Virtually all brick'n'mortar stores and other good-sized businesses take credit cards. But for smaller businesses, like artists, craftspeople, flea market/yard sale sellers, and individuals, letting somebody pay via credit card has been tricky, difficult, even impossible. Or the costs have been too complicated, too much, or both.
But there is an option. For iPhone and Android owners, Square Inc. offers a quick, simple, affordable way to take credit card payments.
The free Square app takes payments, going via Square's network, to your bank account. You can even link up more than one account, and select the target, on a per-transaction basis.
Square accepts American Express, Discover, Mastercard and Visa. The only charges to you are 2.75% per swipe using the Reader -- 3.5% plus 15 cents if you type in the card information manually. There's no contract, and no monthly minimums. According to Square, "Funds are deposited into your bank account the next day."
Square even include a searchable sales history and other analytics-type features.
The Square iOS app works on GPS-enabled iPhones running iOS 4.0 or higher. Square also runs on the iPad, but I'm seeing some feature differences, so this review is just about the iPhone version. Square also has an Android version, requiring Android OS version 2.1 or higher
To start, in addition to getting and installing the free Square app, you have to create an account with Square and link your Square account to a bank account. You do this either via Square's web site or from the Square app.
And you want to get a Square Reader. It's small -- 1.0 x 1.0 x 0.5 inches plus a plug that goes into your smartphone's or tablet's audio jack. The Reader is free. Square will mail you one when you create your account, via their web site.
Square Readers are also available through Apple stores and retail stores like Best Buy, Radio Shack, Target and Walmart. If you get the Reader through a store, you'll have to pay $10, but these Readers include a $10 redemption code. Enter that code to Squareup.com/redeem, and Square sends the $10 to the bank account you've linked to your Square account.
That's all you need -- other than a minute of practice swiping a credit card through the Reader's slot. And Square makes card-swiping easy to master: they provide a brief training video online, and the app includes a short tutorial/practice, which comes up automatically if it looks like you're having trouble swiping a card through the Reader. Plus, if you enter $0.00, card swipes are treated as practice, giving you more chances to practice -- if the card name and last 4 digits show, it's worked. (Then simply press "clear.")
Taking Credit Card Payments
To take a payment with your iPhone, once you've started the Square app and plugged in the Reader you:
On my iPhone 4, the Square app and reader work as claimed. After a few practice swipes, I successfully did a few small (sub-five-dollar) transactions, on my credit card.
There are a number of things you need to know about using Square:
Because of the relative shortness of the plug on the Reader, depending on what case your iPhone is protected by, you may not be able to plug the Reader in, or not easily. For example, my iPhone 4 is in an OtterBox iPhone 4 Defender Series case. The Reader won't plug in through the hole in the case. (To be fair, neither will a number of other accessories.) By flipping up the audio port flap, I was able to connect the Reader -- but had to hold it carefully, at an angle. If you have this problem, and are committed to your case, consider getting a short cable to put in between the Reader and your device.
One the biggest challenges is to remember to bring with you -- and not lose -- your Square reader. (I've put a name label on mine.) If you lose it, the Reader itself doesn't hold any data, so you can just request a new one -- and the app lets you enter data by hand (for a slightly greater fee and longer payment delay), in case you can't find or didn't bring your Reader.
Even if you don't normally take money via credit cards, there's no downside -- or recurring costs -- to having a Square account and app, and, like other iPhone apps and features, you may discover uses for it once you have it. Like splitting the bill for a meal more easily, or selling used textbooks to a classmate, or when you're have a yard sale.
If you're a big business, Square may not be the least expensive card reader. But even big businesses may want to let some employees use Square instead of other solutions... and have employees using other solutions have Square on hand as a back-up way to take payments.
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