Choose the Best Mobile Credit Card Processor
The top performers in our review are Square, the Gold Award winner; Cartwheel Register, the Silver Award winner; and EMS+, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a mobile credit card processor that meets your small business' needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of services.
Mobile credit card processing, sometimes also referred to as mPOS (mobile point of sale), gives you the ability to accept credit and debit card payments using your phone or tablet instead of a credit card terminal or point-of-sale (POS) system. Other than the difference in hardware used to capture information on your customer's card, the process is identical to credit card processing. When you run a transaction, information on your customer's card is routed securely to the processor, the credit card network, your customer's issuing bank and finally, your bank account where the amount of the transaction, less the processing costs, is deposited.
In order to use your mobile device to process credit card transactions, you need to sign up for an account with a credit card processing company that offers mobile processing. You can then download and install an app onto your device. Your device needs to have either Wi-Fi or cellular service for the app to allow you to accept cards. Often, you also attach a small card reader, called a swiper or dongle, to your device by plugging it into the earphone jack, though newer devices may connect via Bluetooth.
In this article, we present the results of our extensive research and testing so you can understand the mobile arm of a complicated industry and choose the mobile processor that's the best fit for your small business. While the information presented in this article, the matrix and our reviews, can help you identify the companies you want to learn more about, it's still important to do your due diligence and further research these companies by directly contacting them. This ensures you receive pricing quotes specific to your business, as the processing costs you're quoted may vary from the pricing we received in our testing. This article includes information about the following:
- Mobile vs. traditional credit card processing: Both types of processors provide you with the ability to accept payments using your phone or tablet, but choosing the right one for your small business can save you money.
- Processing costs and fees: Most mobile processors offer flat-rate pricing with no fees or tiered pricing with lower processing rates. Learn how to determine which pricing model is best for your company.
- Tips to lower your costs: You can negotiate for lower rates either with your current processor by asking for a pricing review or with a prospective processor by asking them to waive fees.
- Contract advice: Reading the contract before signing it lets you avoid lengthy service terms with expensive cancellation penalties.
- Data security requirements: Find out how the payment card industry's data security standards and EMV technology keep your customers' payment data secure.
- Equipment needs: In addition to your phone or tablet and an app, you may need a card reader and other accessories to maximize your mobile processing.
- Our best recommendations for specific mobile credit card processing setups: Find out which mobile processors performed best in our testing and which options may be best suited for your small business' specific needs.
If you need a processor so you can accept online payments, be sure to check our Accept Credit Cards Online review. If you're looking for a full-service processor to handle in-store payments, our Credit Card Processing review gives you good options to choose from. You can also read articles about payment processing.
Benefits of Mobile Credit Card Processing
Mobile credit card processing may be a good fit for you if your business is mobile or doesn't operate out of a traditional brick-and-mortar location, such as a food truck. It can also be a good option if you're opening a new business or if you're not sure how much you'll actually be processing each month.
In such cases, a mobile credit card processor that doesn't charge fees and only charges processing costs can be a good option. It may also be a good solution for you if you typically accept cash or do most of your billing via invoicing and only occasionally need to accept credit cards. Here are some additional reasons to consider choosing mobile credit card processing:
- Less expensive upfront costs if you already have a phone or tablet. Most processors provide you with a free swiper when you set up your account. However, if you want an EMV-compliant card reader, you usually have to purchase it. Some processors, such as Cartwheel Register, don't require you to use any additional hardware to securely process transactions; all you need is the app and the technology already built into your phone.
- You can accept credit cards wherever you are. This capability makes mobile credit card processing ideal for service professionals who work in the field. It's also a wonderful option if you're a merchant who attends trade shows, consumer shows or local farmer's markets since you can accept credit cards as long as you have Wi-Fi or cellular service.
- You want to add additional checkout options. You can mobilize your sales team with card readers and phones or tablets to expedite the checkout process for your customers.
- It looks minimal and sharp. Instead of a bulky cash register and POS system, you can conduct your transactions entirely on your phone using an app and a swiper. If needed, you can add a cash drawer and printer. This can be beneficial when you're on location and have to tote your equipment or if you have limited checkout space.
Disadvantages of Mobile Credit Card Processing
Although mobile credit card processing can be less expensive than standard credit card processing, these are some of the disadvantages to consider:
- It may take longer to process transactions. If you opt not to add a printer, it may take extra time to capture an email address from each customer so that you can send the receipt electronically instead of quickly printing one out.
