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Total Merchant Services Review
Merchant Maverick's Rating: (3.5 out of 5)
Last Updated: February 17th, 2014.
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.
Based out of Basalt, Colorado, 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.