Central Payment (CPAY) Review
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- Date Established
- San Rafael, CA
In 2000, identical twin brothers Zachary and Matthew Hyman founded California’s CardPayment Solutions, Inc. (not to be confused with Indiana’s Card Payment Solutions). CPS grew quickly, and the brothers sold it to iPayment soon after for $18 million. As soon as their non-competition agreement with iPayment expired, Zachary and Matthew were back in the industry, forming Central Payment (CPAY) in 2005, based out of San Rafael, California.
Since then, they’ve managed to land on Inc. Magazine’s list of the 5000 fastest-growing US-based companies every year since 2010, when they ranked their best at #309. That’s great news, since it means they’re succeeding as a business. CPAY currently processes over $10 billion per year from over 65,000 merchants. We just have to hope they don’t end up sacrificing service for revenue growth.
In August of 2012, CPAY sold 60% of the company to TSYS Merchant Services, opening a “joint venture” between the two companies. TSYS later increased its stake in the company to 75% in 2014. So TSYS processes the payments, while CPAY remains largely in control of their brand and sales practices.
The Central Payment website is very professional looking and visually appealing. Unfortunately, the site’s actual content is quite sparse. While there are a few educational resources available and brief descriptions of the company’s products and services, there’s no mention whatsoever of either actual rates and fees or contract terms. In other words, the kind of specific information that you, as a prospective client, would definitely want to know before signing up is not revealed at all. Overall, CPAY’s website is a nice-to-look-at advertisement for the company’s services, but it’s not a useful educational resource for either current or potential customers. You’ll have to talk to a sales agent to get any of the information that you really need. CPAY really should consider following the growing trend in the credit card processing industry by including more of this information right on their website where potential customers can see it, like our recommended processors do.
Website design aside, I do in fact like their products and services. The proprietary and affiliate software and products they offer have a super-clean, contemporary aesthetic alongside quality features. I think their SpotOn digital marketing and loyalty software is actually pretty unique.
While I can’t give CPAY a glowing recommendation, I have no reason to tell you to avoid them, either. Many of their customers have great things to say about the customer service they experience, and most seem to find their rates acceptable. In many cases you can negotiate the early termination fee and contract length to suit your resources.
Overall, Central Payment rates as a slightly-above-average merchant account provider, and earns a decent 3.5 out of 5 stars. While they offer a solid line of products and services, their use of independent sales agents, lack of transparency regarding fees and rates, and high complaint volume from merchants puts a serious dent in their overall score. All of these problems are, unfortunately, quite common in the merchant accounts industry.
Check out the full Central Payment review for all the finer details about CPAY, or try out our merchant account finder to find the best payment processor for your specific needs.
Products and Services:
When you look at CPAY’s products and services as a small merchant, it’s kind of a relief. Instead of being bombarded by dozens of solutions for every industry conceivable, you’ll find just a handful of essential products and services, all geared for a direct-to-consumer approach. They have a nice collection of proprietary software and affiliate relationships featuring really clean, contemporary design and functionality. CPAY offers:
- Merchant accounts: Basic merchant accounts are the foundation of CPAY’s offerings to business customers. Remember that CPAY uses TSYS, their parent company, as their processor.
- Terminal leasing/sales: Offerings include the Verifone VX 520 and Verifone VX 680 for wireless processing, both of which are EMV-compliant and also support Apple Pay and Android Pay. Perhaps an underwhelming selection, but I actually like this. That said, we don’t recommend that you lease, and I encourage you to shop around before you buy. If you insist on getting your terminal(s) from CPAY, your sales agent might be able to offer you a choice of additional models that aren’t featured on their website.
- Payment gateway/virtual terminal: For eCommerce merchants, CPAY offers a choice of two third-party payment gateways: PayHub and Authorize.Net. Either one is a solid choice.
- POS software: Again CPAY offers two choices: the company’s proprietary CPAY Point of Sale system, and the third-party RiO POS system. While the CPAY POS system is specifically designed for restaurants, the RiO is more of a general-purpose product.
- Mobile processing: Central Payment now offers CPAY Mobile, a mobile processing solution that allows you to accept payments through your tablet or smartphone. They’ll provide a free card reader that connects to your smart device via the 3.5mm headphone jack and uses an iOS or Android app (also free) to interface with the card reader. While it’s not a novel service, it’s still nice to see it offered.
- Rewards/marketing software: This is a pretty unique service for a processor to offer. Called SpotOn, it’s basically an expanded digital loyalty program that you can track through a dedicated tablet. The software has the same polished appearance CPAY offers elsewhere, and overall it looks nice. Check it out here.
Fees and Rates:
You won’t find any information about processing rates on Central Payment’s site. In fact, you’ll find very little information about credit card processing at all. CPAY’s Merchant Support page offers a (very) small selection of educational articles, but that’s about it. One of the reasons for this is that CPAY, like many other merchant account providers offers a mix of both tiered and interchange-plus pricing plans. Tiered pricing plans are generally more expensive, and your sales agent will usually try to sign you up for one – often without mentioning that you have other options available. Be sure to ask for interchange-plus pricing in your negotiations with your sales agent. Unless you’re just starting out in business or fall into the high-risk category, you’ll probably be able to get it.