- Customer support is less robust. Customer service may not be as readily available as it is from standard credit card processing. Most mobile processors have limited customer service hours and don't provide their customers with dedicated account reps. Some do not offer phone support.
- You need to have a mobile device that is compatible with the apps. If you have an older cellphone or one that runs on something other than iOS and Android, you may need to upgrade to a newer model in order for the apps to work.
- Your customers will be handling your cellphone. You need to be comfortable with letting people touch and even hold your cellphone or tablet in order to view and sign their receipts.
Mobile credit card processing differs from traditional credit card processing in that most processing companies offer pay-as-you-go or month-to-month service and there are fewer fees. Many have a flat-rate pricing model that's easy to understand and lets you estimate your processing costs. It's usually the most cost-effective processing option for businesses that process $3,000 or less per month or for those with small sales tickets. If your business processes more than $3,000 per month, a traditional credit card processor may offer you better rates.
Mobile credit card processing can be used as a stand-alone service and serve as your sole means of accepting credit and debit cards. It can also be an add-on service if you have a traditional credit card processing account as most traditional credit card processors can easily add this capability to your existing account and provide you with card readers for your mobile devices. Mobile credit card processing is available from payment facilitators, independent sales organizations (ISOs) or merchant service providers (MSPs) and direct processors.
Payment Facilitators, ISO/MSPs & Direct Processors
Many mobile credit card processors, such as Square and PayPal Here, are payment facilitators, or merchant aggregators, that sponsor merchants under their master merchant accounts. Other processors, such as Flagship ROAMpay and CreditCardProcessing.com, are ISO/MSPs that can provide you with your own merchant account. Direct processors, such as Chase Paymentech and Elavon, can also provide you with your own merchant account.
There are pros and cons to working with each types of processor. Whether you need your own merchant account or not depends on various factors, including what kind of business you own; how much you process; and whether you want to process online, on-the-go, or in a more traditional retail environment.
Many mobile processors are payment facilitators that don't require you to open your own merchant account. One of the benefits of working with a payment facilitator is that the setup times are quick. You don't need to go through the same underwriting process as you would to get a merchant account through an ISO/MSP or direct processor. Often, payment facilitators can approve your account and get you set up to start processing the same day you sign up, and they frequently provide you with a free mobile card swiper.
Account aggregators also tend to have a simple pricing structure and often don't charge monthly fees or have monthly minimums. Since your account is combined with others under the umbrella of a master merchant account, you aren't responsible for PCI-compliance certification. This is because the aggregator is the merchant of record and assumes all responsibility for ensuring that the equipment and software meet security standards.
Account aggregators may have maximum processing limits, so they may not be ideal for businesses that have aggressive plans for expansion. Yowza Merchant, for example, only allows its level one merchants to process $4,000 a month with a $300 maximum per transaction. Visa requires merchants that process more than $100,000 a year to get a merchant account, even if you choose to continue processing through the aggregator. Another drawback of payment facilitators is that many lack personalized customer service, and some companies only provide customer support through email.
ISO/MSPs & Direct Processors
Most ISO/MSPs and direct processors also offer mobile processing, and you can choose to use it as a stand-alone service or in conjunction with traditional retail processing. These processors set you up with your own merchant account, which may be a better choice if you plan to process in a retail setting or if you plan to expand your business.
It may be more cost effective to work with this type of processor if you process more than $3,000 per month, since you can often choose from additional pricing models, including interchange plus, which is the pricing model most industry experts recommend.
Standard processors may also have more flexibility with their processing costs. Once you've been with a processor for a certain period of time, many are willing to audit your processing costs, and you may qualify for lower rates.
Companies that offer traditional credit card processing tend to offer a higher quality of customer service. Many of them, including Flagship ROAMpay, Cayan and Chase Paymentech, assign you a dedicated account rep when you sign up.
One of the drawbacks to processing with an ISO/MSP or direct processor is that they can take longer to set up. You may be required to have a business license and submit documentation, such as business or personal bank statements or marketing material. Some processors may also require you to submit to credit checks. The underwriting process can take longer, and you may have to wait several days before you can accept payments.
