How to accept credit cards for popcorn, pack dues and pretty much anything else

Don’t let a cashless customer walk away that easily.

By adding a cheap credit card reader, your pack, troop or crew will be equipped to accept plastic for popcorn sales and other in-person, show-and-sell-type fundraisers. With a few taps, the money can be deposited into your unit’s bank account in a day or two.

Units that add these readers see an instant increase in sales. I’ve heard from packs and troops that have enjoyed a jump of 10 to 20 percent once they started taking credit cards.

There are downsides to these readers. First, there’s an up-front cost for the newer readers that accept chip cards. (I’ll tell you why a chip-enabled reader is a necessity later in the post.)

Then there’s the fee. The companies behind the readers charge a fee per swipe or chip read. The fee can be up to 2.75 percent. That’s not nothing, but sacrificing 82.5 cents on a $30 bag of caramel corn is better than missing out on the sale entirely.

What’s new in credit card readers?

I first blogged about accepting credit cards for popcorn sales in 2012. Five years later, the three readers I mentioned back then — from Square, PayPal and Intuit/QuickBooks — remain the three best options.

But many other aspects of credit card readers have changed.

For one, the companion apps that pair with the physical readers have improved greatly.

Now you can email receipts to customers with ease, accept tips and give access to multiple people. That means, for example, you could allow a parent to process sales but leave refund power to a handful of registered leaders.

What’s new in credit cards?

Credit card technology has changed, too. Credit and debit cards now come with built-in chips meant to make the card information harder to steal.

Having a card reader that can accept chips isn’t just a good idea; it could reduce your liability in fraud cases. As of Oct. 1 2015, sellers — not credit card issuers — are on the hook for fraudulent charges when the customer has a chip card but the seller swipes instead.

Also new: contactless payment options like Apple Pay and Android Pay that use near-field communication (NFC) to process payments.

What are the best options for card readers?

Most Scouters I’ve heard from use one of these three readers:

Name Square Chip Card Reader PayPal Here Chip Card Reader QuickBooks GoPayment EMV Card Reader
Price for reader $29.00 $79.00 $30
EMV/chip reader Yes Yes Yes
Contactless (Apple Pay, NFC) No (but available in $49 version) Yes No
iOS compatible Yes Yes Yes
Android compatible Yes Yes Yes
Commission 2.75% 2.70% 2.40% + 25 cents per transaction
Free version? Yes (lacks chip reader) Yes (lacks chip reader) No
Website Here. Here. Here.
Photo

Note: Many of these readers plug into your phone or tablet’s headphone jack. If you have a device like an iPhone 7 that lacks a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, you can use Apple’s $9 Lightning-to-headphone adapter. Or just use another device, like an iPad, older iPhone, or Android phone or tablet.

Accepting dues and other unit payments

Now that you have the card reader and account set up, why not use it to accept other unit-related payments? This could include dues, camp fees and more. It’s all about convenience for our Scouting families.

Once again, don’t forget about the processing fee. Some units, including the troop of which I’m a member, pass that fee along to the Scout or Scouter. For example, a troop whose yearly dues are $100 would charge $102.75 to those using credit cards.

What else should I consider when using these?

  • Read the fine print for additional fees. Some of these companies charge for things like manually keyed-in card numbers.
  • Remember that these readers work best when the phone is connected to the internet. Some units have used an old iPhone, set it up on a prepaid plan — $40 or so for 1 GB of data, which is plenty — and set up the phones so the only icons visible are the chip-reader app and the calculator app. “The extra sales more than made up for the expense of the cellular plan and the service charge for taking cards,” one leader said.
  • Use the built-in memo field within the app to categorize each transaction. This will help you know whether that random $75 was for popcorn sales or winter camp.
  • Units already using PayPal for things like rechartering fees or camps should probably go with the PayPal reader. It will work with your existing PayPal account.
  • Take time to add your product line into the sales system. This means each transaction is just a matter of tapping which product was being purchased and processing payment.

29 Comments

  1. Our unit has wanted to add credit card processing for years, but continue to run into the same roadblock not addressed in this post. All online accounts we look into (paypal, square, etc…) require a tax id to create the account. Our tax id belongs to our chartering organization and they do not want us to use it for this purpose. Is this the same with other units? How do you get around the tax id issue?

    • Aren’t you already using this tax ID for your pack checking account? The unit is part of the CO, not independent. You’re operating under their tax ID right now.

    • I think we use council’s ID. (It’s been a while since setup). Here’s an idea, if your CO is a church, tell them they can collect donations via credit card and you’ll set it up for them. Tell them donation amounts can be created as “tapable items” and as image icons on their website.

      We collect most of our Square payments from our website. I send parents a link for dues payments.

  2. At one point the reader had to be tied to one device – account log in, so a unit either needed a dedicated device or someone had to leave their phone at a site. Is this still the case?

    • We used the Square Reader with PayPal and we could log in on any device. So, when there’s a shift change at a popcorn sale, the Square Reader gets handed over and the next parent logs in on the iPhone app.

    • My unit has multiple Square readers tied into one account so we can run multiple sales at the same time. My son also has one for when he is going door-to-door. The non-chip ones are free so we took advantage of that.

    • no with Square you can go in the website and send codes to anyone which also tracks sales from that device. The reader isn’t tied to an account

  3. Another good service is PayAnywhere. Readers are free, 3-way readers are around 40.00 for Chip, slide and apple pay. They give you 5000.00 worth of free apple pay meaning no fee for first 5000.00 in the first 3 months. The rate is 2.69%, Full store front and inventory control included.

