The Best (and Worst) Canadian Merchant Account Providers

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Canadian merchant services reviews

Canadians are some nice people. I should know, as I have Canadian relatives who visit from time to time – and you’ll never hear them say a bad word about anything or anybody. However, I do have a bad word to say about Canada – well, not Canadians per se (and certainly not my Ontarian cousins!) but about Canadian credit card processors: Sorry, guys. You suck.

To be fair, it’s not so much that Canadian merchant account providers are terrible by definition; it’s just that there are not enough good ones. Whereas in the US we have a lot of decent credit card processing options, there aren’t many reputable processors to choose from in Canada. There are only a handful that I would recommend, and even out of those, there’s only one that I can confidently say is a great option (Helcim). The worst option, judging by all the negative reviews that we receive, is probably Pivotal Payments.

This article will cover all the Canadian credit card processors worth mentioning, giving a brief rundown of each option. We’ll also have a section dedicated to “alternative” payment methods for Canadian residents that process less than $5k per month.

Best Canadian Processor: Helcim

If you’ve read our team member Tom DeSimone’s glowing review of Calgary-based Helcim (see our review), it should come as no surprise that we’re singling out this processor as Canada’s best. There is simply no better processor for Canadian businesses – and they provide the same kick-butt level of service in the US too.

Here are some of Helcim’s highlights:

  • All interchange-plus pricing (aka Cost+)
  • Excellent customer support
  • Extensive fee disclosures
  • Amazing educational resources, including charts demonstrating different interchange rate scenarios
  • No termination fees
  • No monthly minimum
  • No setup/application fees
  • No PCI compliance fees

Something I really like about Helcim is the truly useful educational resources they provide, including articles on navigating the deceitful credit card processing industry in general, and an extensive knowledgebase detailing how Helcim works. Even if you don’t choose this processor, it’s not a bad idea to educate yourself by reading some of their articles, including The Top 5 Tricks Used by Credit Card Processors and Watch Out for Hidden Fees Charged by Most Processors.

With Helcim, fairness is the name of the game. Helcim charges affordable prices and has one of the most transparent sales policies of any processor out there, Canadian or otherwise. Everything is completely laid out on the table, with crystal-clear fee disclosures so you’re never again hit with a bill like a punch in the stomach. This type of fairness and transparency is what’s lacking in a lot of processors, and hopefully the industry takes a cue from these guys. Check them out here.

Best Third-Party Canadian Processor: Square

Square (see our review) is not an exclusively Canadian processor, but they serve smaller Canadian merchants quite well.

With Square, an “alternative” or “third-party” payment processor, you get an aggregate merchant account shared with other merchants. This means you don’t have your own dedicated merchant account, but on the bright side, you don’t have any merchant account contract or monthly fees to contend with. The only fees with this mobile and tablet-based system are the credit card processing fees – which are admittedly on the higher side, at 2.75% per swipe/dip – but if you process less than $5K–$10K each month, you might save money vs. a traditional merchant account. To help you choose between Square and a traditional merchant account, read Square vs. a Merchant Account.

One thing to note about Square is they do have a paid Square for Retail package that has additional point of sale features. However, for most small businesses, the free version of Square will be sufficient.

Here are some highlights of Square (the free version):

  • Free POS app can take payments on any mobile device
  • No merchant account contract – zero commitment
  • No monthly fees
  • No setup/application/PCI/ETF fees
  • Convenient for mobile setups
  • $49 EMV reader

A couple things about Square that aren’t quite so terrific is you don’t get the same level of customer service or account stability as you would with your own merchant account. But if you have a smaller business and want to start taking payments without a big upfront investment, Square is an excellent alternative to a traditional merchant account.

Worst Canadian Processor: Pivotal Payments

Pretty much, the only good thing I have to say about Pivotal Payments (see our review) is that they offer merchant services in Canada. While they’re based in Melville, New York, they also have an office in Quebec, making them one of the few processors available to Canadian merchants. In case you’re wondering if there’s a difference between the (bad) service they provide in the US and the (bad) service they provide in Canada, there’s really not. As Tom DeSimone put it in his review:

Canadian and US-based merchants get the same sub-par service from Pivotal, regardless of locale.

Oh, and I guess one more good thing about them is they do offer interchange-plus pricing, if you ask for it. Otherwise, it’s mostly bad news. Here are some of the lowlights of this processor.