ISO/MSPs and direct processors tend to charge more fees than aggregators do. Nearly all of them charge a monthly fee and a PCI-compliance fee. The PCI-compliance fee ensures your account complies with security standards and that you aren't storing your customers' data. Be cautious of processors that set you up with a merchant account but offer pay-as-you-go plans. You may still be on the hook for a PCI-compliance fee and may have to pay it based on your transaction volume.
Why Mobile Credit Card Processors are Difficult to Evaluate
Although mobile credit card processing is generally more straightforward than standard credit card processing, it can be difficult to compare services because the pricing models are different; many are flat rate while others are tiered. Plus, even among the processors that use the flat-rate model, there is variance. For example, some charge different rates based on how you capture the card data, some charge different rates based on whether the card is debit or credit, and a few charge a higher rate for premium cards. Additionally, some processors charge per-transaction fees while others don't, and a few even charge monthly fees or annual PCI-compliance fees. Other variances that make it difficult to evaluate mobile processors are technology and equipment options, which also vary from processor to processor.
What to Expect From Your Mobile Credit Card Processor
Whether you choose to work with a payment facilitator, an ISO/MSP or a direct processor, you should expect to be able to accept all major credit and debit cards, including Discover and American Express. You should receive a free basic card reader or be able to purchase one at a low cost without being required to sign a lengthy contract.
The processor should provide you with service on a pay-as-you-go or month-to-month basis, and you should be able to cancel your account without incurring an early termination fee or cancellation penalty. You should be able to contact the processor for customer support by email or phone.
The Evolving Mobile Credit Card Processing Industry
As the credit card processing industry evolves to include better transparency in pricing and increased security through EMV regulations, the mobile credit card arm of the industry is responding by introducing new equipment and payment capture technologies.
Processors are updating dongles to EMV chip and magnetic stripe hybrids so you can capture card data by dipping the EMV chip into the device and by swiping cards that only have the magnetic stripe. The newest technology connects to your device via Bluetooth and allows you to accept mobile wallets, like Apple Pay and Google Pay, that use near-field communications (NFC) technology to transmit payment data. Some of the new devices also include a PIN pad.
No Equipment Options
Some of the newer mobile payment technologies use just your cell phone and an app to capture the numerals on your customers' credit cards; no additional equipment is needed.
Mobile Credit Card Processing: What We Evaluated, What We Found
As we researched mobile credit card processors, we looked for companies that charge minimal fees and offer competitive pricing because we realize that affordability is a top priority when you're looking for a processing service. We looked for companies that provide month-to-month service and don't charge early termination fees, because you should be able to switch processing services easily and without incurring penalties if you find better pricing or service elsewhere.
We tried to find companies that could set up accounts quickly and simply since your time is valuable. To find the very best options, we considered both standard credit card processors that offer mobile processing as a stand-alone service and payment facilitators that sponsor merchants.
To evaluate mobile credit card processors, our testers researched each company and reached out to them multiple times, on various days at various times, by contacting company representatives as potential customers by email and phone. We used this evaluation to score each company's pricing, consistency, ease of application and customer service. Pricing options, processing costs and fees stood out as key differentiators.
Pricing Transparency & Consistency Score
We created this score to gauge how readily available information about pricing, fees and terms is to the public via the company's website. This is an important consideration because being able to find key information online helps you more quickly determine whether you want to learn more about the company. It helps you anticipate what charges you can expect on your bill after you sign up and inspires confidence that the company is consistent with its pricing and that you're getting the same rate as its other customers.
Transparency is a factor where mobile credit card processors tend to surpass standard credit card processors. Most mobile processors are very open with their pricing and routinely post processing costs and fees on their websites. Many of these companies also post their service terms. The processors that don't provide this information on their websites are usually standard processors that offer mobile credit card processing as a stand-alone service.
Part of this score also comes from our tester's interactions with customer service and evaluates how forthcoming representatives were with key information as well as the quality of that information. Many of the reps we contacted referred us to the company's website. If you're interested in working with a traditional credit card processor that offers mobile credit card processing, you're going to want to take more time and ask very detailed questions about the pricing and service terms. You also want to get a contract to read through to understand exactly what you can expect to pay and to verify the information you received over the phone. You can learn more about evaluating a standard credit card processor in our Credit Card Processing Review.
After our testing was finished, we compared the information we received throughout our evaluation for consistency. We awarded the highest scores to the processors that provided consistent, complete information.
