Heartland Payment Systems Review
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- Date Established
- Edmond, OK
- PCI-compliant solution
- Good for the food and beverage industry
- Nonprofit discounts available
- Early termination fee (ETF) is $295 per location
- Nontransparent tiered pricing
- Potentially deceptive sales tactics
In the payments space, things aren’t always what they seem, and that can be frustrating for a business owner. While the onus is always on you to read and understand the merchant agreement when it comes time to sign, some processors make it especially difficult to know important details before you seal the deal. That’s why when I approach our review process to assess a company, I always keep the small business owner in mind. By now, I know some of the most common angst-causing issues, and I feel for our readers who are just trying to make sense of it all.
In this Heartland Payment Systems review, I had to take a look at the lay of the land and take some of the shadier practices with a grain of salt. While I may not personally like some of Heartland’s business practices (e.g., commission-based sales teams), it is a long-established name that’s provided processing serves to a range of merchants for decades. On the other hand, though Heartland may employ these commonly seen tactics, that doesn’t mean we have to accept the status quo, especially if there are other options out there. Within the review, we’re going to look at what Heartland Payment Systems offers a merchant as far as products and services, but we’re also going to peel the curtain back and little and look at some potential conflicts in the messages I came across on the site versus what shows up in the published merchant agreement. We’re also going to look at consumer review sites, including Apple and Google app stores to find out what people who use Heartland think. As we explore Heartland Payments, you’ll discover why I rated this company 3 out of 5 stars and suggest proceeding with caution.
Here’s a little history on Heartland, so you can understand how it has evolved in the payment industry, and how it fits in today. Founded in 1997, Heartland Payment Systems is headquartered in Edmond, OK. Its Atlanta-based parent company, Global Payments, bought Heartland in 2016. For the most part, it appears that Global Payments has chosen to let Heartland go about business as usual without any significant changes. Global Payments frequently lands among the top merchant acquirers, as seen in the Nilson Report. As of 2019, Global Payments and TSYS (eighth top acquirer) merged to take an even bigger piece of the financial pie in the payment industry.
Suffice it to say that Heartland Payment Systems is not a small company by any means. One benefit of the company’s huge size is it has built a robust and well-thought-out platform. The Heartland platform can enable multichannel selling and customized options for a wide variety of industries and niches — and you won’t always find that among the larger processors. However, despite the seemingly balanced and robust platform, can it provide good, reliable, and cost-effective service to small business owners? We’re going to find out.
Table of Contents
Products & Services
Heartland’s biggest strength is providing a range of products and services to suit industry-specific needs. Here’s what you’ll find with Heartland Payments:
- Dedicated Merchant Accounts: Merchants who sign up with Heartland get their own, fully underwritten merchant accounts. In addition to accepting card payments, Heartland supports ACH transfers.
- 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, but it also offers strong features for standard retail or eCommerce businesses.
- 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 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 tokenization technologies, which reduce both card-present fraud and data breaches.
Heartland’s Robust Platform
As far as specific features that help you take payments for your business or organization, here are the basics:
- EMV Terminal Solutions: Heartland Payments offers a variety of swipe, dip, and chip card-enabled terminals designed to fit any business’s needs. These include non-integrated, semi-integrated, and fully-integrated options.
- Contactless Payments Acceptance: Heartland also offers support for Android, Apple, and Samsung “pay” apps, which is nice to see. This includes both terminal options and a mobile card reader for its mobile app (more on that in a moment).
- POS System Integrations: Heartland offers its own niche POS systems for retailers and restaurants. However, you can also integrate the company’s terminals with a variety of other third-party POS options if they’re more to your liking.
- Heartland MobilePay: In addition to its full-fledged POS systems, merchants also get access to Heartland’s own mobile POS app, called Heartland MobilePay. This option will let you accept payments in the field, whether at a charity event or a trade show. However, when I visited the app stores, it’s clear that the mobile app could be a lot better, as users report instability issues. (You can read more about these issues in the User Review section below.) Of course, Heartland offers an all-in-one mobile card reader for magstripe, chip card, and contactless payments as well as other mobile-friendly readers.
