How to Take Credit Card Payments – 4 Simple Steps

how to take credit card payments in 4 simple steps

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If you ever lost a sale due to the lack of a card machine, you know how that stings. Every little income helps – especially in a scenario of economic stagnation – and to that end, making sure you offer a smooth payment experience to your customers is paramount.

With the use of contactless cards and digital wallets on the rise and many businesses going cashless in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, taking credit card payments is a great way to increase your sales. It can also grant you a faster access to your money than storing cash paid to you until a trip to the bank is arranged.

We know it can feel daunting to start: you may feel the card machine costs will be more than they're worth or that you have to drastically change your business set-up to accommodate them.

To help you, we've broken this process in the four simple steps, which are listed below and explained in more detail in this article.

How to take credit card payments:

Step 1: Choose an EPOS system

An Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) system lets you accept card payments at the point of sale, for example through a PDQ machine or mobile card reader. That's an excellent way to tap into a market that's going increasingly cashless. The best EPOS systems track stock, monitor sales, and provide a seamless customer experience.

Some EPOS systems come with the built-in ability to process card payments. This type of ‘all-in-one’ EPOS system offers a simple approach. You get a complete EPOS system, with card payment processing included, from a sole supplier. These systems usually offer straightforward, flat-rate transaction fees, too.

Card payment processors such as Zettle, Square, and PayPal offer all-in-one EPOS solutions. They process your card payments through their own merchant account, and provide all the EPOS hardware you need to start taking credit card payments.

Alternatively, you can choose a traditional EPOS system and integrate it separately with a merchant account. This is ideal for bigger businesses – skip to Step 2 to find out more.

To sum up: Choosing an EPOS system provider is the first step towards taking card payments. Small businesses should consider all-in-one (card payment processing and EPOS system) providers for their simplicity and value.

Step 2: Sign up for a merchant account

Whether you're taking payments on the phone, online, or over the counter – you’ll need some form of merchant account.

Merchant accounts are where credit card payments go to be settled. Banks take a fee, then move the balance from your merchant account to your (separate) business account. You can apply for a merchant account through an acquiring bank or provider (such as Worldpay). Or, you can get one through a third party card payment processor, such as PayPal.

The cheapest ways to take card payments will give you bespoke, lower transaction fees if your business has a high sales volume. Their set-up process can be longer than no-contract providers, but the low transaction fees make it worthwhile and provide good value for money in the long run.

Is it possible to get an EPOS system with my merchant account?

Yes! Most merchant account providers work with EPOS suppliers to offer their customers a complete card payment solution.

The drawback? You won't be working with the EPOS supplier directly. That means it's trickier to get the right technical support when you need it.

Merchant account providers that also offer EPOS solutions:

Click a supplier to visit our review of its merchant services.

Costs

How much you’ll pay to take card payments depends on the provider – and the plan – you choose. It’ll also be affected by your card sales volume. Check out our comprehensive merchant account fees breakdown for more info.

To sum up: If you don’t go with an all-in-one EPOS solution, you’ll need to get a merchant account. Your merchant account provider gives you a card machine that slots into your existing EPOS system. This works out to be a more cost-effective option for larger businesses wishing to accept card payments.

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Step 3: Get a payment gateway and virtual terminal

payment gateway is what you’ll need to take credit card payments online. Acting like a sort of ‘virtual EPOS system’, it authenticates and secures payments made through your website.

virtual terminal is a secure webpage that lets you take payments over the phone. You just log into the page from your device, enter your customer’s card details, and take the payment.

Both a payment gateway and virtual terminal are add-ons you can opt for when you’re accepted for a merchant account. If you’ve gone for an all-in-one solution for accepting card payments, then a virtual terminal service should be included as standard. However, payment gateways aren’t always included. If this is the case, don’t fret – simply set one up separately, with a third party provider.

Third party payment gateway providers offer a dynamic (but more complicated!) approach to getting paid online. We recommend you entrust your online card payment services to a single merchant account provider. You're now ready to start selling!

Payment gateway providers

  • Authorize.Net
  • Sage Pay
  • Amazon Pay

Stripe is another top selection here. To find out whether it's the right supplier for your business, check out our Stripe review.

Costs

Again, the best card payment option for you depends on your sales volume and value. All-in-one providers usually charge a percentage on every ecommerce transaction you take. Traditional merchant account suppliers, on the other hand, charge monthly, so they’re less feasible avenues for smaller businesses.