Ease of Application Score
This score assesses how easy the processor makes it for you to apply for a mobile processing account. We considered the time it takes to set up an account, the availability of an electronic application and the documentation required for your application. We also evaluated the requirement of a lengthy contract and the time it takes for funds to be deposited to your bank account.
Most of the processors we reviewed can set up your mobile processing account in one day or less. Five of the processors can take up to two days, and three may take up to three days or longer, with Chase Paymentech taking the longest time to set up an account, requiring up to four days. Only four processors don't have an electronic application; they are full-service processors that prefer you apply with a rep over the phone.
Approximately half of the companies we reviewed require minimal documentation, such as your phone number, driver's license, social security number and a credit card, to set up your account. In addition to this information, approximately a fourth of the processors also required a business license, tax ID number or your employer identification number (EIN). Just three of the processors, CreditCardProcessing.com, Elavon and Flagship ROAMpay, require you to provide these documents and submit to a credit check.
We considered whether the processor requires you to sign a lengthy contract, since month-to-month service is nearly standard for mobile credit card processors. This is an important consideration because processors should have enough confidence in the quality of their service and the value of their pricing that they don't have to compel their customers to stay with them.
PayAnywhere has a three-year contract and is the only processor in our review that requires one; it's worth noting that three-year contracts are rare even among the traditional credit card processors we reviewed. It also carries an early termination fee that includes liquidated damages. If this is a processor you're interested in working with, you should ask your rep for a waiver that gives you month-to-month service and an exemption from the early termination fee. If you're unable to get a waiver, it may be in your best interest to reconsider your options.
We also considered the amount of time it takes to clear the account. Clearing the account is the part of the process where the money from your transactions is deposited into your bank account. Most processors take up to two days to do this, which is average and earns the check for this line item. Some, such as Cartwheel Register and CDGcommerce, can clear the account by the next day if you batch out your transactions before a certain time. Square has an instant-deposit feature so funds are immediately deposited into your account. PayPal Here and QuickBooks GoPayment may take up to three days to deposit your funds, and Yowza Merchant may take up to five days, which may be problematic if your cash flow is tight.
Customer Service Score
Our testers contacted each processor's customer-support channels, at various times on various days, to assess the accessibility and responsiveness of each company's representatives. Customer service is an important consideration when choosing a processing service for your company because accepting payments is a core function of your business, and you want to know that any issues you encounter can be resolved quickly and professionally.
As we interacted with each company, we considered whether the reps responded to our testers after they reached out online, whether they were courteous and knowledgeable, and whether they provided rates over the phone. The reps from the companies that earned the highest scores performed well in those tests, and they followed up with our testers, by phone or email, after our initial contact.
Most mobile credit card processors have flat-rate pricing and post their rates and fees on their websites, which makes it faster and easier for you to compare which companies you want to look more closely at as you evaluate processors. This pricing model also makes it easy for you to estimate your processing costs. Some processors offer tiered rates, which may be a more cost-effective option if you're processing more than $3,000 per month and you expect your business to grow and your processing volume to increase. Just four of the processors that we reviewed, Flagship Merchant Services, CreditCardProcessing.com, Chase Paymentech and Elavon, offer both types of pricing. The next section of this article explains more about pricing models.
You're probably looking for the most cost-effective processing option for your business. For this reason, the costs and fees of accepting credit cards are likely the first factors you evaluate when looking for a mobile credit card processor. Two factors – processing costs and fees – comprise the amount you can expect to pay. The processing cost is the amount of money you pay for each transaction. This normally includes both a small percentage of the transaction amount and an additional set fee you pay every time you process a transaction. Fees vary by processor; however, mobile credit card processing companies generally charge fewer fees than traditional, or full-service, credit card processors.
Mobile Credit Card Processing Pricing Models
Credit card processing companies typically use the three following pricing models to determine your processing costs: tiered, flat rate and interchange-plus pricing:
Although tiered is the overall most common pricing model for credit card processing, it's usually only offered to mobile credit card processing merchants by full-service processors. Industry experts criticize tiered pricing because it's less transparent than interchange-plus pricing and more complex than flat-rate pricing.
Tiered pricing is intended to be a simplified pricing model that combines the processor's markup with the actual processing costs, called the interchange rate and the card brand fee, and then sorts them into tiers. The tiers are sometimes referred to as buckets, and this pricing model may also be called "bucket pricing." It may be also referred to as "bundled pricing" because of the way the costs are bundled together to create a simplified price.
