Dharma Merchant Services Review
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- Phone Number
- Date Established
- San Francisco, CA
- Excellent customer support
- Ethical business practices and sales transparency
- Great for non-profit companies
- Interchange-plus pricing offered
- No early termination fee
- No annual fee
- No monthly minimum
- No setup fee
- No PCI compliance fee
The word dharma has many meanings in eastern cultures and spiritual beliefs. It denotes a sort of universal justice, righteous behavior, or steadfastness on a correct path in life. At first I felt that a merchant services provider appropriating a lotus blossom for their logo (a sacred symbol in Buddhism) and a weighty word like “dharma” for their company name might be disrespecting these essential spiritual elements – soiling them with the grimy muck of the credit card processing industry – like putting a giant arm-flailing inflatable Jesus on the lawn of a used car lot. After learning more about Dharma Merchant Services (DMS), however, the appropriation seems, well… appropriate.
The sacred lotus symbolizes a beauty and purity that, while rooted in pond mud and murky water, rises into the air on a strong stalk and blooms with so many clean, delicate petals. Likewise, Dharma Merchant Services – while sticking to a just, righteous path – transcends the putrid filth of the industry standard to bloom as something uniquely wonderful and enlightened.
Okay, okay, enough of the metaphorical mumbo jumbo. It’s just hard to avoid waxing poetical when faced with reviewing a company as perfect as Dharma, especially when we’re so used to raking through the pond muck, so to speak. Founded in 2007 by Jeff Marcous (former regional manger for Cardservice International, then SVP of Sales and Marketing at Authorize.Net) along with his daughter Alexia Marcous, Dharma flawlessly combines industry know-how with endlessly ethical business practices to cater to small businesses and non-profits. The duo created DMS to bring their philosophical convictions together with their knack for business, proving the two need not be mutually exclusive.
Dharma has, hands down, the absolute best advertising and sales transparency I’ve seen anywhere in the industry. They only use interchange-plus pricing, and they have no early termination fees, no annual fees, no monthly minimums, no application fees, and no added PCI compliance fees. I’m not sure how they manage to make any money, especially considering that they dedicate 50% of their net profits to charity. No one is getting filthy rich here. The people at Dharma make an honest living, and live with respect and integrity. And did I mention that they’re a certified green business and B-corp? I mean, come on. These people simply rock!
I can’t say enough good things about this business. If I were to create my own merchant services establishment, it would probably look a lot like this. I recommend them to you with absolutely no hesitation. The only thing to be aware of is that Dharma does not set up low volume accounts. So if you process less than $10K monthly in cards, you will be referred to Flint Mobile. We really love Flint too, so there’s nothing wrong with going that route if you have a lower monthly card payment volume.
Dharma Merchant Services is at least a 5.5 star business. But our ratings only go up to 5 stars… so we’ll have to stick to that.
Read the full Dharma Merchant Services review for more details, or just cut to the chase and sign up with them. You’ll never look back.
Products and Services:
Dharma Merchant Services provides a no-nonsense shopping experience for their merchants. They offer everything you need, and nothing you don’t. Check it out:
- Merchant accounts: Dharma uses a few different backend processors to run transactions depending on your needs, including First Data. While some of these processors might not give you a great deal if you tried to set up your own account with them, Dharma has negotiated excellent deals, and they all provide outstanding service for Dharma’s merchants in return. Even if you’ve been burned by one of these processors before, considering giving Dharma a shot. They will take care of you.
- Gateway/virtual terminal: Dharma now uses Authorize.Net as their primary gateway provider, but you can integrate other gateways if you choose. If you sign on with Authorize.Net Dharma will provider you with a free mobile card reader, a nice bonus. Non-profits get about $25 off their gateway setup fee. Check out this page for a complete list of features.
