Businesses

Clover's free card reader offers easier payments, more flexibility, and tighter tracking. And since their processors are technically the merchant account providers, they're great for large and established businesses.

Clover Go, the Bluetooth card reader, gets you up to 160 swipes or 130 contactless transactions on one charge. If it runs low on battery, you can always use the stand that it comes with to give it more juice.

The reader comes with features like digital receipts. This allows you to instantly send a digital receipt via text or email right after purchase.

Clover's other plans will include more features like reporting, invoicing, inventory management, customer management, employee management, and more.

How to get a free card reader from Clover:
To get a free Clover Go reader, you'll have to apply to third-party payment processors like National Bankcard or American Merchant Brokers.

Just note that some processors may have sales volume requirements in order to get a free Clover Go. For example, American Merchant Brokers requires $30,000/month in sales volume to qualify for free Clover equipment.

American Merchant Brokers require a 1-year contract. Before signing up, make sure their services suit your needs. Switching payment processors can be a hassle and long-term contracts often have termination fees.

Pros + Cons

  • Works on Android and iOS
  • Integrated hardware and software
  • Bundles for different businesses
  • Other free equipment available (i.e., Clover Station, Clover Mini)
  • Monthly fees of up to $14.95
  • Bound to the processor's terms
  • Can't reprogram Clover

Clover Go's transaction fees:[5]
Your processing fees will depend on which processor you go with. But if you go directly with Clover, the transaction fees are:

Type of TransactionCost
Card-present2.6% + $0.10
Card-not-present3.5% + $0.10

4. SecureGlobalPay: For Android Devices

SecureGlobalPay is a merchant account provider that offers free card readers suited for Android devices. Their card readers connect via headphone jack, so you'll need an older iPhone if you prefer using iOS.

Using older devices isn't ideal when handling payments. To see if your device is compatible, be sure to check if your device is supported through their website.

The card reader is designed and made by Payanywhere. It takes any type of payment like magnetic strip, chip cards, and contactless payments. It's also available for use on either a smartphone or a tablet.

The POS app is also fully customizable, giving you features like reporting which give you an overview of how your business is doing. It can also be integrated with QuickBooks Online, letting you update your books in real time.

How to get free Payanywhere credit card reader:
SecureGlobalPay has two plans: Mobile and Storefront. To get the free card reader, you'll need to apply for the mobile plan. The Storefront plan will require you to pay a basic service fee of $12.95/month.[6]

Luckily, SecureGlobalPay accepts low to high-risk businesses, giving you a good chance to get approved.

To get started, all you need to do is apply through their website. Just be sure to have all your requirements ready.

Pros + Cons

  • No monthly fees
  • No early termination fees
  • Live customer support (phone, email, chat)
  • Newer iPhone models are not compatible
  • Only connection is through a headphone jack

SecureGlobalPay processing rates:[7]

Type of TransactionCost
(Mobile) Swiped2.69%
(Mobile) Keyed-in3.49% + $0.19
(Storefront) Swiped1.69%
(Storefront) Business2.69%
(Storefront) Keyed-in3.69% + $0.19

Alternatives: Cheapest Credit Card Readers

If you're willing to shell out a little money for a free card reader alternative, here are some options from trusted brands.

How much does a card reader cost?
Depending on the provider, card readers can be free or can set you back as much as a couple hundred bucks. It'll depend on the type of card payments it accepts and the other POS features it offers.

1. PayPal

PayPal is one of the biggest names in payment processing. They're great for online payments but they also offer card readers ideal for small businesses.

Their readers connect wirelessly to your device and have an 8-hour battery life.[8] Their app also comes with features like checkout, inventory management, and reporting.

If you're looking to just test it out, PayPal has no long-term contracts. This way, you can see if their card reader suits your needs and easily switch if it doesn't.

Because of how accessible PayPal funds are, scheduled withdrawals from PayPal into your bank account are extremely easy. Just remember that it may take 3-5 business days for the funds to finish transferring.[9]

How to get the PayPal card reader
All you need to do to get your PayPal card reader is to apply for one on their website.

Your first reader will cost you $29 and any additional ones will be $79.[10] They all work with the PayPal Zettle POS app and let you accept PayPal and Venmo payments, among many others.

Pros + Cons

  • Works on Android and iOS
  • No monthly fees
  • Free PayPal Zettle app
  • White and black reader options
  • Chargeback fees
  • 8-hour battery life (100 transactions)

PayPal's processing rates:[11]

Type of TransactionCost
Card-present2.29% + $0.09
Keyed-in3.49% + $0.09
QR code2.29% + $0.09
Invoicing (via PayPal)3.49% + $0.49
Invoicing (via other payment methods)2.99% + $0.49

Can I turn my phone into a card reader?
You can turn your phone into a card reader through Tap to Pay technology. Just enable "Tap to Pay on iPhone" or "Tap to Pay on Android" on your POS app. This will allow you to take contactless payments such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay.