If you choose to work with a processor that puts you on a tiered pricing plan, it's important to understand what the tiers are and which types of cards and transaction methods are included in each. Three-tiered plans are the most common, with qualified, mid-qualified and non-qualified cards; these tiers are often referred to as qual, mid-qual and non-qual.
Qualified: This tier typically consists of standard credit and debit cards. The transactions must be electronically captured, i.e., either swiped or chip-dipped.
Mid-Qualified: Some processors include rewards or premium cards in this tier. Some processors also consider standard cards that have been manually keyed-in as mid-qualified transactions.
Non-Qualified: Most processors group international cards, corporate cards and government cards into this category, although some also include rewards or premium cards in this tier as well. Most processors also consider cards that are manually keyed-in as non-qualified transactions.
This is the most popular pricing model for mobile credit card processing. It's also the simplest model to understand because in most cases, you pay a single percentage rate and a per-transaction fee for every transaction, and the rate is the same no matter what type of card it is, although you may pay a slightly higher rate for transactions you manually key in.
Flat-rate pricing initially looks more expensive because the rates are higher than the starter rates that many companies advertise. However, one of the hallmarks of flat-rate pricing is that you pay fewer fees than you would with a traditional merchant account; in fact, many of the best mobile credit card processors don't charge any additional fees. This makes these mobile processors very attractive options, especially if you process a low volume of transactions, for example, if you're a new business or if most of your receivables are cash or check.
There are many variations to flat-rate pricing. Some processors, such as Cartwheel Register, Moolah and Chase Paymentech, charge the same rate regardless of how the transaction is processed, which may be good models to look for if you accept payments over the phone. Others, such as Flint, charge different rates for debit and credit cards, which can be a plus if your customers prefer paying with debit cards. A few companies' pricing models are almost flat-rate/tiered hybrids; they charge a higher rate for rewards cards but are otherwise similar to flat-rate pricing.
Another variation of flat-rate pricing is the per-transaction fee. Some processors, such as EMS+, don't charge one and only charge a flat percentage of the sale. Others charge a per-transaction fee in addition to the percentage rate, ranging from $0.09 to $0.30.
If you sell large-ticket items, pricing with a lower percentage rate is probably going to be more cost effective, even with the addition of the per-transaction fee. If you sell small-ticket items, you probably want to choose a processor that doesn't charge a per-transaction rate since it can quickly eat into your profits. Although $0.25 is a nominal amount, if your average transaction is only $5, that's 5 percent of your transaction on top of whatever percentage rate you're paying.
Although this pricing model initially seems extremely complex, it's the one industry experts recommend most because it's considered to be the most transparent. Like tiered pricing, this model consists of the processor's markup and actual processing costs, which is the interchange rate and the card-brand fee. The difference is that with this pricing model, the processor tells you how much the markup actually is. The processor's markup is expressed as a percentage of the transaction amount and a small set fee for each transaction.
The interchange rate is the percentage of the transaction paid to the cardholder's bank (also called the issuing bank). The credit card brands set interchange rates, and there are hundreds of different rates; they vary depending on the card brand, card type, the merchant's industry and other factors. The card brand fee is the amount of each transaction that is paid to the card brand, such as Visa or MasterCard.
Although the full-service credit card processors that offer mobile credit card processing have this pricing model, we omitted it from this matrix because it isn't as common among mobile processors as the other two pricing models. You can see interchange-plus pricing on the matrixes for our Credit Card Processing and Accept Credit Cards Online Reviews.
Mobile Credit Card Processing Fees
Mobile credit card processors typically charge fewer fees than full-service processors. However, if you procure your mobile credit card processing service through a full-service processor, you can expect to pay many of the same fees you would pay for retail processing. In our testing, the fees we were quoted include monthly fees, monthly minimums, PCI-compliance and non-compliance fees, and chargeback fees. None of the processors we reviewed quoted us setup fees or annual fees.
Fewer Fees Than Standard Credit Card Processing
Processors that charge various fees typically have lower processing costs. If you process a higher volume of sales each month, one of these companies may save you more money than one with higher costs – even if they don't charge fees.
Conversely, if you process a low volume of sales each month, it's more cost effective to choose a processor that only charges processing costs and doesn't charge fees. Processors that charge a percentage rate only with no per-transaction fee are especially good options if you process small tickets.