- Heartland Portico Payment Gateway: This includes Heartland’s primary payments API to enable a broad set of transactions and features to suit a variety of industries. The gateway supports security through encryption and end-to-end tokenization of card data.
- Virtual Terminal: For remote phone payments, you can securely process credit cards at your virtual terminal, but keep in mind higher rates apply for this transaction.
- eCommerce Shopping Cart: Integration is meant to be easy with prebuilt plug-ins for more than 550 platforms and 80% of popular shopping carts, according to Heartland. Its developer portal gives you access to Sandbox with full API access, so you can customize what you need.
- Micropayments: Heartland’s industry-specific programs include micropayment options for schools, laundromats, game centers/amusements, and even correctional facilities. Micropayments are low-value but high-volume transactions that are almost prohibitively expensive to process with standard pricing models. A dedicated micropayment plan can be more affordable, allowing providers to lower their operating costs.
- Recurring Online Billing: Heartland’s tools also include support for billing and recurring charges. This can consist of installment payments or subscription management. You can adjust for discounts and trials as well as send notifications to your subscription holders.
- Mobile Ordering: For restaurants, Heartland has some extensive resources to build a white-label mobile ordering system that works with your website, a custom branded app, or even Facebook.
- 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.
- Online Data Reporting: The other major components of customer engagement tools are data and analytics services. Heartland offers analytics to handle this sales data as well as a separate “customer intelligence” service that allows you to understand who your customers are in more detail through analytics and insights.
- Restaurant Tools: Heartland offers several ways to support different aspects of a restaurant and food delivery business, including online ordering, two-tap ordering, delivery service integration with 48 popular delivery services, and delivery text-messaging dispatch.
That mostly covers it for payment processing, but Heartland does have a few additional features I’d like to call out:
Related Heartland Services
- Payroll Processing: One of the advantages of using Heartland’s payroll services is that they’ll work in tandem with Heartland’s other products, such as its POS system (complete with employee timekeeping). You also get your own dedicated payroll specialist at the company.
- 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 actually find several services bundled under the auspices of “customer engagement,” but here we are mostly focused on the two customer-facing products: gift cards and a rewards/loyalty program. There’s also an email marketing option for outreach.
When looking at what Heartland offers overall, I like that it doesn’t stop with generic one-size-fits-all solutions. It provides well-thought-out solutions that go above and beyond the norm, and we simply don’t see that from other big companies. Heartland Payments easily scores an excellent in this category.
Unfortunately, there are some potential deal breakers you’ll need to be aware of before you jump right in.
Fees & Rates
Heartland Payments, like many large processing companies in its class, is less than upfront with pricing. While it is frequently pitched as a numbers game to “give you the best deal,” we often see that is anything but the case. Upon reviewing Heartland’s merchant agreement, which outlines the processing fee structure, it is disappointing to see that tiered pricing seems to be the default. And that is too bad because tiered pricing is usually the hardest to pin down and equally difficult to predict and control. That’s because the cost of processing can vary widely, depending on how and where the card was processed and the card brand itself as well if it was a rewards or business card. These factors can’t be controlled by a small business owner and can make for some unneeded frustrations.
The lack of disclosure is definitely frustrating, and we have come across complaints from merchants who haven’t been fully informed of the additional costs Heartland charges. However, I don’t see many complaints about the actual payment processing rates not being what was promised. I think, in this case, you mostly need to be cautious about any additional software or programs a sales rep offers to set you up with.
Keep in mind that Heartland offers its Heartland Secure services at no additional charge. But you’ll probably encounter at least a $25/month account fee (labeled as a “Service & Regulatory Mandate” fee) and potentially added costs for using any of Heartland’s value-added services, such as gift cards, customer engagement tools, online sales tools, or the Heartland POS apps. I have also read that if you opt to be billed for your credit card processing fees monthly rather than daily, Heartland charges a marginal fee.
