Can I Get a Card Machine For Free?

Home Can I Get a Card Machine For Free?
Sunny Avenue
Sunny Best (Product Reviews) Sunny Avenue
31 Jul 2023

Savvy business people are always looking for ways to save money and processing payments isn't cheap, making it an obvious starting point on your mission to reduce outgoings. However, there's no such thing as a free lunch in business, and if you're wondering, can I get a card machine for free? Well, i've got bad news for you. Those card machine providers are businesses too. But don't give up, because in this insight i'm going to provide an alternative solution to your issue of looking for free card machines and that is finding a low-upfront cost pay-as-you-go option. After all, that is the next best thing to using a free payment machine.

Can I get a Card Machine for free?

No, getting a card machine for free is not possible. Whether through upfront fees, ongoing transaction costs, or a combination of both, there will always be some form of payment associated with obtaining and using a card machine.

Do Card Machines Charge a Fee?

Yes they do. Card machine fees typically involve several components that merchants need to consider. The main types of card machine fees are:

Upfront Cost

This is the initial fee for acquiring the card machine itself. Some providers may offer promotions or lease options to reduce the upfront expense. For example, the initial fee to get a card machine might be £200 up-front. But, this one-time payment allows you to start accepting card payments in your coffee shop.

Transaction Fees

Each time a customer makes a payment using a card, the merchant is charged a transaction fee, which is a percentage of the transaction amount. Debit cards usually have lower transaction fees compared to credit cards. For example, for every transaction, you may have to pay a fee of 3%, automatically deducted from the sale proceeds paid into your bank account.

Monthly Service Fees

Some providers may charge a monthly fee for using their card machine services. This fee can cover maintenance, customer support, and software updates. This can vary from anywhere from £100-£5000 depending on the size of the retailer and the number of card machines required. 

Why Aren't Card Machines Free?

Card machines aren't free because providing them involves significant costs. Providers invest in hardware, technology, and security to process transactions. They must cover transaction fees, customer support, software updates, and administrative expenses. Additionally, they are businesses aiming for profitability. While there might be discounts, fully free machines are not feasible for sustainable operations. As a result, providers charge merchants upfront and transaction fees to support their services.

Low Upfront Cost Card Machines

Even though you've come here looking for free card options, as you're going to have a hard time finding them, we've compiled a list of the next best options. These card machine options come in the format of low upfront cost, pay-as-you-go. They use a combination of a small up-front fee alongside a small transaction fee to provide you and your business with the capacity to start accepting card payments.

Square Contactless Card Reader

Best card machine for craft fairs

★★★★★ 4.3   £22.80
With the Square Contactless Card Reader Air card reader, you’ll be able to receive card payments on the go, wherever you’re working – anywhere, anytime.
If you’ve got this Square contactless card reader, you can accept all major debit and credit cards as well as Google Pay and Apple Pay. It’s small enough to fit in your pocket, and is so simple to use with your smartphone or tablet. 
  • Cheaper upfront cost compared with the Sumup Air
  • Quick install time of just 5 minutes.
  • Works via bluetooth.
  • Slightly more expensive ongoing charges of 1.79% per transaction.
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
  • The Square Contactless Card reader is as close to a free card machine as you're getting. For a one off up-front fee of £22~ and ongoing payments of 1.75% if you were to take in a total of £1000, your expenses would sum to just £39.50.
  • The machine is very easy to setup, it connects to your mobile phone meaning it can easily be used on the go. Getting started is as simple as following the instructions on the Square app to connect your bank account.
  • This is ideal if you're just starting out as there are no contracts, if you never manage a sale, your total expense will just be the cost of the device upfront. Plus, if it really doesn't work out for you, you'll always be able to sell it onwards.
  • If you're happy to wait a day for funds to be transferred, there are no additional costs to receive money to your bank account.

