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TransFirst Merchant Services Review
Last Updated: October 27th, 2013.
If you’re looking for a big, stable company to process payments with, you’ve found a good option with TransFirst. In business since 1995, they’re the ninth largest processor in the US, handling $37 billion from 200,000 merchants every year. With their long list of acquisitions and mergers (including Bank of America Merchant Services, Inc. and Fifth Third Bank Processing Solutions’ Third Party Sales Merchant Division), you may have already processed with them without knowing it. The old TransFirst headquarters were located on Long Island in Hauppauge, NY. They’ve since moved to Broomsfield, CO, so that’s where the phone calls from their friendly (they really are) sales reps come from.
While some negative reviews have accumulated about TransFirst, you can avoid the most of the common complaints by approaching your sales consultation as an educated merchant. To avoid paying an early termination fee, be sure to have that clause removed from your contract or get a waiver form attached. If you’re worried about the rates being too high, make sure to ask for an interchange-plus plan with a markup rate appropriate for your business size and type. Don’t want any surprise fees? Make sure you demand a complete list of fees in writing. A number of merchants have complained of billing mistakes from TransFirst, though, and that’s a red flag for me since it’s difficult to prevent.
While I can’t promise you that your TransFirst sales rep will go out of his or her way to get you a great deal, this is a fairly reliable company that can offer you good technology and good rates if you know what to ask for. They have acceptable advertising and sales transparency, and overall come in at above average in my book. I know that the bar is pretty low in this industry when it comes to sales reps disclosing all of the essential fees (especially from independent offices), so as always I encourage you to proceed with caution.
For the best results, try to get a hold of a sales representative at the corporate office and not an independent agent from who-knows-where. Don’t rush through anything, and remember that you are the customer here. If you don’t get a good feeling from TransFirst, feel free to take your business elsewhere.
Check out my full review below for the nitty-gritty on TransFirst. Overall, though, I’m still comfortable giving them 3.5 stars. They could improve their rating by:
- Addressing some complaints publicly
- Striving for consistency throughout their independent sales offices
- Doing more to minimize billing errors
I’d also like to see the auto-renewal clause and early termination fees removed from their standard contract, or at the very least disclosed more clearly. That alone would bump them up a star.
Headquarters in Broomfield, CO. Formerly Hauppauge, NY.
- www.paymentresource.com (inactive)
Products and Services:
- Merchant Accounts
- Transaction Express: Web-based virtual terminal.
- Translink Data Management Software: TransFirst's in-house POS software. Pretty standard fare, it allows you to customize the information you receive depending on your needs.
- Payfox Mobile Terminal: This mobile card reader and app allow you to swipe cards from an iPhone, iPad, or Android device. Compared to many other mobile swipers and apps I’ve seen, Payfox looks promising.
- Transguard: This service is a little creepy. Through Transguard, the company can “provide TransFirst's sales partners with early intelligence that one of their merchant accounts is shopping around for a new provider.” Good for sales people, uncomfortable for merchants.
- Terminal Leases/Bundled Leasing Program: Check out this article and pass this one up.
- Gift/Loyalty Programs
- Check Services
Fees and Rates:
Somehow, TransFirst manages to offer simultaneously too much and too little information on rates. If you check out their Rates page, you’ll see six different categories of rates: retail, eCommerce, phone processing, mobile swipe, wireless, and check/ACH. In each section, they list the discount rate, transaction fee, monthly service fee, and batch fee. You will find this information almost entirely useless, since only some fees appear here and the flat-rate for service will probably not operate in your favor. It’s nice to see some disclosure of fees, though. So thanks TransFirst – sort of.
Needless to say you should not accept these advertised rates. Demand an interchange-plus plan and ask for their markup and transactions fees so you can easily shop around.
TransFirst also has a new fixed-fee program called Transfreedom. This “simplified billing” program seems like a step backward to me. It reduces billing transparency to spare merchants from “confusing” statements and fees. (Riiiiiiight...) But if you’re looking for simple, flat-rate solutions, it might work for you. Basically, you pay a fixed rate depending on how much business you do and how large your average sale is. If you go over the allotted amount of sales for a given month, you buy extra room on your plan (at $20 per $500). The rates go as low as $39 each month if you’re doing less than $1,500 per month and your average ticket price is over $20. Check out their handy chart to see how much you might expect to pay each month under the Transfreedom plan. You can expect a two-year agreement with this plan, although they’ll consider a month-to-month deal with 90 days notice prior to cancelling for some merchants. If you need a terminal from them, expect a five-year contract.
Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:
Right out of the gate, TransFirst will basically offer you the industry standard for contract duration and terminations fees, which includes:
- Three-year contract
- Auto renewal for one-year periods each successive year
- Must receive written notice of cancellation 90 days prior to end of contract to prevent auto-renewal.
