No matter what kind of small business you run, you need to get paid. Wouldn’t it be great to be paid on the spot, rather than having to chase customers around?

If you have a mobile payment app on your phone, you can be paid quickly and easily.

Maybe you just finished painting a customer’s house and want to collect the balance due for your work. Or maybe you’re a freelance copywriter with a client who’s ready to sign off on your proposal to get started on that big project; all you need is a down payment. Or maybe you’re a retailer with a line out the door at your cash register and you’d like a way to step in and take payment.

In each of these situations, you can download the payment app of your choice (listed below) at no charge. Once you register an account with the app, the company will mail you a free card reader to plug into your smartphone to collect payments.

Here’s how it works:

All mobile payment apps perform, essentially, the same function. They enable small businesses to process customers’ credit and debit card payments anywhere there is wireless service, using a smartphone and an attached card reader. But the details that differentiate each app are what make their customers raving fans.

Customers can then swipe their magnetic stripe credit cards or “dip” their chip-enabled cards through a small card reader that plugs into your smartphone. The card reader is linked to a mobile payment app you’ve downloaded on your phone.

The transaction is secure and simple. You need only a smartphone, such as an iPhone or Android device, and the free mobile payment app of your choice. And instead of signing a paper receipt, customers sign their name on your phone using their fingertip.

While there are many mobile payment apps on the market today, the top five mobile payment apps featured here are the cream of the crop. They’re the platforms that many small businesses have been using for years. Having been on the market for years and they’ve been field-tested by thousands of existing businesses, so the kinks have been worked out.

Square

“Being able to accept credit cards is invaluable,” says Cheryl Titcher, owner/designer of Inspire Designed. A jeweler who specializes in handmade, limited production sterling silver pieces that are animal or nature-themed, Titcher sells her work at local art shows and festivals around the holidays. “Eight out of 10 customers ask me if I accept credit cards even before they look at my jewelry,” she says.

When she tells them she does, she can see the relief on their faces. Her average sale is $60, she says, although her pieces range from around $20 into the thousands. In contrast, other artists who insist on cash typically average sales under $20,”because that’s usually all that people carry in their pockets,” explains Titcher.

Titcher started using Square a few years ago when they began offering free card readers to business owners. She had initially used ProPay to process customer payments, which “worked great,” she says, but card numbers had to be manually entered at the end of the day. That was time-consuming, so when the Square offer appeared, she jumped ship.

Using Square, Titcher can accept all major credit cards, including Mastercard, Visa, Discover, and American Express. There is no monthly fee, so Titcher only pays a percentage of each sale when she makes one. Square’s fee is 2.75% for sales that are swiped, dipped, or tapped using the company’s reader.

Chargebacks have not been an issue for Titcher, but Square provides some protection other apps don’t. Square will reimburse you for chargebacks from customers who dispute transactions and ask for a refund—up to $250 per transaction, with a limit of $250/month.

Titcher uses Square in-person at shows, receiving email confirmations whenever she sells something, which is useful for record-keeping. At the same time, a receipt is emailed to her buyer. The next day, the proceeds of the sale are deposited in her bank account. That was a big selling point when she originally signed up – the money is automatically deposited, without a fee, directly into her bank account.

Although she doesn’t use it herself, Square also offers an instant payment option. For an additional fee of 1% of the transaction amount, Square will immediately deposit the proceeds of a sale into your bank account – no waiting 1-2 days for the deposit to appear.

PayPal Here

Leah Ingram’s experience using PayPal to pay for purchases as a consumer led her to choose PayPal for payment processing when she launched her new business, Pawsome Doggie, in November 2015. Pawsome Doggie is an online store that provides dog owners with all the supplies and accoutrements needed to celebrate their pet’s birthday – from dog bone-shaped candles to pet-friendly cake mixes, cake tins, and more.

Since Pawsome Doggie’s website uses a shopping cart integrated with PayPal, when Ingram began traveling off-site to fundraisers and dog walks sponsored by area dog shelters and rescue organizations, she downloaded the PayPal Here mobile app for remote payment processing.

PayPal charges 2.7% for swiped transactions and 3.5% plus 15 cents for keyed-in transactions. The app accepts all major credit cards, but Ingram has found that while Visa and Mastercard swipe without a hitch, sometimes the PayPal reader seems to have difficulty processing Discover and American Express cards. “They’re more iffy,” explains Ingram.