As far as chargeback fees, Heartland gives you the first three for no charge, but it is less clear how much you’re charged after that. One source from the company states it is typically around $25, which is about the standard. However, references for this are scant, and I encourage you to talk to your sales rep about it if you have questions about this or any other fees, but more importantly, read your merchant agreement in full, paying particular attention to fees and rates.
To learn more about why we don’t recommend tiered pricing in general, check out our post, Why Tiered Pricing For Credit Card Processing Is The Most Expensive Option (And How To Avoid Overpaying).
Contract Length & Early Termination Fee
Since our last review, a difficult discovery was made, which required a downgrade in rating for this category. I first came across a complaint on a consumer review site where a merchant wasn’t too happy with the termination fees. At this point, a Heartland rep responded to the customer and replied that although the contract was clear about an ETF fee per location, they would waive it. This required a double-take on my part, and I almost hoped the rep misspoke, so I headed back to the merchant agreement and looked it up for myself. Was it really that high per location?
Sure enough, any merchant who terminates the agreement before the end-date is on the hook for a whopping $295 per location. That is pretty rare in the industry, and it is steep. While we dislike early termination fees, they are not uncommon in the industry. However, this fee could quickly snowball, depending on how many locations you have. Another kicker is that Heartland withdraws the entire fee in one lump sum.
When you are in negotiations with your salesperson, be aware of the ETF and make sure to get it in writing if they promise to waive this in your agreement.
The other very important consideration is that your contract will be automatically renewed, and you are required to give them a 60-day notice if you decide not to renew your contract. We see this type of issue becoming a huge source of heartache and frustration for a business owner who didn’t read and understand the contract, so beware, read your contract, and get any changes in writing. Do not take any verbal promises to the bank!
Because the ETF fee is so excessive, and it may be difficult to catch your window of cancellation opportunity in time to avoid paying these exorbitant fees, Heartland is rated poorly in the contract length and early termination fee category.
Sales & Advertising Transparency
Heartland’s sales and advertising transparency is something to be wary of for a few 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, and not just a promise that merchants’ statements will be easy to read.
Second, most of the complaints about Heartland seem to stem from disclosure issues. I dug into this matter because it’s a major concern. I learned that while Heartland does employ an in-house sales team that are W2 employees, these sales reps are paid entirely on commission. This is problematic because the commission method used by third-party sales reps is precisely what leads to trouble for many merchant account providers. What this means is that new Heartland salespeople do not receive any sort of payment until they start signing up merchants for the service — and then they get commissions and a small residual payout based on the merchants’ volume. As such, you might encounter new sales reps who are a little bit desperate to make a sale.
This is definitely a problem, but one that you can avoid by asking your Heartland rep for recommendations or referrals from other businesses they’ve worked with. Heartland seems to strongly encourage its salespeople to develop their own books of business, so in theory, a knowledgeable rep with a track record of happy merchants will have some names they can give you, if not ready-to-go recommendations.
All of that said, we’d like to believe that as a corporate entity, Heartland strives to be fair and transparent for merchants. The complaint volume and overall trends in complaints back up the idea that it is pretty successful in that department. We have seen companies of a relative size do much worse as far as the volume of complaints. However, the lack of pricing disclosures is, well, disappointing.
The truth is that it’s more common for smaller merchant account providers to offer clearly stated processing rates with no early termination fees. And the commission-based payment structure for sales reps leads to those reps making promises they can’t (or have no intention to) keep. Heartland’s credit card processing could do better, and in doing so, it would make itself a fiercely competitive option for businesses. For these reasons, Heartland gets a fair rating in this category, with a strong warning to proceed with caution.
