EMV terminal recommendations for small business

Your Business Credit columnist Elaine Pofeldt
Elaine Pofeldt is a journalist whose articles on entrepreneurship and careers have appeared in Fortune, Working Mother, Money and many other publications. She is a former senior editor at Fortune Small Business magazine and an entrepreneur herself, as co-founder of 200kfreelancer.com, a website for independent professionals. She writes "Your Business Credit," a weekly column about small business and credit, for CreditCards.com.

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Question Dear Your Business Credit,
What would be the best EMV credit card reader for a small business that may only use it three to four times per day? -- Linda

Answer Dear Linda,
A lot of merchants are shopping around these days as the Oct. 1 deadline to upgrade their credit card readers approaches. On that date, merchants will become liable for card-related consumer fraud if they haven't started using a credit card machine that can read cards that have EMV chips, which are more secure than magnetic stripes. The cost of that fraud is currently borne by banks.

I asked Michael Kleinman, CEO of the credit card processing company Centurion Payment Services in Boca Raton, Florida, which EMV card reader he would recommend for a business with a low volume of credit card sales, like yours. Centurion focuses on small businesses.

His top recommendation is the iCT220 Dual Com Terminal made by Ingenico. His firm doesn't sell it, but gives it away to customers for free. On Amazon, it generally sells for about $160 to $200, depending on the seller.

"It's got a ton of features," says Kleinman. The iCT220 does EMV chip card reading and allows for payments that require Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, such as Apple Pay -- something not all card readers can handle, Kleinman says.  It also has Ethernet capabilities, meaning that if you don't have a phone line, you can plug it into a modem.

If you do buy one, advises Kleinman, "make sure it's unlocked." Otherwise, you will only be able to use it with a certain processor. Often, the models sold online are locked, he says.

What if you don't like the iCT220? His runner-up is the Verifone VX 520. You can also plug this one into a modem, though it doesn't have NFC capability. On Amazon, it is priced in the $160 to $180 range, depending on the seller.

Should you find yourself doing more sales than you expected, both models have the storage capability to process a substantial number of transactions, says Kleinman.

There are a number of other options out there. Regardless of which one you choose, Kleinman's advice is to avoid overspending. "Never buy one for over $300," he says. This doesn't need to be a pricey technology.

But don't skimp, either. He suggests steering away from refurbished models, which in his experience often have flaws. "I've seen customers run into problems when trying to run sales at the most inopportune times," he says. "They might run for the first couple of sales, but later down the line will give out. You'll find some kind of malfunction."

Should you lease a machine instead of buying one? Kleinman does not recommend that, given questionable practices that have become common. (I discussed these practices in an earlier column, "Beware shady merchant processing contracts"). In the case of the iCT220, Kleinman says, "A lot of companies are trying to lease it for $50 a month." These costly leases can be hard to break. "I've heard so many horror stories and feel so badly for people who get caught in these leases," he says. Why sign one when you can buy the machine you need for less than $200?

See related: EMV holdouts: Why merchants are slow to make chip-card switch, Small-merchant guide to EMV credit cards

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Updated: 03-23-2019