Processing $1,000 per month or less in card payments?
- Date Established
- Calgary, Alberta, Canada and Seattle, Washington
- Exclusive interchange-plus processing rates
- No long-term contracts or early termination fees
- Extensive account fee disclosures
- Minimal monthly account fees
- Excellent customer support
- Not cost-effective for merchants processing less than $1,500 per month
- No EMV-compliant mobile card reader
Helcim is a merchant account provider headquartered in Calgary, Alberta. The company also has an office in Seattle, Washington and serves businesses in both the United States and Canada. Founded in 2006, Helcim distinguishes itself from many other providers by offering fair contract terms, exclusive interchange-plus pricing (which they call Cost+), and reasonable account fees – all of which they fully disclose on their website.
None of these features should be anything special. After all, you would expect any business to treat their customers fairly and openly disclose their prices, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, that’s not how the merchant services industry has traditionally operated. Instead, most providers go out of their way to hide the actual cost of their services and then lock you into long-term contracts that are so difficult and expensive to get out of that you’ll be stuck with them indefinitely. Helcim stands out from most other providers by offering extensive disclosures on their website that detail every fee and charge you might have to pay when you’re using one of their merchant accounts. While we can’t say with absolute certainty that they’ve disclosed every single possible fee, we can say that they’ve covered all the fees that typically come with a merchant account, and even a few unusual ones that you may never have to pay.
Not only does Helcim disclose its fees and processing rates, but they also provide some extensive information about all the “dirty tricks” that their competitors use to soak you for hidden fees and excessively high processing rates. Even if you don’t think Helcim is the right choice for your business, it’s well worth your time to read the information on their website as a way to protect yourself from other, less honest merchant account providers.
By just about any measure, Helcim excels at offering a quality product at a fair price. Don’t like long-term contracts? All Helcim accounts are billed on a month-to-month basis, with no early termination fee if you decide to close your account. Don’t like expensive tiered pricing plans? All accounts feature the same interchange-plus pricing plan advertised on their website (with discounts available for nonprofit and high-volume businesses). Also, Helcim doesn’t like overpriced credit card terminal leases any more than you do. Instead, they’ll sell you a terminal outright or reprogram your existing equipment for free. Most importantly, they back up all these great features with excellent 24/7 customer support.
Helcim has also recently introduced their Helcim Commerce platform, a web-based, all-in-one product that combines your merchant account, payment gateway, payment processing hardware, and online shopping cart into a single product. For a single monthly fee, you’ll get every service you need to run a retail or ecommerce business. Gone are the days of getting your merchant account from one vendor, your gateway from another, and your shopping cart from yet another provider. You won’t have to worry about compatibility problems, as Helcim provides all these services in a single, integrated product.
So, there must be a catch, right? Well, Helcim isn’t for everyone. The company freely admits that its pricing structure doesn’t work well for small businesses processing less than $1,500 per month. If your business falls into that category, you should probably consider using Square or a similar payment service processor (PSP). Also, one of the ways Helcim can offer such competitive prices is by not accepting high-risk merchants. If your business is high-risk, check out our article The Best High-Risk Merchant Account Providers for some suggested vendors.
For everyone else, Helcim scores an excellent 5 out of 5 stars and qualifies as one of the best overall merchant account providers in the industry. They earn our highest recommendation, and we encourage you to check out what they have to offer.
Table of Contents
- Products & Services
- Fees & Rates
- Contract Length & Early Termination Fee
- Sales & Advertising Transparency
- Customer Service & Technical Support
- Negative Reviews & Complaints
- Positive Reviews & Testimonials
- Final Verdict
Products & Services
As we’ve noted, Helcim now provides a full range of merchant services through their integrated Helcim Commerce platform. Available plans include retail-only, ecommerce-only, and a retail + ecommerce package that includes just about every service the company offers. Depending on which plan you select, you’ll have access to some or all of the following features:
- Merchant accounts: Helcim uses Elavon as their backend processor. This arrangement gives you access to Elavon’s robust set of special features, but at a lower cost than you’d probably get if you set up a merchant account with them directly. Be aware that your contract documents will be from both Helcim and Elavon. While Elavon just takes care of processing your transactions, Helcim handles all other aspects of your account, including customer service and monthly billing statements.
- Credit card terminals: For US merchants, Helcim recommends buying your terminal outright. They offer several models for sale, including the Ingenico iCT220 ($199), iWL220 ($549), and iWL250 ($549) models. All these terminals are EMV-compliant and can also support NFC-based payment methods (such as Apple Pay). Note that the iWL250 wireless terminal also requires a $17.00 per month wireless data plan. If you already have a terminal, they can reprogram it for free, as long as it’s compatible with their system and EMV-capable. If you need to upgrade, Helcim’s Terminal Exchange Program will exchange your existing terminal for a refurbished, pre-programmed model for $79.00. Note that in Canada, EMV terminals are not designed to be transferred or resold, so they offer month-to-month terminal rentals instead. This is not the same thing as a terminal lease, and far more affordable.
