Accepting credit cards when you are broke
August 27, 2012 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Is there any way to accept credit cards via Square or similar WITHOUT having an expensive cell phone plan or shelling out lots of money?

Ok, I am a seamstress and having a growing business selling steampunk clothing and stuff. I have vended at a few conventions, but have not been able to accept credit cards. Due to the increasing popularity of Square credit card readers, buyers are starting to expect that you take cards. I haven't missed out on any large sales, but I have lost $25 here and there as a result (sending people to an ATM doesn't seem to guarantee they will come back, even when you hold an item for them.)

Here's the problem: I don't have an iphone or Android, and can't afford to get one. I am disabled, although denied for benefits. Our budget is very tight, like struggling to pay for food some weeks tight. We used to have cell phone service through AT&T, with the cheapest possible plan, but we weren't using our cell phones enough to justify it. So we switched to prepaid cell service through Tracfone. Our cell phone bill went from $80/month to about $20 every three months. So obviously that was a good financial decision. So we can't afford to sign on to whatever data plan and unlimited plan we would need to get an iphone or android.

Most (but not all) of the areas I've vended at have wi-fi coverage, so I looked in to getting a way to accept credit cards through a laptop and wifi, but all of the services that will allow you to do that charge a monthly fee, the cheapest I found being $30. And since I don't sell every month, that's not a justifiable expense. For example right now I may not do another in-person vending event until March.

Square doesn't charge a monthly fee or have any equipment costs, they just take a percentage of the transaction. It works with iphone and android devices. I know it works with ipad, so assumably it can work with just wi-fi access. But I can't really afford to buy an ipad just for this one thing.

So here's the question, hivemind. How can I get this to work in a way that is financially feasible? Is there a device I can buy that is reasonable ($100?) that will allow me to accept cards? Is there a way to use a jailbroken device in some way that will work? I really am not knowledgeable about these things, never having owned a smartphone or tablet or anything. Is there any kind of service I could sign up for just on the months I need it?

Anyone have any ideas/solutions?
posted by threeturtles to Technology (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Paypal allows you to input credit card numbers to a laptop for payment, and should work over wifi. It will take a cut of each transaction, but there's no monthly fee.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:21 AM on August 27, 2012

Googling suggests that the card reader works with the iPod Touch over Wifi. They are $200 new and you could probably find a used or previous-generation version for pretty cheap—certainly cheaper than an iPad.
posted by enn at 10:22 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can get Refurb iPad's from Apple for as low as $350. That may put it in range for you to consider using Square. It's a really great experience for both sellers and buyers, though PayPal has recently done a major face-lift as well. Square certainly works over wi-fi, and the reader is free.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:25 AM on August 27, 2012

yup, lots of people just put it on an ipod touch or wifi iPad.

older ipod touches are really cheap- I think you could easily get one one generation back on craigslist or something for less than 100 dollars. Current generation refurb iPods from Apple start at 169
posted by rockindata at 10:27 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: When I looked into Paypal, they also charge a monthly fee for inputting credit card numbers.
posted by threeturtles at 10:28 AM on August 27, 2012

Yeah, you don't need a lot of power to run Square. An older hand-held device will work just as well, though I've found it's much nicer to have the big real estate that an iPad affords. Anyway, it's a one time business expense, so you need to consider it in the context of your overall business plans.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:28 AM on August 27, 2012

As a note of caution, I'd check with any cons you're planning to attend. I know that for some of the bigger ones (think San Diego) that vendor wifi runs ~100 a day, so it's pretty much a wash as far as saving money vs. a cell plan.
posted by Oktober at 10:29 AM on August 27, 2012

Apple will also do financing on an iPad, so you could pay it off over 6 months with no interest (and then probably standard credit card interest on whatever you don't pay in 6 months).

There are probably rent-to-own places in your area that will finance an iPad on different terms.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:32 AM on August 27, 2012

You can easily get an older Android phone for $50 or less. You may want to check their compatibility page for certain models.

T-mobile has pay as you go plans. The cheapest is $2 a day for unlimited everything. Buy service the day you will be selling items.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:38 AM on August 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

Assuming the customers have smart phones, could they just log in on the phone and pay by Paypal? Minor annoyance factor for the customer, but I think almost all would do it. Hell it's probably more secure since you never actually see their card number this way. Tout it as a feature :)
posted by COD at 10:46 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stripe has no monthly charges and a laptop with wifi could easily be made into a small POS workstation. Do you have a laptop? Or one you could borrow?

Stripe is a new shiny CC solution like Square is except Stripe is made for in person swipe transactions and Stripe is made for web apps. Just self host on a stripe POS app and jump on to the conventions wifi.
posted by Brian Puccio at 11:24 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

You are mistaken about Paypal, threeturtles. Look at the far left column on this page. For Paypal Standard accounts there is no monthly fee and no set up fee. If you get Paypal's card reader, you'll pay 2.7% for swiped transactions. Otherwise, you'll pay 3.5% plus 15 cents to type in a credit card number and process it there.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:59 AM on August 27, 2012

Oops, looks like you need to click "see pricing" for the pricing info to appear on the page linked again. Nonetheless: No monthly fee required for PayPal Standard.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:01 PM on August 27, 2012

What about setting up a credit card merchant account and using an old-school manual credit card imprinter?
posted by platinum at 2:01 PM on August 27, 2012

Could you, at the start of the day, partner with a nearby friendly vendor? You could ask them to accept the credit card charges for you, and for them to pay you in cash. Instead of 2.7%, maybe you could ask them to take 5%, so that they'd be making a 2.3% 'profit' for the courtesy of using their system. That way, you can still accept credit card charges, while not having to invest in the initial infrastructure of an iPod Touch.
posted by suedehead at 2:22 PM on August 27, 2012

iPod touch can do it via Wifi. I'd look into 8 GB models on eBay since there's a glut from all of the annual Macbook Pro promotions.
posted by oceanjesse at 3:22 PM on August 27, 2012

Since you might have about six months to arrange this, let me suggest you try to win a device that would work or otherwise come up with one creatively for little or no money.

For example, currently has sweepstakes for ipods and an ipad. There is no guarantee you will win but there is also no cost other than a little time and effort to participate. (Don't drink coke products? Get friends to give you the lids and boxes for the codes.) is currently giving away free Android phones, the catch being it requires a two year service agreement, which means it isn't truly free and doesn't fit your current budget. You could also suggest to friends/family that you would like an ios device or Android phone for Christmas.

There are actually multiple mobilecard reader devices. Even Paypal is coming out with one. Review of Pay Pal Here.
posted by Michele in California at 4:15 PM on August 27, 2012

From now until six months from now, keep a diary of sales missed due to not taking credit cards. Take the total number and see if it pays for the monthly cost + connectivity fee for the iDevice with a profit at the end. If so, buy it. If not, don't.

During that same time, mention to everyone you know that you're in the market for an older iPhone so that you can use it for square, and hopefully within that window someone will say "hey, I'm upgrading, I'll give you mine for a low price."
posted by davejay at 10:14 PM on August 27, 2012

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