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- Date Established
- King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
- Powerful CardPointe integrated payments platform
- Interchange-plus pricing available
- Contract length as long as five years
- Early termination fee as high as $750
- Extensive use of independent sales agents
- Reputation for poor customer service
CardConnect is a merchant services provider headquartered in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. The company originally started in 2006 as Financial Transaction Services. In 2013, it re-branded as CardConnect and moved its headquarters from Cleveland, Ohio, to Pennsylvania. With the new name and new home came a shift in emphasis from merchant accounts to payment gateways and other tech-focused business products. CardConnect wants you to think of it as a tech company rather than a financial services business. However, in reality, it’s much more focused on the latter.
When the company primarily provided business software services, it partnered with Fiserv (formerly known as First Data), the largest direct processor in the United States, to offer merchant accounts as part of its lineup. First Data went on to acquire CardConnect in 2017. In January 2019, CardConnect acquired Ignite Payments, another First Data subsidiary, making it the largest of First Data’s many independent sales networks. In October 2019, First Data itself was acquired by Fiserv, a major financial services company. The First Data/Fiserv merger is expected to take many years to fully complete. Today, CardConnect serves over 67,000 merchants globally, including numerous Fortune 500 businesses. High-profile clients include Adobe, The New York Times, and General Electric.
In earlier reviews, we’ve discussed the fact that it’s sometimes hard to tell whether CardConnect is primarily a payment gateway provider or a merchant account provider. With the acquisition of Ignite Payments, this confusion has (mostly) been eliminated, and the company now provides a complete lineup of all the merchant services you’ll need to run a retail or eCommerce business. However, most of the specific disclosures you’ll find on CardConnect’s website relate to software-based services. Details about merchant accounts — pricing disclosures in particular — are almost nonexistent. This isn’t all that unusual, as most merchant account providers disclose little or no information about processing rates, account fees, or contract terms on their sites. Nonetheless, it’s still disappointing in an age where truly tech-focused providers, such as Square (see our review), offer complete transparency on what their services will cost you.
So will CardConnect be a good fit for you if you’re a small business owner? Well,…maybe, and maybe not. There certainly are advantages to being able to plug into the vast resources of a major processor such as Fiserv. However, as a small business, you’re not likely to get the low interchange-plus rates that are offered to really big businesses that have very high processing volumes. You’ll also be stuck with various monthly and annual account fees that are an insignificant expense to a large business but can really add up for a smaller one. Lastly, accounts with CardConnect can have terms for as long as five years — much longer than the industry average of three years. The company also sometimes imposes a shockingly high early termination fee of $750. While this isn’t always strictly enforced, it’s still much higher than the industry average.
Although these terms don’t apply to everyone who signs up for CardConnect, the fact that they’re imposed at all results in the company receiving an overall score of 3 out of 5 stars. This is unfortunate because CardConnect’s payment gateway, virtual terminal, and mobile payments products are all high-quality offerings that we have no problem recommending. If you’re able to negotiate a contract that includes interchange-plus pricing, month-to-month billing, and no early termination fee, CardConnect can offer you solid, high-quality service. If you can’t get these terms, however, you might want to look elsewhere. Check out our Merchant Account Comparison Chart for a side-by-side comparison of our top-rated providers.
Table of Contents
CardConnect Review Summary
CardConnect is a merchant services provider and major ISO of First Data (now Fiserv). The company offers a full range of high-quality products and services (including an excellent integrated payments platform). However, lengthy contracts, high termination fees, and inadequate pricing transparency make it a poor choice for most small business owners.
Products & Services
Like most medium-sized merchant services providers, CardConnect offers a full range of products and services that enable your business to accept just about any kind of payment, whether you’re in retail, eCommerce, or both. Offerings include the following:
- Merchant Accounts: As we’ve noted, CardConnect is not a direct processor. However, its extremely close relationship with Fiserv should help to smooth out the kinds of problems that happen when merchants unexpectedly experience an account hold, freeze, or termination.
