Credit cards welcome: How to take plastic for popcorn

Cash or check only? Not anymore.

Thanks to some handy new tech tools, it’s possible to accept credit cards at your unit’s next popcorn sale, carwash, or other money-earning project.

That eliminates a big reason customers give when choosing not to buy from packs, troops, teams, or crews at events like Show and Sells: “Sorry, I don’t have any cash.”

Enter the card readers. These free, pocketable devices plug into the headphone jack on your iPhone, iPad, or Android Phone. Just like that, you’re set up to accept credit cards.

They’re secure, they look professional, and they give you quick access to your funds. I even hear that some councils are giving them out at popcorn kickoff events.

Here’s a look at the three biggest card readers out there, each with its own special features: 

PayPal Here

PayPal’s triangle-shaped reader charges slightly less per transaction than Square and lets you accept checks.

Other notes:

  • You can accept PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, and checks.
  • Compatible with iPhone or Android phone (not iPad, yet).
  • It will deposit funds directly into your unit’s PayPal account.
  • PayPal charges a 2.7 percent fee for credit card purchases and no fee for checks. (No other fees or monthly charges.)
  • Sends an e-receipt directly to your customers.
  • Includes a free card reader, available here.


The Square Card Reader, the first to hit the market, has a more elegant user interface but charges a little more per transaction. It won’t let you accept checks but has more bells and whistles.

Other notes:

  • You can accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express.
  • Compatible with iPhone, Android phone, and iPad.
  • Will deposit funds to the account of your choice the next business day.
  • Square charges a 2.75 percent fee for credit card purchases. (No other fees or monthly charges.)
  • Sends an e-receipt directly to your customers.
  • Offers in-depth analytics.
  • Lets your customers add a “tip” or donation to the pack, troop, team, or crew.
  • Includes a free card reader, available here.

Intuit GoPayment

Like Square and PayPal Here, the GoPayment device, which I left off my initial list (thanks to Jay and Ron for setting me straight), has no setup fees, cancellation fees, or monthly fees.

Other notes:

  • You can accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express.
  • Compatible with iPhone, Android phone, Android tablet, and iPad.
  • Will deposit funds to the account of your choice the next business day.
  • Intuit charges a 2.75 percent fee for credit card purchases. (No other fees or monthly charges.)
  • Sends an e-receipt directly to your customers.
  • Includes a free card reader, available here.

What do you think?

Have you used either of these devices for Scouting? Leave your thoughts below.

45 thoughts on “Credit cards welcome: How to take plastic for popcorn

  1. My main concern would be with the perception of who the customers are paying (the Scout or the Unit) and how the Unit would track all the kids running around with their parents phones (or their own). Especially the larger units. PayPal seems to be able to link multiple users but it doesn’t say that Square can.

    • My wife and I both use square when we do trade shows. Both are hooked up to the same account and can be used at the same time. No problem with multiple users on the same account. We love using square and it is much cheaper than using our merchant account.

  2. Our district said we are getting one per pack/troop, to be primarily used at show and sells. I can’t see kids/parents using it selling door to door, but I see it as a good thing. I think the 2.75% charged will be gained back by the sales we could make on higher end items for people who want to buy but didn’t bring their checkbook or cash to the store. Some leaders have issues with it not being secure, but I have used it at home business purchases and like it.

    • Elizabeth:

      Good feedback. I agree that people will be more likely to buy more with a card than with cash, making the 2.7/2.75 percent less of an issue.


  3. I think ideally this would be used at Show’n Sells, where having one or two of these devices along with a cash box would help eliminate those ‘Sorry, I’ve got no cash’ arguments. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the suggested intent is for it to be used in door-to-door situations.

    • On the other hand, the e-receipt feature (not to mention the purchase appearing on the buyer’s credit card statement) would make it easier at tax time to document the charitable contribution component of the purchase. Much simpler than cash or checks for tax record-keeping purposes.

  4. This technology is on my Fall “To Do” list for our Pack as part of a Wood Badge Ticket Im developing to make technology work for our Dens

  5. We used the Intuit “GoPayment” (not mentioned in the article) version last year and it worked great. You could have up to 50 users feeding one account, and every time another user linked to our account made a sale I was notified via email. I can definitely say our sales increased because of the ability to take cards. One customer I remember clearly went from purchasing one box of microwave corn to buying over $40 worth of product when she realized she could use her debit card.

    One caveat, I set the account up and it required a credit check, and I also received a 1099 from the card processor for the total of the sales.

  6. Intuit also offers the same solution ( They charge a rate of 2.7% as well. It works on both the iPhone and the iPad. Basically you can create a single merchant account with Intuit and create limited users accounts for other members of the unit that will be using it. The proceeds can go into an Intuit Account or directly to your unit’s bank or credit union account. Do read the terms of service of these products. Sometimes they will charge higher rates for manually key’d in transactions as well as credit cards classified as corporate type (non-consumer).

    • Jay, does the iPad need to have internet connectivity? I have one, but it is not 3G, I use wifi or mifi (but as need). I can use my mifi wireless device, but if I don’t need it for this device I won’t bother.

