High-Risk Merchant Account Ratings Criteria
A reputable, affordable merchant account is necessary to run a successful business, but not every business owner is able to take advantage of normal payment processing services. Companies that operate in industries categorized as high-risk often have trouble getting approved for accounts with traditional credit card processors.
Because high-risk businesses are at a disadvantage already when choosing from payment processing providers, we treat our ratings and recommendations seriously, following a precise methodology. It’s important not to compare apples to oranges when rating high-risk providers. High-risk processors must spend more time finding banks willing to work with their high-risk clients and ultimately take on a higher liability. For these reasons, rates and services that would be considered sub-par for less risky businesses may be excellent for businesses in the high-risk sector.
High-Risk Merchant Account Ratings Methodology
Here are just some of the reasons readers can trust the Merchant Maverick rating system:
- Merchant Maverick has been reviewing both traditional and high-risk payment processors since 2009.
- Over the years, we’ve evaluated over 150 merchant account providers and credit card processors.
- Each review involves 10-15 hours of initial research, followed by 5-10 hours of research for each review update.
- We update our payment processing reviews at least every 12 months, though most reviews are updated twice a year, and a few of the platforms most popular with our readers receive quarterly updates.
While we research and compare many different systems, the reviews displayed on the site have been handpicked based on metrics like overall popularity, reputation, rates, and quality. The goal is to provide the most actionable and accurate information to our readers, so while we love to recommend great products, we don’t shy away from pointing out the areas where popular providers fall short.
Our expert writers conduct independent research and testing for each high-risk merchant account review, evaluating cost, rates, availability of software and hardware, customer service, contract length, and more. When determining the star rating for a vendor, we score the following areas:
- Fees & Rates
- Products & Services
- Sales Advertising & Transparency
- Customer Support
- User Reviews
Each section’s score is weighted differently, with the highest weights going to Fees & Rates, Products & Services, and Contract features. The scores for each section are displayed openly in the review and then combined to create a holistic rating for the product out of 5 stars.
Read on for a more minute explanation of how we determine the individual section ratings.
Note: Our standard credit card processor rating methodology and mobile card reader methodology differ from the above.
Fees & Rates
25% of the total score
The Fees & Rates score is broken into two sections:
- Pricing (60% of the total section rating)
- Affordability (40% of the total section rating)
Both sections are broken down further, and our expert reviewer scores each payment processor on its pricing model (interchange plus, tiered, subscription-based, or hybrid), giving the most points to high-risk providers that offer interchange plus pricing or give the option to choose from several affordable options, and marking down providers that use a tiered pricing model exclusively. It’s important to remember that high-risk businesses will almost always be charged higher rates and fees than their low-risk counterparts. That said, we look carefully at pricing model transparency, the cost of various account fees, and the transparency of those extra costs, to evaluate whether providers are using above-board tactics or charging predatory, hidden fees above what’s standard and reasonable for high-risk businesses.
Products & Services
25% of the total score
The Products & Services score is initially broken into two sections:
- Software & Services (50% of the total section rating)
- Hardware & Equipment (50% of the total section rating)
When determining the score for the software and services section, we evaluate the breadth of the available software, its quality, and its overall usability. In the hardware section, our reviewer is looking at concrete costs and availability, and determining whether a business owner is allowed to source their own card readers and other hardware elements.
20% of the total score
The Contract score is comprised of two sections:
- Commitment (50% of the total section rating)
- Early Termination Fee & Other Fees (50% of the total section rating)
One of the most important elements we examine in this section is whether a long-term contract is required to use the high-risk merchant account. If so, the provider loses big points. We like to see options for month-to-month contract renewals instead. Then we examine the conditions of early termination, determining whether the ETFs are deceptive or misleading, and whether any other processing fees fall within high-risk industry standards both for cost and transparency.
Sales & Advertising Transparency
15% of the total score
This score also breaks down into two sections:
- Sales Practices (85% of the total score)
- Web Presence (15% of the total score)
Our reviewers pay very close attention to the style and ethics of each provider’s sales team, looking to see if they use shady, third-party telemarketers, and evaluating sales staff on knowledgeability and use of pressure tactics. High-risk merchants are easier prey to disreputable sales teams than their low-risk counterparts because they have fewer options to start with. We also examine the provider’s website to ensure that the products offered and terms of service are transparent, that the site is up-to-date and accurate, and that no misleading sales gimmicks are being used to lure people in.
10% of the total score
The Customer Service score is broken down into two sections.
- Personal Support (80% of the total section rating)
- Self-Service (20% of the total section rating)
When scoring customer service, we pay the most attention to the number of support options available (phone, email, in-person, etc.), the quality of personal support received, the training options available, and the usability and depth of any online training materials, such as wikis, videos, and webinars.
5% of the total score
The Customer Reviews score is comprised of two sections.
- User Feedback (30% of the total section rating)
- Review Site Aggregate (70% of the total section rating)
We scour the internet for user feedback on all the products we review, looking for positive and negative feedback. Merchant Maverick is not a user review platform, so for part of this total rating we rely on aggregate user scores from review sites such as GetApp, TrustPilot, the iTunes store, and more.