Heartland (Formerly Heartland Payment Systems) Review
Heartland offers comprehensive merchant services that comes loaded with features to suit many types of businesses.
- Full range of products and services
- Uses transparent interchange-plus pricing
- Excellent network security features
- No misleading sales gimmicks
- Requires three-year contract
- $295 per location early termination fee (ETF)
- Important contract terms are frequently not disclosed
- Numerous reports of steep price increases
Heartland (formerly Heartland Payment Systems) Overview
Heartland is a merchant services provider that offers many small businesses a full range of products and features transparent interchange-plus pricing. Unfortunately, all Heartland accounts come with an onerous three-year contract and a rather expensive $295 early termination fee (ETF) if you close your account early.
The company has also received a disturbing number of complaints alleging that these terms are often not disclosed during the account setup process. For these reasons, Heartland only gets an average score of 3 out of 5 stars. Unfortunately, the company seems to have adopted many of the dishonest and unfair practices that the merchant services industry is notorious for since its acquisition by Global Payments. For most small-business owners, it won’t be a good choice.
Table of Contents
Products & Services
Heartland’s biggest strength is providing a full range of products and services to suit nearly any industry or business type. Here’s a breakdown of the major features available to Heartland customers:
Heartland Merchant Services
- Merchant Accounts: Merchants who sign up with Heartland’s merchant services get their own full-service merchant accounts for credit and debit card processing, which are underwritten by Global Payments. Note that the company does not appear to accept merchants who are in high-risk industries.
- ACH & eCheck Processing: In addition to debit and credit card processing, the company can set you up with an ACH payment processing service. Note that a separate underwriting process is required for this feature.
- Industry-Specific Programs: Heartland has some interesting offerings for restaurants, educational institutions, the hospitality industry, and other types of businesses (even custom beer and wine retail solutions). It shines in specialized niches and offers strong features for standard retail or eCommerce businesses.
- Payment Security: Heartland provides secure payment processing to reduce your PCI scope and help you remain compliant. The company does this through Heartland E3 end-to-end encryption, EMV, and credit card tokenization technologies, reducing card-present fraud and data breaches.
- Nonprofit Tools & Discounts: Registered 501(c)(3) nonprofits can get a range of tools to accept donations and even sell products online, among other services. Plus, Heartland promises to offer special rates, though it doesn’t disclose the specifics of any discounts.
- Payment Gateway: Heartland’s proprietary payment gateway includes the company’s primary payments API to enable a broad set of transactions and features to suit a variety of industries. Security features include tokenization and end-to-end encryption of card data.
- Virtual Terminal: For mail-order and telephone payments, you can securely process credit cards using Heartland’s virtual terminal. Keep in mind that higher processing rates apply for keyed-in transactions.
- eCommerce Shopping Cart: Integration is meant to be easy with prebuilt plugins for more than 550 platforms and 80% of popular shopping carts. Heartland’s developer portal gives you access to a sandbox with full API access, so you can customize what you need and test it before going live on your site.
- Subscription Billing: Heartland’s tools also include support for billing and recurring charges, such as installment payments and subscription management. You can adjust for discounts and trials as well as send notifications to your subscription holders.
- Phone Payment: A unique feature of Heartland is the ability to accept payment via an automated toll-free interactive voice recognition system, with the option of live agent support if needed.
- Credit Card Surcharging: Heartland offers a credit card surcharging program that automatically applies a 3.5% surcharge to your customers’ bills if they pay with a credit card. While this program automates the surcharging process and appears to be fully compliant with Visa and Mastercard’s surcharging policies, the flat 3.5% processing rate will usually be significantly higher than what it would cost under interchange-plus pricing.