- Early termination fee of about $500. Or possibly between $250 and $1,000, depending on time remaining on contract and the amount of business you do. We've seen different terms in different contracts. Some also claim they were charge the dreaded "liquidated damages," which is a major red flag for me.
These are more or less the same terms I see all day. Unfortunately, the industry standard sucks. Never accept these terms.
Having a merchant agreement that lasts for three years won't be a problem as long as the cancellation fee is low enough – or preferably nonexistent. Make sure that you get the auto-renewal clause removed. It provides no benefits for you as long as you remember to renew with them if you’d like to keep the service. In general, your processor won’t let you forget about that.
I should talk about the 30-day free trial for a moment. A free trial can offer a great opportunity to put a service through its paces at minimal risk. Watch out for the terms, though, or that free trial could end up costing you big time. Also note: “This offer does not apply to leased equipment. Certain restrictions and exclusions apply. Merchant account is subject to credit approval. Offer subject to change without notice.” If you’re going to sign up with TransFirst, you might as well take advantage of this trial period. Make sure you know what you’ll have to do to cancel, though, and what charges you’ll incur. Some complaints have come in citing difficulty with closing during the free trial period.
Sales and Advertising Transparency:
Even though I’m not crazy about their advertised rates, I’m glad to see some rates and fees advertised. Many processors leave you completely in the dark until you contact a sales representative. So while I don’t necessarily think this information will be useful to you (since you will, of course, ask for an interchange-plus plan), I view it as a show of good faith and a testament to transparency.
They also provide a sample statement for merchants to get an idea of what they’ll see each month. I love to see a sample statement, and I usually ask to see one from a sales rep during my research (and so should you). You should always take these samples with a grain of salt, since the processor will undoubtedly put their best foot forward… right? Actually, that’s not always my experience. Case in point: TransFirst.
I’m glad to see a bunch of fees disclosed here, including the FANF fee (which all merchants have to pay directly to the credit card companies) and a PCI non-compliance fee. The rates are really strange, though, and no interchange information is provided. So much for transparency...
On a better note, I’m impressed by the amount of educational resources TransFirst provides. While most processors will list a few pages to explain how processing works, and maybe even offer a free “guide” if you’re lucky, TransFirst goes the extra mile to put together a really comprehensive collection of glossaries, infographics, blog posts, articles and so on. Of course some are more useful than others, and I don’t feel like the whole set up has great organization. They also fail to offer any information on interchange-plus pricing models. Still – a good effort and worth perusing.
Customer Service and Technical Support:
TransFirst advertises 24/7/365 US-based customer service (my favorite kind!). I’ve read a lot of conflicting opinions about their customer service, though, both in the comments section here and on other review sites. Some say they love it, others say it is hands down the worst service experience they’ve had. I would love to see some verified TransFirst users give their input. If you use or have used TransFirst and would like to help us out on this, please see our posting policy for information on Review Authentication. I’d really appreciate it!
I can say that the sales rep I spoke to at TransFirst had a lot of fun energy and a really friendly demeanor. It’s nice to talk to people who seem to sincerely enjoy their jobs, so we got off on the right foot in that way. I asked her to send me a complete list of fees, a copy of their merchant agreement, which she agreed to, and I said goodbye with a good feeling about the exchange. And then I waited. And waited. And waited. Nothing.
After a couple of days I decided to submit an electronic request for this info. Hey, maybe she just took down my email wrong, I thought. There won’t be any transcription problems if I send my information electronically. The next day I got an email and a missed call from the same rep I spoke to originally. She sounded as friendly and energetic as ever, but didn’t seem to remember that I had already requested this information. So I RE-requested it. And – I’m still waiting.
As I’ve said in previous reviews, a poor rate of responsiveness on the sales end of a business is a bad sign. Usually responsiveness peters out after you sign up, but it should always be 110% on the ball during the sales exchanges. For this reason, I don’t have a good feeling about the treatment you can expect from TransFirst’s representatives.
Negative Reviews and Complaints:
With 137 complaints in the past three years with the BBB and 33 with Ripoff Report, TransFirst has a normal amount of complaints for a processor of this size. Not that normal is good here – but I’ve seen worse. They service 300,000 merchants, so under 200 public complaints in the past three years sounds pretty good. They also tout an A+ BBB rating despite the number of complaints issued, mostly because they addressed every one. How they could have over 100 complaints but supposedly no room for improvement baffles me, but that’s just how the BBB rolls.
The complaints I see for TransFirst seem all too familiar, especially for processors who use a lot of independent sales agents. Mostly merchants complain about agents failing to explain the contract terms and disclose all fees during negotiations. Basically, they trick merchants into signing a legally binding contract by failing to mention terms that might be deal breakers and rushing the process along. True, it is the legal responsibility of the merchant to read the contract before signing, but I really hate to see these kinds of complaints. Complaints about terminal leases also come up again and again.
