Electronic Merchant Systems (EMS) Review
- Large, direct processor
- Full line of products and services
- Only offers expensive tiered processing rate plans
- Standard long-term contract with an automatic renewal clause
- High early termination fee ($595)
- Heavily reliant on independent sales agents
Electronic Merchant Systems (EMS) is a merchant services company that has grown into one of the larger providers in the United States, with 20 regional offices throughout the country and over 40 separate office locations. With a current customer base of over 35,000 merchants, it’s large enough to function as a direct processor, meaning the company processes all of its transactions in-house rather than partnering with another organization to handle this function.
EMS offers a complete range of merchant services for retail and eCommerce businesses. However, the company falls short in other important areas, such as pricing, contract terms, and customer service. It also continues to push overpriced credit card terminal leases onto unsuspecting new business owners. This is one of many areas where EMS continues to cling to old-fashioned business practices that have always been extremely unpopular with merchants and that more and more providers are moving away from. We highly recommend purchasing your processing equipment outright, either from EMS or another provider. Equipment leases are noncancelable and will cost you several times the equipment’s actual value by the time you pay it off.
Although the company has an A+ rating with the BBB (which seems to be awarded automatically as long as you pay for accreditation), it also has a relatively high number of merchant complaints. Allegations of high prices, shady sales tactics, poor customer service, and other problems abound on the BBB site and other consumer protection sites across the web.
Electronic Merchant Systems earns an overall score of 2.5 out of 5 stars. This is a slightly below-average rating in an industry where the “average” simply isn’t very friendly to small business owners who just want to accept credit cards without having large sums of money siphoned out of their accounts to do so. Although a larger, more established business might be able to negotiate a reasonable deal with EMS, we cannot recommend the company when there are so many other better alternatives on the market today. If you’re looking for a top-notch merchant services provider that’s “small-business-friendly,” check out our Merchant Account Comparison Chart for some great recommendations. Also, if you’ve had any personal experience with this service, please leave your own Electronic Merchant Systems review in the Comments section below. Thanks!
Table of Contents
Products & Services
As you would expect from a large provider, Electronic Merchant Systems advertises a host of products and features in addition to providing you with basic credit card processing services. Among its many offerings are the following:
- Merchant Accounts: As we’ve discussed above, EMS is a direct processor. That means you’ll always have a single point of contact if any problems arise. In theory, this should result in a smoother, more efficient customer service experience. That isn’t always the case in actual practice, however.
- High-Risk Payment Processing: Although EMS doesn’t advertise it very heavily, the company also accepts high-risk merchants in some business categories. Your costs will be higher than a comparable low-risk business, so obtain quotes from several providers before signing a contract.
- Credit Card Surcharging Programs: If you don’t like paying for credit card processing and would like to pass at least some of this expense onto your credit-card-using customers, EMS can help you with a variety of cash discounting and surcharging programs. EMS can reprogram your hardware to apply surcharges or discounts automatically and provide you with signage that complies with your state’s laws. Remember that you can’t impose a surcharge of more than 4% of the total transaction, regardless of the actual cost to process it. Also, you’ll pay an additional monthly fee for this program. Check out our guide to credit card surcharging for more details.
- Restaurant Point Of Sale (POS) Solution: EMS recently acquired Total Touch, a Windows-based solution for hardware and software that brings a full range of point of sale (POS) functionality to restaurants and other foodservice businesses. Total Touch offers open table management, online and mobile ordering, a kitchen display system, employee management, and more. The system costs a flat $59 per month if you have a merchant account with EMS or $74 per month if you use a different processor. For more details, check out our Total Touch POS review.
- Point Of Sale (POS) Terminals: The company also offers the MaxxPay line of mobile and countertop point of sale (POS) terminals. The smallest terminal is the MaxxPay Mini, a mobile handheld terminal that runs on an Android operating system and can process EMV and contactless payments. The MaxxPay Pro is a dedicated countertop terminal that adds inventory management, pricing discounts, and tax reporting. The largest and most fully-featured option is the MaxxPay Premier, which includes a 15” color touchscreen display and a built-in cash drawer. These devices are all cloud-based, allowing you to monitor sales and other activity from any device with a web browser. Judging from the appearance of the MaxxPay devices, it’s pretty apparent that they’re intended to compete directly with the popular Clover POS system’s line of products. The MaxxPay Mini, for example, is very similar in design and capabilities to the Clover Flex product. The MaxxPay Pro likewise appears to be very similar to the Clover Mini device, and the MaxxPay Premier is practically a clone of the Clover Station POS system. While no pricing information is disclosed, you can expect these devices to be generally less expensive than their Clover counterparts. The major tradeoff in cost, however, appears to be the lack of any expansion capability similar to the Clover Store line of add-on apps.