- Credit card machine sales: Another testament to Dharma’s transparency, they fully disclose the prices and associated costs of the terminals they offer, encouraging you to buy instead of lease. If you can’t afford to buy your terminal outright, they’ll even set you up with a payment plan. (Almost no one else in the industry is doing this.) They’ll also reprogram your existing terminal for a $100 fee, but you might want to consider buying a new EMV-capable terminal.
- Mobile/low-volume processing: Formerly called “Dharma Lite,” DMS provides a good option for low-volume merchants via their partner Flint, which I am also a big fan of. (A perfect example of how they go out of their way to save you money.) This service utilizes your phone’s camera to scan cards, so no swiper is needed. If you want to process through your full-service Dharma merchant account, they also sell smartphone/tablet swipers.
- POS systems: Dharma promotes ShopKeep first and foremost. We love ShopKeep! It’s a great system and a great value. If you have your heart set on the Clover Station, Clover Mini, or Clover Mobile, Dharma can get you set up and help you to avoid ripoffs.
- AMEX merchant financing: This is not the same as a merchant cash advance. I’m normally wary of these things, but this is actually an interesting program.
- Fundraising services: Dharma specializes in services for non-profit organizations, from everyday donations to online crowd-funding events. They’ll set you up with clean, professional donations pages for web and mobile, as well as event registration services. The costs here are a bit more than regular processing of course, but they beat the industry standard for sure, offering very reasonable pricing with optional add-ons. Check it out.
- A warm, fuzzy feeling inside: Free with every account, Dharma offers a distinct tingle of satisfaction and restored faith in humanity. With excellent prices, sustainable business practices, and unbridled generosity, you’ll find yourself slipping into a calm, tranquil, meditative state while reading your processing statement each month.
Learn more about what Dharma Merchant Services does in this video.
Fees and Rates:
Dharma Merchant Service provides the ideal fee and rate structure, offering interchange-plus and only interchange-plus. Most processors don’t even disclose that cost-plus pricing exists! And almost all providers will try to set you up with tiered pricing first and foremost. But not Dharma.
Furthermore, instead of setting you up with a $2,000 third-party lease for your credit card machine, DMS encourages you to buy one outright for as little as $300, and discloses all prices and fees front and center. The $300 machine is EMV-compliant to accept chip card and NFC-ready to accept contactless payments like Apple Pay.
If you already own one, they’ll reprogram your existing terminal for a $100 fee, but you may want to consider a new EMV-capable terminal, which will be necessary by the end of 2015 anyway. If you already have an EMV-capable terminal, you can probably get a free reprogramming.
- $15 monthly fee
- 0.25% + $0.10 above actual cost
- $0.05 AVS (address verification) fee applies only to keyed-in transactions
- $15 monthly fee
- 0.35% + $0.15 per transaction above actual cost
- The AVS fee is included in the per transaction fee
- Gateway fees apply only if you require the service (see below)
You should also note that if you need a gateway, it comes at an additional cost, including setup fees, monthly fees. The setup fee is $99. There is also an additional $0.05 transaction fee alongside a $20 monthly fee. As a perk you’ll get a free mobile card reader when you set up an Authorize.Net gateway, which just about covers the entire set up cost.
So if you need an Authorize.Net gateway, for an e-commerce account, your rates will be:
- $35 monthly
- 0.35% + $0.25 (includes AVS fee, gateway transaction fee, and standard authorization fee)
Dharma discloses a few other incidental fees, all of which you’d have to pay with any provider.
- Batch fee: $0.10 (charged per batch of transactions submitted, usually once per day)
- Retrieval fee: $5 (charged only when a customer disputes a transaction)
- Chargeback fee: $20 (charged only when a chargeback occurs)
- Account closure fee $25 (cover the expense continual record keeping, not the same as an early termination fee)
All accounts come with:
No early termination fee No annual fee No application fee No PCI compliance fee No monthly minimums
Here’s an excellent example of how Dharma is trying to save you money, not make money for itself. I’ve called dozen of different processors for review purposes, often explaining that I only need to process $1,500 per month (to see how they treat low volume merchants). Sales agents usually pitch me overkill plans that are not at all cost effective for a small merchant. Dharma is different. The first service they’ll reach for is also the one that produces the smallest amount of profits for them – mobile processing through Flint. For merchants processing less than $10,000 per month, with transactions of $1,000 or less, this makes the most financial sense.
