How to End a Card Machine Contract: Tips and Options

sad man holding a card and a card machine

The UK may have narrowly avoided a recession, but there are still plenty of financial pitfalls out there for small businesses – including getting stuck in an unsuitable card machine contract. With business costs rising this year, it makes sense to cut back and save on anything you can – and if your current card machine’s fees are painting your balance books red, it’s only fair to want out.

This can be tricky to navigate, as card machine providers usually have early termination fees and sharp notice periods to prevent you from leaving. However, in our research to find the best card machines for small businesses, we’ve taken a deep look into the fine print of several big players in this market and our findings can certainly help you out.

In this article, we’ll cover your options when it comes to ending a card machine contract. So, if you’re stuck in a deal that no longer suits your needs or you’re on the market for a better one, head to our step-by-step guide below.

Why end your contract with your provider?

Ending your contract with your card machine provider allows you to find  another payment processor that better suits your needs, or go for a contract-free option, such as the one offered by mobile card machine providers. The former enables you to negotiate lower transaction fees, allowing you to save on those, while the latter will give you the flexibility and peace of mind that you’ll only be charged when you make a sale.

Before you go down that route, it’s worth noting that a recent decision by the Payment Systems Regulator (the sector’s UK regulating body) has improved small businesses’ standing in the face of card machine providers. According to the regulator, the abiding providers must:

  • Give detailed information on their fees
  • Provide an initial online quoting tool so businesses find out about their fees before signing up
  • Warn customers that they could get better deals by shopping around and negotiating when their contract is ending
  • Limit their card machine contracts to 18 months

These measures are great advances because they tackle the hardship of finding precise information about card machines costs and getting stuck with an inconvenient long-term contract length. However, if you still have your reasons to switch providers, not to worry – just keep on reading.

How to end a card machine contract

At this point, you may be wanting to save on fees or get another card machine with more features. In any case, if you’re already considering ending your card machine contract and are keen to find out what your options are, we’ve got you covered.

1. Negotiate with your provider

If you’re looking to end your contract because your fees are too high, your first step is to contact your provider and negotiate a better deal. Contract providers are usually very flexible with their fees and could be bent into taking a smaller bite off your payments to retain you as a customer.

Because their business model already foregoes account fees (and contracts, for that matter), mobile card machine providers are stricter when it comes to negotiating fees, reserving that for customers with larger revenues. Square, for example, only tends to offer more bespoke fees to companies with over £200K in annual sales. Regardless, we always recommend contacting your provider to see if they’d be willing to lower your fees to keep you as a client.

▶ Read more: In our Square card machine review, you can find more about this provider’s transaction fees.

2. Switch to another provider

If negotiations weren’t successful, it’s time for the jump. Be careful, though: most contract providers enforce early termination fees – and these could prove to be quite hefty. This will normally entail you shelling out the rest of the amount you would have paid to the provider by the end of your contract. However, this will be in one go and without you benefitting from the service in any way.

To avoid this situation, approach potential new providers and ask if they’d be willing to buy you out of your existing contract should you switch to them. It’s a common practice in this market, but it’s rarely advertised, which means it has to be negotiated and agreed upon. In this context, a provider’s willingness to do that can be a deciding factor when you’re shopping around for your next card machine contract.

3. Keep everything written and recorded

In case a dispute arises during the process of ending your contract, it is best practice to ensure that you have everything in writing.

If this process can be done electronically, send your termination notice via email, as it’s a proof accepted in court and has a clear timestamp. If your email account offers a read receipt feature, turn it on when contacting your provider so you can prove they’ve opened your message. Alternatively, if your provider requires a letter, send it tracked so you have evidence of delivery.

4. Check all terms and conditions

At this point, you’ll need to arm yourself with every piece of information that can help you navigate this process. To do this, dust off your current contract and go over it with a fine-tooth comb.

Check all of the terms and conditions, remaining mindful of any hidden fees, as well as any mentions of automatic rollovers. The latter is very important should you not want to end up in a new contract because you missed a communication deadline.

5. Improve your setup

If you’re unable to negotiate lower transaction fees with your provider or to leave your current contract, you can improve your setup so it favours cash rather than card. First of all, try making your customers aware of how much these fees bite into your livelihood. Small business vs. big finance is a compelling narrative that can lead your clientele to pay with bank notes.

Similarly, if you sell online as well as in a physical location, you can save on higher online transaction fees by encouraging customers to pay in-store rather through your website by promoting a click and collect service in your online checkout.

If your business already sells mainly in person, you can place your card machine out of sight, prompting customers to pay with cash or to ask if you take card payments. As the UK becomes cashless, many people will pay by card out of sheer habit, so this can become a way of breaking this pattern.

However, slow or malfunctioning readers are also a very good reason to improve your setup, as you must be ready to offer a smooth checkout experience to those customers who choose to pay with a card anyway. Try upgrading the wifi your readers use or contacting your provider directly about this problem so they can work to fix it.

6. Buy a cheap card reader

Another way of dodging high transaction fees if you’re unable to leave your contract is to get a cheap, contract-free card reader with lower transaction fees to use until the end of your current contract. Stripe and Revolut, for example, offer readers that cost from £49 + VAT while charging 1.4% + 20p and 1% + 20p per transaction, respectively. They’re not the cheapest up front, but your investment in them can be offset by the savings in fees.

