Heartland Payment Systems Review
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- Date Established
- Edmond, OK
- Ideal for restaurant industry
- Supports ecommerce
- Free mobile payments app
- Nonprofit discounts available
- Excellent customer support
- $295 early termination fee
- No pricing disclosed online
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, services, transparency, and so on. Heartland Payment Systems isn’t perfect as far as payment processing, but it performs above many others in this business. With some not necessarily innovative practices, but certainly uncommon ones — such as an in-house sales team — there’s a lot to like, as we’ll cover in this review.
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 major changes.
Its parent company, Global Payments, took the number five spot by quantity of purchase transactions in 2018, according to the Nilson Report, with an estimated 7.56 billion transactions. The ranking comes from a combination of both Global and Heartland business — but it’s worth mentioning that Heartland alone has snagged that number five spot previously.
Suffice it to say, Heartland Payment Systems is not a small company. But it almost feels like one — it certainly doesn’t feel like a generic large processor, promising to be anything to any business. Instead, you get a feel from looking at Heartland’s site that it’s interested in pursuing business with some very common industries, such as restaurants, as well as some specialized niches.
Restaurant owners — whether quick-serve or full-service, sit-down establishments — should be looking into this company for sure. But you’ll also see that Heartland caters to schools (particularly K-12), the hospitality industry, local governments, pharmacies, medical providers, and nonprofits, just to name a few. I don’t see many of Heartland’s so-called specialties cropping up on many competitors’ websites, which stands out to me.
Overall, I believe Heartland is generally an honest, reliable company offering stand-out products and services in the merchant services sphere. However, Heartland Payment Systems is not without its flaws — particularly in how it treats and pays its sales reps, which directly leads to problems and complaints by merchants. The lack of disclosure about pricing is also disappointing, as is the default practice of a $295 early termination fee.
For these reasons, Heartland Payment Systems holds steady at a very respectable 4 stars out of 5. It’s a good option, particularly for some less-common niches with specialized needs. But if the company could get better about pricing disclosures and go strictly to month-to-month agreements, it could easily become a great option.
See the rest of my review for more info about Heartland and its services, or check out some of our other top-rated providers to see if there’s one better suited to your needs.
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Table of Contents
Products & Services
Heartland offers a great list of services. Offerings include:
- 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. It certainly shines in some specialized niches, but that doesn’t mean Heartland can’t also cater to your 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 offers discounted rates.
More specifically, here’s what you can expect as far as features when you sign up:
- EMV terminal solutions: Heartland offers a variety of chip card-enabled terminals designed to fit any business’ needs. This includes 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-fledge 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. Heartland offers an all-in-one mobile card reader for magstripe, chip card, and contactless payments.
- Payment Gateway & Virtual Terminal: Heartland’s solution is called the Portico gateway, and it comes with access to a virtual terminal as well as online payments. The gateway supports credit/debit cards, gift cards, and alternative payments (in this case, that means PayPal, Apple Pay, and MasterPass). Obviously the gateway will work in tandem with all of Heartland’s other services, including ecommerce options.
- eCommerce: Heartland is surprisingly detailed in its list of ecommerce services, which gives me a bit of confidence that the company understands what digital businesses need and are actively looking for. Most other processors, unless they specialize in ecommerce, tend to gloss over this aspect of service. Heartland promises its gateway integrates with major shopping carts including WooCommerce, 3Dcart, BigCommerce, and others. You also get advanced fraud screening and 3D Secure customer authentication included, which can be valuable tools.
- Micropayments: I said Heartland had industry-specific programs, that includes micropayments options for 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 micropayments plan is more affordable, allowing providers to lower their operating costs.
- Billing Solutions: Heartland’s tools also include support for billing and recurring charges. This can include installment payments or subscription management, too.
- 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. This is pretty cool.
- 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. Heartland bundles the two into a single package (“Gift+Rewards”) with one monthly fee, and it appears to offer a lot of customization. There’s also an email marketing option for outreach.
- Online data reporting: The other major component of the customer engagement tools are data and analytics services. Heartland offers analytics to handle important sales data, as well as a separate “customer intelligence” service that allows you to understand who your customers are in more detail.
