How to Select an Electronic Time Clock – A Time Clock Comparison

So you want to implement an electronic time clock system? How do you choose which type? Let me lay this out for you clearly and concisely so you can do a proper comparison.

First of all, there are 4 types:

  1. Keypad entry
  2. Card Swipe / Bar Code Swipe
  3. Fingerprint
  4. Biometric

Keypad Entry

Keypad entry units are usually the most economical. The employee is assigned a code that he or she must key into the time clock. This code, or pin number, is usually the same number (other than social security number) that identifies the employee. We would typically use the ADP file number for this if they were using ADP payroll service. And the same scheme applies to whatever payroll system/service the client is using.

The advantage of the keypad entry is that no badge needs to be issued. You will save a lot of money on badges. Plus, badges can get lost. Another advantage is that you don’t need to purchase a badge reader, so it will be cheaper.

The disadvantage is that any employee can punch in for any other employee. A practice known as “buddy punching”. You can deter this (not prevent it) by placing a video camera by the unit (or one that looks like a video camera with a blinking red light).

Some keypad entry units have a verification feature. In other words, the employee keys in the id number and the employee name displays. This also ensures that the id keyed in is a valid number. You want to make sure your unit does this. The last thing you want when you are completing payroll is to chase down a bunch of invalid entries caused by employee’s keying in erroneous numbers.

Card Swipe / Bar Code Swipe

A card swipe unit has a badge reader and you clock in and out much like making a purchase at your local grocery store. There are two types: 1) magnetic card and 2) bar code. The magnetic cards come pre-numbered and essentially you assign a badge number to each employee in the time and attendance software. If an employee loses a badge, you just grab the next one available and assign it to the employee. The bar code badges work the same, except that you can also purchase a bar code badge machine and add the employee’s picture, home department, if lost or stolen info, etc.

When the employee swipes in at the unit, you want a unit that then displays the employee’s name. Otherwise, there’s nothing really to prevent employee’s from swiping in for each other. Believe it or not, most providers do not display the employee’s name, so be sure to ask.


Fingerprint units completely eliminate buddy punching by ensuring the employee who is clocking in, really is that employee. The employee essentially placing his or her finger on the time clock and the employee is clocked in. The only disadvantage of the fingerprint unit is that is does NOT work in an industrial environment. That is, an environment where there is excessive dirt or grease on the employee’s finger. This dirt or grease causes the fingerprint read to be distorted.


Biometric units also uniquely identify the employee by using hand recognition. They are the best solution when it comes to preventing buddy punching because they work in all environments, clean or dirty. The downside is that they are also the most expensive.

Summary of Time Clock Comparison

In summary, if you are on a budget, go with the keypad time clock, but make sure the time clock validates the employee pin number at the time clock and the employee name displays. If you are in a clean environment, the fingerprint time works great to eliminate buddy punching. In a warehouse environment, the biometric time clock works the best, but also has the highest price.

Tony Faulk is an timekeeping and payroll expert with over 20 years of experience and is the Vice President of Product Development for, a leading provider of fully integrated time clock (keypad, card swipe, fingerprint and biometric), time & attendance software and payroll solutions. Tony Faulk can be reached at 877-459-TIME.

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