Heartland Payment Systems Review
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- Date Established
- Princeton, NJ
In the payments space, it’s pretty common to encounter tradeoffs. Rarely do we at Merchant Maverick encounter a company that is the whole package — pricing, service, transparency, etc. So when we encounter them, we absolutely feel the need to tell the world. Heartland Payment Systems is not absolutely perfect as far as processing, but it is a far cry above many others in this business. With some not necessarily innovative practices, but certainly uncommon ones — like an in-house sales team — there is a lot to love, as we’ll cover in this review.
Heartland Payment Systems is headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey, but it has offices all across the U.S. It’s been in business since 1997, and has a reputation for industry leading security and innovative solutions that allow it to dominate payment processing in certain industries. The company is also the fifth largest credit card processor (by transaction volume) in the United States and the ninth largest worldwide, processing about $120 billion in transactions each year from 300,000 merchants. So you can rest assured that Heartland knows what it’s doing.
Overall, I believe Heartland is an honest, reliable product offering unique products and services in the merchant services sphere, largely thanks to a fantastic sales team. While I’d prefer to see an interchange-plus option for low-volume merchants, the $59 per month + interchange plan for merchants processing under $50K per year is not a terrible deal — but is a much higher markup than I like to see.
On the bright side, Heartland provides amazing solutions for the restaurant industry. Restaurant owners should be looking into this company for sure. In fact, the company already serves almost 20% of the entire restaurant market, including more than 25% of table service restaurants.
Heartland was recently acquired by Global Payments. We first learned about that back in December 2015, but the final merger was not completed until April 2016. It’s still a bit too early to see just how much that will affect Heartland (for now, everything appears to be business as usual), but Global has an overall positive reputation. We’ll keep a close watch and see whether the quality of service goes down (or, hopefully, improves!)
Heartland Payment Systems gets a 4 out of 5 rating from me because it doesn’t have an effective plan for low-volume merchants. Also, even with the high flat rate, the company still includes a standard termination fee for all contracts. If Heartland could take care of these issues, or at least disclose them on the website, it could easily get into the 4.5- to 5-star range. See the rest of my review for more info or check out some of our other top rated providers.
Products & Services:
Heartland offers a really great list of services. It’s nice to see that it can set businesses up with payroll and billing solutions, giving you fewer companies to deal with overall — which will hopefully translate to time and money saved. The company also has unique offerings for specific industries that I really like. Offerings include:
- Merchant accounts
- Online data reporting
- In-house gateway/virtual terminal: Called the Portico gateway, this is nice to see. You won’t have to pay for gateway service to use the virtual terminal.
- Data security: The state-of-the-art Heartland Secure system is seriously impressive. It includes the E3 end-to-end encryption plus tokenization.
- Mobile processing: You can use the Heartland Mobile Payments app to process transactions on the go, but Heartland isn’t a good solution for low-volume mobile businesses due to the relatively high cost. You’ll need a merchant account to use it, and the “encrypting” reader may come at an additional cost. The price is not disclosed, but it’s bound to be in the $50 to $100 range if it accommodates EMV and/or NFC payments.
- Marketing solutions: Services include loyalty programs and gift cards. Heartland will provide consultation with a “rewards specialist” to customize your system and get you up and running.
- Mobile payments: Heartland has a partnership with LevelUp that even includes white label apps for businesses.
- Industry-specific programs: Heartland has some interesting offerings for restaurants, retail business, educational institutions, hospitality, grocery, parking, and more.
- E-Commerce: Heartland promises to help you set up your own domain (of you can use one you have already), with design templates, mobile optimization, email marketing and an abandoned cart saver, among other features.
- Payroll solutions
- Billing solutions
- Managed network solutions
- Lending (check our resources on getting a small business loan)
This is a pretty comprehensive list of services to offer, especially all from one processor. Despite how large Heartland is, much of its marketing creates the feel of a small company, from the local sales reps to the website. And it’s clear that Heartland also understands small businesses in a way that many of the larger companies don’t.
Keeping track of everything Heartland offers isn’t easy. The website doesn’t provide a lot of detail on some topics. But if you know where to look (and I do!), you can get an idea of what Heartland has been up to since our last check-in, which mostly consists of new acquisitions and partnerships.