Sometime called a statement fee, this charge typically covers monthly statements, customer support and any account maintenance you may require. Usually this fee is charged by full-service processors rather than those that are mobile-only processors.
Less than half of the processors we reviewed charge this fee. $10 per month is average for this fee. If you require paper statements, it may cost you extra. For example, Chase Paymentech charges an extra $5 per month for paper statements.
The monthly minimum is the lowest amount of processing costs the processor expects you to generate each month. Although some processors count the full amount of a transaction toward this cost, most only count the processing costs: the percentage of the sale and per-transaction fee that you pay the processor. If the processor that you choose to work with has a monthly minimum, it's important to ask how the minimum is calculated and how much you need to process in order to meet that amount.
If you fail to meet the minimum, the processor charges you the difference between the amount of the minimum and the processing costs that you generated that month. For example, if the monthly minimum is $25 and you generated $15 in processing costs, the processor charges you $10. Only three of the processors we reviewed charge this fee, and each charges $25.
Standard processors charge this annual fee to help you comply with the Data Security Standards established by the Payment Card Industry to prevent fraud and data theft. In addition to paying this fee, the processor requires you to complete an annual questionnaire to establish your PCI compliance. Some processors call or email to remind you when it's time to fill out the questionnaire each year; others simply note it on your monthly statement.
Only three of the processors we reviewed charge this fee. Like other fees, you're more likely to encounter this fee from full-service processors that provide you with a merchant account. The average cost is $99.
Some of the processors that don't require you pay a PCI-compliance fee still expect you to fill out an annual PCI questionnaire to establish your PCI compliance. If you fail to do this, these processors charge you a monthly non-compliance fee. Just three of the processors we reviewed charge this fee. The average monthly non-compliance fee is $30.
If you have a customer dispute a charge, you may incur a chargeback fee. These tend to be more common with online sales than in-person sales. However, chargebacks sometimes occur if your customer doesn't recognize your business name on their credit card statement. Processors are wary of chargebacks and may cancel your account if you have too many chargebacks.
You can do several things to lower your mobile credit card processing costs or to ensure that you're getting the best possible rate.
- Ask If Fees Can Be Waived. Before you sign your contract, read it and identify the fees that are listed. Call your account rep and review the list to see if he or she can waive any of them. Make sure to get any changes noted on the contract or get a waiver for them. If you've already signed a contract, you may not be able to get any fees waived since you've already agreed to pay.
- Review Your Statement. It's important to review your statement each month. By familiarizing yourself with the monthly fees and costs, you can more easily spot any changes to your bill, such as higher rates or additional fees. Since most processors don't provide pricing guarantees, even if you sign a contract, it's up to you to watch for these changes.
- Request a Pricing Review. If you find that you're processing a higher volume than you were when you first signed up for your account, it can be worthwhile to request a pricing review. Your rep can assess your account to determine if you qualify for a lower rate. If your pricing plan is tiered, your rep may analyze your charges to make sure that your account is optimized to give you the best possible pricing.
- Shop Around & Renegotiate Your Rates. Like your cell phone plan or car insurance, it's important to call and get quotes every year or two to ensure you're getting the best possible rate on your mobile credit card processing. If you're able to find better pricing elsewhere, you can call your rep to renegotiate your rates. Your rep may be less inclined to do this if you're under contract, but it's worth taking the time to ask.
Shopping For a Mobile Credit Card Processor
One of the benefits of mobile credit card processing is that most of the processors are the merchants of record and set you up under their master merchant accounts, which means it's easier to apply for an account. Further, most applications are approved more quickly than if you set up an account with a standard processor.
Although most mobile credit card processors can set you up in one day, and some in just minutes, you still want to plan ahead and give yourself about a week to ensure that everything is working properly, especially if the company needs to ship equipment to you before you can process payments.
If you choose to work with a standard credit card processor, you want to give yourself extra time to shop around, get approved and set up and receive your equipment. Be sure to read our Credit Card Processing Review for specific information about working with this type of processor, including a list of the questions you should ask when calling for a pricing quote and contractual terms to avoid. No matter what type of processor you choose, it's important to take the time to contact customer service and thoroughly read the contract.
- Evaluate Customer Service. Even though you can find most of the information that you need online, consider calling and emailing the company to get a feel for the customer service you can expect to receive once you sign up with the company. You need to consider whether you think you'll need to reach customer support on weekends or after business hours.