- Terminal Leasing Complaints - A considerable percentage of the overall complaints volume comes from merchants upset with the terminal leasing terms they get through TransFirst, who outsources their terminal leases to various companies including Lease Finance Group (LFG), Northern Leasing, and First Data Global Leasing (FDGL). These things usually come with a four-year contract and almost never work out in your favor. Why don’t you take a moment to go to Amazon.com and do a quick search for “credit card terminal.” What kind of prices do you see? $150, maybe $200 bucks for a brand new machine. Now go ahead and sort the results by price from high to low. That’s right, even the most expensive machines come in at about $300 on Amazon. You can afford this – I promise. You can write it off on your taxes. If you don’t, you will regret it. When you lease, they tell you that you’ll be able to buy the machine out at any time. The problem is that you have to pay whatever they say it’s worth, often $1-2K. You want to cancel your lease? No problem! You’ll only have ship the machine back and pay $1,000+ to buy out the rest of the time on your lease. And don’t forget all of those contract fees they’re charging you. Not to mention that to lease the machine will probably be $30-40 per month… Trust me, you can afford the $300 machine. Worried that it will become obsolete? Buy a new one. Buy three new ones. You’re still saving money. Pay someone to hook it up for you. You’re still saving money. But don’t take my word for it.
- Nondisclosure of Fees - The next most common complaint comes from “undisclosed” contract terms. When I say undisclosed, I mean that the sales person did not sufficiently explain the terms. They are, of course, in the contract. Somewhere. Many of these complaints have to do with the early termination fee. You have every right to request a full, written disclosure of fees before moving forward with any company, and I suggest you do so. To get the best result possible from TransFirst, make sure you, (a) do not lease any equipment with them, and (b) negotiate an affordable cancellation fee and get it in writing. Dharma Merchant Services only asks for $25 to cover closing expenses, which seems reasonable to me. Use that as your baseline.
- Billing Issues and General Incompetence - This category of complaints probably scares me the most. No matter how well you negotiate your contract, how many hours you spent deciphering all the complex terms and haggling with your sales rep, it can all go out the window when your merchant account provider screws up your order, so to speak (i.e. double billing, failing to release funds, etc.). If you’ve read a few of my reviews, you’ve undoubtedly seen me say: “PLEASE, read your contract!” I have a follow up recommendation for that: PLEASE, read every single statement you get! And read them punctually. In the contracts I’ve seen from TransFirst (and other processors), any billing issues not addressed within 90 days become null and void. That means if you realize that you overpaid by $500 on a six-month-old statement, the contractual statute of limitations has expired and there’s nothing you can do about it, legally speaking.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
TransFirst wins my “Most Improved Processor Award” in the category of available testimonials. They went from having absolutely no authorized positive reviews listed to having quite a few, many in video format on their YouTube channel. All of these testimonials come from business partners, mostly independent banks, but nevertheless these merchants seem highly satisfied with TransFirst’s services, and they say their customers also appreciate the quality service.
At least one of the testimonials doesn’t quite check out, though. In it, Dan Brattland comes on claiming to be the owner of an ISO called Global Bankcard LLC in Minnesota. He is, in fact, the President of Cocard Merchant Services, LLC. The name Global Bankcard, LLC, exists only in a few directories. So that's weird, but I really love to see video testimonials and the rest seem to check out. TransFirst still gets the point on this one.
You can also check out TransFirst’s Testimonials page to see about ten short reviews. I wish these reviews had dates and contact info so I could more easily confirm their veracity, but they’re nice to see anyway.
For a big processor, TransFirst doesn’t really stand out. They get the job done, but don’t go above and beyond. If you stay away from their independent sales agents and go directly through the corporate office, you’re more likely to have a good experience. Independent sales agents often have little oversight and minimal expertise. I have a feeling that most of those complaints for nondisclosure of fees and a bad sales experience come from those who worked with an independent sales office.
TransFirst offers big-business resources and stability. They know what they’re doing and can definitely hook you up with quality service if they want to. You might have to negotiate to get what you want, though, and they might not concede to your request if they’ve got bigger fish to fry. If that’s the case, I’d recommend trying out a smaller merchant account provider like Gotmerchant.com where you’re more likely to be treated with care.
TransFirst is okay in my book. Not great, but okay. They retain their 3.5 stars for now. If you’ve had a terrible experience with them in a way I have not addressed, please chime in. At this point, I’m not ready to lower my rating based on non-disclosure of fees by independent sales agents. But if you can confirm bad practices coming through their main offices, that would take them down a peg. On the other hand, if you can confirm a better standard merchant agreement than I’ve described here, I’d consider raising my rating.