- Credit Card Terminals: The EMS website no longer contains very much specific information about traditional countertop terminals. While the company appears to be pushing its MaxxPay Mini terminal as its primary offering in this category, it’s possible that other models are available and supported as well. In selecting a terminal for your business, we highly recommend that you get a machine that supports both EMV and NFC-based (contactless) payment methods, such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay. Unfortunately, the company has a reputation for pushing expensive equipment leases, which you should avoid at all costs. It’s much cheaper, in the long run, to purchase your equipment outright.
- Mobile Credit Card Processing: Like almost every other provider in the payments industry, EMS offers a proprietary mobile processing solution. While it’s still advertised on the EMS website as EMS Mobile, this service appears to be in the process of rebranding as MaxxPay Mobile, bringing it in line with the company’s MaxxPay POS terminals. This service requires both the MaxxPay Mobile smartphone app (available for iOS and Android) and a mobile credit card reader. Few details are available on the EMS website, but the reader appears to support EMV payments and can connect to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. The company’s older EMS+ Retail solution, intended as a competitor to Square, is no longer advertised on the EMS website. However, the EMS+ Retail app is still available on the App Store, and the EMS+ website is still online.
- eCommerce Support: EMS has a proprietary payment gateway API for eCommerce that integrates with most online shopping cart plugins. The company also offers website design services and hosting and can set up your online store for you. You’ll want to shop around before using EMS for these features, however, as you can probably get a better deal elsewhere.
- Virtual Terminal: Payment gateways are great for running an online-only store that can automatically accept orders 24/7. However, if you just need to process credit card transactions through mail-order or over the telephone, a virtual terminal is probably all you need. EMS offers a virtual terminal that includes all the basic functions you would expect, including the ability to manually key-in transactions or enter card-present transactions with an optional card reader that connects via USB or Bluetooth.
- Merchant Cash Advance: Small businesses often need some additional cash to get started or expand, and EMS is here to help with its BizFunds™ merchant cash advance program. Unlike most of these programs, BizFunds purchases a portion of your anticipated credit card transactions to fund your advance. Repayments come directly out of your credit card sales volume. In some cases, this might create some serious cash flow problems, so we recommend that you evaluate this program very carefully before signing up for an advance. Check out our article, 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Get A Merchant Cash Advance, for a look at some of the reasons to be wary.
- Gift & Loyalty Card Programs: It’s unlikely that you’ll ever choose a merchant account provider based on their gift and loyalty card programs, but at least EMS offers them and provides some information about them on its website.
While EMS offers a full range of services, its website provides very little detailed information about them and no information whatsoever about pricing. You’ll have to talk to a sales agent to find out enough about the features that interest you if you want to make an informed decision on adding them to your account.
EMS Merchant Services Fees & Rates
Electronic Merchant Systems does not disclose any fee or rate information on its website. That’s usually a bad sign, but it’s certainly not alone in the credit card processing industry for following this practice. The good news is that rates are very much negotiable, and, depending on the nature of your business and your average monthly sales volume, you might be able to haggle your way into a fairly good deal. The bad news is that it apparently only offers a tiered pricing model, which is usually more expensive than the preferred interchange-plus pricing model.
You’ll also want to watch out for the numerous fees that EMS charges. In addition to the previously mentioned $595 early termination fee, you can also expect to pay the following:
- $15-$30 per month account fee
- $75 semi-annual technology upgrade and update fee
- $15 per month data breach insurance premium
- $25 per month monthly minimum
- $25 per occurrence chargeback fee
- $50 per month PCI noncompliance fee
Expect to pay even more — possibly a lot more — if you lease your processing hardware through EMS or sign up for any of the company’s “extra” services (see Products & Services above).
Overall, Electronic Merchant Systems will charge you fees that are notably higher than the industry average — if you let it. You can avoid some of these fees, primarily by ensuring that your business is PCI compliant and buying your terminals instead of leasing them. Other fees, such as the early termination fee, can be waived if you negotiate firmly. Nonetheless, some of these fees, such as the monthly account access fee and the fee for chargebacks, are unavoidable.
The bottom line here is that if you accept the sales agent’s initial offer without reading the fine print on your contract and negotiating aggressively, you’ll almost certainly end up being charged a lot of money for nothing.
