Merchant Account Solutions Review
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- Date Established
- Thousand Oaks, California
- Full line of Clover products and EMV-compatible terminals
- Three-year contract with high early termination fee
- Expensive tiered pricing plans
- Numerous undisclosed account fees
- Extensive use of independent sales agents
- Widespread use of misleading sales gimmicks
- High complaint volume relative to size
- Poor reputation for customer service and support
Merchant Account Solutions (MAS) is a merchant services provider headquartered in Thousand Oaks, California. They’ve been in business since 2007. The company appears to be a DBA for a provider called Integrated Card Service, which is (or was) a reseller for both iPayment and First Data.
Now, you might wonder why a provider would choose to operate under a DBA. While there can be any number of perfectly legitimate reasons for doing so, it can also be because a company is actively trying to escape from the negative publicity associated with its previous business name. Unfortunately, that clearly appears to be the case with Merchant Account Solutions. As of this writing, Integrated Card Service has taken down their BBB profile, and their website has been reduced to a single-page site. Considering that the company had racked up dozens of complaints and credible allegations of fraudulent business practices, it’s no surprise that they would want to bury a toxic business name and start over.
Of course, this approach only works if a company is willing to make positive changes to their business practices and offer their customers a higher level of service. With Merchant Account Solutions, this clearly has not happened. The company has already accumulated an above-average number of complaints relative to its size. Worse yet, they appear to be continuing the same disreputable business practices that got them into trouble in the first place.
While the company has significant problems in practically all aspects of their service, their sales and marketing efforts stand out as being particularly troublesome. Merchant Account Solutions appears to rely entirely on independent sales agents to sell accounts – a practice that almost always leads to a high volume of complaints from merchants. Even worse, we’ve seen a significant number of complaints from merchants alleging that they were unknowingly locked into contracts without ever talking to a sales agent or seeing a contract document. Based on multiple reports of this kind of fraudulent sales practice, we highly recommend that you carefully avoid giving Merchant Account Services any of your personal information (particularly your business checking account number), unless, for some reason, you actually want to sign up with them.
With a host of problems and very few positive features, we can only give Merchant Account Solutions 2 out of 5 stars at this time – and that’s probably being generous. If a sales agent from the company tries to contact you by telephone, we recommend that you hang up and block their number. If they attempt to solicit you in person, we suggest that you politely escort them to the curb. The merchant services industry is very competitive, and many other providers can offer you far better service, and at a lower price. If you want to take advantage of First Data’s strong product lineup, we particularly recommend Dharma Merchant Services (see our review) as a reseller that will offer you everything that Merchant Account Solutions does not. You can also check out our Merchant Account Comparison Chart for further recommendations.
Table of Contents
Products & Services
Merchant Account Solutions offers all the usual services you’d expect from a merchant services provider. Their emphasis appears to be on the retail sector, with very little beyond a basic payment gateway for ecommerce merchants. We’d also note that every product or service the company offers is actually provided through a third-party vendor. There doesn’t appear to be a single proprietary feature available. Here’s a brief rundown of what you can expect:
- Merchant Accounts: As we’ve noted above, Merchant Account Solutions is not a direct processor. Your account will actually be underwritten by either First Data or iPayment. If you experience an account hold, freeze, or termination, be aware that in almost all cases this action has been initiated by your backend processor, not MAS.
- Credit Card Terminals: For retail businesses, Merchant Account Solutions offers a wide variety of traditional countertop terminals. Models listed on their website and in the Merchant Account Solutions Store include the following: the Pax S80 (which works with the Pax SP30 PIN Pad), the Ingenico iCT220 (which works with the Ingenico iPP220 PIN Pad), the Verifone Vx520 (which works with the Verifone 805 PIN Pad), and the Poynt Smart Terminal. Wireless models include the Pax S90, the Ingenico iWL250, and the Verifone Vx680. All of these models support EMV and magstripe payment methods, and most of them also support NFC-based methods such as Apple Pay and Android Pay. Note that MAS advertises a “free” terminal option, but doesn’t provide much specific information. We’re very suspicious of “free” terminal offers, as they usually come with a catch such as an inflated monthly account fee to compensate for the free equipment or a requirement that you accept a long-term contract with an early termination fee. The option to lease your terminals is not disclosed, but we strongly recommend against it. As a First Data reseller, terminals are most likely leased through First Data Global Leasing, one of the worst equipment leasing companies in the industry.