Flints fees are:
- $0 per month
- 1.95% + $0.00 for debit cards
- 2.95%+ $0.00 for credit cards (and keyed-in debit)
- No other fees whatsoever
This is a pay-as-you-go, no commitment service like Square. The difference is that instead of swiping cards with an attachment, you just use your phone camera to snap a picture of the card. It doesn’t get much more convenient than that. You should note that in this case, you don’t get your own unique merchant account. You share one with thousands of other merchants. This can translate to a greater likelihood for account holds and freezes if you start processing “high risk” transactions (such as high ticket prices or high weekly volumes).
Check out our in-depth Flint Mobile review.
Special Rates for Non-Profits:
Dharma offer lower rates for both storefront and virtual non-profit businesses.
Non-profit storefront rates
- $15 per month
- 0.20% + $0.10
Non-profit virtual rates
- $15 per month
- 0.30 + $0.15
For non-profits, Authorize.Net gateway setup fees are $75 instead of $99.
Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:
Dharma has never charged an early termination fee, making your account with them a month-to-month agreement. Make sure to cancel your account as per the instructions in your contract though, or else they’ll continue taking monthly fees from your bank account.
While they don’t charge an early termination fee, Dharma does charge a $25 account closure fee, which I consider a fair practice. Basically, their margins are so slim that they will charge you directly for the cost of keeping your account on file for six months after closure, which they are required to do.
We have a $25 account closure fee to help defray our costs (accounts are kept “on file” for six months, incurring fees) but you’re free to leave whenever you please.
This is a fee that I actually like. You see, all providers have this cost. The difference is that other providers will make up for it by charging you higher rates and more fees during the life of your contract. As you can imagine, they usually error on the side of caution and get overpaid in the process. Dharma adds transparency to this process by giving it to you straight.
Sales and Advertising Transparency:
I love how easy Dharma Merchant Services makes my life. I’m usually faced with hours of sorting through a mess of sales gimmicks and conflicting information for sales agents, along with upset merchants all weighing in with their two cents. Not with Dharma. They provide exhaustive (yet expertly organized) listings of fees, rates and other account considerations. Even if you’re feeling completely lost, they provide a great Get Guidance page to help you get your bearing in the search for merchant service.
I absolutely love their many comparison charts. After a while on their site, it’s easy to forget that they are trying to sell you something. The whole experience feels more like a helping hand than a sales pitch.
In 2015 Dharma added some absolutely great charts illustrating actual interchange examples to give merchants an idea of the real cost for various transaction scenarios. This is advertising transparency at its best. An awesome resource, whether you decide to sign on with Dharma or not.
Some examples of excellent sales and advertising transparency from Dharma Merchants Services.
Customer Service and Technical Support:
While I love to see 24/7/365 support offered in-house, I also find that this kind of service rarely lives up to my expectations. Dharma compromises in this case. They’ll provide absolutely superb in-house support from extraordinarily knowledgeable and supportive staff during business hours, 8:00am – 5:00pm Pacific Time. For support that falls outside of this time frame, they will direct you to the appropriate party, depending on the issue and what processor they have you set up with.
You can also get in touch via live chat during business hours. I especially like this during the sales process.
They have an absolutely outstanding FAQ (one of the best written I’ve ever seen), along with other excellent articles like this one. All of the information they provide is truly useful and accurate, and overall quite impressive.
