Heartland Payment Systems Review
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- Date Established
- Princeton, NJ
Back in 2014, I was a bit hesitant to investigate Heartland Payment Systems. I had heard about the data breach Heartland Payment Systems faced back in 2008, so I automatically assumed that it was a bad company to work with. I’m happy to admit that I was wrong. A year later, I’m still pretty happy with this massive payments processor.
Heartland Payment Systems is headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey, but it has offices all across the U.S. It’s been in business since 1997, so you can rest assured that Heartland knows what it’s doing. The company is also also the sixth largest credit card processor (by transaction volume) in the United States and the ninth largest worldwide, processing about $120 billion in transactions each year from 300,000 merchants.
The first thing that I want to address is the 2008 data breach. In 2008, Albert Gonzalez hacked into the Heartland system and stole the data from some 130 million credit and debit cards. An unfortunate disaster that, to be honest, could have happened to anyone. What impresses me is how Heartland has reacted to that breach. With their recent launch of Heartland Secure, I’d be willing to bet the company is probably one of the most secure processors you can work with right now. Avivah Litann, an analyst for Gartner, has even gone as far as saying that Heartland is now paving the way for the industry in terms of data security. That’s pretty high praise.
A small sidenote to that is that at the end of May 2015, a Heartland office had a break-in, and several pieces of tech, including 4 computers with 2,200 customers’ personally identifiable information, were taken. Heartland’s addressed the situation and it appears the theft wasn’t actually an attempt to access consumers’ data. Read more about it here and here.
Overall, I believe Heartland is an honest, stable, reliable business offering unique products and services in the industry through a fantastic sales team. While I’d prefer to see an interchange-plus option for low-volume merchants, the $59 per month + interchange plan for merchants processing under $50K per year is not a terrible deal, but is a much higher markup than I like to see.
On the bright side, Heartland provides amazing solutions for the restaurant industry, including its wait management system Freshtxt and its Heartland Guest app. Freshtxt and Heartland Guest are both chock-full of features, including wait queue, guest alerting via text, analytics, reservation management, SMS marketing, and plenty more. Restaurant owners should be looking into Heartland for sure. In fact, the company already serves a whopping 15% of the restaurant industry — and 20% of table service restaurants in the U.S.
Heartland Payment Systems gets a 4 out of 5 rating from me because it doesn’t have an effective plan for low-volume merchants. Also, even with the high flat rate, the company still includes a standard termination fee for all contracts. If Heartland could take care of these issues, or at least disclose them on the website, it could easily get into the 4.5- to 5-star range. See the rest of my review for more info.
Products and Services:
Heartland offers a really great list of services. It’s nice to see that it can set businesses up with payroll and billing solutions, giving you fewer companies to deal with overall — which will hopefully translate to time and money saved. The company also has unique offerings for specific industries that I really like. Offerings include:
- Merchant accounts
- Online data reporting via InfoCentral
- In-house gateway/virtual terminal: Called the Portico gateway, this is nice to see. You won’t have to pay for gateway service to use the virtual terminal.
- Data security: The state-of-the-art Heartland Secure system is seriously impressive. It includes the E3 end-to-end encryption plus tokenization.
- Mobile processing: You can use the Heartland Mobile Payments app to process transaction on the go, but Heartland isn’t a good solution for low-volume mobile businesses due to the relatively high cost. You’ll need a merchant account to use it, and the reader may come at an additional cost. The price is not disclosed, but it’s bound to be in the $50 to $100 range if it accommodates EMV and/or NFC payments.
- Marketing solutions: Services include loyalty programs and gift cards. Heartland will provide consultation with a “rewards specialist” to customize your system and get you up and running.
- Mobile payments: Heartland has a partnership with LevelUp that even includes white label apps for businesses.
- Industry-specific programs: Heartland has some interesting offerings for restaurants, retail business, educational institutions, hospitality, grocery, parking, and more.
- Payroll solutions
- Billing solutions
- Managed network solutions
- eCommerce support
This is a pretty comprehensive list of services to offer, especially all from one processor. Despite how large Heartland is, much of its marketing creates the feel of a small company, from the local sales reps to the website. And it’s clear that Heartland also understands small businesses in a way that many of the larger companies don’t.
Keeping track of everything Heartland offers isn’t easy. The website doesn’t provide a lot of detail on some topics. But if you know where to look (and I do!), you can get an idea of what Heartland has been up to since our last check-in. Which mostly consists of new acquisitions and partnerships.
Something new for merchants is a partnership with with VersaPay to bring cloud invoicing to merchants, VersaPay ARC works with Heartland’s proprietary Portico gateway and promises to simplifying invoicing for merchants — as well as save money.
In addition to its Freshtxt service, Heartland rolled out a new app called Heartland Guest. For restaurant owners and managers, it’s a suite of tools with online and mobile reservations, wait management, and online ordering all rolled into one. Heartland Guest even includes a consumer-facing mobile app that helps users find restaurants, make their reservations, order online, and even manage your loyalty accounts with your favorite restaurants. Currently, the app has decent reviews on both Google Play (3.6) and the Apple iTunes store (4+). It looks pretty promising, though only time will tell if it’s enough to replace the apps that consumers already use for those purposes.