2. Shopify

Shopify, another titan in the payment processor space, also allows you to accept chip cards and contactless payments for your business.

The reader is integrated with Shopify's free POS app and has features for both online and in-person stores. With a subscription, you have everything you need to build your store from scratch. They even have features that will keep your physical and eCommerce stores in sync.

If you plan on building your store from the ground up with Shopify, it's important to note that you'll need a separate app.

How to get the Shopify card reader:
To get started with Shopify, you can check out their website to see the different types of readers they offer.

You can start with a simple tap and chip reader at $49 (which charges extra for its charging doc) and work your way up to the high-end POS Go reader ($399).

If you're using an iPhone, you may not even need a card reader to take payments. Shopify offers Tap to Pay on iPhone for free, which lets you take contactless payments. All you need to do is enable the feature from the POS app.

Pros + Cons

  • 24/7 customer support
  • Free 30-day returns
  • Works with Android and iOS
  • Free Shopify POS app
  • Charging dock priced separately

Shopify's processing rates:[12]

PlanMonthly FeeOnline PaymentsIn-person Payments
Basic$39/month2.90% + $0.302.70% + $0.00
Shopify$105/month2.60% + $0.302.50% + $0.00
Advanced$399/month2.40% + $0.302.40% + $0.00

Shopify POS Lite comes with all Shopify subscription plans. However, the card rates from Shopify Payments will vary depending on your plan and type of transaction. For more features like staff and customer management, you can get POS pro at $89/month.[13]

3. Helcim

Helcim offers a card reader that takes tap, chip, and PIN payments. It also comes with a stand that lets you keep it comfortably by your side.

The reader connects wirelessly to your device via Bluetooth but also gives you the option to plug it directly into your computer. It boasts an all-day battery life (but that'll mostly depend on your usage).

The POS app is free to download. It comes with features like email receipts, tracking features for inventory and customers, review reports, and save cards on file.

Through the app, you can create as many accounts as you want for your staff. You can also set permissions, limiting access to sensitive information. This is essential for dealing with customer data.

How to get the Helcim card reader:
You can get started with Helcim by heading to their website and signing up for a free account. The device itself will cost you $109 but it'll get you ready to start taking card payments in no time.

It's not the most affordable on this list, but its wide array of features still makes Helcim an interesting choice.

Helcim offers one more POS equipment aside from its card reader. You can also go for their Helcim Smart Terminal ($349) for an all-in-one POS option. The smart terminal works over wifi and can take tap and chip payments.

Pros + Cons

  • Free POS app
  • Great customer service
  • Works on desktop, mobile, and tablet
  • Pricier than competitors
  • POS has limited software integrations

Helcim's processing rates:
Helcim offers lower processing rates with higher volume. You'll get automatic rate deductions as you process more.[14]

Monthly Credit Card VolumeIn-PersonOnline & Keyed
$0 - $50,000Interchange + 0.40% + $0.08Interchange + 0.50% + $0.25
$50,001 - $100,000Interchange + 0.35% + $0.07Interchange + 0.45% + $0.20
$100,001 - $500,000Interchange + 0.25% + $0.07Interchange + 0.35% + $0.20
$500,001 - $1 millionInterchange + 0.20% + $0.06Interchange + 0.25% + $0.15
$1 million+Interchange + 0.15% + $0.06Interchange + 0.15% + $0.15

On average, Helcim customers pay 1.94% + $0.08 for in-person payments and 2.51% + 0.25% for online & keyed payments.

All these options can get overwhelming. Here's how you can make a choice.

How to Choose the Best Card Reader

When it comes to looking for the best card readers for your business, there are a ton of options—both paid and free. Before you settle on one, here are a few things you need to consider:

  • Accepted payment methods
    Does the card reader take EMV chip payments? Magstripe payments? What about contactless payments? Card readers let you take all or just a few of those types of payments.

  • Device compatibility
    Card readers are typically suitable for both Android and iOS, but some readers are limited to one of the two. Make sure the device you plan on using is compatible.

    Also, consider how you want your device to be connected. Some are connected via Bluetooth, while others are directly plugged into your smartphone or tablet.

  • Battery life
    Card readers that are connected wirelessly will rely on batteries. Consider how many hours worth of payment processing you need based on how busy your store is during operating hours.

  • POS app features
    Card readers work hand-in-hand with mobile POS apps. Features typically include digital receipts, inventory tracking, and customer management.

    When choosing a POS, consider what you need for your daily business operations.

  • Processing rates
    Since card readers typically come from payment processors, you need to consider processing rates.

