Merchant Maverick
Reviews
Ratings
Comparisons

In-Depth Reviews of Merchant Services and Software Questions?
Email Us
rss-badge
13Jul/0914

Total Merchant Services Review

Merchant Maverick's Rating: (3.5 out of 5)

three-and-one-half-stars

Last Updated: February 17th, 2014.

Logo:

Total-merchant-services-logo

Overview:

In the last year or two, Total Merchant Services (TMS) has made an honest effort to improve their business, and it shows. They’ve ditched their early termination fee, moved headfirst into the tech-savvy small business market, and generally improved their independent sales force. I still see a number of ways TMS could improve, but I’m glad to report they seem to be moving in the right direction.

Now based out of a Woodland Hills, California, in their brand new (2013) headquarters,  TMS serves about 100,000 merchants, making them a medium-large provider. While there are certainly many larger (Elavon serves 1.2 million merchants, to give you an idea of the volume large providers deal with), 100,000 accounts is enough to demonstrate their use of independent agents. In fact, they have a pretty convincing website to recruit independent sales agents (ISAs), maybe even better than their main site.

Usually I scoff at these recruitment gigs, but TMS has some clout in the industry to back it up. In fact, they won the Electronic Transactions Association ISO of the Year award in 2012 for their excellent sales programs. That’s a pretty good recommendation in my book - for sales agents at least, and hopefully for merchants by proxy.

When we reviewed TMS a year or so ago, we recommended more educational content through a corporate blog and a better social media presence. Well, they delivered with an active corporate blog as well as a VERY active facebook page and Twitter. They also bought out “Fanminder” in 2012, a social media marketing platform. TMS now offers access to this service to its customers at no extra charge.

I’m not convinced that TMS is providing excellent customer service or great rates, and I wish they’d offer some info about an interchange-plus pricing platform on their site (you can get it through them, however). While I think their independent salesforce is improving, we’ll have to wait a little longer to see if they can maintain it. Overall, I’m comfortable leaving TMS at 3.5 stars for the moment. They have to make a bit more progress to reach the four stars in my mind.

Read the full review below for more details, or take a look at our comparison chart to see the best of the best in the industry.

Date Established:

1996.

Location:

  • Formerly in Basalt, Colorado.
  • As of 2013, headquartered in Woodland Hills, California.

Domain Name(s):

If you do a Google search for Total Merchant Services, you'll notice a large number of other sites  heavily branded with the TMS logo that appear to be official, but most of those sites are actually set up by individual sales agents of TMS. Don't be fooled.

Products and Services:

You’ll find a pretty good selection of products and services at TMS. I really like the look of their social marketing service “Fanminder” (despite the cheesy name). Aside from that nothing really stands out, but they’ve got all of the essentials, including:

  • Merchant accounts
  • Check services
  • Virtual terminal: Allows users to processing from any internet-connected computer with a web-browser.
  • Terminal sales/leases: TMS offers “free” terminals, but make sure you read all the fine print. Nothing is free. When you add up warranty fees and associated risk, you might still be better off buying outright. Check out our article on the subject.
  • Mobile processing: Most providers are starting to offer a mobile app and swiper. TMS offers one through Payment Jack.
  • Mobile/social marketing: Their Fanminder marketing service allows you to send deals and coupons directly to your followers on social media, and then track rates of redemption and other stats. It’s not too fancy, but it’s clean and seems useful. TMS bought this service out in 2012, but you can still buy it separately here. If you use TMS, it’s free.
  • Free Quickbooks and USB reader: In some ways, I think this is offered to avoid setting you up with a free terminal. But then again, it might be all you need and it does seem truly "free." This is a great demonstration of simplification that can lead to savings for merchants and sellers alike.
  • Merchant “advantage” program: This usually covers additional warranties, supplies and special offers. It might even be a good deal for you, but it isn’t always. They’ll give it to you free for 3 month, but then they’ll automatically start charging $10 per month if you don’t explicitly cancel. Check out what’s included here.
  • Loyalty/gift card services
  • Cash advances

Fees and Rates:

Unfortunately, Total doesn’t offer any fees or rates publicly. Depending on whether you get set up through their corporate office or an independent agent, all rates and fees can change dramatically. Your business type and processing volume will also dictate these numbers, with higher volumes leading to better deals.

I can tell you that TMS does offer interchange-plus pricing as well as seasonal downtime for most merchants, so that’s a plus.

While the Total Merchant Service site advertises “No monthly contract,” I’ve seen copies of their Terms that include early termination fees. See more below.

Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:

I have good news! TMS now offers agreements with no early termination fees! They even encourage independent agents to set up contracts with no termination fees. Merchant agreements will still be for three years and will auto-renew, so make sure you take the appropriate steps to cancel in order to stop billing in a timely fashion. But you won’t have to pay any fines or damages to close your account. I really love to see this.

That said, the most recent version of their Terms and Conditions lists their “standard termination fee” at $295. Given this, I must encourage you to be careful. Unless a signed waiver form is attached to your contract, this clause will remain active! Verbal agreements mean precisely jack in this business.

Sales and Advertising Transparency:

While Total doesn’t disclose any rates or fees publicly and they do use a few sales gimmicks, I have an overall good feeling about their sales tactics. Let me tell you why.

  1. They take care of their agents: With any larger provider, you’re always going to see more independent reps than in-house reps. The question is, how well are the independent agents trained, and are they encouraged to give bad deals to make more money? Here’s some evidence that they are, indeed, keeping their salesforce happy: “In 2012, Total Merchant Services was named ISO of the Year by the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA) for providing payment industry sales professionals with outstanding product and service innovation.” That’s nice to see.
  2. They seem more interested in saving money than making money: Case in point: they offer free Quickbooks and USB swiper. This means they don’t have to provide the merchant with a terminal, which saves both TMS and the merchant money. In turn, they pass on the savings to the agent in the form of an increased bonus, thus encouraging agents to simplify services to make money rather than complexify.
  3. They actually do give you some stuff for free: While I am always the first to say that nothing is free, I like that they give you Quickbooks 2013, a USB reader, a terminal if needed, and their social marketing service at no extra charge. These are truly value-added services. They don’t lose money on the deal though, believe me. Still, it’s nice to see some things with no strings attached. (Readers: Let me know if I’ve missed any “strings” here...)

Want to see the kinds of deals they allow their agents to extend? Check them out here.

I also like that they publicly disclose their Terms and Conditions in their Merchant Resources section. Some processors make it very difficult to get a copy of their standard contract terms before you apply.

One last point that they don’t make very clear: you must return your equipment within ten days of the contract ending, or else you have to pay for it – and you’ll have to pay whatever they say it’s worth. You can count on them not to underestimate the value…

Customer Service and Technical Support:

TMS offers 24/7 “Terminal Support,” which covers any problems with your terminal. I haven’t been able to confirm that they offer general support 24/7 as well. If you have experience with the support offered by Total, please leave me a comment! As a reviewer, it’s difficult to assess how they handle complex problems, so I rely on our readers to help me fill in the blanks here and keep the review as accurate as possible. I've read a number of reviews complaining about poor customer service, so I don't have high expectation, unfortunately.

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

Last time I updated this review, the BBB account for Total Merchant Services corporate was unavailable. It's back up again now, listing 32 complaints total. This seems fairly low at first glance, but you should note that for some reason TMS had their BBB profile reset in March of 2013. So they have 32 complaints in the past 12 month alone, which is on par with their old 98 complaints in three years. 90% of these were resolved to the general satisfaction of the BBB or the customer, however.

This is a below average complaint volume for a provider of this size, but it may not accurately represent the total number of unsatisfied merchants. You will also find about 30 separate BBB accounts listed for independent office, demonstrating how difficult it is to give you an overarching picture of this company.

Beyond the BBB, I read 37 complaints through Ripoff Reports, although the vast majority of these have to do with specific reseller practices and not TMS as a whole. This number has remained the same for the past six months or so.

Common complaints include:

  • Unethical independent agents: While I really believe that TMS tries to give their agents the tools needed to serve merchants well, I also know that they aren’t turning too many potential sales people away. If you called them up tomorrow and wanted to be a sales agent, they would probably take you. Does that mean you’d make a good agent? Not necessarily. Since the rigors of the employee hiring process are removed, some bag eggs get through. I’ve seen a downward trend here, though, with less complaints coming in about unethical agents in the past year. So I’m cautiously optimistic.
  • Poor customer service: While TMS advertises “World-Class Customer Service,” I’m not convinced. A ton of complaints I’ve read include qualms about customer service, and Total isn’t doing much to convince me that they’re getting the job done in this department. My advice here is to sign up with a high-quality agent who can be your point of contact within the business when you have problems. If you need help finding a good agent within TMS or another provider, we can help.
  • Withholding funds/freezing accounts: You’ll see this with all merchant account providers. In many of these cases, the complaint doesn’t have a lot of validity. When an unusual transaction comes through, it’s the job of the Risk Management department to check up on it. Good providers will be communicative about this, however, warning merchants about the possibility of a hold and staying in touch while they attempt to resolve it. In some cases, TMS falls short here. To find out how to work through this or prevent it, read this article.