Funds received through PayPal are available immediately in your PayPal account, which can then be transferred into a bank account at no charge. However, it then takes 3-4 days for the money to appear in your account. In addition to moving your money into your business bank account, you can also request a bank check or use your PayPal-issued debit card to withdraw money from an ATM, both of which cost $1.50 per transaction.

One thing that PayPal does that makes Ingram’s business life easier is auto-filling customer information when a card is swiped. Whenever customers swipe a credit card they have previously used to make a payment in PayPal, PayPal remembers and fills in the previously-stored contact information. There’s no need to re-enter customer information since PayPal fills it in for you, she explains. That’s a time-saver.

To be sure you don’t have issues taking payments, test the app first. “Don’t wait until the day of an event to use it,” she says. You may discover, as she did, that her older iPhone was incompatible with the sophisticated PayPal app. Fortunately, by testing it early, she had time to upgrade her phone, download the app, and verify that it worked properly.

Intuit GoPayment

Elizabeth Hay of Elizabeth Hay Designs, who designs botanical jewelry inspired by the Art Nouveau and Victorian eras, began using Intuit GoPayment about four or five years ago. Hay opted for GoPayment mainly because it is an Intuit product and she felt confident in Intuit’s reliability.

Like Titcher, Hay sells her jewelry at around 12 different art festivals and shows along the Mid-Atlantic coast. She used to have to swipe customer credit cards using a boxy “knucklebuster” machine and much prefers the ease of the mobile card reader.

GoPayment has two pricing plans for customers to choose from.

  1. For businesses with few mobile transactions each month, the option to pay 2.4% plus 25 cents per transaction is likely attractive; keying in sales by hand will cost you 3.4% plus 25 cents.
  2. But if you have regular mobile payments, a better option might be to pay a $19.95 monthly fee to Intuit, which then reduces your per-transaction fees to 1.6% plus 25 cents per sale.

GoPayment works on iPhones, Android devices, and iPads. You can personalize receipts that are emailed to customers and add your company logo for additional brand recognition.

Hay particularly likes being able to log on to her GoPayment dashboard to immediately see all her sales, fees, and customer data. And at some point, she says, she may get around to syncing it with QuickBooks.

Stripe

When David Burrows and Blake Nichols co-founded Laundri, LLC, an on-demand dry cleaning, wash and fold, and shoe shining service, in 2015, they settled on Stripe as their mobile payment app after reading extensive reviews, says Burrows.

“For Laundri, our profit margins are slim, so an extra few cents charge per order can add up fast,” he says.

Stripe charges 2.9% plus 30 cents per transaction, but offers volume discounts for companies doing at least $80,000/month.

Though Stripe advertises that money is transferred to your bank on a two-day rolling basis, Burrows reports that Laundri receives deposits the same day. As the business has grown, Stripe has continued to reduce their cost-per-transaction.

Like other payment apps, Stripe accepts all major credit cards, as well as Diners Club and JCB. It also can handle ACH transactions and Bitcoin payments, which cost .8%, up to a maximum of $5.

Another plus for Stripe, says Burrows, is that, “They also provide us with analytics to compare sales, campaigns, and more. The data exports to QuickBooks as well, so that helps for tax reporting and updating our investors.”

Yet perhaps more important to Burrows is the fact that Stripe is “quick to answer any questions or disputes,” and, he says, “in our business of turning around hundreds of orders in a 24-hour period, that’s important.”

Stripe states that it charges a $15 chargeback fee for a disputed charge, but if the payment is found to be valid, that $15 fee is refunded to the business.

PayAnywhere Mobile

PayAnywhere offers the same main features as the other top four apps here, but at the moment, it is the lowest cost option for lower volume users.

Like all the others, PayAnywhere offers a free card reader, free app download, and no monthly fees. But unlike the others, its per-swipe rate is 2.69%, with no additional transaction charge. Money collected is deposited next day in the company’s bank account.

The good news about mobile payment apps is that you can try one and if it doesn’t work out, you can switch. The only inconvenience is creating a new account and having to enter all your banking information. It might take a few minutes, but it won’t cost you any money.

In fact, some business owners purposely set up multiple payment accounts, just in case one is ever frozen. Having multiple accounts, while a potential nightmare at tax time, helps ensure that you’ll always be able to collect payments from customers, no matter where you are.

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