Central Payment (CPAY) Review
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- Date Established
- San Rafael, California
- Month-to-month billing with no long-term contract
- No early termination fee
- Processing equipment available for sale
- Interchange-plus pricing available
- Tiered pricing used as default pricing model
- Three-year contract required for free terminal
- High use of independent sales agents
- Poor customer service and support
Central Payment (CPAY) is a merchant services provider based in San Rafael, California. In 2000, identical twin brothers Zachary and Matthew Hyman founded California’s CardPayment Solutions, Inc. 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, the brothers were back in the industry, forming CPAY in 2005.
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 75,000 merchants.
In August of 2012, CPAY sold 60% of the company to TSYS Merchant Services (see our review), 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.
While the company’s initial growth rate appears to have leveled off, they’re continuing to improve the overall quality of their services. Month-to-month contracts with no early termination fee (ETF) are now standard, although you’ll still have to agree to a three-year contract if you want a “free” terminal included with your account. We’ve also noted a sharp downward trend in the number of complaints against the company, suggesting that their customer service is improving.
These are all positive signs for CPAY, but there are still problems that you should look out for if you’re thinking of signing up with them. The company offers both tiered and interchange-plus pricing, but appears to push the more expensive tiered pricing model unless you specifically ask for interchange-plus. Regardless of your processing volume or the length of time you’ve been in business, we highly recommend that you ask for interchange-plus pricing. You’ll save money and have a much more transparent view of where your processing charges are going. They also continue to rely heavily on independent sales agents, so it’s not surprising to see that a significant number of complaints against the company allege dishonest and unethical behavior on the part of these agents.
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 put a serious dent in their overall score. All these problems are, unfortunately, quite common in the processing 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.
Table of Contents
Products & 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 conceivable industry, 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 Merchant Services (see our review), their parent company, as their backend processor.
- Terminal sales: CPAY offers a small, but powerful line of credit card terminals, including the Verifone Vx 520 and wireless Verifone Vx 680, both of which are EMV-compliant and also support NFC-based payment methods such as Apple Pay and Google Pay. Pricing is not disclosed, but these terminals come with the TSYS software load already installed and should be good to go right out of the box. Terminals are available for purchase (pricing is not disclosed), or you can include a “free” terminal with your account in exchange for signing up for a standard three-year contract. We recommend buying your terminal, as you’ll have month-to-month billing and you’ll be able to take your terminal with you if you decide to switch processors. CPAY’s latest contract no longer includes a leasing option, which is a very positive improvement. We don’t recommend leasing under any circumstances.
- Payment gateway: For eCommerce merchants who need a payment gateway, CPAY will set you up with Authorize.Net (see our review). While they don’t disclose pricing, you’ll probably save money over signing up with Authorize.Net directly. In most cases, you’ll also avoid the need to change gateways if you later decide to switch to a different processor.
- Virtual terminal: If you need a virtual terminal to use your existing computer as a processing terminal, CPAY partners with PayHub to offer this service. You can input transactions manually or purchase a USB-connected card reader separately. The PayHub virtual terminal costs $5.00 per month. Retail merchants will also pay an additional $0.04 per transaction.
- POS software: For retailers, CPAY offers the RiO POS system. Options include the basic RiO terminal, the RiO Pro, or the RiO Restaurant models. The RiO Restaurant POS terminal requires a $70 monthly service fee. Pricing is not disclosed for the other options.
- Mobile processing: Like most providers these days, Central Payment offers a simple mobile processing system that’s similar to Square (see our review). CPAY Mobile allows you to accept payments through your existing tablet or smartphone. They 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. They’ve also just released the SwipeSimple Swift B200 EMV Card Reader, which accepts both EMV and magstripe cards. This reader connects via Bluetooth, so it will work with newer phones that don’t have a headphone jack.
- Rewards/marketing software: CPAY offers their RiO Connect system, which works with SpotOn and offers digital marketing, reputation control, and customer loyalty services. SpotOn works with a dedicated tablet and costs anywhere from $0.00 to $99.00 per month, depending on the number of customers you need to include.
Fees & 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 revealing 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 no longer includes a fixed account setup fee, but they’ve charged as much as $195.00 for this service in the past. Apparently, agents were free to waive the fee upon request, and so many were doing so that the company decided to drop it altogether. This doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed not to be charged this fee, however, so review your contract documents carefully and request a waiver if an agent tries to add it to your agreement. We consider account setup fees – especially exorbitantly high ones like this – to be “junk” fees, and CPAY is following a growing trend within the processing industry to do away with them.
- Statement fee: This fee used to be fixed at $9.50 per month, but now it’s apparently up to the agent’s discretion. With account statements now moving online, there’s no reason to have to pay this fee.
- 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 companies should ask to have it lowered or waived altogether.
- PCI Compliance fee: CPAY has recently raised their PCI compliance fee from $45.00 per year to $95.00 per year, regardless of whether you’re in compliance or not. If you’re not compliant, you’ll also be charged an additional $23.95 per month as a PCI Non-compliance fee. While these fees are in line with industry averages, you’ll definitely want to make sure your account remains PCI compliant. Note that you can now complete your PCI Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) on CPAY’s website.
- Card Compromise Assistance Plan fee: For accounts that are PCI compliant, this optional program adds $100,000 in data breach insurance and additional security features for $7.95 per month. For more details see the Card Compromise Assistance Plan page on CPAY’s website.