- Point-of-Sale (POS) Systems: The company offers the complete line of First Data’s Clover point-of-sale (POS) systems, including the Clover Station (see our review), Clover Mini (see our review), and Clover Flex (see our review) products. The Clover Station is listed for $1295 on the MAS website. Other POS systems that the company offers include the following: Aldelo POS, Aloha POS, Bevo POS, Booker, LightSpeed (see our review), Linga POS, pcAmerica Cash Register Express, Revel Systems (see our review), Shop Controller, SmartSwipe POS, Springboard POS, TouchBistro, and the Verifone Ruby SuperSystem (a specialized POS system for gas stations). As with countertop terminals, MAS offers a “free” or discounted POS system for businesses processing over $250,000 per month who open an account with them. Again, we encourage you to be very suspicious of this offer, as there is probably a hidden cost attached to it somewhere.
- Payment Gateway: Merchant Account Solutions uses Authorize.Net (see our review) as their payment gateway. Unlike most other providers, MAS doesn’t appear to have a proprietary gateway of their own. Pricing is not disclosed; however, you can expect to pay a monthly gateway fee and possibly a one-time setup fee as well. Authorize.Net is one of the most popular gateways in the credit card processing industry and includes all the important features you’ll need to run an online business. Our one major criticism of them is that it’s very difficult and expensive to export your customer payment information if you want to switch to a different gateway provider. Fortunately, many payment gateways today offer an Authorize.Net emulator mode that should help to smooth the transition.
- Virtual Terminal: The company mentions the availability of a virtual terminal in one of their blog posts, but doesn’t provide any details on their main website. If you’re a mail order or telephone order business that wants to be able to key in transactions directly from your laptop or desktop, be sure to ask a sales representative about this feature. For card-present transactions, you’ll also need a card reader that connects via either USB or Bluetooth.
- Mobile Payments: The company’s main mPOS system is Clover Go (see our review), which is available for both iOS and Android. The Clover Go card reader can connect to your smartphone or tablet via either the headphone jack or Bluetooth, and can process magstripe, EMV, or NFC-based payment methods (such as Apple Pay and Android Pay). If you’re using the Authorize.Net payment gateway, you can also use the Authorize.Net app and a compatible card reader to get the same functionality.
- eCheck (ACH) Processing: It may be hard to believe, but not everyone uses credit or debit cards for all their purchases. Accepting ACH payments allows customers who don’t use plastic to buy from your website, but it requires an additional service that usually costs extra. Merchant Account Solutions doesn’t advertise ACH processing on their site, but it’s probably available. Ask your sales representative for details.
- Next Day Funding: It usually takes 1-2 business days for funds from processed transactions to reach your bank account, and no one likes to wait that long. Many providers, including MAS, now offer a “next day funding” service that cuts your wait time down to about 24 hours (in most cases). However, you’ll have to pay an (undisclosed) extra monthly fee for skipping to the head of the line, so you’ll want to carefully weigh whether the faster access to your funds is worth the additional expense.
- Merchant Cash Advance: Like most merchant services providers, Merchant Account Solutions also offers merchant cash advances (probably through a third-party lender). If you qualify, you can obtain a line of credit for up to $500,000. Qualifying requires that your business be at least one year old and that your annual revenue is at least $50,000 per year or $4,200 per month over the past three months. Be sure to check the repayment terms very carefully before signing up for this type of offer.
Fees & Rates
You won’t find a single disclosure regarding account fees or processing rates on the Merchant Account Solutions website. Unfortunately, this is a common practice among merchant services providers, particularly those who work with multiple backend processors. While their primary reason for doing so is that fees and rates vary too much from one merchant to the next to make it practical to list them all, the fact is that it also helps to keep prospective clients in the dark about how much their merchant account might actually cost. Transparency is the exception in the processing industry, not the rule.