I’m also glad to see that they very clearly explain why funding holds happen, and offer to arbitrate for you directly instead of leaving you to talk to the processor:
Funding holds can be caused for many different reasons, such as processing outside of your account parameters, processing a larger than normal transaction, your Website not being Compliant, or legitimate fraud. By reaching out to Dharma, we can facilitate a conversation with your processing bank to ensure the speediest resolution possible. Funding issues are only resolvable during regular business hours, and we recommend letting Dharma resolve funding issues on your behalf.
Overall, I’m entirely satisfied with Dharma’s support system. I’ll take quality over quantity (value over volume) any day.
Dharma Merchant Services Negative Reviews and Complaints:
Dharma has an A+ rating with the BBB, and with only one complaint (resolved to satisfaction) in the past three years. That one complaint has to do with a funding hold, and Dharma did everything in its power to get the issue resolved quickly. The funds were released to the merchant in full by the bank within a reasonable amount of time.
There are very few Dharma Merchant Services complaints around the web. And when a complaint does come up, Dharma responds apologetically and at length. Here’s an example of a complaint:
I signed up with Dharma, and received my processing terminal which was quite expensive. I tried to use the service several times, and it wouldn’t work. A charge got “stuck” in the system, and we never received the money. I called their customer service, and after hours of working with them over several days, they told me that their system did not work with my digital phone line. I told them that it would have been nice if I were apprised of that fact, BEFORE I spent all of the money. They will receive the terminal back and give me a refund, I suppose, but they will not credit my account for the amounts that I paid for a service that never worked, and they are charging me a $25 account closure fee. I am not impressed with Dharma, and I think they owe it to their customers to tell them beforehand, that their system does not work with certain phone lines.
And Dharma’s response:
We deeply apologize that you had a negative experience with Dharma, and it’s never our intent to leave merchants feeling dissatisfied. Please accept our personal apologies for your experience. We’d like to comment on a few aspects of our services to provide a bit of clarity:
1. We typically don’t sell the expensive terminal you purchased, as we’ve found that wireless terminals are often too expensive for merchants in relation to the associated benefits provided. That’s why we so heavily promote our Vx520 terminal which is only $299. But, because you had specific needs surrounding wireless processing, we sold a more-expensive-than-normal wireless terminal. However, we would like to note that we make very little profit on terminal sales. We sell our devices for close to our cost, and these wireless terminals are just inherently expensive units.
2. We have hundreds of merchants using digital phone lines without issue! But sometimes, there are technical limitations that we have no control over which can cause processing headaches. We routinely offer to merchants that IP (internet) connections are our preferred method of connection, but in the interests of improving acceptance capabilities, we always allow merchants to connect via phone lines too. Unfortunately, we are unable to verify with 100% certainty that any phone line out there will not have connection issues. We did troubleshoot on numerous occasions and spent hours of our time attempting to resolve the issue! But we are unable to control the transmission capabilities of digital phone lines, unfortunately.
3. Similar to a cell phone plan, we have hard costs to keep an account open on our networks. Just having the ability to process credit cards requires several components – a live merchant account which must register with the card associations, a SIM card to connect to the wireless networks, paper statements, customer support, etc. We have many costs when opening and closing accounts. As such, we have a $25 account closure fee to help us defer some of these costs. To give some insight, we are assessed $4/month for 6 months AFTER an account is closed, just to keep the account on file for potential chargebacks! There are numerous other small costs that we incur when processing for an account. That’s why we state our account closure fee in very clear verbiage when signing up with Dharma. Since this account was in operation for over three months’ time, we did charge our account closure fee of $25, per our agreement.
Again, we want to express our apologies that you felt our services weren’t satisfactory. We do our best to meet merchant needs, but in some scenarios, we are unable to do so due to extenuating circumstances. It just so happened that your business had phone lines that were unable to accommodate for credit card transactions, which left us unable to properly support your account. We did our very best to provide alternate solutions and workarounds, but we also recognize that your time is valuable and you need a solution that works.