- Integrated Processing Platform: CardConnect’s primary product is CardPointe, a cloud-based payment processing and reporting system that combines the functions of a payment gateway and virtual terminal. CardPointe also integrates with traditional countertop terminals and mobile processing systems, so it’s not just for eCommerce merchants. With CardPointe, you can accept credit and debit card transactions as well as echeck (ACH) payments. CardPointe gives you 24/7 access to your account and features detailed transaction information, real-time reporting, PCI compliance features, support for recurring billing, product catalogs, and a customer database.
- Credit Card Terminals: CardConnect now offers the Ingenico Desk 3500 ($210) and Desk 5000 ($325) models for merchants needing a traditional countertop terminal. Both models feature a color display (the Desk 5000 has a color touchscreen) and support for EMV and NFC-based payment methods, such as Apple Pay. Built-in support for PIN debit transactions is coming soon. With the current COVID-19 pandemic pointing out the need for contactless payment methods in the retail sector, we highly recommend upgrading to an NFC-capable terminal as soon as possible, if you haven’t done so already.
- Virtual Terminal: While the CardPointe software can turn your laptop or desktop computer into a credit card processing machine, you’ll still need a compatible card reader for accepting card-present transactions. At $115, the IDTech SecuRED magstripe card reader is your simplest and least expensive option. For $160, the IDTech SREDKey reader adds a keypad, but it’s still magstripe-only. We highly recommend that you avoid these magstripe-only options and purchase an EMV-capable card reader to avoid possible liability for fraudulent transactions. To accept EMV cards, you’ll need the Ingenico iPP 320 ($310). For $360, the Ingenico iPP 350 adds a color display. If you want to go all out, you can spend $550 for the Ingenico iSC Touch 250, which includes a color touchscreen and digital signature capture capabilities. Several other card readers are available in the CardPointe Shop on CardConnect’s website.
- Mobile Payments: CardConnect’s mobile payment system uses the free CardPointe Mobile app (available for both iOS and Android) and a compatible mobile card reader. The company’s proprietary CardPointe Mobile Device is still available ($25), but it’s magstripe-only and requires a 3.5mm headphone jack to connect to your smartphone or tablet. We recommend the IDTech VP3300 instead, which connects via Bluetooth and is EMV-capable. Support for NFC-based payment methods is coming soon. The VP3300 is available for $99. Note that all transactions processed with the CardPointe Mobile system will automatically sync with your CardPointe desktop software.
- Point Of Sale (POS) Systems: CardConnect doesn’t sell POS hardware directly, but its system is compatible with Fiserv’s Clover line of products, including the Clover Station (see our review), Clover Mini (see our review), Clover Flex (see our review), and Clover Go (see our review) models.
- eCheck (ACH) Processing: CardConnect’s gateway is capable of processing ACH payments, but it’s not clear whether this is a baked-in feature or an option you’ll have to pay extra for if you need it.
- Hosted Payment Pages: CardPointe HPP allows you to set up a secure, hosted page for online payments or donations. It’s customizable and doesn’t require any programming to configure. It’s also free to CardPointe users.
- Third-Party Integrations: The CardPointe platform can integrate with hundreds of third-party business services, including online shopping carts, point of sale (POS) systems, and accounting software.
- Security Features: CardConnect has recently introduced Bolt, a proprietary software-based suite of security features. Bolt utilizes point-to-point encryption (P2PE) and tokenization to secure transactions. It also includes data breach protection and other features to reduce the scope of your PCI-DSS compliance requirements.
- Developer Tools: CardConnect also offers several APIs and developer tools that allow you to customize the integration between your website and the company’s gateway. You can also integrate third-party applications using these tools.
- CoPilot: This is CardConnect’s web-based, paperless account application service. It’s used by the company’s sales agents to set customers up with new merchant accounts faster and with less hassle than the old, paper-based system. While it’s certainly convenient, it also makes it much easier to sign merchants up before they’ve had a chance to review their contract documents thoroughly. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into signing up for an account until you’ve taken the time to read your entire contract!
