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Credit: Frank J. Borkowski

I recently checked out “Square,” a slick mobile payment service that lets anyone accept credit/debit card payments from a smartphone or iPad using a free plug-in reader.

Square is “green” (receipts are sent electronically) and social (Square’s “Card Case” lets “regulars” pay directly from their own Square account, similar to PayPal).

Square is perfect for pro handymen, HVAC/mechanics, or any remodeler who’d rather be paid now. Money shows up in your account within 24 hours, with no monthly fees or long-term contracts. Fees are low: Square charges a 2.75% transaction fee for all major credit cards swiped and 3.5% plus 15 cents if it’s a “no cardholder present” transaction entered manually.

Compared to the hassle of setting up and maintaining a conventional merchant account and payment gateway, Square seems too good to be true.

WHAT’S THE CATCH?

First, there’s the usual Internet chatter that the device and software aren’t very secure — but then neither is the waiter I hand my credit card to at dinner.

Two days after signing up online, a tiny “Square” reader arrived — a 1-by-1-inch device that plugs into an iPhone or iPad running iOS 4.0 or later or an Android-powered smartphone running v.2.1 or later. I downloaded the free app and plugged in the routing number of the bank where I wanted payments to go and I was in business!

The larger privacy concern is what Square does with the data it collects about you and your customers — much like grocery “shopper card” services, except that putting credit card capability on mobile handsets will take the vast amounts of consumer data available (for sale) to a new level.

Remodelers could be giving up personal information about their clients that, given a choice, folks might prefer not to have out there in the data pool. Of course in our post-Facebook era, they really don’t have a choice, so it’s probably a moot point.

—Joe Stoddard is an industry consultant helping remodelers be successful with their technology. twitter.com/moucon; jstoddard@mountainconsulting.com.