There also isn’t any information about fees on CPAY’s site, but that’s not because they don’t charge any. Of course they do! While all merchant account providers charge fees, the better ones disclose them on their websites, so you can see what you’ll be paying before you negotiate with an agent for a new account. Sales agents are also supposed to fully disclose them during the negotiation process, but often don’t. Regardless of how thorough your sales agent seems to be in disclosing fee information, you absolutely MUST read your entire contract thoroughly before signing it!
Here’s what you can expect to pay in fees for a CPAY merchant account:
- Account setup fee. CPAY’s standard contract still includes a $195.00 account setup fee, but most agents apparently will waive it if you ask them to. We consider account setup fees – especially exorbitantly high ones like this – to be “junk” fees, and most processors have phased them out entirely. Definitely ask for this fee to be waived!
- Statement fee. This will run you $9.50 per month, which is a little higher than the industry average.
- Monthly minimum. This is currently set at $25.00 per month, meaning you’ll have to process a sufficient volume of transactions in order to meet it. While large businesses usually don’t have to worry about this, smaller businesses should ask to have it lowered or waived altogether.
- Equipment warranty fee. Currently $8.95 per month, this fee appears to add little value to the services you receive. You’ll still have to pay it even if you buy your terminals from CPAY, and if you lease them, you’ll also be paying a lease fee on top of this.
- PCI Compliance fee. If you’re PCI DSS compliant, you’ll still have to pay $45.00 per year for this. If you’re not compliant, the PCI Compliance fee jumps to $75.00 per year, plus you’ll also be charged an additional $15.95 per month as a PCI Non-compliance fee. While these fees are lower than the industry average, you’ll definitely want to make sure your account remains PCI compliant.
- Early termination fee. CPAY still has a prorated early termination fee in their standard contracts, but apparently they’ll waive it entirely – if you ask.
There are also a number of per-occurrence fees, such as fees for chargebacks (currently $25.00 each). Overall, CPAY’s standard fees are close to or slightly higher than the industry average. However, with some skillful negotiation, you can eliminate some of the more outrageous fees and bring your costs down to a reasonable level. If you need negotiation tips, check out our comprehensive merchant account negotiation guide.
Contract Length and Early Termination Fee:
CPAY’s standard contract runs for a term of three years, with an automatic renewal clause that renews the contract for one year periods thereafter. Unlike most merchant account providers that still charge an early termination fee (ETF), CPAY offers a prorated ETF. Terms are as follows: If you close your account within the first year, the ETF is $550.00. In the second year, the ETF is $375.00, and in the third year it’s $300.00.
We don’t like early termination fees, and there is a growing trend within the industry to do away with them and offer month-to-month contracts. Fortunately, it appears that CPAY will waive both the ETF and the three-year contract term if you request it. If you’re negotiating a new contract, be sure to have this waived before you sign up. If you’re a current CPAY customer, you might want to see if this term is still on your contract. If it is, you should re-negotiate your contract to have this term removed.
Sales and Advertising Transparency:
Because CPAY provides no information whatsoever regarding the costs you’ll incur when you sign up with them on their website, I have to rate them very low in the area of transparency. Since they’re now offering month-to-month contracts, it would be nice if they would at least disclose this feature on their site. At the same time, CPAY doesn’t use many of the misleading sales gimmicks that a lot of other providers do, so that’s a plus.
CPAY does have a problem with the quality of service provided by its independent sales agents, and this is apparent from the sheer volume of complaints from merchants alleging that their agent either misled them, failed to disclose an important contract term, or outright lied to them. While this is a common problem in the processing industry, I’d really like to see the company either improve the training and supervision of its independent agents or switch to an in-house sales team.
Customer Service and Technical Support:
CPAY offers telephone support on a 24/7 basis, and also email support. Chat support is currently not available through their website. While in theory 24/7 telephone support should be the best available, in actual practice it often falls short. Based on numerous complaints from merchants, it appears that CPAY’s customer service reps have little or no training in actually solving issues related to merchant accounts or credit card processing. Instead, they mostly serve to connect you to your original sales agent – who may or may not be available. While having your sales agent function as your dedicated account representative should translate into better service, it often doesn’t work out that way. With the high turnover rate among independent sales agents, your agent might not even still be working for the company when you call in with an important problem.
Although poor customer service is a common problem plaguing the merchant accounts industry, CPAY needs to take some positive steps to improve in this area. Customer service representatives need to be better trained, and the company really should transition to a more stable, better-trained in-house sales staff.
Negative Reviews and Complaints:
Central Payment has been accredited by the BBB since 2006, and currently has an A+ rating. Don’t be fooled by this high rating, as the company has had a steadily increasing volume of complaints over our last two review updates, and currently has 183 complaints filed within the past three years. This is an increase from our last update, when they had 160 complaints within the same time period.