Fees & Rates
CardConnect’s website doesn’t disclose any information about processing rates, account fees, or contract terms. For that matter, it barely discusses merchant accounts at all. What this means for you is that its pricing is highly variable and will differ from one merchant to another. The only guarantee is that your account will be underwritten by Fiserv.
The company apparently offers a variety of both tiered and interchange-plus pricing plans. We highly recommend that you ask for an interchange-plus pricing plan, as your overall costs will usually be lower, and you’ll have complete transparency on the markup you’re paying to CardConnect. Be aware that interchange-plus pricing may not be offered to you if you’re a startup or in the high-risk category. Also, be mindful of the fact that most sales agents will try to put you into a pricey tiered plan if you don’t specifically ask for interchange-plus.
Like processing rates, CardConnect’s fee structure is also highly variable. You won’t be charged an account setup fee, which is a good thing, as we consider this to be a “junk” fee in most cases. There’s also no annual fee or reprogramming fee if you already have your own terminal. Beyond that, it depends on your needs and what your sales agent includes in your contract. Here are the most common fees you’ll probably have to pay:
- $9.95 monthly account fee
- $10.00 monthly wireless data fee (this only applies if you have a wireless terminal)
- $8.25 monthly PCI compliance fee
- $19.95 monthly PCI non-compliance fee
- $10.00 monthly gateway fee
- $5.00 monthly statement fee
- $20.00 monthly minimum
- $25.00 per occurrence chargeback fee
Most of these fees are in line with industry averages. I’m happy to see that PCI compliance is billed monthly, rather than charging you the full $99 once a year with no proration the way most processors do. At the same time, there are plenty of reputable processors out there that don’t charge anything for PCI compliance. The PCI non-compliance fee is something of a “junk” fee as well, as it’s just a penalty imposed if your account is out of compliance due to inaction on your part. The company isn’t providing any service to get you back into compliance with this fee. And yes, you will be charged both PCI compliance and PCI non-compliance fees at the same time if your account is out of compliance! Remember, these are only the most common and most significant fees. You can also expect to pay for such things as voice authorizations, use of the Address Verification Service (AVS), batch fees, and other items.
Contract Length & Early Termination Fee
Much like its processing rates and account fees, CardConnect’s contract terms are all over the map. Depending on the nature of your business and your processing history, you might have a contract term of anywhere from two to five years. Or you might not have a fixed-length term at all, with month-to-month billing and no penalty for closing your account.
It’s good to see that CardConnect is willing to offer month-to-month contracts for at least some of its merchants, but I’d like to see the company extend these terms to everyone. We haven’t been able to track down a copy of the company’s terms and conditions, but it appears that month-to-month billing is not written into the standard contract terms. Instead, CardConnect will waive the fixed-length term and early termination fee (ETF) for merchants who qualify. This practice can lead to some serious miscommunications, and we’ve seen several complaints where the merchant was assured by their sales agent that they were on a month-to-month contract, only to be charged an expensive early termination fee when they tried to close their account. If you are offered these terms, get it in writing and keep copies of documentation, so you can prove it if a problem like this comes up later.
CardConnect also occasionally offers new merchants free processing equipment when they sign up for an account. While this might save you a few hundred dollars, and it might seem like a good deal if you only need one terminal, there’s a catch. Unlike some processors who charge you for your “free” terminal through additional account fees, CardConnect instead recoups the cost of the free equipment by locking you into a long-term contract. In other words, you can have a month-to-month contract or a free terminal, but not both. If you’re presented with this choice, we highly recommend that you take the month-to-month contract and buy a terminal. Being stuck in a five-year contract will cost you much more in the long run than the purchase of a terminal. For that matter, the early termination fee alone will cost several times more than most terminals.