Among other additions is a partnership with ShopKeep, a cloud-based POS platform for retail and dining (no surprise there) and emaginePOS, another cloud-based POS platform for (you guessed it!) restaurants. Let’s not forget the acquisitions of pcAmerica and Dinerware, also POS solutions in the dining and hospitality sectors. (Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be.)
In addition to all these new POS options, Heartland is discontinuing its Leaf POS offering (which it only acquired in 2014 to begin with). Support stops when the EMV liability shift happens on October 1. Instead, Leaf is going to focus on analytics, which could become a seriously powerful tool for Heartland’s merchants. We’ll have to see what happens there.
Fees and Rates:
I love that Heartland offers interchange-plus pricing as its primary model. As we’ve said repeatedly, interchange plus is really the most transparent pricing model out this. Unfortunately, the company seems to have removed some great resources on what interchange plus is from the website, which is disappointing. There’s just a small page with this statement:
“At Heartland, transparency drives everything we do. That’s why we offer Interchange Plus pricing, giving you full disclosure into how much you’re paying us and how much goes to the card brands. This protects you from arbitrary price increases and ensures that you receive the full benefit of cost reductions, such as the Durbin Amendment savings.”
There is a major stipulation when it comes to Heartland’s interchange-plus pricing, which I didn’t find out until I got on the phone with a local sales rep: If you process less than $50,000 per year, the company will charge you a flat rate of $59 per month on top of interchange fees. I guess you could call this an “interchange-plus plan,” but it’s pretty crappy compared with a standard markup rate. Let’s not forget that includes $0.05 per transaction over interchange while we’re at it.
50K / 12 = $4167 per month maximum
59 / 4167 = 0.0141 = 1.41% mark up (plus $0.05)
Considering most interchange-plus markup are between 0.15% and 0.35%, a 1.41% markup is awfully high. And remember, this is the best-case scenario. If you are only doing about $2,000 per month, then this doubles.
But, okay. Let’s say that $20 of the $59 is a justifiable account fee and not part of the actual markup. In this case, the math works out as follows:
39 / 4167 = 0.0093 = 0.93% mark up (plus $0.05)
Again, this is way higher than any sane interchange-plus plan.
To be fair, this is similar to the pricing structure offered by Transparent Merchant Services — a pricing structure which, in that case, I tend to approve of. The difference here is that Heartland caps this flat fee pricing at $50K per year, which takes away the opportunity for savings based on high volume you’ll find at Transparent. Noteworthy, however, is the relatively low transaction fee charged by Heartland compared to that charged by Transparent (between $0.09 and $0.19 depending on the plan).
The good news is that you won’t have to pay any annual fees, PCI fees or statement fees on top of the $59 plus interchange. Still, that’s not good at all for small businesses who don’t do over $50K in credit transactions per year. For those doing more than $50K per year, however, I think Heartland could be a perfect provider. I really like this company. I just don’t like this fee structure for low-volume businesses.
Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:
With Heartland you can expect, as standard:
- An early termination fee of $275
- A three-year contract
- Auto renewal if you don’t cancel in writing three months before the contract ends
If you negotiate, you can most likely get the early termination fee waived. If not, you should be able to get the contract term reduced to one year. Make sure to ask for this! If you don’t get the termination fee waived, be sure to get the auto-renewal clause removed..
Sales and Advertising Transparency:
Heartland also understands that educated merchants make for good clients, so it’s created the Merchant Bill of Rights website, as well as other truly useful educational materials. I seriously commend their efforts here. The company also has an active Facebook page, Twitter account, and LinkedIn profile, which have small followings and low interaction, but the content they’re pushing out is fantastic. It’s actually useful, and Heartland isn’t afraid to curate great resources from other sites.
Since our last check-in, Heartland has redone its website. It looks great, all nice and flat and modern. But it also seems to have removed a lot of resources. The information about interchange plus is gone, as are some great testimonials. It feels like some things are still in transition, and I’m sure at some point we’ll get new content to make up for what’s been taken away.
I love that you don’t have to deal with the usual smoke and mirrors when you deal with Heartland. It doesn’t have any sales gimmicks, it doesn’t make any wild claims or promises, and it doesn’t try to pull the wool over your eyes. While I’ll miss Heartland’s “cost of a burger” campaign for cost transparency, I still think the company is doing a good job. Overall, Heartland is almost an ideal processor in terms of sales and advertising transparency. I say almost here for a couple of reasons.
First, the company doesn’t disclose any fees on its site, including the early termination fee. If it’s really committed to transparency, I’d love to see some of these numbers standardized and disclosed. Furthermore, Heartland doesn’t offer true interchange-plus pricing if you do under $50,000 per year in processing. And it fails to disclose this not-so-little fact on the site. This is disappointing, but not a deal-breaker.