Heartland POS Systems
Screenshot of Heartland Site
- Credit Card Terminals: Heartland offers various countertop and wireless terminals with the latest payment processing technology. All payment methods are supported, including EMV, NFC-based (e.g., Apple Pay, Google Pay, etc.), and magstripe. The company now also features Terminal+, its entry into the emerging “smart” terminal category. Terminal+ features a color touch screen, Wi-Fi connectivity, and pre-installed apps for inventory management, gift card tracking, and cloud-based reporting.
- Point Of Sale (POS) Systems: The company offers its own Heartland-branded POS systems for retailers and restaurants. However, you can also integrate the company’s terminals with various third-party POS options if they’re more to your liking.
- Mobile Processing: In addition to its full-fledged POS systems, merchants also get access to Heartland’s own mobile POS app, Heartland Mobile Pay. This option will let you accept payments in the field, whether at a charity event or a trade show. You’ll need Heartland’s all-in-one mobile card reader in addition to the app. EMV, NFC-based, and magstripe payment methods are all supported. While these capabilities are all that you could ask for in an mPOS system, we’ve found numerous user reports complaining about technical difficulties in getting the app and card reader to communicate with Heartland’s payment processing network.
Other Heartland Services
- Delivery Service Integration: For restaurants, Heartland offers additional features to support delivery and carry-out orders. You can integrate with an online delivery service, such as DoorDash or Uber Eats, or set up your own in-house delivery service (which can save you money on fees).
- Payroll Processing: Heartland offers small business-focused payroll software that integrates directly with the company’s other products. This includes the proprietary Heartland POS system with employee timekeeping functionality. You also get access to a dedicated payroll specialist at the company.
- Online Reporting & Analytics: Data and analytics services are the other major components of customer engagement tools. Heartland offers analytics to handle this sales data and a separate “customer intelligence” service that allows you to understand who your customers are in more detail.
- Lending: Heartland works with several lenders to deliver financing options for businesses of all sizes. However, we don’t typically recommend merchant cash advances because their terms aren’t as competitive as other financing options. You should check out our merchant cash advance calculator to explore some actual numbers if you’re interested in this option.
- Customer Engagement Tools: You’ll find several services bundled under the auspices of “customer engagement,” but here, we primarily focus on the two customer-facing products: gift cards and a rewards/loyalty program. There’s also an email marketing option for outreach.
Note that the products and services discussed above represent Heartland’s primary offerings. Additional features are described on the company’s website, most of which focus on very specific industries.
Heartland Credit Card Processing Fees & Rates
Like most traditional merchant services providers, Heartland doesn’t disclose any specific pricing information on its website. Instead, it uses a quote-based system that requires you to contact the company’s sales department and provide enough information about your business for them to generate a customized pricing quote tailored to you and your needs. While we understand that there is too much variability in processing rates from one business to another to post them on a website, we’re disappointed that standardized fees are also not disclosed. These include chargeback fees, PCI compliance fees, annual fees, and many others.
The one pricing disclosure that Heartland does offer is that it now uses interchange-plus pricing exclusively. Most traditional providers will initially offer you an expensive tiered pricing plan — even though interchange-plus is available — in the hopes that you’ll accept it without trying to negotiate a better deal. We’re big fans of interchange-plus pricing, as it transparently separates the interchange fees that get passed on to the issuing banks and credit card associations from the markup your processor keeps for itself. However, it won’t save you money if that markup is unusually high. We’ve found complaints from merchants indicating that Heartland charged them as much as interchange + 0.70%, which is more than twice the industry average for a processor’s markup.
Heartland also has a “Merchant Bill of Rights,” although it’s published separately from the company’s website and is difficult to locate. Taken together, these ten “rights” offer a claim of complete transparency on every fee Heartland charges for using your account. You might question why a company claiming complete and total transparency on its pricing doesn’t disclose any specific fee information on its website. What Heartland is really saying here is that you’ll enjoy complete transparency after you’ve obtained a pricing quote and signed up for an account, not before. Overall, the Merchant Bill of Rights appears to be little more than an attempt by the company to address the high number of complaints about its sales practices.