Something new for merchants is a partnership with VersaPay to bring cloud invoicing to merchants. VersaPay ARC works with Heartland’s proprietary Portico gateway and promises to simplify invoicing for merchants — as well as save money. The company also acquired Beanstalk Data, a company that creates customer engagement and analytics tools for businesses.
Among other additions is a partnership with ShopKeep, a cloud-based POS platform for retail and dining (no surprise there) and emaginePOS, another cloud-based POS platform for (you guessed it!) restaurants. Let’s not forget the acquisitions of pcAmerica and Dinerware, also POS solutions in the dining and hospitality sectors. (Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be.) In October 2015, Heartland bought Digital Dining, another restaurant POS maker, as well.
Heartland debuted its new Insights offering at a trade show in May, but it’s not scheduled for release until July 1. This new feature is powered by Heartland’s acquisition of Beanstalk and specifically targets SMBs.
SecureSubmit is a tool that helps Heartland’s eCommerce merchants protect consumer information entered via a browser. This is a cool feature, and ties into one of Heartland’s greatest strengths: security. It’s also easy to integrate into your website via a variety of methods.
Fees & Rates:
I love that Heartland offers interchange-plus pricing as its primary model. As we’ve said repeatedly, interchange plus is really the most transparent pricing model out this. However, Heartland hasn’t provided a lot of information about it lately. There is this on the website:
“At Heartland, transparency drives everything we do. That’s why we offer Interchange Plus pricing – giving you full disclosure into how much you’re paying us and how much goes to the card brands. This protects you from arbitrary price increases and ensures that you receive the full benefit of cost reductions, such as the Durbin Amendment savings.”
You’ll also find a few other pages on the website that reference interchange-plus, but not many other informational resources beyond that. It would appear that Heartland relies on its sales agents to convey his information.
There is a major stipulation when it comes to Heartland’s interchange-plus pricing, which I didn’t find out until I got on the phone with a local sales rep: If you process less than $50,000 per year, the company will charge you a flat rate of $59 per month on top of interchange fees. I guess you could call this an “interchange-plus plan,” but it’s pretty crappy compared to a standard markup rate. Let’s not forget that includes $0.05 per transaction over interchange while we’re at it.
Doing The Math:
50K / 12 = $4167 per month maximum
59 / 4167 = 0.0141 = 1.41% markup (plus $0.05)
Considering most interchange-plus markups are between 0.15% and 0.35%, a 1.41% markup is awfully high. And remember, this is the best-case scenario. If you are only doing about $2,000 per month, then this doubles.
But, okay. Let’s say that $20 of the $59 is a justifiable account fee and not part of the actual markup. In this case, the math works out as follows:
39 / 4167 = 0.0093 = 0.93% markup (plus $0.05)
Again, this is way higher than any sane interchange-plus plan.
To be fair, this is similar to the pricing structure offered by Transparent Merchant Services — a pricing structure which, in that case, I tend to approve of (especially given the lack of annual contract). The difference here is that Heartland caps this flat fee pricing at $50K per year, which takes away the opportunity for savings based on the high volume you’ll find at Transparent. Noteworthy, however, is the relatively low transaction fee charged by Heartland compared to that charged by Transparent (between $0.09 and $0.19 depending on the plan).
The good news is that you won’t have to pay any annual fees, PCI fees or statement fees on top of the $59 plus interchange. Still, that’s not good at all for small businesses who don’t do over $50K in credit transactions per year. For those doing more than $50K per year, however, I think Heartland could be a perfect provider. I really like this company. I just don’t like this fee structure for low-volume businesses.
Contract Length & Early Termination Fee:
With Heartland you can expect, as standard:
- An early termination fee (ETF) of $295
- A three-year contract
- Auto renewal if you don’t cancel in writing three months before the contract ends
If you negotiate, you can most likely get the early termination fee waived. If not, you should be able to get the contract term reduced to one year. Make sure to ask for this! If you don’t get the termination fee waived, be sure to get the auto-renewal clause removed.