Lowlights:

  • Deceptive credit card terminal leases
  • Failure to disclose all terms involved with their early termination fee (ETF)
  • Bad customer service
  • Inconsistent sales experience

Hidden fees (including an early termination fee), deceptive terms (merchants complain of getting stuck in lengthy terminal lease fees), and poor customer service are just a few reasons why this Canadian credit card processor receives terrible customer reviews. For more details on why and just how much they suck, read our review of Pivotal Payments, or just skip down to the comments on that article to read about all the thoroughly unpleasant experiences people have had with this company.

Average Canadian Processors: Chase Paymentech and Moneris Solutions

Chase Paymentech

If you’re looking for a decent processor offering service in Canada, Chase Paymentech is a pretty solid choice. They offer affordable rates and have a good reputation in the industry. However, with a big company like Chase, you’re not going to receive the level of customer care you will with a smaller processor like Helcim. Some customers also complain of expensive and unfair terminal (credit card machine) lease contracts with Chase Paymentech.

The good:

  • Month-to-month contracts with no cancellation fees (FYI: This is a fairly recent offering)
  • No PCI compliance fees
  • Useful educational resources
  • Interchange-plus plans and seasonal downtime offered to most merchants

The not-so-great:

  • No rates or fees disclosed on their website
  • Deceptive terminal leases 
  • Some customers (higher volume merchants and resellers of Chase merchant accounts) may be subject to early cancellation fees
  • So-so customer service

If you own a Canadian business and like the idea of going with a major brand like Chase, go ahead and check them out.

Moneris Solutions

Toronto-based Moneris Solutions is an amalgam of the credit card processing components of Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Montreal. So, it has some hefty industry experience behind it. While we like Moneris’s services a lot, and they disclose most of their terms on their website, customers who don’t read the fine print before signing the contract may get burned.

The good:

  • Thorough, informative website
  • Terrific array of services and POS products
  • Reliable merchant support
  • Seasonal downtime

The kind of terrible:

  • Early termination fee, sometimes including liquidated damages
  • Use of misleading sales ploys (e.g., offering $300 gift card for signing up – with tons of strings attached)

Again, while Moneris provides a good selection of solid services and products, they have been known to charge early termination fees that could total thousands of dollars if they decide to hit you with liquidated damages. Protect yourself from by paying close attention to the termination section of your contract (usually toward the end of their document). Customers have told us that Moneris’s sales reps aren’t always upfront so do not trust them to explain all the fine details of the contract, especially the ETF.

Read more about Moneris’s services and how to avoid their sneaky fees in our review.

More Alternative Payments

If you process less than about $5K/month, in Canada or elsewhere, then it makes more sense to go with what we call an “alternative payment processor” or “third-party payment processor.” Third-party processors like Square, mentioned above, and PayPal, allow you to accept credit cards without having to get a merchant account yourself. The only downside to alternative payment processing is that transaction fees are higher than those of traditional merchant accounts. On the bright side, third-party processors are generally contract-fee have no monthly fee (with the exception of PayPal, which charges a reasonable monthly fee for added services). Refer to this article for more info.

Here are a few third-party payment processors that we like:

  • Square – For mobile and brick-and-mortar businesses, online payments
  • PayPal – Offers brick-and-mortar, mobile, and online payments
  • Stripe – Exclusively for online and mobile payments
  • 2Checkout – Exclusively for online and mobile payments

Conclusion

I hope I was able to provide a good idea of the best Canadian merchant account providers and the ones you should avoid. To reiterate, Helcim is the best and Pivotal Payments is the worst; Chase Paymentech and Moneris Solutions are somewhere in the middle. And if you process only a few thousand dollars per month, you’re better off processing credit card payments using a third-party payment processor like Square or Stripe instead of a traditional merchant account.

Got something to add about Canadian payment processors? Sound your voice in the comments!

Shannon Vissers

Shannon Vissers

Shannon is a freelance writer and editor based in San Diego, CA. Shannon has a three-year-old daughter named Izzy. Shannon likes to unwind by watching trashy reality television and reading literary fiction during the commercial breaks.
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33 Comments

    Rick Smith

    Square and Payd are good alternatives for low volume businesses because there are no fixed costs. The breakeven point where the higher processing fees start to absorb the lack of fixed costs is somewhere between $4000 and $5000 depending upon your business. The other important factor to consider is that to date you can’t accept interac with Square and with Payd you need to rent a pinpad (fixed cost). This is a factor because Interac is so much cheaper to process than credit cards.