For instance, these options pack better value for money than Zettle and SumUp, which sell cheaper readers (£29 + VAT and £39 + VAT, respectively) but charge higher transaction fees (1.75% and 1.69%, respectively).

Read more:

7. Pay the early termination fees

At the end of the day, you might think it’s still better to end your contract, early termination fees notwithstanding. If so, then by all means go ahead: depending on the deal you get, you’ll likely be able to make up for this expense with savings down the line. However, be prepared to part ways with a good chunk of hard-earned money in one go: you could pay anything from £100 to an exorbitant amount.

Your termination’s price tag will depend on your monthly fees, how much time you’ve got left on your contract, and whether your provider charges an administration fee. Bearing that in mind, make sure you have all this information at hand, calculate exactly how much you’d need to pay, and only go down this route if you can afford to do so.

How much are early termination fees?

Early termination fees are a way for providers to recoup the cost of their purchase for the card machine you’re renting. To exit your contract, you’ll usually be given a pay-out option, which is what providers like Worldpay (read our Worldpay review) and Barclaycard Payments do. However, these can also comprise administration and non-usage charges, like those charged by takepayments (read out takepayments review).

The earlier you exit, the higher the charge. If you decide to end a year-long contract after five months, you’ll have six months left after serving your standard notice period of 30 days. In this scenario, if your monthly account fee is £10, this means you’ll pay £60 to end this contract. If your provider charges a £40 administration fee on top of that, your total will be £100.

How can I avoid termination fees?

When it comes to avoiding termination fees, knowing the ins and outs of your contract is your best weapon. Know the length of your notice period as well as the procedure you need to follow to notify your provider of your intent to exit from your contract. Another useful piece of information to attain is whether or not you signed up for a contract with automatic renewal. Having this knowledge gives you a better chance to act at the right time and avoid being tied into another contract you’re not interested in and of which you’ll have to pay a hefty sum to get out.

Alternatively, you can negotiate a buy-out with another provider. This way, besides avoiding termination fees, you’re already signing up for a new service, which means you should be able to continue taking payments during the transition.

Card machine contracts: things to watch out for

If you’re entering into a new contract because your last one took a big chunk of your profits or got you stuck with a card machine unsuitable to your needs, it pays to know exactly what you’re in for to avoid any nasty surprises. While the contracts are long and are filled with jargon, reading your terms and conditions can save you from a whole lot of trouble in the long run.

We’re confident you’ll be taking note of the monthly fees and transaction fees, but we also recommend you keep an eye out for:

1. Terms and conditions

Your whole relationship with your new provider will gravitate around these, so read them thoroughly before signing up. This is the best way to know what you can expect from your provider, and what they will expect from you in return.

2. Early termination fees

Enquire about early termination fees, so you know how big a charge you will be in for should you wish to exit this new contract midway through.

3. Minimum term

Some providers won’t allow you to exit your contract within the first few months of it being signed. It’s best to know  how long this period is.

4. ‘Hidden’ fees

Ask for a full rundown of the fees you’re entitled to pay so you’re not surprised by “hidden” fees. According to the new PSR rules, this should be provided to you in summary information boxes during the quotation process, so make use of this.

5. Termination notice

Assuming you might want to get out of this potential new contract as well, find out how long its notice period is and if its renewal is automatic. The idea is to guarantee you know when to action your exit, ensuring you aren’t tied into a new contract unexpectedly.

Next steps

Ending your card machine contract can be a long and winding road, but now you’re equipped to start your journey. With what we covered, you know how crucial a contract’s terms and conditions are – both when exiting and entering one – and how you must be informed about any early termination fees. You also know what to watch out for when looking into the best card machines for small businesses and choosing one for your venture.

The new PSR rules can help you out, especially the part of the legislation that ensures providers remind you that you could get a better deal by shopping around when your contract is ending. But being thorough while gathering information on your provider is still the best practice. While you may not have any plans to break the contract when you first sign up, it’s good to know your exit signs should you need to follow them.


How do I get out of a merchant service contract?
You can exit a merchant service contract if you serve your termination notice timeously and pay the stipulated early termination fees.
What's the early termination fee for Worldpay?
Worldpay charges a pay-out of your existing contract as its early termination fee. This means you’d have to pay your monthly fees multiplied by the number of months you have left in your contract.
Can I be charged an early termination fee?
Contract card machine providers usually charge early termination fees, so you’re likely to pay them when leaving a contract before its expiration date. Mobile card machine providers normally forego them as they don’t operate with fixed-term contracts.
How can I end a merchant account contract if I don't have a card machine?
If your business doesn’t rent a card machine, the process of ending a merchant account contract is the same as if you do rent a card machine. Firstly, you’ll need to serve your termination notice. Then, you’ll have to pay the agreed early termination fees.
Written by:
Lucas Pistilli author headshot photo
Lucas is a Brazilian-born journalist and Expert Market’s go-to writer for all things EPOS systems, merchant accounts, and franking machines. Having covered business, politics and technology for many years, he’s driven by his passion for the written word and his goal to help people make well-informed decisions.
Reviewed by:
Julia Watts author headshot photo
Specialising in business software, Julia writes jargon-busting guides about VoIP, fleet management, dash cams, fuel cards, and more. Having spent almost a decade writing for entrepreneurs and reviewing business solutions, she loves helping exciting ventures – big or small – to flourish.