- Virtual Terminal: All Helcim Commerce plans include an integrated virtual terminal. This web-based application allows you to enter credit card transactions manually from any computer and is designed as a backup solution if your credit card terminal isn’t working properly. Receipts can be printed or emailed automatically. Transactions can be entered manually or swiped using an optional USB-connected card reader.
- Payment gateway: Helcim’s eCommerce plans include a proprietary payment gateway for accepting and processing online transactions. The gateway includes all the standard features you’d expect, including support for recurring billing, a Card Vault for customer information management, shopping cart integration, hosted payment pages, and a customizable payment gateway API. The gateway secures your transactions using tokenization.
- Mobile processing: For on-the-go payments, Helcim Commerce includes the Helcim Commerce Mobile app and the Helcim Card Reader. The free app is available for both iOS and Android. The card reader, which costs $30.00 per unit, plugs into your smartphone or tablet’s headphone jack and is magstripe-only. With newer smartphones ditching the headphone jack and EMV credit cards being the current standard, we would really like to see Helcim release an EMV-compliant, Bluetooth-enabled card reader in the near future.
- Online shopping cart integration: While the Helcim Commerce platform includes a fully-featured online shopping cart, you can also use a third-party cart if you want. Compatible shopping carts are listed on their website.
- American Express OptBlue® Acceptance: This program allows merchants to process American Express transactions at interchange-plus rates. While it’s not a unique feature, most merchant account providers do not advertise it.
- eCheck (ACH) Processing: ACH payments aren’t as popular as they once were, but they’re still a handy option for some businesses. Accepting eChecks will cost you an additional $25.00 per month, plus a flat $0.25 per check.
Fees & Rates
Helcim may not be the least expensive merchant account provider on the market, but their processing rates and fees are all very competitive. Best of all, unlike most providers, they offer some extremely thorough price disclosures right on their website. With the information they provide, you should be able to estimate your total costs fairly accurately.
One of the best things about Helcim’s pricing structure is that every merchant – regardless of processing volume or history – is set up with an interchange-plus pricing plan. Many providers don’t offer interchange-plus at all, while others simply don’t advertise it. You’ll have to ask for it when negotiating the details of your account, and you might only be offered it if your business has a high monthly processing volume. Helcim features standardized interchange-plus rates that are published right on their website. Discounted rates are also available for nonprofits and high-volume businesses. One word of caution: While interchange-plus pricing clearly separates the interchange rate you’ll pay to the credit card associations and issuing banks from the markup you’ll pay to your provider, there can be a lot of variability in the interchange rates themselves. Check out our article The Complete Guide to Credit Card Processing Rates & Fees for more information.
Helcim offers three pricing plans, depending on how your business accepts payments. These plans are called the Retail, eCommerce, and Retail + eCommerce plans. Here are the details:
This plan is designed for traditional retailers who will be taking credit card payments in-person using a countertop credit card terminal.
- Interchange + 0.25% + $0.08 per transaction (volume discounts available)
- $15.00 monthly account fee
- Includes access to the Helcim Commerce platform, mobile payments, and a virtual terminal
The eCommerce Plan is Helcim’s pricing plan for ecommerce-only merchants who will be processing card-not-present transactions over the internet.
- Interchange + 0.45% + $0.25 per transaction (volume discounts available)
- $35.00 monthly account fee
- Includes payment gateway (with credit card vault, recurring billing, hosted payment pages, email invoicing, and other features) and hosted online store
Retail + eCommerce Plan
This deluxe plan combines all features of the Retail and eCommerce plans for a flat $50.00 monthly account fee. Processing rates are the same as the other two plans.
Note that the processing rates quoted above are the highest rates that Helcim charges for small businesses. The company also offers volume discounts that can result in significant savings – if your business is big enough to qualify. Discounts are based on your average monthly processing volume. Here’s a rundown of the discounted rates for merchants using either the Retail or eCommerce plans:
- $0 – 25,000: Interchange + 0.25% + $0.08 per transaction
- $25,001 – 50,000: Interchange + 0.23% + $0.07 per transaction
- $50,001 – 100,000: Interchange + 0.21% + $0.07 per transaction
- $100,001 – 250,000: Interchange + 0.20% + $0.06 per transaction
- $250,001 – 1,000,000: Interchange + 0.18% + $0.06 per transaction
- $1,000,001 – 5,000,000: Interchange + 0.15% + $0.05 per transaction
- $5,000,001+: Interchange + 0.10% + $0.05 per transaction
Online and eCommerce Merchants
- $0 – 25,000: Interchange + 0.45% + $.25 per transaction
- $25,001 – 50,000: Interchange + 0.40% + $0.20 per transaction
- $50,001 – 100,000: Interchange + 0.35% + $0.20 per transaction
- $100,001 – 250,000: Interchange + 0.30% + $0.15 per transaction
- $250,001 – 1,000,000: Interchange + 0.25% + $0.15 per transaction
- $1,000,001 – 5,000,000: Interchange + 0.15% + $0.10 per transaction
- $5,000,001+: Interchange + 0.10% + $0.10 per transaction
All qualified non-profit organizations receive a standard processing rate of interchange + 0.10% + $0.10 per transaction. To qualify, you must be registered as a charity with the Federal government.