Positive Reviews and Testimonials:

You won’t find any testimonials or reviews on the TMS site - not from merchants anyway. You will find a section for sales agent testimonials. I’m always a little disappointed when I see this, since I much prefer to see a few kind words from merchants.

Overall, you won’t see too many people going out of their way to say nice things about Total publicly, but you will find a number of sales agents who seem sincerely proud to offer the TMS products (including in our comments section below). This means less to me than hearing from merchants directly, but it does mean something to me.

I went over some things that I personally like about the way TMS does business in the “Sales and Advertising Transparency” section above, so check that out if you missed it.

Final Verdict:

For a mid/large-sized merchant account provider, I feel that Total Merchant Services is doing a better than average job, and that their efforts to “get with the times” over the past year or so have paid off in general. They won’t stick you with a termination fee, and generally seem to disclose most contract terms pretty well during sales consultations. I wish they’d include some more information about interchange-plus pricing, but the fact that they offer it without a fuss redeems them a little. Their products and services are, in general, above average.

If you don’t get a good feeling from your agent, get another one. Different agents will treat you in different ways. You can usually get an in-house rep on the line through corporate if you want the best terms, but dealing with someone locally offers the advantage of proximity if you have a good agent in your area. Watch out for high rates, though. When a company offers a bunch of free stuff out of the gate, they often try to sign you with abnormally high rates to make up the difference. If you need help determining what a fair rate for your business is, let us know!

For now, I’m leaving Total Merchant Services at 3.5 stars. If you want to know what it takes to get a five-star review from us, check out our comparison chart for some examples. Thanks for reading!

Have something to say? Leave your insights or experience in a comment.

The following two tabs change content below.

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.

Latest posts by Tom DeSimone (see all)

Comments (14) Trackbacks (0)
Comment Rules: Don't forget to read the "User Review and Comment Policy" before posting.
  1. I seriously have never had to deal with such a cluster fuck as a company as this. THEY ARE HORRIBLE. They tell you theres no yearly fee, however they charge you a “security fee” of $100. I just started with this company and not even two month later I get a later saying I am going to be transferred over to collections because I have a out standing balance of $100 for a security fee even though I knew nothing about it. I then call and see if they can remove it, because why would a pay a years worth for a security fee when I only had them for two months. The girl that worked there told me it would be taken off and I would be able to receive my transactions for my money. Two weeks later nothing, still haven’t received my $300 in swiped transactions. Called again and another girl told me that “you no longer qualify for the credit back for the security fee”. I ask why, she then says “because you didn’t file for a refund in time”. At this point I went off, because I did file for it, two weeks before actually. I didn’t get me refund back so theres $100 out the door for no reason. I then want to cancel my account with total merchant. I paid off the $100 security fee and the girl from total merchant said she would call me back with a confirmation number. a week later, no call. I call her ext. back, no answer. I call the 1 800 number AGAIN. They finally tell me that my account is now closed and they are going to mail me a box and that I have 10 days from the time the box arrives at my house to send it back. They box never showed up, so total merchant then goes and charges my card a $750 terminal fee because I never mailed it back. HOW CAN I MAIL IT BACK WHEN I NEVER GOT THE BOX WITH THE SHIPPING LABEL!? This company is a joke. There is no origination, they nickel and dime you for everything, you pay them at the end of the month for credit card fees (they don’t automatically take it out of each transaction), they don’t know there own product, and aren’t trained enough to even know what there saying. THIS COMPANY SHOULD BE OUT OF BUSINESS.

    • Not Rated
  2. We used Total Merchant Services for almost 10 years, and recently discovered how bad we have been overpaying for all of this time. We had asked TMS to review our rates repeatedly over the years. Each time, they lowered our rates to what appeared to be a good level. However, each month after that they would add new fees and hidden statement charges to gradually bump up our total percentage paid to a much higher level. TMS would provide interesting names and excuses for these rates, but they are unique to TMS. After recently putting our merchant processing business out for bid, our seasoned TMS “rate-reviewed” rates were over 0.8% higher than the competition! This really impacts the bottom line. In addition, TMS’s chargeback process (through Global Payments) was a joke. The chargebacks were mailed to us with a Reply By date that had already passed. There was no way to receive the chargeback notices or reply using the Internet. Anyway, to add insult to injury – after discovering we had been overcharged by thousands of dollars over the years and finally terminating TMS, they recently charged us an Early Termination Fee (this is despite what is written in the TMS review above – read the fine print!). Our experience with this company is characterized by hidden fees, creeping rate increases, poor communication and a total lack of trust that TMS would deliver what they say. We are taking the time to post this review in the hope that other merchants will not make the same mistake we did.