Of those complaints, 73 were filed within the past twelve months, representing a significant increase from the 44 complaints filed within the same time frame at our last update. While it’s true that CPAY is a fairly large processor and is naturally going to receive its fair share of dissatisfied customers, the volume of complaints is still disturbingly high. Unfortunately, details of the individual complaints are not available on their BBB profile. It’s significant that only 41 out of the 183 current complaints were resolved to the merchant’s satisfaction. That’s not a very good batting average.
CPAY also has 5 complaints on Ripoff Report, which is a pretty small amount compared to their BBB profile. Most of the complaints center on issues like unexplained account holds and terminations, difficulty closing accounts, and CPAY continuing to charge merchant’s bank accounts for months after their accounts were closed. Unfortunately, these are all very common issues throughout the processing industry.
Between their responses posted on Ripoff Report and the number of resolved complaints with the BBB, it’s apparent that CPAY does take the time to respond to complaints, although not always successfully. Some of the most common complaints made against Central Payment include:
- PCI compliance fee/non-compliance penalty: While processors aren’t required to charge you for PCI compliance, most of them do. CPAY’s annual fee of $45.00 (or $75.00 if you’re non-compliant) is actually pretty reasonable. The industry average is closer to $99.00 per year or more – whether you’re compliant or not. Nonetheless, charging $15.95 per month for PCI non-compliance is simply a “junk” penalty fee. The best way to make sure you avoid this is to always stay compliant, which is easy enough. Still, I think sales reps need to cover PCI compliance and related fees in-depth during sales talks. Not doing so leads to very unhappy customers.
- Bad leasing contracts: In almost all cases, leasing terminals won’t make sense for you. Leases through Northern Leasing are especially bad, and that seems to be one of the companies CPAY partners with. Please read this article before leasing a terminal! Also note that your “free” terminal isn’t really free – there’s an $8.95 per month “equipment warranty fee” that comes with it. Regardless of whether you buy your own terminals or get them from CPAY, be sure to thoroughly read all of your contract documents before you sign up.
- Difficultly getting support from independent agents: Designating your sales agent as your dedicated account representative after you sign up is a great idea – in theory. Your agent knows you and is more aware of your business’ specific needs than a random customer service representative. However, it doesn’t always work so well in the real world. Problem #1 is that, with the high turnover among independent sales agents, your agent might not be working for the company anymore by the time you have an issue that needs to be resolved. Problem #2 is that when your agent has to take time out of his or her day to help you with a problem, that takes away time that could be spent making more sales calls (and therefore making more money). As a result, there are numerous complaints from merchants about being blatantly ignored by their sales agents after they’ve signed up for an account. If this happens to you, your best bet is to call the CPAY corporate office directly for help. If the problem persists, request a new point of contact for your merchant account.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
Central Payment has five really professional testimonials on their website. You’ll find fourteen others here that are not as polished and are all over five years old at this point, but actually seem more authentic to me. I really liked seeing all of these video-based reviews, and also liked the questions the interviewers asked, including:
- What else could we do to better serve you?
- Do you hear from our competitors?
This gives CPAY the opportunity to show that their customers really are satisfied– and satisfied enough to stay with them despite hearing from competitors on an almost daily basis.
Merchants seem to really appreciate the customer service and overall value offered by Central Payment. While some merchants in the testimonials allude to the fact they’ve been offered better rates elsewhere, they all seem to believe they’d rather pay a few basis points more to get the reliability and service CPAY offers. As a reviewer, I really liked hearing this.
They also have over 11,000 likes on their very active Facebook page. While I know there is more than one way to get Facebook likes, I’m still impressed by this considering they serve over 65,000 merchants.
Final Verdict on Central Payment (CPAY):
All things considered, I like Central Payment more than I dislike them. They offer solid products, solid service, and merchant testimonials indicate that their rates are very competitive. They’re moving in the right direction with proprietary software like SpotOn, but CPAY hasn’t quite sold me on their tech-savvy identity. If you decide to check out CPAY after reading this review, definitely make yourself familiar with our comprehensive merchant account fee guide and our negotiation guide. You might need them.
At the same time, I really wish they would disclose more specific information about account fees and contract terms on their site. This lack of advertising transparency lowered their score, especially now that so many of their competitors are listing their fees right on their websites.
CPAY’s score was also lowered due to their continued use of independent sales agents – and all of the associated problems that arise with this practice. A relatively high complaint volume also weighed against them, as it’s an indication that a significant number of their customers are not having a positive experience with the company.
Overall, CPAY rates 3.5 out of 5 stars for now. Now that they’re partnered with TSYS, they should have the financial backing and technical support needed to improve their service and get a higher score in a future review update.
If you’d like to see what the true 5-star merchant account providers have to offer, check out our merchant account comparison chart. For an overview of the best providers for small businesses, check out this article.