Contract Length & Early Termination Fee
Electronic Merchant Systems currently offers a standard contract that runs for 18 months, with an automatic renewal clause that renews for another 18 months. There’s also an early termination fee (ETF) of $595 that you’ll have to pay if you close your account while you’re still locked in your contract. While the standard contract form does disclose these terms, there’s no mention of them on the EMS website, and your sales agent is unlikely to divulge them unless you specifically ask about them. Insist on waiving the ETF before you sign your contract, and be aware that EMS probably won’t notify you when your contract auto-renews. Canceling also requires 90 days’ written notice, so you’ll want to plan ahead if you decide to stop using EMS.
If $595 sounds like a lot to get out of a contract, that’s because it is. This fee will apply whether you break the contract after less than a month with EMS or just before the end of your contract term. There’s no prorating of the fee for how many months are left in your contract. There’s also no accounting for your sales volume. While it’s arguably better than getting hit with liquidated damages in addition to the ETF, the fact remains that EMS will charge you a fee that is significantly higher than the industry average if you try to break your contract and switch to a different provider. In fact, the “industry average” is increasingly trending toward not charging an ETF at all but instead allowing month-to-month contracts that can be easily ended by either party.
EMS doesn’t provide any information about its contracts on its website, but we’ve tracked down a copy of its standard Merchant Application and Agreement. While your actual contract documents will probably be different, this is a good resource to review before beginning the signup and negotiation process. Most importantly, it’s imperative that you read your entire contract thoroughly before you sign up for a merchant account with EMS or any other provider.
Sales & Advertising Transparency
Unfortunately, EMS’s merchant services rate very low in transparency, particularly in comparison to other competing providers. The first strike against it is its use of independent, third-party sales agents. This practice has consistently led to a poorly-trained and poorly-supervised sales force throughout the industry. As a merchant, this means that you are likely to find yourself negotiating with an agent who doesn’t have a full understanding of the standard EMS contract provisions. They are also highly motivated to conveniently forget to mention some of the more onerous fees and penalties you might be liable for in their rush to close a sale. Your best defense against this is to educate yourself as much as possible before signing up. Reading EMS merchant services reviews such as this one is a great place to start!
EMS gets a second strike for its website. Having an informative and useful website is essential to conducting business in the modern, connected era, and the EMS website comes up short in several areas. While the site is visually appealing and easy to navigate, it offers little or no concrete information that might help a prospective client decide whether to sign up with the company. There’s no mention of rates or contract terms, which is an obvious red flag. Yes, many of these things are highly negotiable, and yes, EMS does deserve at least some credit for not trying to lure you in by only advertising its lowest qualified-transaction rate. Nonetheless, there’s a growing trend toward more transparency in the industry, and the company’s shortcomings in this area stand out.
We’ve criticized EMS for loading its website with enticing “More Info” buttons in previous review updates. Instead of providing additional information about the company’s products or services, these buttons redirected to a Contact Form asking for your personal and business information, including your email address and telephone number. Submitting a Contact Form — while a necessary step if you want to reach out to the company’s sales staff — will inevitably get you added to a mailing list, and you can expect a steady deluge of intrusive telephone calls and spammy emails from EMS sales agents. The current version of the EMS website has improved the labeling of these buttons, and the contact forms now appear at the bottom of most of the site’s pages. There’s also a lot more information about the basic features and benefits of the company’s products than we’ve seen in the past.
EMS has a robust presence on social media, with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. These accounts are updated regularly and now feature useful educational articles and a handful of testimonials from users. The company particularly emphasizes its partnership with the Cleveland Browns.
Customer Service & Technical Support
EMS provides customer service and support primarily through telephone and email. These options are advertised as being available 24/7, 365 days a year. However, there is also a high frequency of complaints about poor or unavailable customer service from merchants in our Comments section and across the internet. Calling during regular business hours is probably your best bet if you want to improve your chances of reaching someone who can help you. If you’re located in a city with an EMS branch office, you might also get better service by contacting them, rather than going through the 1-800 number provided on the EMS website.
Self-help options are, unfortunately, minimal. If you have a merchant account with EMS, you can log into the EMSData website to access account maintenance options and reporting data. Additionally, there are a few educational videos relating to some of its services on the EMS YouTube channel. Beyond that, EMS doesn’t offer any sort of FAQ or knowledgebase on its website that might help you solve a problem on your own.
Electronic Merchant Services Reviews, Complaints & Testimonials
Feedback from merchants who are EMS customers presents a confusing picture. On the one hand, the company has over one thousand positive reviews on Google, a fair number of which appear to be genuine. On the other hand, if you look on the BBB website, you’ll find dozens of merchants reporting serious problems with the service they received from EMS. Below, we’ll attempt to sort out what this all means.
