Understanding your credit card machine options

Editorial Team

5 min read
Contactless card over credit card reader

No matter what type of business you operate, there are a variety of credit card terminals, apps, encrypted swipers and chip readers, and software available to help you securely and efficiently accept electronic payments. Here are some of the payment processing technology options available to you:

This guide will break down the features of and differences between these payment processing options. Whichever credit card machine you choose, make sure it is backed by PCI-compliant technology to help protect your customers and your business from credit card fraud.

Standalone credit card terminals

These are the traditional payment terminals familiar to any merchant. They’re ideal for face-to-face, card-present transactions at restaurants and retail stores. Basic features of these credit card machines include the chip card or magnetic stripe reader, a keypad, display screen, PIN pad, and printer. They require either a phone line or an internet connection in order to send data for processing and authorization. The newest equipment technology features near field communication (NFC) for contactless payments.

Wireless credit card machines

These function in much the same way as standalone machines, but can be used away from your brick-and-mortar storefront. They can process transactions via a Wi-Fi or cellular data connection. In today’s day and age, mobile payments and wireless payment processing technology are ideal for drivers, delivery workers, service industries, and other merchants who are constantly on the go.

Virtual credit card terminals

An optimal solution for card-not-present processing, virtual terminals let you accept credit cards from any computer or device with an internet connection. No additional hardware is required. If you work from home or process mail order and telephone order (MOTO) transactions, a virtual terminal lets you enter credit cards manually.

Mobile point of sale terminals

Say goodbye to the traditional credit card machine and hello to accepting credit cards on iPhones, iPads, Android devices, and other mobile platforms. With today’s mobile encrypted card readers, you can process payments on a smartphone or tablet in your store or on the road. Your point of sale terminal is now in the palm of your hand — welcome to the mobile age.

Which type of credit card machine is right for your business?

With so many types of POS terminals from which to choose, knowing which one is right for your business can be challenging. This is especially true since each of the above solutions offers unique pros and cons.

Use the tips below to help guide your decision-making process.

When to use a standalone credit card terminal

Standalone credit card terminals are fully capable of handling almost every payment method — from traditional credit and debit cards to contactless payments. The main drawback is that these stationary systems aren’t portable. While you can use a standalone machine as your primary credit card terminal, it shouldn’t be your only means of accepting payments. What happens if you suddenly have to pivot to delivery and curbside pickup (as so many restaurants have had to do)?

When to use a wireless credit card machine

Because of their wireless connectivity, these credit card terminals offer a little more latitude than their desktop counterparts do. You don’t need to plug into an ethernet port to securely process sales. And even if your Wi-Fi or cellular service is spotty, you can take payments offline and authorize the transactions once you’re connected again.

When to use a virtual credit card terminal

Setting up a virtual POS terminal is easy, since no additional hardware is involved. All you need is a computer or other internet-connected device to input credit card details by hand. This payment processing technology is often necessary for merchants who take orders over the phone or by mail. Virtual terminals are also ideal for startups that don’t require a complete POS system or aren’t ready to invest in a physical credit card machine.

When to use a mobile point of sales terminal

Mobile payment processing is increasingly becoming the preferred standard for retailers, restaurant owners, and other businesses worldwide. These handheld credit card terminals often have the same core functionality as their countertop equivalents. However, with wireless capabilities and easy portability, they can be a practical solution for the average merchant. Better still, you can easily convert your business’s existing smart devices into mobile POS terminals just by pairing them with a small credit card reader.

Don’t feel pressured into choosing one POS payment technology over another. Many businesses use a combination of payment acceptance methods, depending on their location and situation. Just make sure that whatever credit card machines you use offer the following:

  • PCI-compliant data security to help protect customers’ payment information
  • Advanced fraud management protection such as point-to-point encryption (P2PE) and credit card tokenization

While nearly all credit card terminals can read legacy magstripe cards, using this payment technology increases your risk of fraud and abuse. As such, you need a POS solution that can also accept payments from EMV chip cards and those made using NFC-enabled plastic, smart devices, and wearables. These technologies are far more secure than legacy magstripes, allowing customers to shop with much greater confidence.

Business credit card machines can improve customer satisfaction

Process transactions quickly and efficiently, and help secure payment data with business credit card machines.

To learn more, schedule a free consultation with our merchant services team today.

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