- Developer Tools: Heartland’s developer tools allow you to take the company’s services to the next level, and create a truly integrated setup with automation. The documentation includes SDKs in several major programming languages and address a whole host of features, from Internet of Things (IoT) devices and POS/terminal integrations to online bill pay, gift and stored value cards, and of course, ecommerce.
That mostly covers it for payment processing, but Heartland does have a few addition features I’d like to call out:
Other Heartland Services
- Payroll Processing: Heartland’s website claims to handle payroll for 38,000 businesses. One of the advantages to using Heartland’s payroll services is that they’ll work perfectly 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.
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. I like that Heartland doesn’t try to be so generic as to cater to everyone. It gives you specifics so that you know who the company is and what they do. You don’t see that kind of statement from most big companies. The giants are generally so bland that they seem like they could be anything to any merchant. That might be true, but they miss out on a chance to call out what these companies do well. Not Heartland.
Data Security With Heartland Payment Systems
There is one last feature I want to mention: data security. When you sign up with Heartland, you get access to the company’s proprietary, state-of-the-art, Heartland Secure system. It’s seriously impressive. 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 three security technologies — EMV, of course, as well as end-to-end encryption and tokenization. For online merchants, there’s SecureSubmit, a tool that helps Heartland’s ecommerce merchants protect consumer information entered via a browser. It too helps reduce PCI scope for merchants.
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 a lot of companies. 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. With Heartland Secure, the company is easily one of the most secure processors you can work with right now. That’s pretty high praise.
Fees & Rates
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 other information about its processing costs. The most helpful information comes from the payment processing service page, which highlights the benefits of choosing Heartland:
It would appear that Heartland relies on its sales agents to explain what the company’s rates are. I can’t find any mentions of other costs or fees that are incurred by choosing Heartland — but I am certain they exist. If you check out Heartland’s page for nonprofits, you’ll see a bit of text that clues you in, under “Online Giving”: “Our special processing pricing supports your mission and Heartland has waived all other regular payment fees for nonprofits. It’s our donation to your organization.”
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 on a monthly basis rather than daily, Heartland charges a marginal fee. However, references for this are scant, and I encourage you to talk to your sales rep about it if you have questions.
The lack of disclosure is definitely frustrating, and we do have some 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.
Contract Length & Early Termination Fee
With Heartland you can expect, as standard:
- An early termination fee (ETF) of $295
- A three-year contract
If you don’t need to purchase any hardware, you may be able to get a month-to-month agreement from your sales rep. However, this is not common and you’ll need to ask about it, because your sales rep probably won’t mention it at all. We’ve had sales reps comment on this review that Heartland doesn’t offer any sort of auto-renewal clause, which I assume means after three years you move to a month-to-month plan. However, a copy of the Merchant Termins & Conditions Agreement that I found on Heartland’s site says that after the initial 3-year term, the contract auto-renews for 12-month increments, and you must submit your cancellation request in writing 60 days in advance.
At Merchant Maverick, we don’t like ETFs. We wish they would go away altogether. However, Heartland generally seems to be fair about assessing its ETF and most of the company’s sales reps seem to disclose this to their customers. It’s fairly common to see LOTS of complaints about ETFs from the bigger processors, but there are few complaints about Heartland period, and the ETF only comes up a portion of the time. Plus, keep in mind that you may qualify for a month-to-month agreement with no ETF if you ask about one.
Sales & Advertising Transparency
I like 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, doesn’t make any wild claims or promises, and 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 regarding sales and advertising transparency. I say almost here 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 exactly 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.
I do have some mixed feelings about Heartland and its transparency. In addition to the sales rep issue, Heartland seems to have had some trouble rolling out a new policy for merchants who aren’t EMV compliant: a $299 non-compliance fee. I noted it in a few complaints because the merchants who were caught by the fee were upset that they weren’t informed or offered a chance to get a chip card reader before the policy took effect. I did a Google search to confirm the information and I found it explained on another processor’s website, but after looking through the Heartland blog and its product pages I saw no information about it. However, comments about this fee appear to have dropped off and it appears that Heartland no longer charges merchants for not accepting chip card payments.