    Karen

    We are a retail point-of-sale software company based out of Toronto. Our policy is to be payment agnostic when it comes to processing integration. Based on an earlier review of Helcim, we ourselves started using them for our own processing. Your review was spot on. We are very happy with their service and will also be looking to add them as a payment gateway for our products in the near future.

    Kadie-Lynn

    We had switched to Merchant Service Canada. As they did a comparison with our current rates and could offer us lower ones.
    We were maybe satisfied with them for 3 months, but still had hiccups over those 3 months. We stuck it out and kept getting a new terminal every couple of days. As there would be days that I would be down completely and be able to accept payment!
    There was one point, where I was without a debit machine for 5 days!!! That is so much business lost!
    Yes I could still write down the patient’s credit card number, but not everyone wants to pay with credit or want to leave their number with me.
    The latest was, Merchant Service Canada (MSC) asked for our terminal back so I sent it to their office. We were still getting billed from a leasing company. Spoke with the leasing company, we are in the lease until 2018. The leasing company said we should not have sent out terminal to MSC. I then called MSC they’ve taken 1.5 months to mail it back to our office. I just opened the box from them, they kept the battery from the terminal!!! I just got off the phone with MSC and they wanted to charge me for a new battery and to ship it. That has also now been straightened out.
    We are now back with Chase payment (knock on wood), we are happy and they have taken very good care of us.
    I strongly do NOT recommend Merchant Service Canada. I am a very forgiving, understanding person but they are not a straight cut company!

    Brenda

    Thank you for your very helpful article. We are looking into Helcim, as per your recommendation.

    Just a comment – you list Stripe as a third-party payment processor, however, I do not believe that they are.
    This is what they emailed me: “Unlike PayPal or other services, Stripe doesn’t use separate webpages or provide hosted payment portals for taking payments[0]. With Stripe, your customers can securely make payments directly from your website without ever having leave or log in to any accounts.”

    Tom DeSimone

    Hi Brenda,

    I’m glad we could help. The term third-party payment processor refers to the way the transactions are processed behind the scenes. In that email, Stipe is referring to how you can integrate the payment capability into your website. Behind the scenes, however, Stripe processes payments through aggregated accounts, which can impact account stability and cost. Helcim, on the other hand, will provide you with a dedicated merchant account.

    It can be a confusing distinction, but I hope this helps!

    Tom Hanks

    Hello
    We are in Construction business in Vancouver, BC area- both residential and commercial. Some of our clients want to pay with credit card. Not sure which option should we go for. We will be collecting on an average $15,000- $25,000 a month. Looking for both option, when client call our office and give their card number for pmt and the second one to process pmt from mobile or ipad. Please guide. Thanks

    Chloe Bahal

    Hi Tom,

    Thank you for your inquiry, I am happy to help you with this. Based on the information provided, I would recommend Helcim. They also have mobile processing so they are a great option to look into. I would encourage you to use the green “visit site” button within the review if you would like to support our work. I hope this helps and if you have further questions please let me know.

    Rick Smith

    I know processors in Canada it is my business, please note I am not aligned with the industry or anyone in it. I need to correct some items in the above post. If you are dealing directly with Chase in Canada you will be renting a terminal not leasing some ISO that work through Chase do lease. They have very good customer service offering same day terminal swaps in major population centres. However they do have cancellation fees of $300 flat which again may be different through an ISO. Most of what you said about Moneris is true service overall is not bad but in my opinion second to Chase at least with my clients. Cancelling with Moneris is difficult not so much with Chase and negotiating a better rate much easier with Chase than Moneris. Helcium has a good reputation and process through Elavon with Interchange plus pricing available for all. Moneris does not usually offer Interchange plus and Chase only for clients doing over $1 million a year.

    Sandra

    I haven’t seen any comments about “SQUARE.”
    I am a psychotherapist and need to process credit cards. So I got a “Square” from Staples and signed up. But their fees are high, 4.5% No monthly charge. It is a little square plastic thing that is inserted into my smart phone. Works wonderfully, never a problem. But I would like to find something cheaper.

    Chloe Bahal

    Hi Sandra,

    4.5% is a bit on the higher side and we can probably find something better suited for you. We have a great filtering tool that you can try here. I hope this helps and if you have further questions please let me know.

    Jane

    Also, you don’t comment on whether any of the above can process USD payments in USD. This was something square could not do and last I checked Paypal also would not credit my business in USD – they wanted to exchange to CDN $ in payout. Do you have a suggestion for a small business that takes both USD and CDN? I have to keep the USD because all of my payments to my suppliers are in USD – thank you for any help you can provide.

