How to Choose the Best iPhone Credit Card Reader
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's needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of services.
iPhone card readers let you accept credit and debit card payments using your iPhone or iPad rather than requiring you to use a point-of-sale system or credit card terminal. Aside from the hardware used in these transactions, the procedure of the transaction is identical to that of traditional credit card processors. When you swipe a card through the iPhone credit card reader, your customer's information is securely routed to the processor, the card network, your customer's bank and, at last, your bank account, where the money, minus the processing costs, is deposited.
The most important features of the best iPhone card readers include the following:
- Pay-as-you-go or month-to-month service
- Flat-rate pricing
- No monthly minimum
- No PCI-compliance fee
- EMV-compliant card reader
- Customer support available via phone and email
If you're looking for a card processor that lets you accept online payments, be sure to look at our Accept Credit Cards Online review. For a full-service processor that can help you accept in-store payments, look at our Credit Card Processing review. You can also read articles about mobile credit card processing.
Credit Card Readers for Apple Phones
After you pick a service and sign up for an Apple card reader, you need to install the processor's app on your phone or tablet. Your iPhone or iPad needs to have access to either Wi-Fi or a data plan in order to process cards.
You can then attach a small card reader, also called a swiper or dongle, to your iPhone, usually by plugging the equipment into your headphone jack.
- Newer iPhone credit card readers may connect to your phone via Bluetooth and can read EMV chip cards.
- Some are also equipped with NFC technology that can accept mobile wallets like Apple Pay, which enables your customers to pay with their iPhones instead of cash or physical credit cards.
- A few of the newer processors, like Cartwheel Register, don't require a card reader at all and can use your phone or tablet's camera to capture card data.
EMV Chip Readers for iPhones: iPhone credit card readers need to be able to accept EMV chip cards or you may be liable for fraudulent purchases. Although some processors may claim that the EMV certification requirement doesn't apply to iPhone card readers, it actually does, according to Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover. Half of the processors in our review currently offer EMV-compliant card readers for iPhones and several of the others have them in development. Processing apps that scan the cards using your iPhone's camera are exempt from this requirement as they use different technology to process the card data.
Mobile Credit Card Processing: Fewer Fees
Very few of the companies offering iPhone card readers charge a monthly fee or PCI-related fees. Most also don't set a monthly minimum processing requirement, and those that do are typically full-service credit card processors that also offer mobile credit card processing as a stand-alone service. Approximately half of the companies we reviewed don't charge chargeback fees.
Mobile Credit Card Processing: Flat-Rate Pricing
Flat-rate pricing is the most popular pricing model for processors that provide iPhone credit card swipers, and most of the services in our review offer it. Flat-rate pricing is the easiest to understand since you usually pay a single percentage rate for each transaction, regardless of the type of card. Many times, you pay a different and slightly higher rate if you manually enter the card's information rather than swiping it. Some processors in our review also charge a per-transaction fee, though some only require this on keyed-in transactions.
Initially, flat-rate pricing may look more expensive than the typical starter rates that some companies advertise. One of the trademarks of flat-rate pricing, however, is that there are fewer fees with this model than with a traditional merchant account that has tiered or interchange-plus pricing. Many of the best mobile processors don't charge any additional fees.
There are some variations to flat-rate processing. Some companies, such as Cartwheel Register and Moolah, charge the same flat rate no matter how the card information is captured. Some processors charge a per-transaction fee on top of the flat rate. The per-transaction fee ranges from $0.05 to $0.30.
- If your business typically has large tickets, choosing a company that charges a lower percentage rate may be more cost effective, even with the per-transaction fee added on top of it.
- If you generally have smaller tickets, you may want to choose a processor that doesn't extract a per-transaction fee.
