The invention of the smart phone has enabled a company called Square to create an affordable service for small businesses to swipe and accept credit cards anywhere they can get a cell signal.
Square can be used with Apple iOS devices and Android phones and tablets.
The heart of the Square service is a tiny credit card reader that plugs into a device's earphone jack along with a free Square app.
For business owners, a swiped credit card transaction costs 2.75 percent plus 15 cents, while manually keying in the card number costs 3.5 percent plus 15 cents – that's it.
There is no additional monthly fee. Square even sends you the card reader free of charge.
You'll have to set up an account at Square's website and link it to a bank account where you want your money deposited.
You'll then wait a week or two to get your card reader.
Before you receive the reader, you're welcome to accept cards manually (at the higher rate).
Money from the transactions is usually deposited directly into your bank account within a day.
There is no limit to the charges you can accept each week, but there is a deposit limit of $1,000 per week into your bank account. Any amount over $1,000 you're owed will be deposited within 30 days.
Users who will need higher weekly deposit amounts can set that up with Square.
You'll need to fill out a credit application for a higher limit.
The experience for both customer and merchant is absolutely first-rate. The transactions are quick and easy.
Call up the app, and enter the transaction amount and a description of the purchase. You can even snap a picture with your phone's camera.
Swipe the card and it immediately makes an authorization inquiry. When the authorization is complete, the customer signs the screen with his or her finger and enters a phone number or e-mail address for a text or e-mailed receipt.
The receipt is personalized and includes the purchase description, transaction location and a picture of the purchase if you took one.
The iPad app includes an additional feature of setting up an "item library" of your inventory so you can quickly tap each purchase and add it to the transaction.
Of course, you'll need to be connected to wifi or 3G service to use Square.
This is the perfect service for anyone who wants to start taking credit cards. With no startup or monthly fees, you can get a free card reader and use the service as much as you like.