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What is a PDQ Machine?

By Ken Black
Updated Feb 18, 2024
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A PDQ machine is a device used to process credit card and debit card transactions. Most consumers have seen them many times at both major retailers and smaller stores. It is likely the most common way to process credit card and debit card transactions at a retail business.

The popularity of these machines have skyrocketed in the past decade. They started to appear in national retail chains and have since grown to nearly every other type of retail business. In most cases, consumers themselves can swipe their cards through and handle the transaction without ever giving their cards to a store employee. Generally not much larger than an individual’s hand, some are handheld while others are mounted to a piece of furniture or other equipment.

The steps for processing a credit card or a debit card with a PDQ machine vary slightly. If processing a credit card, the machine may just print a receipt with an approved or declined message on it. This may or may not require the signature of the customer. If processing a debit card, the cardholder may have to enter a personal identification number (PIN), usually consisting of four digits.

Before PDQ machines, credit cards were processed in a number of different ways. When processing technology was relatively new, most cards were processed by having their impressions placed on a paper slip that was sent to a processing center, or entered by the store’s accounting department. Then, cash registers were manufactured having the ability to swipe, read, and transmit credit card information. While integrated cash registers/credit card machines are still in use, most now make use of a separate reading device.

A PDQ machine works by reading information from the credit card off the magnetic strip before a purchase is made. Often, the price is then entered into a machine to verify there is enough credit in the user’s account to complete the purchase. In other cases, the machine is linked to the cash register and automatically receives the price information, so there is no need for manual entry.

If the credit card has a magnetic strip that is no longer functioning, a the device can help in that situation as well. The numbers on the credit card can be manually entered to transmit the necessary information. Though this may take a little longer, the end result is still the same. Often, the receipt provided by the machine will make note of whether a card was swiped or entered manually.

Though there are fees associated with a PDQ machine, retailers often consider that payment to be a bargain. Non-cash transactions are becoming more common. Without the use of this machine or some other sort of processing mechanism for credit and debit cards, merchants could find themselves losing a significant number of sales.

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Discussion Comments

By anon340787 — On Jul 05, 2013

I recently swiped a debit card that had a savings/chqs option. When the transaction was processed the card no on the receipt varied with the card no on the card. Why was there a discrepancy?

By anon335787 — On May 23, 2013

The only thing that's bad is that as a merchant, you always have to pay monthly fees, even if you don't need the PDQ machine that often. I just found out about the option that you can take cards now with your smartphone. I'm about to try payleven and will let you now how that goes. My colleague loves payleven. We'll see if i say the same.

By myharley — On Oct 17, 2012

@sunshined-- I currently work at a retail store and don't know what I would do without a PDQ machine. Most of the time it makes everything so simple and I don't have to mess much with cash anymore. Even if someone writes a check I process that and physically hand the check back to the customer.

Every once in awhile there is a glitch and I can't get a card to work in the machine, but this doesn't happen very often. Most people have come to rely on these machines for all of their transactions. My mom doesn't really like using these machines though and still likes to pay with cash most of the time. She isn't the only one who does this, but she is in the minority.

By julies — On Oct 16, 2012

More than once I have tried to use a credit or debit card when the magnetic strip did not work in the PDQ machine for some reason. Thankfully the employee was able to enter the information from the card and it processed through OK. I don't usually carry any cash or a checkbook with me, and I didn't want to have to leave the store empty handed.

By golf07 — On Oct 16, 2012

It is easy to see how a PDQ machine makes card processing a lot easier for the merchants, but sometimes it can be confusing for me. When I am buying something, I always use a PDQ machine but find that each one of them works a little bit differently.

Sometimes I have to sign my name and verify my zip code, and other times I have to enter my PIN number. I know it depends on whether you are using it as a debit or credit transaction, but not all of the machines are the same.

Most all machines anymore will ask if you want some cash back, but some machines will even ask you to verify the amount. Once you understand how each machine works it is pretty slick, but if I go to a different store that uses a different machine, there is usually something a little different about the process.

By sunshined — On Oct 15, 2012

When I was in college, I worked at a retail store checking people out and never had the luxury of using a PDQ machine. I had to handle all of the transactions the old fashioned way by accepting either cash or a check. If the customer paid with cash, I even had to figure out in my head exactly how much change they were to receive back.

Technology has sure changed since then. Now I rarely carry cash with me and just rely on my debit card and a PDQ machine to make my purchases. Most of the time this makes things much simpler, but there have been a few times when I wished I had some cash or a checkbook with me.

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