In addition, you should decide if a company that provides email or ticket support only is sufficient or if you want to be able to talk with someone on the phone. You should also consider if speaking with different customer service agents each time you call is acceptable or if it's important to you to have a specific contact you can reach directly.
- Read the Contract. Although mobile processing contracts tend to be shorter and more straightforward than standard credit card processing contracts (especially services that are pay as you go), it's still important to read through the entire contract before you sign up with a service.
You want to make sure you understand your obligations, the processing costs and all of the fees you are expected to pay, and that you are aware of the procedure you're required to follow should you cancel the service.
- Make Your Decision. After you've decided on the mobile credit card processor you want to work with, the application process varies depending on the processor you choose. You can install the app on your phone and provide the information that it requires, fill out the online application, or call your rep and complete an application over the phone.
Some companies send out the card reader after your application is approved and some send it after you pay the first monthly fee. You can order some card readers online or purchase them at local electronics or office supply stores.
Most mobile credit card processors have online applications with links to their terms and conditions, and many of them are shorter and more straightforward than standard processing contracts. It's important that you take the time to read through the application thoroughly and all linked documents before you fill out the application. If you can't find the terms and conditions on the application or the company's website, you want to ask your rep for a copy of the complete contract so you can review it before signing it.
Most mobile credit card processors have very generous pay-as-you-go or month-to-month service terms, but a few have lengthy terms with contracts up to three years that automatically renew for one-year terms. If the processor you want to work has such a contract, you want to be sure to call your rep and see if he or she can give you a waiver for month-to-month service with no early termination fees or liquidated damages.
If you're working with a standard processor that offers mobile processing, your rep may send you just the application or "merchant agreement." You should be aware that this is not the full contract, but if you fill it out and sign it, you're agreeing to the full contract. For this reason, it's important to inquire after the terms and conditions (or terms of service) and the program guide.
You want to read through all three of these documents before signing anything, because if you don't, you may find yourself locked into a lengthy, automatically renewing contract that has expensive cancellation fees. You specifically want to look for information on processing rates, fees and cancellation terms – including the procedure that you need to follow to exit your contract. You also want to look for clauses that automatically enroll you in additional services.
The payment industry is very aware of data security issues and most businesses in this industry are proactive about encrypting data and complying with security regulations. Two of the biggest security measures are PCI compliance and EMV acceptance.
The Payment Card Industry's Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) are extremely effective at deterring fraud. A recent study revealed that 96 percent of the merchants who experienced data breaches in 2011 weren't compliant with PCI standards.
If your mobile credit card processor is a master merchant account holder, it's required to comply with the Payment Card Industry's Data Security Standards (PCI DSS). This means that the card reader, the app and the online dashboard that it provides you with are all PCI compliant. If you obtain your own merchant account through your processor, you're required to comply with PCI DSS; your processor can help you achieve your certification.
EMV cards have integrated circuit chips embedded in them in addition to the magnetic stripe on the back. The addition of the chip makes EMV cards more difficult to counterfeit, which reduces fraud.
In October, 2015, the liability for fraud occurring at the point of sale shifted, so instead of the card brands accepting liability, it now falls to the least-compliant party. This means that if your equipment isn't EMV capable and you process a transaction using the magnetic stripe on a card that turns out to be fraudulent, you would be liable.
EMV & Mobile Credit Card Readers
Although there's some debate as to whether mobile credit card readers are required to be EMV compliant, most mobile processors either have an EMV-compliant mobile reader or are in the process of producing one. When we reached out to the card brands – Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express – to clarify the issue, we were told that the merchant's card reader must be EMV capable or the merchant would be liable if a counterfeit card was accepted.
However, if you choose a mobile processor that uses your phone's camera to conduct the transaction and it doesn't require a physical card reader, the EMV liability shift doesn't apply. This is because this type of transaction is considered a "card not present" transaction, which uses different technology to secure your customers' data.
One of the chief appeals of mobile credit card processing is that it requires very little equipment, which makes it a very cost-effective option. Standard credit card processors require you to purchase a terminal or POS system to begin processing. To process cards on a mobile platform, or mPOS, all you need, at the bare minimum, is a phone or tablet with cellular or internet service.
Even if you purchase an EMV-capable card reader or accessorize by adding a cash drawer, you pay much less for equipment with mobile credit card processing than you would for full-service processing.