We don’t like ETFs and we wish they would go away altogether. However, Heartland generally seems to be fair and flexible. It’s fairly common to see LOTS of complaints about ETFs from the bigger processors, but there are astoundingly few complaints about Heartland period, and the ETF only comes up a portion of the time. When it does, Heartland is always very accommodating, as well.
Remember that if you want something from your processor, you should never hesitate to ask. You have negotiating power. And if your processor isn’t serving all your needs or giving you a fair rate, it might be time to look elsewhere.
Sales & Advertising Transparency:
Last time, I said Heartland understands that educated merchants make for good clients, and I think that’s still true. This is the company that created the Merchant Bill of Rights, which I honestly believe Heartland embraces as its core business philosophy. I have also generally liked the content that Heartland puts out. However, that content on the Heartland blog seems to have come to a grinding halt since March, which makes me a bit curious. Was it the merger that put things on hold? What happened? I really hope Heartland goes back to content creation soon.
The company also has an active Facebook page, Twitter account, and LinkedIn profile, which have small followings and low interaction, but the content they’re pushing out is good. I don’t see the Facebook page plastered with complaints about terrible service or non-responsive support teams.
I love that you don’t have to deal with the usual smoke and mirrors when you deal with Heartland. It doesn’t have any sales gimmicks, it doesn’t make any wild claims or promises, and it doesn’t try to pull the wool over your eyes with deals that are just too good to be true. Overall, Heartland is almost an ideal processor in terms of sales and advertising transparency. I say almost here for a couple of reasons.
First, the company doesn’t disclose any fees on its site, including the early termination fee. If it’s really committed to transparency, I’d love to see some of these numbers standardized and disclosed. Furthermore, Heartland doesn’t offer true interchange-plus pricing if you do under $50,000 per year in processing. And it fails to disclose this not-so-little fact on the site. This is disappointing, but not a deal-breaker. There are so many other things Heartland does right, and there are great options available for low-volume merchants as well.
Second, it’s not very easy to get a sales rep on the phone. All sales go through local agents, so you have to send a request for information through the website. Then someone from corporate will call you back to schedule a meeting with a local sales rep. On one hand, this is really nice. Getting to sit down with an agent has a definite appeal if you are serious about getting an account and building a long-term relationship.
On the other hand, I’d really like to be able to get some information quickly over the phone rather than inviting an agent into my place of business. The service rep I spoke to said she couldn’t really give me any specific information since it all depends on my discussion with the sales rep. I understand this logic, and I appreciate that she didn’t make any promises that a sales rep might not be able to keep, but it felt a little evasive to me.
The best I could do was make a phone-based appointment with a sales rep within two business days. In today’s fast-paced industry, I feel like this isn’t quite good enough.
I want to point out that Heartland was rated the no. 1 business to sell for in 2014 and 2015 by Selling Power Magazine, marking its 8th consecutive year in the top 5 and it’s fifth time earning the no. 1 spot — so the sales practices must hold up to some scrutiny. I also like the fact that the sales agents are all employees of the company, not just independent contractors. This is fairly rare in this industry, but it’s a really good practice. The Heartland network is large, but it’s all managed in house, so you should get consistent, fair treatment.
I am confident that Heartland’s reps are well-trained and well-supported. I would just like a better way to get in touch with these agents. In the end, a sales rep did get in touch with me by phone the same day I put in my request, and she didn’t give me any BS. She knew that the $59 per month fee (see the Fees and Rates section above) would be a deal breaker for me as a low-volume merchant, and she told me upfront. So in that way, I think they’re actually doing a good job.
Part of Heartland’s fierce commitment to education and security comes from a rather nasty data breach back in 2008/2009. A man named Albert Gonzalez hacked into the Heartland system and stole the data from some 130 million credit and debit cards. It was an unfortunate disaster that, to be honest, could have happened to anyone. But Heartland bounced back — with a vengeance, you might say. The company’s commitment to security and to educating merchants about security is almost fanatical, and I think that’s incredible.