    • 11111
  3. I find it quite strange that TMS seems unable to show me any sort of statement until 2 days AFTER they charge me a discount fee. The capability is there and they could do it if they wanted. (look at Amex) It is almost as if they have something to hide.

    • Not Rated
  4. This company is a ripoff. Do not use them. They messed my accounts up on setup, again on changing me to another processor, and then kept billing me after I cancelled them, and wouldn’t refund it. Incompetent, unresponsive, and uncaring.

    • Not Rated
  5. Could you please advise me as to a preference in selling for a particular merchant? I’m a experienced agent deciding between a couple of processors to sell for. EVO, Global, Harbortouch, etcYour input is highly respected. Many due have several pros and cons.

    • Not Rated
    • Troy, Unfortunately we do not assess processors/merchant services providers from the agent’s perspective. I would, of course, recommend looking into any of our best rated providers here. I’ve heard good things about working for Heartland Payments, but again, I don’t evaluate the experience from the sales perspective. Best of luck.

      • Not Rated
  6. Who processes for TMS? Do you know thanks.

    • Not Rated
  7. I had the worst experience with TMS. They told me that my small business would only have to pay 14 a month, and the cc fee. Instead I was charged 50 a month for not meeting a quota they never told me about. I would have never signed up with them if I knew that. Thank you TMS for being fraudulent on your services and your billing practices!

    • Not Rated
  8. I used TMS as a result of befriending a person who worked for them. He said that he would give me a great rate, no contract, and never mentioned a cancellation free because no contract was signed. They continued to charge me after I complained that they were more expensive and said that they would give me a better rate after I discovered that they were charging more than my bank was. I reversed and disputed the charges to my account and today received a letter from a collection bureau. I will never pay those thieves. Listen to your gut and use a bank or reputable company. I read the reviews before I started with them and told my friend of the bad press. Unfortunately, I trusted my ‘friend ‘ and not the reviews. I deal with a branch in Northern NJ, but I would not trust any of them. They are totally sleazey operators. Please heed my warning.

    • Not Rated
    • I was with TMS for 1 year before we had to close our business due to moving. The last 3 months we did $700 on our card and were charged $89 per month for the service! So we closed the account and were told to expect a call tag within 10 days. We got it a week later, but we have no fedex location due to the extreme rural state we live in, so we did not get the machine back for a total of 20 days – our nearest fedex is 89 miles away.
      They charged us $750 for the machine and we are still disputing this but my gut tells me we will get nothing back. :(

      • 11111
  9. 6 years and over paid all 6 years , when I told them I was leaving they offered me a better commission rate ? No customer locality anymore, and forget customer service forget it, I was a half hour on the phone to get to a real person.

    • 11111
  10. Total Merchant services Ripped my company off hundreds of dollars and I am still fighting them to get my money back they are theives.

    • Not Rated
  11. I am self employed and I use Total Merchant Services to set up retail customers with updated equipment and rates. I consider myself independent of TMS because I maintain the customer service with my accounts. I don’t even give them the main number to TMS because I want the customer to know I care. They call me or my wife with any question or issue. I started in Oct of 2007. I have nearly 300 customers today. I have never lost a customer due to poor service, lack of response or inaccurate rate quotes. I can resolve 99% of any issues myself. I also install the equipment (even if it means running telephone lines or IP connections) and I train every customer on the use of the equipment. You are correct in saying that some of TMS BBB issues are due to poor reps. From my perspective, I do have problems with TMS withholding funds at the drop of a hat. But, I have learned to resolve those issues within 72 hours and the customer only had to wait one extra day. TMS sends me an e-mail every time one of my customers has had any unusual activity. I respond to every e-mail. It is the rep’s responsibilty to maintain that account. That’s why we get paid. You cannot sign up an account and disappear. Which, unfortunately, so many companies do in this industry. My wife and I also set up ATM Machines (RBS Lynk) , clean carpet, clean office buildings, teach people how to cook, paint murals, appraise properties for sale, build websites, raise chickens and three daughters. I have never worked for anyone but myself. I have had 30 years of waking up in the morning and knowing that I have to put the food on the table. I treat the customers like gold. And I have been well rewarded.

    • Not Rated

Leave a comment

Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment may take some time to appear.

Rating:

No trackbacks yet.