You should also note that Heartland’s extensive account security features are offered at no additional charge. That doesn’t make them entirely “free,” as at least part of your monthly account fee will go to maintaining those services. Nonetheless, providers such as Heartland have just as much of a vested interest in keeping your account secure as you do, so they’re not going to offer industry-standard security features, such as tokenization and encryption, as an optional add-on.
Sales & Advertising Transparency
Heartland’s website is well-organized and easy to navigate. It includes information about the numerous specialized products and services the company offers but doesn’t go into much detail. There are no pricing disclosures, despite the so-called Merchant’s Bill of Rights stating that you have a right to this information.
Heartland’s sales process is also problematic. The lack of pricing information forces merchants to obtain a quote before they can evaluate whether the company will be a good fit for them. You should understand that this quote is merely an initial offer, and you absolutely should try to negotiate a better deal rather than just accepting it blindly.
Also, be aware that most of the complaints about Heartland relate to disclosure (or, rather, lack of disclosure) issues during the sales process. The company claims that all of its in-house sales team members are salaried, W-2 employees, but no company is going to pay sales representatives for merely trying to sell accounts. There’s most likely a quota that representatives must meet to avoid being fired.
Because of this pressure to perform, it’s unfortunately very common for company representatives to fail to disclose important contract terms. We continue to see numerous recent complaints from merchants alleging that they were never informed about the three-year commitment or the ETF during the sales process. Your best defense against these kinds of problems is to read your contract very carefully and insist on getting a waiver of both the long-term commitment and the ETF before you sign up.
Contract Length & Early Termination Fee
Heartland’s standard contract includes an initial term of three years, with an automatic renewal clause that extends the commitment for one-year periods after that. If you close your account early, you’ll have to pay an early termination fee (ETF) of $295 per location.
While the ETF isn’t the highest that we’ve ever seen, the fact that it’s applied to each business location means that it can add up very quickly if you operate out of multiple locations. It’s also a pretty good indication that Heartland will set you up with a separate merchant account for each operating location — complete with duplicate monthly and annual fees for each account.
There’s no reason to accept this if you don’t have to. Since more and more providers now offer month-to-month contracts with no long-term commitment as a standard feature, you should insist on a waiver of the ETF before agreeing to open an account. Be sure to get it in writing, and keep a copy for your records. Most importantly, review your entire contract thoroughly before you sign anything.
If you do find yourself stuck in a long-term contract, be aware that you’ll need to notify Heartland at least 60 days before the end of your contract term to prevent it from automatically renewing. If you follow this and all other instructions in your contract for closing your account to the letter, you should be able to avoid paying the ETF.
If you operate out of multiple locations, we recommend asking for a single merchant account rather than separate accounts for each location. That will save you a significant amount of money in fees and headaches with PCI compliance requirements. If a payment service provider (PSP) such as Square can aggregate thousands of merchants across the country into a single merchant account, there’s no reason for you to have to juggle multiple accounts just because you have more than one retail location.
Customer Service & Technical Support
|Heartland (formerly Heartland Payment Systems) Support||Availability|
|Dedicated Support Representative|
|Knowledge Base or Help Center|
|Videos & Tutorials|
Heartland offers email and 24/7 telephone support from a US-based, in-house team. The support page on the website lists multiple phone numbers for different categories, which theoretically means you’ll be transferred less and get the help you need faster. You’ll also find extensive documentation and dedicated support channels for developers. (The documentation is also helpful for providing more information about some of Heartland’s services and features.)
When we look at customer service as a whole, however, we need to look at the entire life cycle of care, including that first sales call. What we’ve found is a disproportionate number of complaints on consumer review sites, all featuring allegations of broken promises, misrepresentation, and what we call in the industry the “runaround.” While we may be looking at a few customers who have had an unfortunate and uniquely bad experience, collectively, they show a pattern of problematic issues with the company.
If you have experience with Heartland’s customer support, please leave us a comment and let us know what you think! Your comments help us better assess each company we review.