With Heartland Secure, I am more than willing to bet the company is easily one of the most secure processors you can work with right now. Avivah Litann, an analyst for Gartner, has even gone as far as saying that Heartland is now paving the way for the industry in terms of data security. That’s pretty high praise. In all, Heartland Secure includes breach protection for transactions processed via Heartland Secure-certified devices and reduces PCI scope for merchants (ultimately lessening their burden). It also takes advantage of 3 security technologies — EMV, of course, as well as end-to-end encryption and tokenization.
Customer Service & Technical Support:
Heartland is the real deal in terms of customer service. You can get 24/7/365 support in-house. The support page on the website even lists not just one phone number, but one for each branch of services, which means you won’t need to be transferred from department to department.
There’s also an email form for those of you who aren’t comfortable on the phone or for whom the issue isn’t urgent. However, its Resources page looks to be a work in progress, which leaves me a little disappointed.
If you’d like to tell me your experience with Heartland Payment Systems’ customer and technical support systems, please leave a comment. I love hearing from readers, and it really helps me to provide the most accurate reviews possible.
Negative Reviews & Complaints:
I’m very happy to say that Heartland doesn’t have nearly the amount of complaints that I’d expect them to have. RipOffReport.com features just 17 complaints. Heartland has just 26 complaints through the BBB. That is exceptionally low for even a small processor. For a business as big as Heartland, it’s almost unheard of — which undoubtedly contributes to Heartland’s A+ rating from the BBB. The company must do a great job of arbitrating problems in-house and disclosing all contract terms, which is exactly what I like to see. Of the few complaints out there, the most common include:
- Terminal setup issues: I did see a few reviews in our comments section and elsewhere complaining of difficulties with setting up terminals through Heartland Payment Systems. On the other hand, I know for a fact that Heartland has local agents across the country, and will probably go out of their way to help you with your terminal in-person. A few other complaints have involved terminals suddenly not being supported (with no warning) and difficulties with programming devices bought from a third party, not Heartland.
- Early termination fee: You’ll see this complaint with nearly every processor that has an early termination fee. The problem isn’t so much that the fee exists; the problem is some sales agents “forget” to mention it. I think the vast majority of Heartland Payment Systems reps do, in fact, disclose this fee, which is why the company has far, far fewer complaints about it than most processors. Feel free to try negotiating your way out of it. You might have to pay higher rates if you do, though. Your other option is to choose a processor with a month-to-month agreement. And always, always read the fine print on any contract.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials:
A couple years ago, Heartland started revamping its website content and marketing materials. A lot has disappeared from the web, including its Video Library page with its awesome testimonials. However, you can find a few video testimonials on the YouTube page, though the channel hasn’t been updated in over a year. You can also find good Heartland Payment System reviews elsewhere on the web, including a few here on our page. It’s just sad to see that the company has removed so many of its own great resources, and not bother to replace them.
That said, the web is chock-full of happy Heartland sales people, all praising the company, and most employee reviews of Heartland are quite positive. I really like to see this! For most big processors, you’ll find as many complaints from sales reps as you will from merchants. I think that a satisfied sales team leads to better business practices overall (and it usually shows in reviews, too), so I consider this a big plus.
I really do like Heartland Payment Systems. I like the website, I like the services, I like the way the company does business overall. Heartland has some fairly unique practices that set it apart as one of the top processors in the country. For businesses that process over $50K annually and can get set up with a fair markup rate over interchange, Heartland could be your perfect processor. There’s mobile processing, e-commerce support, micropayments, lending, and so much more. For those in the restaurant industry, Heartland really has your back with great tailor-made services.
If you process cards sporadically or in low volumes, however, you’ll want to look elsewhere for your payment processing needs. I am a little worried about the sudden drop-off in content creation, but it’s entirely possible that with the merger now complete, the team can get back to business as usual.
It’s one of those situations where we can only wait and see. Global has a good reputation, like Heartland, and with more resources available, who knows what they’ll do next?
So for now, I can offer Heartland 4 out of 5 stars. If the company could provide a reasonable processing solution for those who take in a smaller volume of card transactions or start offering a standard month-to-month option (not just by request), then I’d probably consider giving it an even better score. Even some upfront disclosure on the site would go a long way for me. I hope to update this with good news soon.
For those interested in better solutions for low-volume processing, definitely, check out our highest-rated processors.