      • Yes. Without an Internet connection (WiFi or 3G/4g doesn’t matter), the transaction cannot be transmitted to the purchaser’s card issuing bank for approval. (No approval, no sale.)

  7. I’m a district Kernal in the Atlanta Area Council ,
    We’re just getting started and so no one has reported good or bad use with the Square product yet. One was handed out to each unit with info to get more free ones if the parents wanted more. Didn’t know about paypal product. Will pass that on.
    The arguments FOR it have been that we’re capturing a sale that would have not happened. A sale-minus-2.75% is better than no sale at all. So from the few folks who have shown an interest, they’ll be using it as a last resort: cash – check – pay later – credit card.
    I don’t see any problem with it being used door-to-door if the parent is with the child … as they should be for Cub Scouts. Certainly teenagers (Boy Scouts) with smart phones could use them if the customer isn’t wary of this new technology. Being used at a show-n-sell is a no brainer.

    The questions in my mind are…

    1) Who’s checking account do you attach it to?
    a) It can be attached to the family’s account: so when it’s time to submit order forms and money, the family has to fork over the cash/check/credit card payments to unit. Now they have to figure out and report how much was taken in and account for the 2.75% loss. A little more math is involved.
    b) Can it be attached to the unit’s checking account? Can many scanners go into one account? If so, what are the draw backs? Can money be withdrawn? How does the treasurer know which scout sold what since all they’ll see is the buyer, I’m assuming. Is there a way to list which product and which scout sold what? More accounting procedures with this, too.

    2) What if there is an error? The wrong price was put it and not in the customer’s favor, what happens? They’ll probably put a in dispute. Can Square or the Credit Card company withdraw funds? Now we have an entity that can take money out of my checking account. What are the consequences of that? Feels a little scary.

    As this technology becomes more prevalent (businesses are using it and I plan to use it at my next garage sale, for instance), the public will be accustomed to it. I’m eager to see how this all gets fleshed out.

    Mike Menninger

    • I would never ever ever mix troop money with personal money EVER. Protect yourself, bar from any misunderstandings. Unless you would allow just anyone in your troop to do the same, just dont do it.

  8. Thanks for the info…. we are going down the PayPal path. My only concern is parents/leaders not being able to get the app working.

    Are the apps fool proof? (loaded question, I know)


  9. My problem, besides being the tightwad worried about the 2.75%, is the fact that someone has to be paying for a smartphone data plan to use these. We looked into this for our BBQs and could not justify loosing the percentage and the cost of the data plan to run it. since we will accept checks it has not been much of a problem.

    • Losing 2.75% (28 cents for every $10) is not “losing” if you never make the sale in the first place. Also, this will be a great educational moment when people realize they’ve been paying a credit card fee for all of these decades. You don’t think the stores have been eating the costs, do you? Nope. You’ve been paying for it all along.

      Cost of the data plan? Is that relevant in this day and age? My carrier MAKES me have the data plan with my smartphone (AT&T), I have unlimited gigabytes. And surely a credit card app isn’t going to use that much bandwidth.

      • Both points are valid around the data plan and the 2.75% fee. BUT…
        We will be adding a fee for everything BUT popcorn in hope we will sell more popcorn. most people will pay $1 per $25 of sale, if they complain I’ll be glad to hand them a complaint form (adult app) and ask them to pay by cash or check.

        • Are you going to charge your customer a $1 to order popcorn from you when they use their debit card? If I were the customer I’d go to a different pack and order, why would I want to pay a $1 extra? If that’s the way your pack is going, good luck. I think you might be shooting yourself in the foot though.

        • I wouldn’t charge extra for the processing fee. I would just take it as a “loss”. It’s one thing for a company to build in the cost to the price, it’s another to add a fee to cover the cost. Especially in this situation.

  10. We used the Square for Girl Scout Cookie sales and it was a benefit! The only problem sometimes is that you have to swipe the card 10 times before it “takes”. The money goes directly into the account you set up, you can have multiple “staffers” on your account list so that any parents phone can be used at a Show and Sell to process the order. I agree if a parent uses it personally for their scout it could get tricky. This year we’ll only use it for Show and Sells so we can track the $, maybe next year we’ll figure out how to have parents use it too. We’ll have to see if there is even a parent demand for the Square on a personal order level.
    Go Popcorn!!!

  11. In the article you state using PayPal “You can accept PayPal, …, and checks.” and “PayPal charges … no fee for checks.”

    I went to the paypal website and saw no real details about accepting checks. Do you know how the check part works?

    Our bank charges us $8 for a returned check – which means that $10 bag of popcorn we “sold” to the person that wrote that bad check just cost the Pack $15 ($7 that we paid for the popcorn and $8 in bank fees). It would be fantastic if we could avoid that with a system like this.

  12. I am sure every council is different but this is how the money gets split up in my council. About 1/3 of sales goes to the cost of the popcorn. 1/3 goes to the council and the other 1/3 goes to the troop. Perhaps the council (maybe even trails end), should pitch in some for the 2.75% credit card fee (instead of having the troops absorb the cost alone).