While a lot of the processors we reviewed offer free swipers, they aren't necessary to accept cards. Some processors offer hardware-free solutions, and all processors allow you to manually key in card information if you don't have a swiper. However, many processors charge a higher rate for keyed-in transactions.
Apps & Payment Gateways
Unlike traditional credit card processing, in order to process transactions through your phone, you use a payment gateway. Most mobile processors include a gateway with the mobile app. All of the processors we reviewed include free apps. Some processors' apps include extra features for the tablet versions of their products, including the ability to scan barcodes.
If overall cost is an important factor in your decision, we recommend choosing a processor that doesn't charge you extra for using its mobile payment gateway.
Credit Card Readers
In order to get the best rates for the mobile processors we reviewed, you need a card reader. Most processors we reviewed offer the first basic credit card swiper for free. If you lose the card reader or need to purchase additional units, most processors charge you for every swiper after the first one. Costs for basic swipers range from $10 to $60, though EMV-capable card readers cost more.
Mobile processors are developing new technologies that eliminate the need for physically swiping cards. Processors such as Cartwheel Register use apps that capture your customer's credit card information using your phone's camera instead of a swiper dongle. Since the card isn't swiped, it's treated as an eCommerce transaction and isn't subject to the aforementioned EMV-liability shift.
Compatible Operating Systems & Phones
The most important piece of equipment that you need to begin mobile processing is a phone or tablet. When looking for a processor, you want to make sure the one you choose is compatible with the operating system, make and model of your phone or tablet.
The majority of the processors we reviewed work with both Apple and Android, although Cartwheel Register only supports iOS devices. Most processors have lists of compatible devices on their websites, or they can email their lists to you upon request.
Accessories & Extra Features
In addition to card readers, many processors offer other accessories, including receipt printers, cash drawers and even full POS systems. These accessories can make it easier to accept cash and credit, provide printed receipts to customers that prefer them over emailed receipts, and give your business the functionality of a full checkout station. The accessories offered by mobile processors tend to be less expensive than similar products used with standard retail processing.
Mobile processors include a variety of extra features with their services. The most popular features are capturing signatures directly on the screen and emailing customers their receipts. This feature can help you save money because you don't have to buy a printer and receipt paper.
Other extra features that can help your small business include analytics programs that give you insight into your sales data, marketing tools to help you promote your business and scheduling apps that help service-oriented businesses set appointments with their customers.
It's important to carefully evaluate your options so you can find the mobile processor that's the best fit for your small business. The best mobile processors in our review offer low processing costs, charge no or few fees, have quick setup times and offer quality customer service. The best provide service on a pay-as-you-go or monthly basis; you should avoid mobile credit card processors that require you to sign a long-term contract unless they're willing to provide you with a waiver that gives you month-to-month service and eliminates any early termination fees.
- If you want a mobile processor that offers robust support for small businesses in a variety of industries, Square is a terrific choice. In addition to offering a simple pricing structure with no fees, it offers tools for analytics, appointments, inventory, invoicing and marketing. It's also a good option if your average sales ticket is small because it doesn't charge a per-transaction fee.
- Cartwheel Register, EMS+ and Spark Pay are additional good options if you're looking for mobile processors that offer flat rates, no fees and no long-term contracts.
- Tiered pricing plans can be good for businesses that have a high average processing volume and larger sales tickets since you may save some money on your processing costs. Most processors that offered tiered rates provide merchant accounts and require you to pay a monthly fee and an annual PCI-compliance fee. These processors also have more personalized customer service and provide you with a dedicated account rep. Flagship ROAMpay, CreditCardProcessing.com and Elavon are good tiered-pricing options to consider.
- If you want a processor that can also handle your banking needs, such as providing you with a business bank account, consider Spark Pay, the mobile arm of Capital One, and Chase Paymentech.
Before selecting a mobile credit card processor, you want to take the time to directly contact the companies you're most interested in to get pricing quotes specific to your business. It's also important to read through the full contract or user agreement before signing anything so you know exactly what processing and equipment costs you can expect. Doing your due diligence ensures that you select the processor that is the best fit for your business.
Disclaimer: The pricing listed in this article, in the matrix and in our reviews is reflective of the date this review was last updated. Pricing reflects our testing scenario; the pricing you receive may differ due to processing volume and average ticket size, among other factors. Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services using testing scenarios that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical small business owner. The processors had no input or influence over our testing methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.