Customer Service & Technical Support
The Heartland merchant services company strives to provide fast customer service on the surface of things and mentions on its site that you can expect your call to be answered in less than thirty seconds, typically. And that’s 24/7/365 support from a US-based, in-house team. That’s a nice touch. The support page on the website even lists not just one phone number but one for each category, which theoretically means you’ll be transferred less and get the help you need faster. Again, this is a good thing to take note of when considering a merchant account. Additionally, you’ll find extensive documentation for developers, plus dedicated support channels for them. (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 do need to look at the entire life cycle of care, including that first sales call. What I’ve found is a disproportionate amount of complaints on consumer review sites (e.g., Yelp), and they tell a sad tale of broken promises, misrepresentation, and what we call in the industry the “runaround.” To be fair, we may be looking at a few customers who have had an unfortunate and uniquely bad experience, but when we start to see patterns of complaints, the warning bells sound.
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.
For being such a large company, Heartland Payment Systems reviews are relatively sparse. It has less than companies who are far smaller, and what that may suggest is that Heartland doesn’t provide above-average services. Mediocre doesn’t tend to instigate leaving a review, but we know negative experiences certainly do. Here is what I found over the user review landscape:
- BBB Rating: B-
- Yelp Rating: 2.5/5 stars
- Apple App Store: 1.9/5 stars
- Google Play Store: Overall 3/5 with an overwhelming majority of 1-star reviews in 2019 and 2020
- G2: 4.5/5-star average out of six reviews
Negative Reviews & Complaints
The negative reviews tell us that merchants feel unhappy with what they feel are “bait and switch” tactics and hidden fees. When a company employs commission-based sales practices, unfortunately, that is the common and predictable outcome. And Heartland could do a lot better. Users leaving reviews at the app store cited some major frustrations in the restaurant space, specifically. Here are a few examples from a Google Play reviewer, a G2 reviewer, and a Yelp reviewer, respectively:
Was working fine and now crashes with every payment…
Heartland customer service has been difficult to work with. The POS system is antiquated.
Heartland has a lot of internal communication problems. Or they intentionally “forget” about things and nothing ever gets done.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
Of course, one of the challenges of reviewing any company is negativity bias. That is, people who are unhappy with a company or service are far more likely to be vocal about their displeasure than a happy customer is likely to speak out about their great experience. When the number of complaints is small, the number of positive reviews often tends to be small as well. That’s especially true with payment processing for reasons I have yet to understand fully. However, you can find some positive reviews for Heartland online if you know where to look, such as the below quotes from a G2 reviewer and a Google Play reviewer.
The online reports and statements are easy to navigate and understand.
When we look at the positive reviews from customers, it’s all a bit jumbled. I do see (even among negative reviews) that some merchants feel like their sales rep was helpful, friendly, and trustworthy, so in that regard, it appears the sales team is doing well. Otherwise, some merchants praise Heartland for being easy to use, and they say they like the range of products and services.
Despite some areas of needed improvement, Heartland’s services are surprisingly comprehensive, seamlessly blending tools for a brick-and-mortar location, eCommerce businesses of all kinds, and mobile enterprises. Additionally, Heartland Payments provides a powerful suite of security tools designed to reduce merchants’ PCI scope, protect cardholder data, and simplify payments all around.
Still, there’s plenty of room for improvement. I would love to see more pricing transparency for all of Heartland’s services and for a month-to-month contract to become the default option. Those changes would immediately make Heartland even more competitive, ease customer angst, and improve the company’s overall score here at Merchant Maverick.
The problem is that its current payment structure seems to lead to some trouble with salespeople not properly disclosing fees, which causes problems further down the line. So it’s crucial that you educate yourself: ask about contract length, how to terminate the agreement, and the early termination fee. Try to get the fee waived and set up on a month-to-month agreement, and you must get it in writing. Keep a copy of your contract, too. And it never hurts to ask your sales rep for references or recommendations. Most importantly, read your contract in full before signing. We know you’re busy, but it is that important.
For now, I can offer Heartland 3 out of 5 stars. If the company started 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.
If Heartland Payments isn’t your style, or you want to know more about some other solutions, definitely check out our highest-rated processors.
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