    • Retailers in stores don’t pass the cost of the product back to the supplier. They either absorb the cost (less profit) or pass it on to the customer (like you every time you use your credit card). Popcorn is a franchise so we have to sell at advertised costs or lower. In the end, the unit is going to absorb this “convenience”.

      Plus, having the Council or Trail’s End “pitch in” some for the use of credit cards would be a logistical nightmare to track who sold what, when and where. How would they do it? Give the units 33.4% instead of an even third?

      And it’s not that much, folks. Just make using it as a last resort:

      A sale of $10 Caramel Corn means your unit would get $3.33. At 2.75% you’re going to lose 28 cents (on the $10) for a net of $3.05
      For every $100 of product sold via credit you’re losing $2.75 for the service. You go from $33.33 to $30.58.
      For every $10,000 of product, you’re earning $3,333. If you were to sell ALL of it on a credit card you would lose a substantial amount: $275 dropping your $3,333 to $3,058. BUT your treasurer might PAY you $275 just so s/he won’t have to count $10,000 worth of cash and checks. 🙂

      I don’t see this as a big deal, it’s a nice convenience if you want to use it (no one is forcing you) and it might catch a lost sale. Heck, I might start using this for my garage sales.

      • Our council advised us that since it was a free choice to make to accept or not, it was up to us to absorb the cost, and also made it very clear that we could not adjust the cost of popcorn to make up for the difference. Really from what we hear the huge increase in sale more than makes up for the credit card fee.

  13. We experiemented with Square for mobile payments last year with our Cub Pack. We used it for everything from Pack dues, to popcorn payments, to event/camping fees. It was convenient for the payer, but we found it hard to keep track of who had paid for what, especially because all the transactions essentially dump into a single account. We are using Paypal on our website and so we are going to switch over to the PayPal here product and see if that makes things easier for our treasurer. We allowed folks to leave a “tip” of about 3% to cover the cost of the CC fees if they so desired. This worked pretty well and we covered about 1/2 of the transaction fees.

  14. How do you register with these services. I presume as non-profit, but what do you use as the TIN? Does each council have one, or do you use BSA’s (and how do I get it). Also, for the Intuit, it wants “business type” and then further deliniation. What do we put there? Thanks.

  15. Also, from the list above, it appears on Intuit allows Android Tablet? Is that correct, or has anyone used a tablet with PayPal or Square? I do have service through Verizon, and I believe it technically has a phone number, so would it work with Square?

  16. Using the Internet for sales will not eat into popcorn profits. However Trails offers a limited selection online, which still boggles me.

  17. Our unit is too big to link everybody into one account. It would be a nightmare for the Treasurers. But my son plans to use it for individual sales. Anybody have any experience with Sage? They have good rates – I just haven’t plowed through the 6 page Agreement yet.

  18. I’m fairly certain that since the unit is owned by the charter org, you would have to use the chartered org’s TIN, not the Council’s. I’ve done that in the past for things with units.

  19. It is not a problem to take credit cards – it is a problem when you have folks who have not had background checks taking credit cards.

    Fair Warning on using any of these methods to take cards: You need to make sure YOU are covered. As if you have someone who swipes a credit card and goes on and does ID theft, YOU, your UNIT, your CHARTERED ORG, and COUNCIL can be sued and it won’t be a good experience.

    Before allowing someone to take a credit card, you have to understand that you become a FIDICUARY, in which you are responsible if that information gets abused. So only trusted individuals should be able to use it.

  20. My pack used Square for our coumcil’s spring fundraising program, and we had a good experience with it. We’ll be using it for other pack business this year, as well.

  21. Our Pack used Intuit last year and it was so great! Easy to use and you can use it with the App or no app. Not sure what we will do this year but were told they no longer support scouting. I have been looking for information but have not found anything. We hope that we can use it again.

  22. The Intuit one offers a lower percentage rate when you call them and tell them you are with a Scouting organization. There is a different form to fill out for it. Also a negative with the Square..there is NO way to call them or contact a customer service rep. You have to email, and for my business when I emailed them, they never answered.

  23. Just a heads up, Paypal here works just fine with the iPad. I’ve used it extensively at other events/activities since it came out. It’s also my preferred app to take those annoying rebate credit cards and turn them to cash (minus the 2.9% fee). It doesn’t have a dedicated iPad app, but the iPhone app works just fine on the iPad.

  24. I posted heavily on this issue last year. It’s been a year and I’ve heard almost 100% good things about using these for purchases. Many packs said it was fantastic a Show N Sells when most people come to pay with a credit card and don’t have the cash on hand. We just had our popcorn kick-off these last few weeks and when I ask who used them last year, I get about 15 hands go up out of a 100.

    Also, I’m seeing it used more in businesses. A plumber who came to my home had one and I paid him there on the spot using it. These devices are becoming ubiquitous and a year later, I’m betting the country is becoming used to them and understands them.

    I sill think it should be a last resort after cash and check. But a sale is better than no sale and will inform our Council’s units that it’s still a good deal.

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