The Best (and Worst) Canadian Merchant Account Providers
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.
Table of Contents
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.
- 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
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.
- 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
- 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.
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.
- 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
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!