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Dharma Merchant Services Review

  • 15 comments
  • Updated on:
  • Review by: Tom DeSimone
Date Established
2007
Location
San Francisco, CA

Highlights:

  • 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

Overview:

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 I’m 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 look a lot like this. I recommend them to you with absolutely no hesitation. 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 review for more details, or just cut to the chase and sign up with them. You’ll never look back.

Get Started With Dharma Merchant Services

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: As far as I can tell, Dharma uses Select Bankcard, Priority Payments, and Moneris Merchant Services for their processing. 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.
  • Gateway/virtual terminal: You can get any of their three partner gateways (nifty comparison chart): MX Merchant, Authorize.Net, and USAePay. Also note that Dharma offers reduced gateway setup fees for non-profits.
  • 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 free of charge.
  • Mobile/low-volume processing: DMS calls this “Dharma Lite,” and markets it toward both those interested in mobile processing as well as to low-volume merchants. (A perfect example of how they go out of their way to save you money.) It’s powered by their partner Flint, who I am also a big fan of. 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.
  • 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.

Fees and Rates:

Dharma Merchant Service provides the ideal fee and rate structure, offering interchange-plus and only interchange-plus. They even feature a page called “Tiered Pricing: Just Say No.” (I almost choked on my coffee when I saw that.) Most processors don’t even disclose that cost-plus pricing exists! And almost all providers will try to set you up with tiered pricing. Furthermore, instead of setting you up with a $2,000 third-party lease for your credit card machine, they encourage you to buy one outright for as little as $230, and disclose all prices and fees front and center. (If you already own one, they’ll reprogram your existing terminal free of charge.)

Dharma Lite

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 their partner Flint, a service they call Dharma Lite. For merchants processing less than $2,000 per month, with transactions of $1,000 or less, this makes the most financial sense.

  • 1.95% for debit cards
  • 2.95% for credit cards (and keyed in debit)
  • No other fees whatsoever

This is a pay-as-you-go, no commitment service like PayPal Here. 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).

Standard Merchant Accounts

If you need something more robust than Dharma Lite, you can get your own, unique merchant account through Dharma. All accounts come with:

  • No early termination fee
  • No annual fee
  • No application fee
  • No additional PCI compliance fee
  • No monthly minimums

1. Retail

  • $15 monthly fee
  • 0.25% (above actual cost)
  • $0.10 per transaction (above actual cost)

2. eCommerce

  • $15 monthly fee
  • 0.35% (above actual cost)
  • $0.15 per transaction (above actual cost)

3. Non-profit

Non-profit rates and fees for retail accounts are currently the same as for-profit retail accounts. For non-profit ecommerce accounts, however, you will see a discount:

  • 0.30% (above actual cost)
  • $0.15 per transaction (above actual cost)

Other fees:

Dharma discloses a few other incidental fees, all of which you’d have to pay with any provider.

  • Late processing fee
  • Insufficient funds fee
  • Chargeback fee
  • Address Verification fee for some key-entered transactions ($0.05)
  • PCI Non-compliance fee if you don’t complete compliance program.
  • Account closure fee ($25) is to cover the expense of keeping your records on file for six months, which they are required to do.
  • FANF fee, which is paid directly to Visa and is required with all processors. Dharma doesn’t make money on this.

You should also note that if you need a gateway, it comes at an additional cost, including setup fees, monthly fees, and per transaction fees. Dharma put together a very handy comparison chart to help you figure out which makes the most sense for your needs. (Note: For non-profits, gateways come at discounted prices, $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.

My one complaint here would be that they do not disclose their $25 account closure fee in bold print. Yes, it’s there, and their sales agents will almost definitely disclose it to you, but it wouldn’t hurt to put this information in plain sight – for the sake of transparency.

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.

They have an absolutely outstanding FAQ (one of the best written I’ve ever seen), along with other excellent article like this one. All of the information they provide is truly useful and accurate, and overall quite impressive to me.

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.

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

This is a first. I cannot locate a single complaint or even neutral review of Dharma Merchant Services. They have a truly spotless reputation. Congratulations, Dharma!

They have an A rating with the BBB, and have had ZERO complaints in the past three years (which is the entire time they’ve had a BBB profile). Ironically, the BBB rates businesses with high volumes of resolved complaints as A+ businesses, but will only give DMS an “A” despite their immaculate reputation. Thanks BBB…

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 ecommerce business on a very tight budget, but it in no way sways my overall opinion of DMS.

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’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.

(Link)

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.

(Link)

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.

(Link)

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.

(Link)

…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.

Final Verdict:

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. While they don’t do the actual processing or gateway services in-house, they have excellent connections in the industry and seem to get the most out of their partnerships.

A breath of fresh air in a smoggy industry, DMS does a great job of saving merchant money and providing a headache-free processing experience. Six 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.

Tom DeSimone

Tom DeSimone

Tom loves asking tough questions and getting straight answers, so he has a lot of fun calling payment processors for Merchant Maverick to cut through their smoke and mirrors and find the real deals. He has run a full-time editorial business from his home in New York’s Hudson Valley since 2010 and could not imagine a better job. When not busy writing and keeping credit processors honest, Tom enjoys backpacking in the mountains.
Tom DeSimone
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15 Comments

    Steve Lillo

    I’ve been recommending Dharma merchant Service to our clients for about 2 years. I’ve worked with several other providers over time and before meeting Jeff, I’d generally be disappointed with how long it would take to get an account setup. Since working with Jeff and Dharma Merchant Services, every one of our clients that we’ve sent them has had a great experience. They’re very quick with getting new account up and they’re great to work with. And… they’re 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.