The rates quoted above are the standard published processing rates. While new merchants will usually receive these rates, they are negotiable. If you received a lower quote elsewhere, chances are Helcim will match it. Also, you’re not limited to just the “standard” prices listed on Helcim’s site. Customized pricing is available if your needs fall outside of these standard pricing packages.
Helcim also does a great job of keeping your monthly fees to a minimum. They’ve eliminated many of the fees that traditional providers love to add to your bill, and rolled some unavoidable fees into your monthly account fee. Here’s a list of fees you won’t have to pay with Helcim:
- Account setup or application fees
- PCI compliance fees (this is included in your monthly account fee)
- Statement fees
- Monthly minimums
- Early termination fees
Of course, there are still a few extra fees that you might have to pay. Naturally, Helcim discloses these fees also, and explains what circumstances might trigger one of them. Here are some of the more common additional fees that you might see on your statement:
- Chargeback fee: $15.00 per occurrence
- Bank Account Change/Business Name Change/Insufficient Funds (NSF) fee: $25.00 per occurrence
- PCI non-compliance: $60.00 per month
- Wireless data fee: $17.00 per month. This fee only applies if you have a wireless terminal.
Optional merchant services also come with additional fees. For each additional location, retail merchants will pay an extra $15.00 per month. If you need Multi-Currency Processing (MCP), it will cost you $25.00 per month. Finally, processing using Level 3 credit card data also costs an extra $25.00 per month. Level 3 data is primarily used for B2B transactions, so most merchants won’t need it. Interchange rates are lower for transactions with level 3 data, so if you process a lot of B2B transactions, the cost savings might cover or even exceed the additional monthly fee.
There are also several miscellaneous fees, such as the Visa FANF fee, that Helcim has to pay and will pass on to you at cost. For a complete explanation of account fees, check out the Understanding Merchant Account Fees page on their website.
Contract Length & Early Termination Fee
All Helcim’s merchant accounts feature true month-to-month billing, with no early termination fees or other penalties for closing your account. All you need to do is provide 30 days’ notice, and your account will be closed. This is a much better and more flexible arrangement than the industry standard. Most providers will lock you into a three-year contract that comes with an automatic renewal clause and an early termination fee (typically several hundred dollars) if you close your account before your contract expires.
Because these long-term contracts and cancellation penalties are so unpopular, there is a growing trend within the processing industry to do away with them. While some of the more honest providers (like Helcim) will eliminate both the multi-year contract term and the early termination fee, most providers will simply agree to waive the cancellation fee – if you negotiate this waiver when you set up your account. This arrangement is not a true month-to-month contract, however, as you’re still on the hook for the full three years. While you won’t be hit with a penalty if you close your account early, we’ve seen plenty of complaints where merchants continued to be billed for monthly account fees long after they thought they had closed their accounts.
You won’t have these kinds of problems with Helcim, and it’s good to see that they’re leading the trend towards true month-to-month billing within the industry. Nonetheless, we encourage you to read your contract very carefully before signing up. Pay close attention to the account closure instructions, which you’ll want to follow to the letter to close your account without any problems.
Sales & Advertising Transparency
Helcim’s website publishes separate pricing information for both Canadian and US-based merchants. Otherwise, the two sites are mostly identical. Both sites are very professional in appearance and content. You’ll find full disclosures about pricing and contract terms, as well as detailed explanations of every kind of fee you might encounter on your billing statement. The information presented on Helcim’s website is perhaps the most thorough and transparent explanation of merchant account pricing we’ve ever seen from a provider. For example, while a few other providers might disclose their interchange-plus processing rates, Helcim provides a detailed sampling of actual interchange rates from both Visa and MasterCard. This gives you a clearer picture of what you’ll actually be paying and also shows you just how much variability there is among interchange rates.
Helcim’s sales team is also top-notch. They have a dedicated, full-time sales staff and don’t use independent agents. For merchants, this translates to a much more pleasant sales experience. You won’t have to worry about the high-pressure sales tactics and misleading claims that independent agents frequently resort to. We haven’t seen any criticism of the company’s sales practices, but we have seen several positive comments about them from satisfied merchants.