    • PayAnywhere does charge a yearly fee for inactivity. Just be aware if you only plan to use the reader for a popcorn sale and nothing else in between.

  4. The Square reader shown in the post is actually their magnetic strip reader. Their contactless reader is pictured at https://squareup.com/shop/hardware/us/en/products/chip-credit-card-reader-with-nfc. I have been using Square for all sorts of troop and pack payments for over a year and like its options for payments (in person, on the web, invoice by E. Mail). The contactless reader has been so unreliable (fails to stay connected to the phone) that I usually revert to using the magnetic strip reader to get the transaction done.

  5. I have experience with both square (personal business) and PayPal here (scouting). Our pack chose PayPal as it offers multiple accounts for free. We can set up each den leader or event coordinator as an individual user so they can use their own phone to take payments which then go into the pack’s account.

    Over the weekend we also figured out we can use the system as a complete point of sale service by adding all the popcorn products at a fixed price and a separate donations product with a variable price. The system allows you to process cash payments easily so we were able to keep an accurate count of everything that was sold as well as any donations we received. It works well to have 2 accounts, 1 with the card reader for credit card processing, and the other for cash sales/donations (no card reader required).

    The challenges have been in making sure you work with paypal before doing a lot of fund raising. If they see an abnormal amount of activity on an account they will suspend it until you call them to ensure it is not being used fraudulently.

    I don’t remember what tax id I used for registration. Call PayPal and ask them what they recommend.

    • Many people don’t carry cash, if they do they usually don’t want to spend it all in one place such $30.00 for popcorn they hadn’t planned on. It’s great for show and sells and impulse buys at the office.

    • When we sell via the Square, we add a fixed % that covers the fee. We make sure the customer is OK with this first. In the three years we have been doing this, two people have balked. They did not have cash for a $10 item and did not want to pay any more than $10.

      Our store front sales increased significantly when we started taking credit cards.

  6. We compared sales where we used the Square reader to sales where someone forgot to bring it and there was no doubt: we sold more popcorn when we could take credit cards. When people would say, “Sorry, I don’t have any cash,” the Scouts were quick to offer, “That’s okay, we take credit cards!”

  7. If you can get your Chartered Org to agree to allow you to use their Tax ID, you can register your account as non-profit with Square and they waive the transaction fees. That’s what our pack did for the account. And then we only allowed certain committee members to have access as an “employee”.

    Now that we’re part of a troop, we’ll use our account for credit cards, since we don’t want to lose the potential sale due to credit cards. Need to convince the Troop to set up credit cards too 🙂

    • You’re already using their tax ID. The CO owns the unit. Your Scout Store, for example, should already have your CO’s tax ID on file so you don’t pay sales tax on your unit’s Scout Store purchases.

  8. Love Square! Set up popcorn items you’re selling online beforehand, and they come up on the smartphone app, at the sales location, just select the popcorn items the customer purchased, and you don’t need to manually enter prices.

    Square also provides an online store, where you can pre-enter a schedule of payments for Summer camp, Philmont, Northern Tier, Sea Base, and Summit crews scheduled. Parents can then pay from the comfort of their homes, by going online from the Troop’s “store.”

    Also what some may not realize is that though the CC discount rate may seem a little steep, that is the only charge you’ll incur. Most other CC merchants will charge you for the rewards program from the customer’s credit cards.

  9. My Pack has used Square for ~5 years. One huge piece of advice is to have a unit email for registration of the account instead of a personal one. Affects how the email receipt reads and aids in handing off from one generation of leaders to another.

  10. We’ve had a Paypal account for several years. One caution: I think the legal agreement when you set up the account says that we cannot “tack on” the credit card fee as it’s own line item. I interpret this as the company wants the seller to pay the fee out of their profits or make the total price the same as every other payment method. We follow the gas station method – we publish a full price with credit card fee built in (so it is not a separate line item) and offer a discount for cash payment.

  11. Our troop is in Berlin, Germany. We tend to do most of our financial transactions via electronic banking. We are much more advanced here in Europe in that regard.. Hence, no fees to credit card 💳 companies… A Scout is Thrifty.

  12. You write: “That means, for example, you could allow a parent to process sales but leave refund power to a handful of registered leaders.”

    Is there an alternative method of doing this with Square other than setting up employee management? At a cost of $5 / employee for anyone that you don’t want to have full administrative rights, that can add up quickly.

  13. Jennie, that’s why we selected paypal here over square. You can set up as many child accounts with restricted accesses as you like for free. Hopefully all of transactions will go through paypal here and we can easily track what each scout family or unit sold.

    It is actually illegal in some states to tack on the credit card fee (http://money.cnn.com/2013/01/27/pf/checkout-fee/index.html). Gas stations get around this by offering discounts for cash purchases in many areas.

    Our pack decided that the $.03 per dollar cost was well worth it, especially considering the alternative is to lose a sale. I’ll take $0.97 over $0.00. any day of the week.

  14. We use Cheddarup that allows us to charge processing fee to the ones choosing to use the service. No annual fee. Downside is no card reader currently, but can use on any device that can access the website.

  15. Hey All! I’m the proud mom of a Bear scout but also happen to work for a processing company called Elavon. We compete a lot with Square and have WAY lower rates per swipe. The catch? You have to get a card reader that allows for the card holder to enter their PIN (if they are using a card protected by a PIN). Elavon offers seasonal accounts as well, so a lot of my customers buy the card reader (approximately $150) and turn the account on and off as needed. There are monthly fees also associated, but only charged when account is open. Depending on your amount of sales, this could make a big difference in what you pay for processing. Please, if any of you have processing questions, let me know. I’m an expert and I understand how taking cards can be a racket and also very confusing.

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