EMS Negative Reviews & Complaints
Electronic Merchant Systems currently has an A+ rating with the BBB, despite having a somewhat above-average complaint ratio for a company of this size. Although it’s been in business for decades, the company only attained BBB accreditation in 2017. At the time of this review update, EMS has had 76 complaints within the last three years, 23 of which were filed within the previous twelve months. These numbers are virtually identical to what we found at the time of our last review update a year ago. Within these complaints, the following general issues come up most frequently in Electronic Merchant Systems reviews:
- Expensive Equipment Lease Contracts: EMS likes to push terminal leases on its merchants, but the lease itself is administered by Lease Financial Group (LFG), a separate company. Not only is the lease contract a separate agreement from your merchant agreement with EMS, but it’s also for four years. Before getting your terminals through EMS (or any other provider), it’s critical that you understand how leasing works. Terminal leases are never a good idea, particularly if you need multiple terminals or operate from more than one location. The noncancelable nature of leasing contracts means you pay hundreds (or possibly even thousands) of dollars more for your equipment than what it’s worth, even if you never use it.
- Early Termination Fees: As we’ve discussed above, standard EMS contracts include an onerous $595 early termination fee if you cancel service before the end of your contract. This has generated a lot of complaints from merchants who’ve had to pay it, as you might expect. While you can always negotiate to have the ETF waived for your contract, it’s probably better, in the long run, to go with one of the many other companies that don’t charge an ETF at all. EMS occasionally refunds ETFs to merchants who’ve filed a BBB complaint about this issue, but you shouldn’t count on this happening in your particular situation.
- Hidden Fees: As we’ve noted above, EMS charges a host of extra fees for things, such as PCI non-compliance, technology upgrades, and chargebacks. Many of the BBB Electronic Merchant Systems complaints about these fees cite the fact that sales agents didn’t disclose them. While some of these fees are unavoidable, aggressive negotiation and a very thorough reading of your contract are your best defenses against these types of fees.
You’ll also currently find 29 complaints against EMS over on Ripoff Report, mostly alleging the same issues that we’ve noted above.
EMS Positive Reviews & Testimonials
Until about two years ago, EMS didn’t have a single customer review on its website. Today, however, the company has a whopping 1,061 reviews on Google Reviews. There will probably be even more posted by the time you read this. EMS has an average rating on Google of 4.9 out of five stars and feeds many of these reviews directly onto its website.
So are these EMS credit card processing reviews “fake news”? Let’s put it this way: Having a huge number of overwhelmingly positive reviews posted in such a short time is certainly very suspicious. Many of the reviews exhibit the hallmarks of fake reviews, including being barely a single sentence long and coming from an account that’s only posted that review and no others. At the same time, many of the reviews posted on Google appear to be genuine. Some are fairly detailed and include a reasonable amount of information to identify the review’s author. Some are even from people who are Google Local Guides.
Our best guess here is that, yes, EMS is deliberately trying to generate some positive buzz (and bury all the negative feedback it’s received elsewhere) by actively encouraging customers to post a positive review. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. All businesses want their users to put in a good word for them. At the same time, the content of many of the reviews strongly suggests that EMS is either generating false reviews or paying people to write fake reviews on its behalf. Again, we can’t say for sure that this is what’s happening. However, we aren’t giving much weight to these reviews, and neither should you.
Overall, Electronic Merchant Systems scores a below-average 2.5 out of 5 stars. While the company offers a commendable range of products and services, in addition to basic credit/debit card processing, its lengthy contracts, excessive fees, and overall lack of transparency bring the score down and make it hard to recommend the company to most merchants. If you own/operate a larger, well-established business that has plenty of experience in negotiating toe-to-toe with processing companies, and you’re looking for a one-stop solution to your needs, EMS might be a good fit. For most other merchants, particularly small business owners, you’re almost certainly better off looking elsewhere.
EMS could improve its score in future review updates by (1) offering at least some disclosures regarding processing rate plans and standard account fees on its website, (2) adopting month-to-month contracts with no early termination fee, and (3) offering an interchange-plus pricing model to at least some of its merchants. For a more in-depth understanding of processing fees, check out our infographic, A Visual Guide To Credit Card Processing Fees & Rates. To find a great merchant account provider that already incorporates these features, be sure to check out our Merchant Account Comparison Chart. If you’re a high-risk merchant, take a look at our article profiling the best high-risk merchant account providers for some great recommendations. Good luck!
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.