A man in glasses and a button-up shirt uses his smartphone to scan a handheld payment device at a cafe. The person holding the POS device is behind the cafe's service counter; only their arm can be seen.
Mobile payment apps are usually free, but many have per-transaction fees. In addition, businesses will incur credit card processing fees regardless of what payment system they use. — Getty Images/Milko

Nowadays, you can run your entire business from your cell phone, with programs ranging from real-time labor and cash flow reports to apps for credit card processing. However, not every entrepreneur needs a complete point-of-sale (POS) system, whereas others can’t afford to waste time on a solution that doesn’t scale.

Fortunately, there are credit card payment apps for every situation. Learn what mobile processing software entails, how to choose an app, and what solutions exist for various use cases.

What is a credit card payment app?

A credit card payment application is the software you download to your mobile phone to process transactions. It typically works on iOS and Android devices, including iPhones, tablets, and iPads.

If you don’t have a card reader, you can use your phone to take tap-to-pay, QR code, or digital wallet payments. Payment apps with card readers process swipe, tap, and dip transactions. The software also supports card-not-present (CNP) or manually keyed-in payments.

Some vendors provide POS functionality or call their payment apps mPOS systems (mobile point of sale). These platforms offer additional features, like inventory management, invoicing, and integrations.

[Read more: A Guide to Understanding Credit Card Processing]

Top payment apps for credit card processing

Compare payment apps and services to find solutions that offer the best combination of features. Remember to verify that the vendor’s payment app is compatible with your device and test the software before entering into long-term contracts.

Here are six apps to take credit card payments:

  • Helcim: This merchant account provider offers a free all-in-one POS application and a $99 card reader. It supports most payment methods and has transparent interchange-plus rates.
  • Square POS: Download the complimentary POS app to take credit card payments immediately. Square offers a free magstripe reader or a $59 NFC phone device. The flat, in-person, per-transaction fee is 2.6% plus 10 cents.
  • Stax Pay: Accept tap-to-pay cards and mobile payments from iOS and Android devices with a Stax Pay account, POS app, and SwipeSimple card reader. The payment app includes inventory management and reporting tools.
  • Clover Go: The Clover Go mobile app and portable card reader allow you to accept all major credit cards and mobile wallet payments. The hardware costs $49, and flat-rate in-person fees are 2.6% plus 10 cents per transaction.
  • PayPal Zettle: This app allows you to accept contactless payments on Android and iOS devices without a card reader. It offers a low flat rate of 2.29% plus 9 cents per transaction, and you can buy your first portable terminal to gain extra functionality for $29.
  • QuickBooks GoPayment: Extend the functionality of your accounting software by adding QuickBooks Payments. You can take cards, ACH payments, PayPal, Apple Pay, and Venmo. Card readers cost $49, and in-person rates start at 2.5%.

Mobile processing isn’t inherently less safe than other methods. In fact, mobile operating systems sometimes include more built-in security features than computers.

Do mobile payment apps charge fees?

Although the application itself is usually free, you will pay per-transaction rates, and some credit card processors charge monthly fees. Essentially, businesses incur the same line-item expenses whether they use mobile payment apps, e-commerce platforms, or POS systems. The rates vary by provider and pricing model.

Generally, whenever you manually key in credit card information, the payment app vendor charges a higher fee for a CNP transaction. You can reduce processing fees with payment software that supports NFC (near-field communication) transactions without card readers. Still, many prepaid and gift cards aren’t NFC-enabled, and some merchant services require connected readers for the lowest rates.

[Read more: How to Choose a Credit Card Processing Provider]

Security features of credit card payment apps

Reputable payment apps go the extra mile to ensure your transactions are secure. They meet security requirements by adhering to Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) and supporting EMV chip technology. Some vendors use more sophisticated fraud detection tools and update their software more often, providing an added layer of protection.

Mobile processing isn’t inherently less safe than other methods. In fact, mobile operating systems sometimes include more built-in security features than computers.

Still, many users process credit card payments while connected to public Wi-Fi networks. And how many times have you clicked “later” when it was time to install the latest software update on your iPhone? These issues cause vulnerabilities, highlighting the need for reputable credit card payment apps.

How to choose a credit card payment app

The best apps for taking credit card payments are secure, convenient, and user-friendly. However, an occasional seller may want a different system than a food truck owner or retailer. To identify top payment apps, look beyond initial costs and compare functionality and limitations.

Consider these factors when choosing payment apps for credit card processing:

  • Payment methods: Most providers support major credit and debit cards, like Visa and Mastercard. You may also want to accept digital wallets like PayPal or mobile systems like Apple Pay. In addition to the payment type, explore how customers will pay, such as through QR codes, EMV chips, or tap-to-pay.
  • Virtual terminal software functionality: See if the merchant provider app requires a card reader for in-person sales and if it offers POS features. Look for must-have tools, like emailing or texting receipts to customers post-purchase.
  • Payment app ease of use: Check out the mobile app’s user reviews to ensure the payment process is smooth and reliable. See if the payment app works offline and how often the vendor updates the software.
  • Scalability: Determine how many users can simultaneously use the app for credit card payments. Also, make sure the processing software can handle your next growth stage, whether that's through adding POS hardware or expanding to new sales channels.
  • Card reader usability: Pair a card reader through Bluetooth to your phone or tablet to score lower processing rates. Since customers will interact with this hardware, consider upgrading to one that’s sleek and user-friendly.

[Read more: How New Digital Payments Help Cut Lines and Boost Customer Experience]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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