Negative Reviews & Complaints
Heartland is not accredited by the BBB but still currently has an A- rating. This high rating for a non-accredited company appears to be based on the fact that Heartland responds to every complaint, not the volume of complaints themselves. The company has received 67 complaints within the last three years, with 21 filed within the last twelve months. Additionally, 18 merchants have left 1-star reviews of Heartland on its BBB profile.
Heartland credit card processing reviews on Yelp are similarly negative, with the company earning an average rating of 2 out of 5 stars, based on 38 reviews. Most of these are 1-star reviews, counterbalanced by a few 5-star reviews that were clearly solicited by a sales agent shortly after the merchant signed up for an account. In analyzing all these complaints, the following issues consistently came up:
- Misleading Or Dishonest Sales Practices: Merchants frequently complained about being surprised by the company’s standard three-year contract and $295 early termination fee. Many stated their sales representative either didn’t mention the long-term contract at all or lied about its length. While this conduct is never acceptable, we feel compelled to point out that merchants are also at fault if they fail to read their contract documents thoroughly before signing up for an account.
- Excessive Price Increases: We found many recent complaints from merchants who experienced sudden and dramatic increases in their rates and fees after being with the company for about a year. These fee increases were often more than twice what the merchant had previously been paying, strongly implying that Heartland is using “teaser” rate quotes that only apply for a short portion of the merchant’s three-year commitment. Your best defense against this practice — which is common in the processing industry — is negotiating a waiver of the early termination fee before you sign your contract. That will give you much more flexibility to switch to a different provider if Heartland raises your rates.
- Poor Customer Service: There were also a lot of complaints alleging poor, unhelpful customer service and long waits on hold to reach a company representative. Although Heartland appears to be making good-faith efforts to address this issue, it’s apparent that the company hasn’t yet devoted the proper resources to this area of its business operation.
- Failure To Accommodate Merchants Adversely Impacted By COVID-19: Heartland was among a large number of providers across the industry that continued to charge merchants the full amount of their monthly and annual account fees throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, even if they were forced to close their businesses and didn’t process a single transaction for months due to state-imposed lockdowns. This action has led to a class-action lawsuit being filed against the company, which has yet to be resolved.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
The likelihood of people who are unhappy with a company or service being vocal about their displeasure is greater than a happy customer speaking out about their great experience. We call this negativity bias, and it’s very common when dealing with merchant services. When the number of complaints is small, the number of positive Heartland reviews also tends to be small.
However, you can find some positive reviews for Heartland online. These reviews tend to be written soon after the merchant has signed up, and many were clearly solicited by the sales representative who set up their account. By itself, this isn’t a problem. We’re all constantly being bombarded by requests for a review from companies we’ve done business with, and you’ve probably received a request like this recently yourself. However, when coupled with Heartland’s reputation for raising its rates six months or a year down the road, it’s clear that many merchants lose their enthusiasm for the company over time.
Owned by Global Payments, Heartland is the fifth-largest merchant services provider in the United States, processing a total of $80 billion in credit and debit card transactions annually. The company has earned a reputation as an industry leader in payment security, mainly due to suffering a massive data breach in 2008.
On a positive note, Heartland offers a truly comprehensive suite of products and services that will meet the needs of most businesses. The company’s exclusive use of interchange-plus pricing and commitment to data security is also commendable. Quite frankly, these are features worth paying a little extra for if they meet the needs of your business.
However, the company’s reputation for saddling new merchants with long-term contracts and failing to disclose them adequately during the sales process is problematic. We’re also very concerned about allegations that Heartland raises its rates and fees for merchants about six months to a year into their contracts. For small or newly established businesses, Heartland will be a poor — and very expensive — choice. The company earns a score of just 3 out of 5 stars overall. If Heartland isn’t for you, check out our roundup of the cheapest credit card processors in the industry for some recommendations that will save you money.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.