    Chloe Bahal

    Hi Jane,

    When accepting international currency, your processor is going to convert it to your local currency. Unfortunately there isn’t a work around for it, unless you open a US merchant account, which would require a social security number.

    Jane

    I have been using Global Payments and its been a nightmare of high rates and constantly increasing monthly fees. Last month I charged through only $1400 and I was charged $147 for fees for my canadian and US accounts (They separate them – I have no choice). I am seasonal and small business so going to look at your options above. I was curious not to see Global Payments as I see their terminals everywhere – any comments about them?? Thanks!

    Michael Smillie

    Hi all,

    Currently looking into merchant services options for the company I am with as we are looking to potentially make a change-over. After reading this article, I’ve looked into a number of options (including Helcim and First Data).

    My question is this:

    For someone such as myself who helps in running a small business, I don’t really have a ton of time to analyze and figure out cost comparisons. When speaking with First Data, they were able to provide me with an easy-to-read comparison of costs, along with how much we would be saving on a monthly / yearly basis. Helcim on the other hand was not able to tell me if our costs would go up or down by swapping to them.

    Judging by reviews, Helcim is a much better fit for our company…I’m just not sure how to make sense of their offering.

    Any ideas here would be very much appreciated!

    Best,

    Mike

    Chloe Bahal

    Hi Michael,

    I would recommend taking a look at CardFellow. Also, please feel free to send me your quotes and I can take a look at them for you.

    Rick Smith

    Mike
    First Data has become very aggressive lately and you must be careful about the rates. Helcium processes through Elavon and would offer Interchange plus pricing which I prefer. Comparing Interchange Plus to Interchange Differential is difficult if you don`t understand pricing,however it is not just the discounts rates you have to look at you must also compare assessment fees, admin fees, terminal maintenance fees (First Data) etc. I don`t understand why Helcium won`t give you a comparison but be wary of the comparison they can leave out fees that make a big difference the contract is the final word. The biggest disadvantage to First Data is their statement it is absolutely the worst in the industry impossible for anyone not an expert in the industry to read.

    Erika

    Avoid first data and digitech like the plague. We’ve been lied to for 8 months straight and our processing fees have almost doubled. Trying to escalate within the company is impossible as they won’t let you speak with anyone else and they take messages insisting someone will call you back (which doesn’t happen). Where can small businesses report processors with deceptive practices?

    Chloe Bahal

    Hi Erika,

    You can leave a review on the BBB site.

    Bob

    You can cancel any merchant services contract within 90 days of rate change without pentalty. Its the law in Canada. I use to sell merchant services and this is how we were able to business to switch without having to oay cancelation fees.

    Epona Donna

    We are a small to medium online retailer. As our current merchant account provider is closing its doors the end of August, we find ourselves looking for a new PP that is supported by our platform. Would you or any of the users here have any reviews, experience or comments on the following;

    Authorize.net
    WorldPay
    FirstData
    CyberBit
    PSI Gate
    MiraPay

    Thank you for any information!!

    Epona Donna

    We are a small to medium Canadian company that takes payments in CAD and USD. As our current payment provider is about to close its doors, we find ourselves looking for a new merchant account provider that is supported by our platform. I have found your reviews extremely helpful. Thank you! I would like to know if you or any other Canadian users have experience with the following;

    Authorize.net
    First Data
    PSI Gate
    MiraPay

    Thank you so much!

    syed mutal quadri

    Hi
    We have set up a new Incorporation in Calgary, Canada. We will provide online PC Tech Support to the consumers in Canada and USA. We need help to set up high risk payment gateway and merchant accounts.
    Please advise.

    Dan

    Hi Tom,
    With regards to Canadian POS providers, if you haven’t already, I would love to see what you have to say about Zomaron. We have recently rid ourselves of them and are still dealing with the fallout from their terrible service. But they sound similar to Pivotal, using independent door to door sales people promising you insanely lower rates and failing to disclose their 5 year lease agreements for the equipment and early termination fees. i don’t want to to get into to many specifics about our situation on this public forum but I’m very to hear what you have to say about them and their business practices.

    thanks in advance

    Rick Smith

    Unfortunately some ISOs (Independent Sales Organizations) employ some questionable sales tactics. For someone not familiar with the industry you are probably better off going through your bank or directly to one of the better Acquirers directly in no special order Elavon, TD Merchant Services, Chase Paymentech or Moneris. A good bet is Elavon through Costco. If service is a priority Chase is very good. I don`t know your situation but the Code of conduct allows you to cancel your agreement within 90 days of a new fee, increase in fees or if the processor does not give you the full benefit of a decrease in their costs (Interchange fees). All of these have happened in the last 6 months and depending upon the timing of your cancellation you may fall into this category. The code also affords you to cancel a lease under these circumstances providing the lease was provided by the processor. All of this can be done with no penalty.