I do generally believe Heartland, as a corporate entity, wants to be fair and transparent for merchants. The complaint volume and overall trends in complaints back up the idea that it does pretty OK in that department. However, the lack of pricing disclosures is, well, disappointing. It’s very 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 clearly leads to sales reps making promises they can’t (or have no intention to) keep. Heartland could do better, and in doing so it would make itself a fiercely competitive option for businesses.
Customer Service & Technical Support
Heartland claims to be the real deal concerning customer service. You can get 24/7/365 support from a US-based, in-house team. 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 just to talk to the right person. You can call the correct department from the get-go.
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. And there’s 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.)
As I said earlier, many of the complaints about Heartland seem to relate to issues of sales reps not doing their jobs properly. The remaining complaints stem from issues in customer service, which is always a cause for concern. That said, after looking at the complaints in depth, the issues are varied. I think in this case we’re looking at a few customers who have had an unfortunate and uniquely bad experiences, because the customer service definitely doesn’t seem to be a consistent issue the way it is with some companies. It does mean that Heartland is fallible, but by and large most merchants should be just fine — especially if you’re dealing with an experienced sales rep, who will be a secondary point of contact with the company apart from the support phone line.
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
I’m very happy to say that Heartland doesn’t have nearly the amount of complaints that I’d expect them to have for being a large processor. RipOffReport.com features just 21 complaints, the latest from 2016. Heartland has 41 complaints through the BBB (up from 33). Just 11 of them are from the last 12 months. Negative reviews are scattered across other review sites, but many of them are duplicates posted by a single merchant, which inflates the number. When you consider that Heartland serves approximately 300,000 merchants with its payment processing, that’s an incredibly small number — 300 complaints would still be just 0.1% of the overall userbase.
The complaints are varied, but they do touch on a couple of trends, as we’ve already pointed out:
- 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 fewer complaints about it than most processors. And of course, it only applies to merchants who try to cancel their contract before it’s up.
- Poor Customer Service: Most of the complaints about customer service are quite varied, which suggests to me that most of the problems are rather extraordinary circumstances and not consistent issues. Usually if the complaints are identical in nature, it’s pretty obvious what the problem is. In this case, the best that I can tell is that Heartland might be a little over-compartmentalized: yes, you can easily reach a specific department to handle a specific issue, but at the same time those reps may not be equipped to address any other issues, resulting in a customer service edition of musical chairs.
- Hardware Issues: A very small portion of the complaints focus on situations where the merchant was set up with faulty hardware, or just hardware that wasn’t suited for what they needed. Again, this issue is likely attributable to poorly trained sales representatives and the occasional odd fault. Heartland does support several terminal models from multiple manufacturers and its payment processing services do work with several third-party POS providers, so you definitely have multiple options to consider.
That’s it — that’s the summation of complaints about Heartland. Again, the negative reviews are quite small in the overall number, which is remarkable for a large processor.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
One of the troubles 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 fully understand. However, you can find some positive reviews for Heartland online if you know where to look.
Unfortunately, Heartland doesn’t provide much in the way of testimonials or case studies. The most you’ll get from Heartland directly is a bit of information on the home page, including a scrolling list of current big-name customers.
When do you look at the positive reviews from customers, it’s all a bit jumbled. I do see (even among negative reviews) that many 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.
I really do like Heartland Payment Systems. I like the website, the services, and the way this company does business overall. I even like that the company has a bit of personality. Heartlands services are surprisingly comprehensive, seamlessly blending tools for brick-and-mortar location, ecommerce businesses of all kinds, and mobile enterprises, too. Heartland provides access to additional tools to help your business thrive — and underlying it all is a powerful suite of security tools designed to reduce merchants’ PCI scope, protect cardholder data, and simplify payments all around. Throw in automatic breach insurance at no cost and I have no trouble understanding why Heartland is one of the largest acquirers in the US and why the overall complaint volume is so low.
Obviously there’s 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.
The other issue is the matter of sales people — the current payment structure seems to lead to some trouble with sales people not properly disclosing fees, which causes problems further down the line. I am not here to pass judgment on the situation — but I will say that this is an issue that affects merchants. So it’s important 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, if you can, but if you do, get it in writing. Keep a copy of your contract, too. And it never hurts to ask your sales rep for references or recommendations.
So for now, I can offer Heartland 4 out of 5 stars. If the company could 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.
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