Want to use your iPhone as a point-of-sale (POS) system for your business? Getting started is easy, and processing transactions isn't rocket science either. But with the plethora of mobile credit card processors available, the biggest challenge is choosing which one is right for your business.
Small businesses have many choices for mobile credit card processors, from independent vendors that offer all types of credit card processing to merchant-account providers, banks and other financial institutions. Go with the wrong one, however, and it could cost you time, money and possibly your sanity.
To help you narrow down your choices, here is a rundown of the three types of iPhone credit card processing systems and how they work. [For a closer look at iPhone credit card processing and mobile POS systems, check out our Credit Card Processing Buyer's Guide and our roundup of the best POS systems. You can also check out our recommendation for the best mobile credit card processor.]
Option No. 1: App and reader
The app-and-reader combo is definitely the most popular mobile credit card processing solution available for iPhone. It's also one of the easiest to use. Businesses simply sign up for a merchant account with the provider of their choice and then download the provider's app to their iPhone.
Most app-and-reader companies send their merchants a free credit-card reader that plugs directly into the iPhone's headphone jack. With the reader in place, you can start accepting payments everywhere you bring your iPhone.
If you do decide on an app and reader for mobile credit card processing, your choice of provider depends on how much you want to pay and whether or not you'd also like additional services.
One such app-and-reader vendor is Square, our recommendation for the best mobile credit card processor. Find out more by checking out our Square review.
Editor's Note: Ready to choose a mobile credit card processor? Use the questionnaire below, and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need:
Option No. 2: The app and terminal
If you're looking for a mobile credit card processing solution that's a little sturdier, then the app and terminal may be what you need.
Much like mobile card readers, mobile credit card terminals can be used anywhere you have your iPhone. But they come with some additional features that your customers may appreciate. For instance, many mobile terminals are equipped with all of the capabilities of a regular POS terminal, such as inventory management, built-in customer relationship management software, staff management capabilities, marketing tools and advanced analytics.
Additionally, these terminals may come with a complete set of equipment, including a bar-code scanner, cash register, receipt printer, and contactless or near-field communication (NFC) reader, which lets you accept mobile payments such as Apple Pay and Android Pay.
Learn more about app-and-terminal credit card processing from our Credit Card Processing Buyer's Guide.
Option 3: App only
If you're looking for a way to accept mobile payments with your iPhone without having to actually swipe a credit card, then you're in luck: There's an app for that. Instead of forcing you to deal with clunky credit card readers and dongles, some credit card processing apps simply use the iPhone's camera. This method can work in several ways, such as by capturing a photo of the credit card, scanning the credit card number or reading a quick-response (QR) code.
Two examples of app-only iPhone credit card processing providers are Flint and LevelUp. Find out more about these and other vendors by checking out our list of the Best POS systems.
Updated June 17, 2015. Additional reporting by Elizabeth Palermo.