Sumup AIR Mobile Card ReaderBest Card Machine for Craft Fair

★★★★★ 4.5   £38.99
With the SumUp Air card reader, you’ll be able to receive card payments on the go, wherever you’re working – anywhere, anytime.
If you’ve got this SumUp card reader, you can accept all major debit and credit cards as well as Google Pay and Apple Pay. It’s small enough to fit in your pocket, and is so simple to use with your smartphone or tablet. 
  • One upfront cost and then a small fee per transaction of 1.69%.
  • Quick install time of just 5 minutes.
  • Works via bluetooth.
  • Runs on batteries (provided) without a charging function.
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
  • The Sumup air mobile card machine, also not free, but comes at a fair price. Even though this is not the cheapest device on the market, you can add additional features and accessories that may be worth considering, such as a charging dock, but that comes at an additional cost too.
  • In terms of price, to get started with the sumup, it's going to cost £45~, but the ongoing transactions fee is 1.69%, slightly cheaper than the Square. If you take in £1000, expect your total fees will be £61.90. In fact, for this to be the cheapest option out of the two, it would require a turnover of £35,000. That just shows how negligible these fee's are. 
  • If you're planning on using sporadically, opt for the cheaper option of the Square. If you're intending to scale or sell high ticket items, the sumup would be best.

What Are The Benefits of Using a Low-Upfront-Cost Card Machine?

Low upfront cost card machines provide a few benefits for your business that include:


Low-upfront cost card machines are budget-friendly, making them accessible to small businesses and startups with limited resources. For instance, a card reader with a one-time payment of £50 can be more feasible for a small coffee shop than one with a £500 upfront fee.

Reduced Risk

With lower initial investment, businesses can test card payment acceptance without significant financial risk. For example, a pop-up store can try out a pay-as-you-go card machine for a weekend event without committing to a long-term contract.


Pay-as-you-go options allow businesses to scale their card payment services based on demand. This flexibility is beneficial for seasonal businesses or those with fluctuating sales volumes. For instance, a food truck owner can use a low-upfront cost card machine during busy festival seasons and pause the service during slow periods.

Quick Setup

Low-upfront cost card machines often have simple and fast setup processes, allowing businesses to start accepting card payments promptly. For example, a small online store can quickly integrate a cost-effective card payment solution into their website with minimal technical hassle.

No Monthly Commitments

Some low-upfront cost card machines come with minimal or no ongoing monthly fees. This can be advantageous for businesses with sporadic card transactions or those looking to minimise fixed expenses. For instance, a freelance artist can opt for a low-cost card machine that charges a small transaction fee without any monthly service charges, perfect for occasional sales at craft fairs or markets.

Is There a Minimum Spend on Card Machines?

Some card machine providers may require a minimum spend on transactions to cover their costs for processing small purchases. However, not all businesses have this requirement, and some are encouraging card usage without minimum spends. Check with your provider for specific details.

The two card machines above do not require a minimum spend, this has been replaced with an up-front fee and ongoing transaction fee.

Can You Get a Card Machine With a Personal Account?

Private individuals in the UK can get a card reader to accept payments as long as you are at least a sole trader. Card readers and electronic payment devices, accepting contactless, chip and PIN, or swipe card payments, are typically reserved for businesses, sole traders, companies, partnerships, charities, or organisations. Private individuals who are not registered as any of these entities do not qualify for card acceptance through traditional card reader providers like SumUp or Zettle.

However, there are alternative solutions available for individuals who need to accept payments:

Register as a Sole Trader or Suitable Business

Consider registering as a sole trader (self-employed), company, or another business entity. By doing so, you can qualify for a card reader, but keep in mind that card reader payments must be related to the registered business.

Bank Transfer

Requesting a bank transfer from the payer is a free and straightforward option. Provide your bank account number and sort code to the payer, and they can transfer the amount through their banking app.

Payment Request

Some banking apps, like Starling's, allow non-business users to send payment links to others, enabling them to pay money directly into your account online.

Online Payment Platforms

If you have a PayPal account, share your linked email address, and people can send you payments through their own PayPal accounts. Explore other online platforms with similar payment options that may work for you.

Through an Organisation

If you are working for an organisation and collecting funds for a charitable cause, consider reaching out to the organisation's account manager. They may provide a payment terminal, or you could manage their business account and have a card reader connected to it.

In summary, individuals in the UK cannot directly obtain a card reader for personal use to accept payments. However, there are several alternative payment options available that cater to personal needs and situations.


So, Can I Get a Card Machine For Free? The short answer is no. However, low-upfront cost card machines offer a practical and cost-efficient alternative to a free card machines to embrace card payment acceptance while adapting to their unique needs and financial capabilities. As I mentioned earlier, there's no such thing as a free lunch in business.

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Stuart is an expert in Property, Money, Banking & Finance, having worked in retail and investment banking for 10+ years before founding Sunny Avenue. Stuart has spent his career studying finance. He holds qualifications in financial studies, mortgage advice & practice, banking operations, dealing & financial markets, derivatives, securities & investments.

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