There are also several incidental 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 & Early Termination Fee
CPAY now offers month-to-month billing with no early termination fee (ETF) as a standard contract feature. In the past, however, their contracts ran for an initial term of three years and had an automatic renewal clause that extended the contract for one-year periods after that. They also included an ETF that was prorated based on the length of time remaining in your contract, and could be as high as $550. If you’ve been with CPAY for a long time, we recommend that you re-negotiate your contract to drop the automatic renewal clause and the ETF.
Note that, while month-to-month billing is a great feature, you’ll still have to provide 30 days’ notice if you want to close your account. You’ll probably be billed any monthly fees that come due during the 30-day period before your account actually closes. Also, you’ll still be under a three-year contract if you take advantage of CPAY’s “free” terminal offer, which includes a single credit card terminal with your account at no additional charge. The terms of this offer are spelled out in the company’s Application and Agreement:
The undersigned MERCHANT agrees to pay Shipping & Handling on the initial shipment of the designated FT equipment below. Upon request of termination of services prior to the completion of the 36 month equipment commitment, the undersigned MERCHANT agrees to return all provided equipment to Central Payment within thirty (30) days or will be subjected to the debit for the amount of $395 as cost of provided terminal and $200 for the cost of provided PINpad. Merchants using a FT wireless terminal will be subject to the monthly wireless fee as well as a $59 Annual Fee. Merchant is responsible for any local Sales or Use Tax on the cost of the equipment and will be debited separately once equipment is shipped.
As with any provider, we highly encourage you to review all contract documents very thoroughly before signing up for an account. Both the Merchant Application & Agreement and CPAY’s Terms and Conditions are available for your review on their website. Note that the Application does not list actual processing rates or some fees, as these are highly variable and subject to negotiation.
Sales & Advertising Transparency
The Central Payment website is very professional-looking and visually appealing. Unfortunately, the site’s primary content is quite sparse. There are a few educational resources available and brief descriptions of the company’s products and services, but you’ll really have to hunt around to find details such as the contract documents listed above. Processing rates are not disclosed, mainly because these are highly variable based on your monthly processing volume and other factors. CPAY also doesn’t prominently advertise its fee schedule, although you can find information on some fees from the contract documents listed above.
CPAY doesn’t use many of the misleading sales gimmicks that a lot of other providers do, which is commendable. They don’t offer teaser “rates as low as…” quotes that mislead you by only quoting the lowest possible rate. Their “free” terminal offer, while not prominently advertised on their site, can be a reasonably good deal if you don’t mind incurring a three-year commitment. However, you’re almost certainly better off buying your terminal outright and keeping the flexibility of month-to-month billing.
The company does have a problem with the quality of service provided by some of 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 & Technical Support
CPAY offers telephone support on a 24/7 basis, and also email support. Chat support is currently not available on 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 & Complaints
Central Payment has been accredited by the BBB since 2006 and has an A+ rating. They currently have 122 complaints filed within the past three years, with 17 of those complaints being filed within the last twelve months. This is a dramatic decrease from our last update, when they had 170 complaints within three years and 41 filed within the previous twelve months. CPAY is a fairly large processor and is naturally going to receive its fair share of dissatisfied customers, but it’s a good sign that their complaint volume has steadily decreased over our last several review updates.
CPAY also has 51 reviews filed on its BBB profile. Of these, 46 were negative, three were neutral, and three were positive. This isn’t all that surprising, as the BBB exists primarily to collect negative information about companies. Merchants looking to praise them aren’t likely to use the BBB as a venue for doing so. The company appears to have responded to every complaint in an effort to resolve the issue. Unfortunately, they were only successful in 29 cases out of the 122 complaints currently on file.
CPAY also has seven 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 merchants’ bank accounts for months after their accounts were closed. Unfortunately, these are all very common issues throughout the processing industry. Some of the most common complaints made against Central Payment include:
- PCI compliance fee/non-compliance penalties: While processors aren’t required to charge you for PCI compliance, most of them do. CPAY’s annual fee of $95.00 is very close to the industry average. However, charging $23.95 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. Still, I think sales representatives need to disclose PCI compliance and related fees during sales talks. Not doing so leads to very unhappy customers.
- Terminal leasing contracts: CPAY seems to have abandoned the practice of leasing processing equipment, but there are still some older complaints about issues related to this practice. Equipment leases have traditionally been a very bad deal for merchants, so we’re glad to see that the company has had a change of heart. Just be aware that if you want a “free” terminal included with your account, you’ll have to sign up for a traditional three-year contract instead of month-to-month billing. For most merchants, buying your own equipment and keeping a month-to-month contract will be less costly and provide you with more flexibility to change providers if CPAY doesn’t work out well for you.
- Difficulty 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 an issue, 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 & Testimonials
Central Payment has five really professional testimonials on their website. You’ll find thirteen others on YouTube. While the latter videos are not as polished and are all over five years old at this point, they actually seemed more authentic. 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 serve you better?
- 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 that 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.
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 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. While it’s decreasing, their relatively high complaint volume also weighed against them. Many of the recent complaints indicate that the tactics employed by independent agents are still causing problems for merchants.
Overall, CPAY rates 3.5 out of 5 stars. As a joint venture with TSYS, they have access to the resources needed to improve their service, both for their merchants and for their own benefit. Transitioning to a full-time sales force and improving customer service would help them to score higher in a future review update.
If you’d like to see what the true 5-star merchant account providers have to offer, take a look at our Merchant Account Comparison Chart. For an overview of the best providers for small businesses, check out our article The 5 Best Small Business Credit Card Processing Companies.