If you’re ever open to revisiting Dharma Merchant Services, we’d be honored to give the relationship another shot. We feel that we’ve acted in good faith throughout the entire account, but are more than willing to concede that not everything worked smoothly, and for that we greatly apologize. Please let us know if we can ever be of service, and we truly wish you and your organization all the best moving forward.
That is a very logical and reasonable response, and it’s exactly the kind personalized attention we see from Dharma time and time again, even after an account has been closed. Dharma’s customer support reps are smart, patient, and very good at what they do. How many companies can say that?
If I had to come up with a qualm myself, it would be the expense of gateway setup and gateway monthly fees. While I think that Dharma charges completely fair rates for these services (they charge exactly the recommended amount for an Authorize.Net gateway), you can find much less expensive options elsewhere. For instance, CDGcommerce (5 stars) offers a free Quantum gateway with no setup fees and no monthly fees.
So that’s something to consider if you’re an e-commerce business on a very tight budget, but it in no way sways my overall opinion of DMS. You should also note that not all virtual merchant will require a gateway.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
Here, we have the absolute opposite of the complaints section. I don’t even know where to start with showing you all of the praise Dharma garners. Just look at our own comments section. Literally every comment is positive. Here are a few excerpts from our authenticated reviews, coming from merchants we have verified as actual customers of Dharma Merchant Services:
I own a physical therapy clinic and have been using Dharma for just over a year. I swear I don’t work for Dharma. Theses guys are fabulous. I average about 2.2% per month on an average of 12k in sales. I have had to call Dharma about a half dozen times since I started for various things. No joke, you call and someone answers every time. They don’t transfer you to anyone else and there’s no phone tree. Whoever answers the phone helps you with your problem. Have you ever heard of such a thing!
I’d have to say, being in the customer service business all of my career, that I can recognize and appreciate good service when I see it. Dharma went above and beyond to get us started and we are extremely happy with the products and services they offer.
I have used dozens upon dozens of various merchant services and Dharma is by far (by a long, long far and wide far) the best company of its kind I have ever worked with.
My company has worked with Dharma for two years. I can’t say enough about their rates, customer service and business model. They always answer the phone and reply to emails quickly. If I had my way all of my vendors would be as easy to work with as Dharma.
Their rates are really good too. I had an account through another provider and no one had been able to beat the rates I was paying, until Jeff looked at my account. So I switched too and since then, I continue to be very happy with the services I’ve been receiving. I can’t recommend them more highly. I know the scale only goes up to five, but I’d give them a six.
…And that’s just on our site. Look around and you’ll find even more. Even Yelp users, who are notoriously harsh in my experience, have given DMS a perfect score. Feel free to check out Dharma’s fully-disclosed (first/last name plus business name) testimonials from businesses and non-profits while you’re at it.
Examples of review and testimonial information from the Dharma website.
Help make our Dharma Merchant Services review even better by leaving a comment with your own experience below!
What else can I say? Dharma Merchant Services is simply among the best of the best when it comes to honesty and integrity. They provide quality service and excellent prices. With such amazing services and sales practices, it’s no wonder that Dharma comes in as an absolute favorite merchant account provider. They have excellent connections in the industry and seem to get the most out of their partnerships. For low-volume merchants (under $10K monthly in card payments), you should head on over to Flint Mobile instead. Dharma refers all low-volume merchants to Flint.
A breath of fresh air in a smoggy industry, DMS does a great job of saving merchants money and providing a headache-free processing experience. Eight years is plenty of time to cultivate a reputation, and Dharma Merchant Services has performed flawlessly during that time. I have every reason to believe that they will continue to do so for many years to come. The fact that they also care about community, social responsibility and the environment – and put their money where their mouth is – well, that’s just the icing on the cake, isn’t it? So go ahead and sign up with them already. You’ll get a great deal – and can even brag to your friends about being socially and environmentally conscious.
Congratulations Dharma, you’re a 5-star establishment.