    Dale Degagne

    Hey Shannon, have you reviewed Elavon in Canada? Or does it really make a difference?

    On Tom’s review of Elavon, he quoted flat rate pricing, but just yesterday I received an interchange plus quote of 0.25% (virtual or swiped) + $0.05. They also quoted a $26 monthly package fee (including PCI) and a $150 set up fee.

    Am I missing something with Elavon? Because that seems like a pretty good deal compared to Helcim’s pricing (0.36% virtual + $0.25)

    Tom DeSimone

    Hi Dale,

    There are some differences between the service Elavon provides in Canada versus the US, but our Elavon review combines both.

    There’s nothing wrong with Elavon as a whole. They can, and sometimes do, provide fair rate quotes and contract terms. The trouble is that they are somewhat inconsistent, with some representatives giving better deals than others. That’s why we generally recommend Helcim instead. Helcim gives everyone the same fair treatment.

    That interchange-plus quote sounds fair, but the transaction fee looks suspiciously low. Be sure to ask if the AVS fee (address verification) is included in that. For card-not-present transactions, the AVS fee will be charged every time. This fee is included in the Helcim transaction fee.

    I can’t say one way or another if the terms you were given by Elavon are fair overall. I’d have to look at the contract and fees page. My suggestion would be to take the quote that Elavon gave you can show it to Helcim and ask for them to match it or beat it. In all likelihood, they will.

    Good luck!

    Mark S

    Hi Tom, I am busy wading through all the evaluations of Merchant CC processors and find little quality comparison of Canadian Merchant Service Providers. I have used Paymentech for about 6 years without a single complaint, I moved to TD Merchant services because we have our commercial accounts there and since 2009 have not had a single bad moment. We have a virtual zero charge back history and do approx. $550,000.00 per year in CC business. I have had a presentation by a reseller of Evalon who is used by Costco and there are showing savings to me of approx. 20%. I have not seen their contract yet. In investigating I find HELCIM comes up as highly rated and has a Calgary Canada office approx. 120 miles from my location. Apart from the Premium card charges, that are killing us,( it bothers me that Merchants are paying for all the winter holidays and air flights “earned” by Cardholders through the elevated fees and the public does not generally know this) we are very happy with TD. Excellent service. It would be nice to see some genuine third party reviews of strictly Canadian Merchant suppliers.

    Hedi Gossweiler

    Thanks for the info. I would like to know where you put TD Bank merchant services.

    Tom DeSimone

    Hi Hedi,

    We haven’t reviewed that company in-depth, but in general going directly through a consumer bank brand does not yield the best contracts. Again, not sure about TD Bank, but that’s my overall experience.

    Hedi

    Hi Simone

    Thanks for your response.
    I was with TD and was wondering how it is compared. We got good service over the years but they are very expensive.
    One year ago I switched or got tricked to First Data, through Quantum…. the worst experience ever! They promised one year free rent on the unit. I also use a Wireless unit for trade-shows, it constantly didn’t work, lost a lot of money plus there are always charges I don’t understand.
    I read trough you reviews and will sign up with Helcim, they seem to be a good way to go plus they are Canadian.

    Tom DeSimone

    Helcim is a very reliable option. I’ve sent dozen of Canadian merchants over there and have heard only good experiences. They offer a very good standard contract and rates. Let us know how it goes!

    Hedi Gossweiler

    Hello again

    I switched to Helcim and am very happy with the service. The statements are clear, no hidden fees. I had to call them on a charge and they took care of it right away. I am using for a side business a seasonal unit. The charge there compared to the one before is very reasonable. The only drawback with Helcim is, they only answer the phone during office hours. I can call Evalon anytime but the wait can be long. So far I didn’t have any problems.
    As to First Data, to stop the bleeding I blocked my account so they can’t take out money anymore. I had a few phone calls from collection agencies, I explained to them how I was treaded, that stopped. I got few nasty letters threatening with court and a lot of charges, those I ignored. I haven’t heard anything in the last few weeks, I hope they gave up.
    So all in all Helcim is a good solution and my life is back to normal.
    By the way I have three units sitting here, two are wireless one hasn’t even been activated. They are all chip equipped, is there a place I can sell them?

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