    Rating55555
    The Merchant Maverick

    Steve,

    Thanks for the great comment, and Dharma recommendation.

    I know the scale only goes up to five, but I’d give them a six.

    Maybe I’ll create a survey to see how many folks want to bump the rating system up to six instead of five. :)

    Thanks again!

    RatingNot Rated
    seth

    This site is excellent, I don’t know how I’d be able to make a decision on this topic without it!

    I noticed Dharma now has a BBB profile:

    http://www.bbb.org/greater-san-francisco/business-reviews/credit-card-merchant-services/dharma-merchant-services-in-san-francisco-ca-358616

    Not sure how to tell if they have 3rd party security yet…

    keep up the good work!

    RatingNot Rated
    The Merchant Maverick

    Thanks for the heads up Seth. I’ll update their review accordingly.

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    paul

    I just finished speaking with a representative about establishing new service. Talk about a great, knowledgeable person on the other end. I was transferred to the President of the Company, Jeff Marcous who was honest and quickly answered each of my questions with a complete response. Informative and extremely professional. Your review is very accurate.

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    Lee

    After literally months of comparative analysis of different online merchant services companies and also discussions with Merchant Maverick we decided to go with Dharma. Alexia the VP was our initial contact & she’s been amazingly knowledgeable, patient and professional in our pre-approval process. We submitted out application today and will let you know how it turns out. So far everything has been perfect.

    Rating55555
    aaron

    Please put Dharma in the 5 star category on your compare page.

    Thanks for the site! I think I will try Dharma for my seasonal ski rental shop, I’ll be sure to post a review. I was already to go with CDGCommerce when I heard about Dharma FROM ANOTHER SITE!!! I then searched “Dharma review” which brought me back here. As a certified ski bum I am attracted to their “green” theme and their charity donation. Of course, their low rates and fast set up time ( I hope ) don’t hurt.

    RatingNot Rated
    Merchant Maverick Admin

    Please put Dharma in the 5 star category on your compare page.

    Not sure I understand you here Aaron. Dharma is listed on my comparison page. I have been doing some edits to the page, so it’s possible that you landed on it mid-edit.

    RatingNot Rated
    Kevin McCracken

    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.

    RatingNot Rated
    Kevin McCracken

    I forgot to submit my rating

    Rating55555
    Todd Lejnieks

    I have been in the restaurant business for 25 years and now am part owner of a family business, Chloe Fine Arts Gallery in San Francisco. 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. The aforementioned Alexia is a joy to work with and I highly reccomend anyone and everyone to get on board with them ASAP!

    Rating55555
    Dharam Khalsa

    5 Stars!!

    Here’s why:

    1. Half the rates of our previous provider
    2. cost-plus – the most transparent & consistent way of doing business as a merchant provider. I don’t have to wonder what Dharma’s margins are.
    3. Trace answers every question I can come up with thoroughly (email & phone)
    4. They donate 10% of profits to a charity of our choice
    5. They are local.
    6. The setup process was easy and timely for e-commerce and card-swipe.
    7. No Contract or early cancellation fee.

    Complaints: none.

    They saw the need for good business in an industry fraught with deception and greed. They created an exceptional business model and they are following through on their commitments to be green and keep their customers happy. I will and have recommended them to everyone.

    Rating55555
    Howard

    My wife and I started a non-profit business and did not understand the full scope of what we were getting into simply to accept donations online. We started with one company and their associated merchant gateway, but could not find compatible shopping carts, I had to program html and API’s to even attempt to get what we wanted working. Needless to say after three weeks of struggling with this we stumbled upon Dharma from reading these reviews on this website. When we made our initial call to Dharma we got a real person, not a machine. Not only a real person but the Vice President of the Company that walked us through everything we needed to do. Once we reviewed all the pricing and moved forward, we were taking donations in a matter of hours, not weeks. 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 recommend them highly for consideration as your Online Merchant Service Provider.

    Rating55555
    Ally

    Hi I live in Canada and am currently contract free but have a month to month basis with First Data. We originally set up with UNPS and when everything moved over to first data we went too. I am not unhappy with my service provider, they have been very good at reducing our rates but they have since moved all our deposits onto the 2 business days. which sometimes goes into 4-5 depending on the long weekends ect. Also they have since notified me that they are raising my non qualified rates again! which as 95% of all our transactions are non qualified it is getting a bit much. Also I was suckered into a 5 year non cancellable contract with another company and am at this time paying on 2 debit machines. My question is who do you recommend besides Helcim? I would really like to find someone that does next day deposits. Thank you

    RatingNot Rated
    Tom DeSimone

    Hi Ally,

    Sorry to hear you’re stuck with a terminal lease! At least you’re still able to use the machine. One of the nice things about Dharma and Helcim is that they only use interchange-plus pricing, which means you don’t have to worry about non-qualified rates.

    I think it’s worth asking Dharma Merchant Services if their Canadian processor could offer next-day funding. It might depend on your business type and who you bank with for any processor, but it never hurts to ask. PayPal’s Canadian sector might also be able to accommodate you here, but I’m not 100% confident in their service.

    Overall though, I really like Helcim for most Canadian accounts, especially retail/card-present businesses. Their processor might accommodate a request for next-day funding. It’s worth asking!

    Good luck, and come back to let me know how the search is going!

    -Tom

    RatingNot Rated

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