If your contract has a fixed length, you’ll also have to deal with an early termination fee (ETF) if you close your account before the term expires. We’ve found numerous reports from merchants indicating that CardConnect’s ETF is as high as an eye-popping $750. This is well above the industry average of $300-$500. For that matter, there are plenty of other providers out there who don’t charge an early termination fee at all. While we’ve seen instances where the company was willing to waive the ETF or accept a lower amount as a compromise, the best way to protect yourself is to follow the instructions provided in your contract for closing your account to the letter. If you do everything correctly, you shouldn’t have to pay an ETF at all.
Sales & Advertising Transparency
In past review updates, we’ve criticized CardConnect’s website for being sparse and lacking useful information for prospective clients. The newest version of the site has been improved and now offers quite a bit more information about the company’s products and services. Unfortunately, you still won’t find any disclosures regarding processing rates, account fees, or contract terms. Developers will be impressed with the CardConnect Developer Center, which contains a robust library of APIs for integrating CardConnect’s services with your website. The site now includes links to documentation for both the CardPointe integrated payments platform and supported hardware. However, there still isn’t a comprehensive knowledgebase for customers who are trying to diagnose a problem with their merchant account.
CardConnect relies on a combination of in-house sales staff and independent sales agents to market its products and set up accounts. The use of independent agents — a common practice in the processing industry — has led to numerous problems due to their poor training and inadequate supervision. CardConnect is no exception, as we’ve found many complaints about dishonest and unethical behavior on the part of agents desperately trying to sell an account. One complaint even alleged that the agent went so far as to forge the merchant’s signature on contract documents to make a sale. Needless to say, we recommend that you work with the in-house sales team, if at all possible, when negotiating a contract for a merchant account.
The company also has a very active presence on social media, with accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and even Instagram. CardConnect’s YouTube channel contains marketing videos and very cursory tutorials but no testimonials from happy clients.
Customer Service & Technical Support
CardConnect offers 24/7 telephone support and appears to handle this function in-house. You can also contact them through email. While having customer support available around the clock is highly desirable, it won’t do you much good if the quality of that support is lacking. CardConnect’s customer support has generated both praise and criticism from merchants online, with some customers being very happy with the quality and professionalism of the company’s staff. In contrast, others have encountered rude and unhelpful support representatives. The overall quality of CardConnect’s support is inconsistent at best, and your experience will depend on who happens to pick up the phone when you call in.
The company now has a CardConnect Support Center on its website that functions as a rudimentary knowledgebase. It’s a handy resource for new customers who want a little extra help in setting up their equipment and software services. However, except for the API Gateway documentation, it doesn’t go very deep into most subjects and will probably be of little use if you encounter a technical problem.
Negative Reviews & Complaints
Despite being in business for 13 years, CardConnect only became accredited by the BBB in February 2019. The company has a B+ rating, with 55 complaints within the last three years and 23 complaints within the last 12 months. These numbers are more than double what they were at the time of our last review update, possibly indicating that some systemic problems are occurring with the company’s services and customer support. CardConnect’s complaint volume has notably surged upward since the company’s acquisition by Fiserv and its merger with Ignite Payments. We attribute this to the fact that merchant account issues tend to generate more complaints than the kinds of technical problems the company would have encountered when it was mostly focused on providing business software services. There are no complaints against CardConnect on Ripoff Report, and user reviews are not allowed on the company’s Facebook page.
Examination of the complaints filed against CardConnect reveals several consistent trends, including the following issues:
- Difficulty Canceling Account: This was, far and away, the most common complaint from merchants. Most providers go out of their way to make it as difficult as possible to close your account, with lengthy notice periods, written forms to fill out, and automatic renewal clauses that renew your account for another year (or longer) if you don’t complete the process in time. Merchants also share some of the blame, however, as many don’t take the time to read their contracts and understand what’s required of them if they want to close their account. If you decide to cancel your account, study your contract carefully, follow the instructions to the letter, and get everything in writing. It also helps to provide more notice than the minimum required.
- Expensive Early Termination Fee (ETF): Unless you’re billed month-to-month, CardConnect will charge you an early termination fee of up to $750 for breaching your contract. This often catches merchants by surprise, especially if their sales agent falsely reassured them that they wouldn’t have an ETF in their contract. Fortunately, CardConnect seems to be willing to waive the ETF entirely in many cases.