Helcim also has a well-rounded social media presence, with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. These accounts mostly distribute material from the company’s blog and feature numerous educational articles that will help you gain a more in-depth understanding of how credit card processing works. They also have a YouTube channel, which currently features 34 tutorials and educational videos.
Customer Service & Technical Support
Helcim offers 24/7 telephone and email support, and feedback from merchants indicates that the quality of that support is generally excellent. One word of caution is in order, however. While you’re likely to talk to an in-house customer service representative during business hours, off-hours support is usually outsourced. Consequently, you can expect to receive better help with technical issues if you call during normal business hours. Email support is also excellent, and fast as well. You should expect to receive a response in less than 24 hours.
The company also provides one of the most extensive, detailed online knowledgebases we’ve seen. It’s full of documentation and tutorials for setting up your countertop terminals, using the Helcim Virtual Terminal, running the mobile processing app, and other services. If you’re new to Helcim and are having trouble getting everything up and running, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to solve your problem using their knowledgebase.
Negative Reviews & Complaints
Helcim has been accredited by the BBB since 2014 and currently has an A+ rating. While it’s common to see BBB-accredited companies that have A+ ratings despite having accumulated a high number of complaints, Helcim has had zero complaints within the last three years. That’s a remarkable track record, especially in the merchant services industry, where even the better providers come in for a fair amount of criticism. Helcim’s BBB profile also includes two positive reviews, as well as one negative one. If you read the company’s response, however, it seems clear that the reviewing merchant was in the wrong.
Over on Ripoff Report, you’ll find just a single complaint. It’s pretty old, but Ripoff Report doesn’t remove complaints after a period of time the way the BBB does. Again, the complaint lacks substance and doesn’t raise any issues that you should be aware of regarding doing business with Helcim.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
As mentioned above, Helcim has two positive reviews posted on their BBB profile. That’s very commendable, given that most merchant account providers don’t have any positive reviews with the BBB. The company also has a 4.4 out of 5 rating from customers on their Facebook page, with 15 out of 18 reviewers giving them a 5-star rating.
Helcim also provides a Reviews & Testimonials page on their website that features twelve brief testimonials, most of which are from their Canadian clients. You’ll also find logos from some of their more prominent customers, including UNICEF Canada, Children’s Wish, and the YMCA.
Finding a good merchant account provider is never easy. Merchant accounts are complicated, and there are a tremendous number of variables to consider when estimating what your costs will be with any provider. To make matters worse, the processing industry has a well-deserved bad reputation for dishonest sales practices, high costs, onerous long-term contracts, and poor customer support.
You won’t have to worry about any of these issues with Helcim. They have some of the most transparent sales practices in the industry, with prices and terms fully disclosed on their website. You’ll know what you’re getting before you even talk to a sales representative. They offer interchange-plus pricing exclusively, which for merchants processing at least $1,500 per month will be the most cost-effective pricing model available. Their fees are reasonable and also fully disclosed. Long-term contracts won’t be an issue, either, as their contracts all feature month-to-month billing with no early termination fee. They also don’t rip you off with expensive terminal leases, either. Finally, customer support, both through their website and via telephone, is excellent.
For most merchants, this is about the best overall service you can hope to get from a merchant account provider. For Canadian businesses, where there aren’t as many providers to choose from, Helcim is the best provider available. There are a few exceptions, however. If your business is very small and processes less than $1,500 per month in transactions, you’ll probably save money by using Square or a similar payment service provider (PSP) instead. The company even provides a Helcim vs. Square, Intuit, and PayPal page on their website to show you a comparison of total costs. Of course, we encourage you to run your own cost estimate using your actual average processing volume and ticket size to get a more accurate comparison.
High-risk merchants are also out of luck, as Helcim keeps costs low for their customers by specifically excluding those in the high-risk category. This may not seem fair, but the truth is that you’ll inevitably pay a lot more for credit card processing if you’re a high-risk merchant. Check out our article The Best High-Risk Merchant Account Providers for some suggestions if this applies to you.
The only other minor criticism we have of Helcim is that they still haven’t introduced an EMV-compliant mobile card reader. While it’s true that most merchant account providers have been slow to offer EMV-capable readers, we’d really like to see this addressed sooner rather than later. The majority of credit cards in circulation now have EMV chips, and with the liability shift that accompanied their introduction, merchants are on the hook for any fraudulent transactions that occur if an EMV card is swiped instead of dipped.
Overall, Helcim rates a solid 5 out of 5 stars. We recommend them very highly, whether your business is in the US or Canada. If you’ve had any personal experience with Helcim, be sure to leave a review in the Comments section below.