To sum up: Payment gateways and virtual terminals are provided with your merchant account – if you want them. All-in-one providers, though, don’t always offer ecommerce solutions – so you may need to use a third party provider.

Step 4: Start processing card payments

Once the customer has paid via their credit card, the merchant's credit card terminal or website sends the cardholder's details to the bank or processor. This data is then sent to the right credit card network (e.g. Mastercard) and then passed on to the customer's bank for the payment to be authenticated.

The bank verifies whether or not the customer has enough in their account to make the purchase. The bank also carries out security measures to check the cardholder's details and any signs of fraud.

If the bank decides that the transaction is genuine, it approves it and sends this approval to the payment processor and the card reader.

Sounds complicated, but as you know this usually happens over a couple of seconds.

The last stage is clearing, this is when details of the transaction are sent to the cardholder and merchant services.

Top tips for how to take card payments

Sales environment

Our first tip? Think about where you’ll be accepting card payments from.  Your sales environment is crucial, because where you trade will determine how you take credit card payments.

Mobile card readers are better for remote businesses, as they're able to take card payments without wifi. Countertop card machines are ideal for retail businesses, while restaurants will need a less static solution. And if you only need to take payments online, sign up to a payment gateway provider such as Stripe. It's quick, with little hassle and few checks.

Sales volume

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. When it comes to card payment fees, your sales volume will always make a huge difference. Let’s quickly recap:

Higher sales volume? Go for a dedicated merchant account such as Handepay or takepayments. Fixed monthly fees (and low transaction fees) make it more affordable in the long run.

Lower sales volume? Try a mobile card reader –  consider taking payments with SumUp and Zettle. They also offer EPOS add-ons, and make great all-in-one solutions for taking face-to-face payments. Card payment fees are higher, but the lack of setup or ongoing monthly costs makes it worth your while.

Customer support

Before you sign up with a merchant account provider or begin browsing EPOS systems, have a think. Do they offer a dedicated account manager? What about 24/7 customer support? Can you get card payment advice over the phone, or just online? Can you reach them at the weekend?

It may not seem like a big deal now. But when you’re dealing with a long queue and your card machine stops working, you’ll want the best – and the quickest – support available.

Contract length

If there’s one pitfall that claims new merchants when first taking card payments, it’s this one. The less scrupulous merchant account providers will offer amazing deals to rope you into lengthy contracts.

All we’ll say is, no new business should have to put up with massive early termination fees and long contracts. So read the small print carefully. And if you are ready to start taking card payments, we can help.

Just fill out our quick, no-obligation webform today. We’ll do the rest. What that means is that you'll receive tailored quotes, from industry-leading merchant account suppliers.

It's free, takes about 40 seconds, and will provide you with accurate merchant accounts comparison.

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FAQs

How can small businesses accept credit card payments?
An aggregated merchant account is a good choice for small business. This type of merchant account includes a payment gateway and virtual terminal so businesses can take payments online and over the phone without added cost.
How can I take card payments without a card machine?
You can take card payments without a card machine if you use payment links, through which customers can simply pay you via their banking app, or if you use a mobile point of sale (mPOS) system, which can allow your phone to be used a card reader.
Is there an app to take card payments?
Mobile point of sale (mPOS) systems are merchant account apps that allow you to take card payments. They don't usually charge account fees or bind you to a contract, which means you can simply sign up to their services, download their app, buy their hardware, and start taking payments.
What is the easiest way to take credit card payments?
The easiest way to take credit card payments is through a mobile point of sale (mPOS) system. Their simple set up process and low initial investment means a quick and economical way to start accepting cards in your business.

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Written by:
Zara Chechi
Zara is a Payments Expert, specialising in writing about Point of Sale systems. With a Law Degree from City University of London, she has used her legally-honed research and analytical skills to develop expertise in the Business Services world. Featured in FinTech Magazine, she quickly became an expert in payroll, POS systems, and merchant accounts.
Reviewed by:
Ruairi uses his 3+ years of research experience to uncover insights which can help Expert Market provide the best business solutions for their users. He has done this by meeting with business owners to find out what is important to them and what challenges they face on a daily basis. Ruairi specialises in tools that can be used to grow your business and has done research for a wide range of categories on Expert Market, such as EPOS, Website Builders, and Merchant Accounts.