How to accept credit card payments without a card reader


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  1. Introduction
  2. What is a card reader?
  3. Accepting credit card payments online
  4. Manual credit card processing
  5. Accepting credit card payments over the phone
  6. Keeping manual credit card transactions secure

For most businesses, the ability to accept credit card payments is non-negotiable. While some businesses make it work with only cash or checks, processing credit card payments is a crucial step for any business that wants to scale up, increase their customer base and drive more sales. You may think that processing credit card payments requires a card reader to swipe, insert or tap a customer's card. Fortunately, there are other ways businesses can accept credit card payments without a card reader, including online and manual processing.

We'll cover alternative methods for accepting credit payments without a card reader that are fast, simple and secure.

What’s in this article?

  • What is a card reader?
  • Accepting credit card payments online
  • Manual credit card processing
  • Accepting credit card payments over the phone
  • Keeping manual credit card transactions secure

What is a card reader?

A card reader is a device that accepts credit and debit cards as a payment method. Some card readers are attached to point-of-sale (POS) terminals for in-person transactions; others are used with smartphones and tablets for mobile transactions. Most card readers today are equipped to accept a range of payment methods:

  • Contactless payments using near-field technology (NFC)
  • EMV chips
  • Magnetic stripe (magstripe) swiped payments

For more details about how card readers work and how they fit into a business's overall payment setup, read our article on the differences between card readers and POS terminals.

Card readers are the standard hardware for processing customer credit card payments. Not only are they convenient both for consumers and businesses, but they're also more secure than inputting card transactions manually.

Accepting credit card payments online

In order to accept credit card payments online, businesses need the following:

  • Payment processor
    If you're accepting credit card payments in person, then you already have a payment processor. Full-service payment processing providers like Stripe can support you in expanding your payments setup to include online credit card transactions.

  • Digital storefront
    If you don't plan to operate your business online, you can create a simple website used primarily for processing payments.

  • Payment gateway
    This is the interface where you and your customers can input credit card information to complete a transaction.

Once you're set up to accept online payments, you can process customer transactions this way any time you're unable to use your card reader. For example, if your card reader acts up when trying to complete an in-person purchase, you can easily switch to an online payment with your customer. While not a seamless checkout experience, it's good to have online payment options as a backup plan.

Manual credit card processing

Manual credit card processing should never be a business's go-to payment method. However, it can be a good fallback option if your card reader or website malfunctions. Stripe customers can manually input credit card information through their Dashboard. You'll need to build your own screen to key in payment details, using stripe.js or our iOS and Android SDKs to manually enter card details.

Although credit card transactions should ideally be processed using a card reader or secure online payment gateway, sometimes that might not be possible. Maybe someone spilled coffee all over your payment terminal just when you were about to process a customer's payment. Or your website is down and there's a credit card transaction that needs to be processed right away. No matter the situation, it's always good to have another payment option ready.

It's important to know that manual credit card transactions are subject to higher, card-not-present processing rates. Use them only as a backup for when other credit card processing methods are unavailable, so the higher rates don't hit you too hard.

Accepting credit card payments over the phone

Historically, phone-based credit card transactions processed without a card reader are most common for restaurants that accept a high volume of takeout and call-ahead orders, but businesses of all sorts will occasionally need to complete a sale this way.

Since these credit card transactions need to be manually entered into your Stripe Dashboard and will incur higher card-not-present processing fees, it's worthwhile for most businesses to establish a more secure, cost-effective and efficient way to accept orders. This might mean setting up online ordering through your website and directing customers there, joining a platform like Grubhub or Instacart or both.

Keeping manual credit card transactions secure

Security is a major factor to consider when processing manual credit card transactions. Since these purchases aren't encrypted by a card reader, there's arguably a higher risk of security breaches. Unlike payments made using Stripe Terminal, Reader and our online payments solutions, Stripe users are liable for fraudulent transactions processed manually.

PCI compliance is another important consideration when it comes to manual card transactions. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a set of requirements ensuring that any business that processes, stores or transmits credit card information operates as securely as possible. It's incredibly important for businesses to be PCI compliant; compliance considerations are baked into the Stripe payments ecosystem. With manually keyed-in credit card transactions, a business's ability to validate PCI compliance is diminished – another reason not to rely on manually processed card transactions as your primary payment method.

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