- Dishonest Independent Sales Agents: We discussed this issue above, but there are a lot of complaints from merchants about independent sales agents who failed to disclose important terms of their contracts or outright lied about those terms. Unfortunately, it’s never a good idea to trust any sales agent at their word. Read your contract and confirm all important terms before you sign up.
- Poor Customer Service: Most of the complaints about rude or unhelpful customer service representatives came from merchants who were trying to close their accounts. At the same time, merchants had much more positive things to say about customer service when they were just trying to solve technical issues. To me, this indicates a problematic corporate culture that only values its customers as long as they’re still on the hook every month for fees and processing charges.
- Rigid Enforcement Of Contract Terms During The COVID-19 Pandemic: This is a very new (and, hopefully, temporary) issue, but we’re beginning to receive complaints from merchants that CardConnect is continuing to collect monthly account fees, including monthly minimums, from merchants whose businesses have been seriously impacted (or even shut down) due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. This is an utterly reprehensible course of action for CardConnect to pursue, as it essentially takes money out of the pockets of business owners whose cash flow has dried up to avoid the inevitable impact the economic downturn will have on the company’s bottom line. If you find yourself in this situation, do not hesitate to file a complaint with the BBB if you don’t get satisfaction from your provider’s customer service department. Also, be sure to tell us about your experience in the Comments section below.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
CardConnect likes to name-drop some of its larger Fortune 500 clients on its website but doesn’t provide any testimonials from them. For that matter, it doesn’t offer testimonials from any of its clients, either on its website or its social media accounts. This isn’t necessarily such a bad thing, as company-produced testimonials tend to be scripted and are less than convincing in many cases. Nonetheless, it would be nice to see some positive feedback about the company and its services. If you’ve had a good experience with CardConnect, please tell us what you liked about them in the Comments section below.
It’s not hard to see why a company such as CardConnect would want to project an image as an innovative, tech-focused company rather than one of being just another traditional financial services firm. Its CardPointe integrated payment processing platform is a strong, reliable product for both eCommerce merchants and retailers. However, you can’t use these services without a merchant account through Fiserv, and the terms of its merchant account contracts aren’t always the best. While the company doesn’t specialize in setting up high-risk accounts or even advertise their availability, I suspect that many of the merchants who’ve been saddled with five-year contracts and a $750 early termination fee were in the high-risk category.
There are some things to like about CardConnect. I’m impressed that the company is willing to sell credit card terminals for a fair price rather than leasing them to unsuspecting merchants for far more money than they’re worth. I also like the CardPointe integrated payments platform, although it’s not as unique as it once was now that most major merchant services providers are rolling out their own similar platforms. The CardPointe gateway is a solid product with all the essential security features you need to keep your account (and your customers’ data) safe. The availability of interchange-plus pricing is also a very good feature.
That said, CardConnect clearly isn’t a good deal for everyone. Five years is a significantly longer time to be stuck in a contract than most providers require, and having a $750 early termination fee hanging over your head makes it even worse. These terms alone are reason enough to skip them in favor of a more reasonable provider.
When you add everything together, CardConnect only scores a mediocre 3 out of 5 stars overall. With so much variation in its contract terms, however, this is just an averaged-out rating between the best terms you can hope for and the worst ones you might be stuck with. If you can negotiate a month-to-month contract with no early termination fee and interchange-plus pricing, the company performs on par with a 4-star provider. On the other hand, if you’re stuck with a five-year contract, a $750 early termination fee, and a tiered pricing plan, it’s a 2-star provider at best.
As always, we recommend that you negotiate aggressively for the best terms you can get. At the same time, you’ll need to be realistic. A brand-new business with no processing history is not going to get the most favorable terms from CardConnect. If you’d prefer to see what the best processors in the industry have to offer instead, take a look at our Merchant Account Comparison Chart.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.