Mobile Credit Card Processing: What We Evaluated, What We Found
While researching iPhone card readers, we looked for processors that offer competitive pricing and charge minimal fees since we know affordability is a top priority for small businesses. We also looked at companies offering month-to-month service without early termination fees, since you should be able to switch processors easily if you find better service elsewhere. Since your time is valuable, we looked for services with quick setup times. To be sure we found the best card reader for iPhone options for you, we considered both credit card processors that offer mobile processing as a stand-alone service and payment facilitators that sponsor merchants to help them accept card payments.
Our reviewers reached out to every company multiple times, at various times on various days. We contacted company agents as potential customers via phone and email. We used our results from this evaluation to score each company on pricing, consistency, ease of application and customer service. Processing costs and fees ended up being key differentiators.
- Pricing Transparency & Consistency Score: This score measures how readily available pricing, fees and terms information is on each company's website. Easily finding information online helps you to quickly determine if the company is one that can help your business. Pricing transparency can help you anticipate the charges you can expect to see on your bill. Mobile card processors tend to surpass standard credit card processors in transparency, since most processors that supply credit card readers for iPhones are open and honest with pricing information and terms, as they demonstrate by posting this information on their websites.
In addition to the transparency on each processor's website, this score reflects our testers’ interactions with customer service representatives, including how forthcoming agents were with quality information. Many of the reps we spoke with referred us back to information on their company's website. We compared the information we received from each company throughout our evaluation for consistency. The companies that earned the highest scores provided complete and consistent information.
- Ease of Application Score: This score reflects how easy the process is to apply for a mobile processing account with each company. In this score, we considered the time it takes to set up an account, the online availability of the application and the documentation required to complete your application. We also considered contract requirements and the amount of time it takes for money from transactions to be deposited into your account.
Half of the processors in this review can set up your account in one day or less. Three processors can take up to two days, while two processors may take three or more days. You can apply for any of the processors in our review online. Some processors require documents like your business license, your tax ID number and your EIN (employer identification number).
We also looked at the time it takes for each processor to deposit money into your account following a transaction. Many processors take up to two days to do this, which is the average in this industry. Some processors, such as Cartwheel Register and CDGcommerce, can deposit money into your account by the next business day if you batch out before a certain time. Square has an instant-deposit feature that can give you immediate access to your funds. Other processors, like PayPal Here and QuickBooks GoPayment, may take up to three days to clear your account.
- Customer Service Score: Our reviewers reached out to each company at various times on different days to evaluate the responsiveness of each service's agents. As we conversed with each company, we considered how promptly the representatives contacted us after we reached out to them online, how courteously they answered our questions and how willing they were to give us pricing over the phone. The companies that earned the higher scores performed well when we contacted them, and they followed up with our testers by either phone or email.
Mobile Credit Card Processors: Our Verdict & Recommendations
It's important to carefully consider mobile processors that provide iPhone card readers so that you can find the one that's the best fit for your small business.
- Square is a good option because it provides solid support options for small businesses and offers tools for analytics, invoicing, appointments and more.
- Cartwheel Register uses the camera on your iPhone or iPad to scan credit cards and doesn't require any additional hardware.
- EMS+, Cartwheel Register and Spark Pay offer flat rates, no long-term contracts and no fees.
- CDGcommerce has some of the lowest flat-rate pricing.
- If you need a processor that also handles banking needs, Spark Pay may be a good choice as it is the mobile arm of Capital One.
- QuickBooks GoPayment integrates with QuickBooks and can automatically record your transactions.
- PayPal Here lets you accept PayPal payments as well as credit and debit cards and is the only company that offers an iPhone card reader with a built-in PIN pad.
- Moolah provides you with Authorize.net access.
- Flagship ROAMpay and CreditCardProcessing.com set you up with your own merchant account, which may be beneficial if you process a high volume of sales.
Before you sign up for an account with a mobile processor that provides iPhone card readers, be sure to take the time to contact the companies directly to get quotes that are specific to your business. It's also important to read through the full contract or user agreement before you sign it to be sure you aren't surprised by any fees.
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.