So Many Credit Card Terminals – The Right One for My Business

There are so many credit card terminals on the market today that you may wonder which one is the best for your business. Use this guide to learn about brands, features, and compatibility.

The Best Terminal for Small Business

The best terminal depends on your needs and budget. Most credit card processors have access to all of the popular brands. You can buy, lease, or rent from your processor, or you can buy directly online as long as the terminal is compatible with your processor. Make sure you check the model with your processor BEFORE you buy online. You may also want to research reviews of various terminals to gain a better idea of whether it will satisfy your specific needs.


Different terminal models offer different features, but in general, credit card machines provide a limited function of accepting credit cards. They do not offer features such as recurring payments, inventory management, or restaurant table management. If you desire those functions, you will want to consider a Point-of-Sale system.

A credit card terminal will allow you to take credit and debit cards and may have built-in PIN pads for debit card transactions. Some terminals may still let you take magstripe, EMV chipped card, and NFC (contactless) payments while others terminals may only accept EMV cards.

Most terminals will produce a limited sales reports. You can use the terminal to void transactions and process refunds and returns. Some models may have an “offline” mode where you can accept cards when your connection is down and the terminal will forward them for processing when your connection returns. Most models have a built-in receipt printer. Avoid those that require a separate printer. Some models are WiFi-enabled or have built-in cell phone service. Display screens come in full color or monochrome and can be touchscreen or traditional key entry.

Universal and Proprietary Terminals

Credit card terminals come in two flavors: universal and proprietary. Universal terminals are not restricted to a particular processor. Proprietary machines work with one or only a handful of processors. If you purchase a proprietary terminal and want to switch credit card processors in the future, you will need a new terminal. If you have a universal terminal, a new processor can reprogram it remotely.

Determining Status

To determine if your terminal is universal or proprietary, you can call the manufacturer and ask. Generally, if the equipment is made by a processing company or carries your processor’s logo, it is likely to be limited for use with your current processor. Processing companies like Square offer proprietary terminals – you can only use those machines with Square processing. Equipment manufacturers like Ingenico and Verifone offer universal terminals that you can use with any processor.

Chosen Payments offers the FD (First Data) line of processing equipment. Any processing company that runs on First Data’s platform can sell you FD terminals and can reprogram them if you already own one. Technically speaking, these terminals aren’t universal (as they can only be used with companies affiliated with First Data), but there are many companies that run on First Data’s platform and could reprogram FD terminals, so they’re not as limited as true proprietary options.

Clover Systems

Chosen Payments also offers the popular Clover Station and smaller Clover terminals. They are First Data terminals that any processing company on the First Data platform can use, but they can’t be reprogrammed. Once you purchase a Clover from a specific processor, they will work only with the company that set it up for you.

In that sense, Clovers are considered proprietary rather than universal. Even though many companies can sell and program them, no company can reprogram them once they’ve been set up.

The Most Popular Brands

There are many brands of machine manufacturers, but the most popular universal terminals are Verifone and Ingenico. Other popular brands include Dejavoo, PAX, and Hypercom. For non-universal machines, the FD and Clover lines (both work with First Data services) are very popular options. For proprietary systems, you’ll regularly see Square equipment.

Credit Card Terminals vs. POS Systems

Do you need a basic credit card terminal or a Point-of-Sale terminal? Credit card terminals are small devices with few features. Many small businesses don’t need or a POS system. POS systems will process credit cards but also have features such as inventory management, detailed reporting, payroll functions such as timeclocks, pay reconciliation, and other features. If you just need a terminal for card payments, a traditional credit card terminal will work fine for you.

Credit Card Terminals vs. Mobile Card Readers

Mobile card readers have become very popular. The small readers connect to smartphones or tablets via headphone jack or Bluetooth and allow you to take credit and debit cards without a terminal. You have probably experienced this with Square’s small white credit card reader. These are not unique to Square. Chosen Payments offers a similar device that works with our payment app. Our app enables payment acceptance anywhere.

Credit card terminals and mobile card readers offer similar functions, but mobile readers are designed to be used on the go. If you’re taking cards in a store or at a restaurant, it is likely to be inconvenient to use a smartphone or tablet for accepting payments.

Buy or Lease

There is never a good reason to lease a credit card terminal. It will cost you significantly more in the long run and the cost to purchase a terminal is cheap. A basic terminal starts around $300. Leases involve non-cancellable contracts that are separate from your merchant account contract. If you close your business, you will still be locked in to payments on a credit card terminal until the lease expires and you have to return it OR buy-it out. The buy-out can be the fair-market value, $1, or a percentage of the original purchase price. Save yourself the headache and purchase outright.

About those “Free” Credit Card Terminals

Nothing is actually free in life. Instead of truly being “free,” the cost is built in somewhere else, most often in the form of higher processing fees. Remember, a terminal is a one-time cost. Processing fees are ongoing. It doesn’t make sense to get a “free” terminal if it means you’ll be paying more for every credit card you accept forever. In general, if a processor offers competitive pricing as Chosen Payments does, the profit margins aren’t large enough to provide clients with a free terminal. We’d rather pass the lifelong savings on to you with lower rates.

Buying Your Processor

Purchasing from your credit card processor is the best and easiest method. When you open a merchant account, your processor will discuss equipment options that fit your needs. Be careful about believing that a low price found on the internet means a processor is overcharging. In some cases, processors will provide a low price on a terminal to entice you and then turn around and charge you exorbitant processing rates or use hidden fees to make up for their loss.

About Purchasing Online

Amazon has encouraged us to buy everything online for convenience and the best deals. While this premise can apply to purchasing credit card terminals, there are some possible issues. These are the two biggest concerns:

  1. Processor compatibility with terminals comes down to the serial number. If you plan to purchase a terminal online, be sure to confirm with current or proposed processor before you buy.
  2. Some machines are sold online at shockingly low prices. You will likely find fine print with a requirement that you use the seller or specified processing company for processing to receive that low price. If you buy this terminal you will never be able to use a lower cost processor.

Buying Used Terminals

Another possibility is purchasing a used terminal from a friend or a business that is closing down. Just as with purchasing online, it’s important to ensure that the terminal is compatible with your credit card processor and that it can be easily reprogrammed. Contact your processor with the details and serial number of the terminal to confirm it is compatible. Remember, some machines, such as Clovers, can’t be reprogrammed to work with another processor.

Of course, the key to a great processing solution isn’t just the right terminal but the right processor as well.  Contact Chosen Payments to discuss terminals, rates, fees, and terms before you purchase.

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