Second, it’s not very easy to get a sales rep on the phone. All sales go through local agents, so you have to send a request for information through the website. Then someone from corporate will call you back to schedule a meeting with a local sales rep. On one hand, this is really nice. Getting to sit down with an agent has a definite appeal if you are serious about getting an account and building a long-term relationship.
On the other hand, I’d really like to be able to get some information quickly over the phone rather than inviting an agent into my place of business. The service rep I spoke to said she couldn’t really give me any specific information, since it all depends on my discussion with the sales rep. I understand this logic, and I appreciate that she didn’t make any promises that a sales rep might not be able to keep, but it felt a little evasive to me.
The best I could do was make a phone-based appointment with a sales rep within two business days. In today’s fast-paced industry, I feel like this isn’t quite good enough. Then again, Heartland was rated the no. 1 business to sell for in 2014 by Selling Power Magazine, marking its sixth consecutive year in the top 50 — so the sales practices must hold up to some scrutiny. (The company ranked 3rd in 2013, for the record.) I also like the fact that the sales agents are all employees of the company, not just independent contractors. This is fairly rare in this industry, and it’s a really good practice.
The sales agents are probably well-trained and well-supported. I would just like a better way to get in touch with these agents. In the end, a sales rep did get in touch with me by phone the same day I put in my request, and she didn’t give me any BS. She knew that the $59 per month fee (see the Fees and Rates section above) would be a deal breaker for me as a low-volume merchant, and she told me upfront. So in that way, I think they’re actually doing a good job.
Customer Service and Technical Support:
Heartland is the real deal in terms of customer service. You can get 24/7/365 support in-house, with the company claiming to answer every call in about 5 second with a real person on the line. I put it to the test, and they did a good job for me! I think it only rang once before a friendly representative picked up. Most processors can’t say that. The support page on the website even lists not just one phone number, but one for each branch of services.
There’s also an email form for those of you who aren’t comfortable on the phone or for whom the issue isn’t urgent. And Heartland claims to have an extensive knowledgebase for users. However, its Resources page looks to be a work in progress.
If you’d like to tell me your experience with Heartland Payment Systems’ customer and technical support systems, please leave a comment. I love hearing from readers, and it really helps me to provide the most accurate reviews possible.
Negative Reviews and Complaints for Heartland:
I’m very happy to say that Heartland doesn’t have nearly the amount of complaints that I’d expect them to have. RipOffReport.com features just 16 complaints (only 4 of which have appeared since our last review). Heartland had just 22 complaints through the BBB at our last check in; that number has fallen to 18, with 6 of them closed in the past year. That is exceptionally low for even a small processor. For a business as big as Heartland, it’s almost unheard of — which undoubtedly contributes to Heartland’s A+ rating from the BBB. The company must do a great job of arbitrating problems in-house and disclosing all contract terms, which is exactly what I like to see. Of the few complaints out there, the most common include:
- Terminal setup issues: I did see a few reviews in our comments section and elsewhere complaining of difficulties with setting up terminals through Heartland. On the other hand, I know for a fact that Heartland has local agents across the country, and will probably go out of their way to help you with your terminal in person.
- Early termination fee: You’ll see this complaint with nearly every processor that has an early termination fee. The problem isn’t so much that the fee exists; the problem is some sales agents “forget” to mention it. I think the vast majority of Heartland reps do, in fact, disclose this fee, which is why the company has far fewer complaints about it than most processors. Feel free to try negotiating your way out of it. You might have to pay higher rates if you do, though. Your other option is to choose a processor with a month-to-month agreement. And always, always read the fine print on any contract.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
As we’ve mentioned, Heartland seems to have redone its website and revamped its marketing. Gone is the Video Library page with its awesome testimonials. However, you can find a few video testimonials on the YouTube page. You can also find good reviews of Heartland elsewhere on the web, including a few here on our page. It’s just sad to see that the company has removed so many of its own great resources.
That said, the web is chock-full of happy Heartland sales people, all praising the company. I really like to see this! For most big processors, you’ll find as many complaints from sales reps as you will from merchants. I think that a satisfied sales team leads to better business practices overall (and it usually shows in reviews, too), so I consider this a big plus.
I really do like Heartland Payment Systems. I like the website, I like the services, I like the way the company does business overall. Heartland has some fairly unique practices that set it apart as one of the top processors in the country. For businesses that process over $50K annually and can get set up with a fair markup rate over interchange, Heartland could be your perfect processor. For those in the restaurant industry, Heartland really has your back with great tailor-made services. For those who process cards sporadically or in low volumes, however, you’ll want to look elsewhere for your payment processing needs.
So for now, I can offer Heartland 4 out of 5 stars. If the company could provide a reasonable processing solution for those who take in a smaller volume of card transactions, it’d be solidly 4.5 stars in my mind. If Heartland could offer a standard month-to-month option (not just by request), then I’d probably consider giving it an even better score. Even some upfront disclosure on the site would go a long way for me. I hope to update this with good news soon.
For those interested in better solutions for low-volume processing, definitely check out our highest-rated processors.