    Take note of their online and in-person transaction fees, monthly charges, PCI compliance fees, chargeback fees, and other miscellaneous fees. Ideally, you'll want a service provider that doesn't take too much away from your profits.

What is the most crucial factor for you when selecting a card reader for your business?

Is there an app that can read credit cards?
Some mobile POS apps can read credit cards. You can scan the credit card info through your phone camera. But you can also use the app as a virtual terminal where you manually input the customer's details.

If all things considered, the free card readers offer what you need, should you go and grab one?

Should You Get a Free Card Reader?

Free card readers have their own set of pros and cons. Be sure to weigh them out before you go out and get one.

Pros:

  • Free equipment
    The obvious advantage is that you won't need to worry about leasing or buying POS hardware. The mobile POS apps that come with them are usually free as well and are enough to help you start accepting credit card payments.

  • Plugged and wireless options are available
    Depending on the payment processor, the card reader may be plugged into your mobile device. This means you won't need to worry about battery life at all.

    Wireless options, on the other hand, may come with charging docks. This allows you to put them neatly on your countertops.

  • Makes POS systems accessible
    You don't need to worry about capital for POS equipment. You can start accepting credit and debit card payments as soon as you get your card reader. The setup is easy too.

Cons:

  • Tied to a POS software
    The company will likely tie the free card reader to the POS software they offer or work with. For example, a free Square reader will only work with Square's POS app.

  • Higher transaction fees
    If you're choosing a credit card processing company due to the free reader, then you may not be getting the lowest transaction fees you could get.

  • Tied to long-term contracts
    There are payment processing companies that may tie their free card readers to a long-term contract, especially if you're applying for a traditional merchant account.

    You may also be required to return the free equipment if you end your term. Be sure to read the fine print to know what you're getting yourself into.

Be wary of free card reader offers
Everything comes with a cost. If it's not capital, then it's something else. It could be in the form of transaction fees, long-term contracts, or a sub-par credit card processing service. It's always better to prioritize looking at the best payment processors over those that offer free equipment.

Free vs. Paid Card Reader

Free and paid mobile card readers will often offer similar features. They'll let you accept credit cards, debit cards, and contactless payments. Both will also include POS apps that'll help you grow your business and expand your reach.

The best way to look at it would be to see the free card readers as an added bonus. The main thing you should be looking at is the POS provider and what it can do for your business.

Prioritizing the POS system puts your business first. Don't get caught up with the free stuff that comes along with it.

Some POS systems are more suited for retail, while others are better for restaurants. When looking for a point-of-sale system, be sure to always remember what type of business you're running. This ensures that you'll get the right features to help it grow.

Our Methodology

To come up with our list, we looked at several card readers that could help you accept card and contactless payments. We also looked at those that wouldn't cost you anything to get their product.

Additionally, we looked at other POS features that might help your business grow even more. We thought about which ones would help small, medium, and large businesses.

For the paid alternatives, we considered the best affordable options. We thought about their ease of use and pricing transparency, seeing which ones would help a growing business on a budget.

What the Experts Say

CreditDonkey asked a panel of industry experts to answer readers' most pressing questions. Here's what they said:

Bottom Line

Some payment processors and POS system providers offer free credit card readers when you apply for an account. But you shouldn't choose their service just for the free reader.

Be very picky. It's always best to consider the features and if your business can work with them in the long run. Free card readers can serve as a bonus instead of a cause for your application.

If the free card readers don't do enough for you, you can always check out other affordable options. You might also consider the cheapest credit card processors when hoping to save some money.

References

  1. ^ Square. Square Reader for contactless and chip, Retrieved 8/8/2023
  2. ^ Square. Get a Square Magstripe Reader, Retrieved 8/24/23
  3. ^ Square. Square Payments Fees, Retrieved 8/8/2023
  4. ^ National Processing. Pricing, Retrieved 8/8/2023
  5. ^ Clover Go. Pricing, Retrieved 05/16/2023
  6. ^ Storefront plan. Pricing, Retrieved 8/24/23
  7. ^ Secure Global Pay. Pricing for Credit Card Processing, Retrieved 05/17/2023
  8. ^ Paypal. Card Reader, Retrieved 8/24/23
  9. ^ Paypal. How long does it take to add money from my bank?, Retrieved 8/24/23
  10. ^ Paypal. Card Reader, Retrieved 8/8/2023
  11. ^ Paypal. Pricing, Retrieved 05/18/2023
  12. ^ Shopify. Pricing, Retrieved 8/8/2023
  13. ^ Shopify. POS pro, Retrieved 8/24/23
  14. ^ Helcim. Helcim Pricing, Retrieved 7/1/2023

Write to Karen Eloriaga at feedback@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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