What this means for you is that you’ll have to contact the company’s sales department (which is staffed entirely by independent agents) for a specific quote that’s tailored to your business. You should consider such a quote as merely an initial offer. With no published fees or rates, most items are subject to negotiation, and you can definitely get a better deal by 1) asking for one, and 2) coming in with a quote from a competitor. Be aware, however, that your leverage to negotiate a more advantageous deal is directly proportional to the size of your company and how long you’ve been in business. Newly-established or very small businesses won’t have much influence on the final terms of their contract.
While we don’t have any specific information regarding processing rate plans, MAS most likely uses a combination of both tiered and interchange-plus pricing plans. Unfortunately, you can expect to be offered a tiered plan in your initial quote, as this type of pricing is almost always more profitable for the provider. We highly recommend asking for interchange-plus pricing – and rejecting any offers that don’t include it.
Account maintenance fees are also highly variable, and you’ll definitely want to know what these are going to be before you agree to a contract. There’s some room for negotiation here, so don’t be afraid to ask for a waiver of certain fees (especially the early termination fee). Reports from merchants indicate that MAS usually charges a $99 annual fee, a $4.95 monthly PCI compliance fee, and a $25.00 monthly minimum. There will also be a host of other recurring and incidental fees, so review your contract carefully so you won’t be surprised later. We’ve even heard reports from merchants of being charged a monthly account fee as high as $42.00. This suggests to us that the company might be padding their monthly account fees for merchants who take advantage of their “free” terminal offer.
Contract Length & Early Termination Fee
Merchant Account Solutions provides a link to their Program Guide on their website. This document consists of a whopping 64 pages of fine print, but it doesn’t constitute your entire contract. You’ll need to refer to your Merchant Application for specific details regarding your account. Nonetheless, there are some valuable disclosures buried in the Program Guide – if you know where to look. The most significant disclosure is that standard merchant accounts from MAS come with an initial term of three years. After that, an automatic renewal clause will extend your contract for one-year periods, unless you close your account.
The Program Guide also discloses that all contracts will include an early termination fee (ETF) if you close your account before the end of the initial three-year period or before the end of a successive one-year period. While the amount of the ETF varies from one merchant to the next, most merchants who had to pay it reported that it cost them $545.00.
So, how can you close your account and still avoid paying the early termination fee? The Program Guide specifies that you’ll need to provide 30 days’ written notice to close your account properly. By “written notice,” what they really mean is that you’ll have to use a special form that only they can provide to you. We recommend that you obtain this form well in advance of the end of your current contract term and that you send it to MAS more than 30 days before it’s supposed to take effect. We’d also caution you that, despite what the company’s customer service representatives might tell you, you cannot close your account over the phone. You must submit the written form.
Sales & Advertising Transparency
At first glance, Merchant Account Solutions’ website looks like any other merchant services provider site. There are the usual stock photos and plenty of marketing fluff about how great their products and services are and how wonderful they’ll be for your business. However, on closer inspection, the MAS website is one of the most chaotic and disorganized sites we’ve ever seen for a merchant services provider. Many links don’t lead to the information you expect to find, and there are plenty of icons that don’t link to any further content at all. Also, the entire website is rife with multiple spelling and grammatical errors and presents a very unprofessional appearance overall.
While these problems are disturbing enough, we’d warn you that the company’s website also includes just about every major misleading sales gimmick we’ve found in the processing industry. For starters, there’s the misleading “rates as low as 0.35%” claim, which most likely refers to the lowest debit card rate available to high-volume merchants. Rest assured that your actual processing rates will be higher – usually much higher – than 0.35% in almost all cases.
Then there’s the “$500 Challenge,” where the company promises to pay you $500 if you can find a competing provider that offers lower rates they can’t match. Naturally, the full terms and conditions of this offer are not disclosed. You can rest assured, however, that those terms are carefully designed to ensure that MAS never has to pay out $500 to anyone. We have yet to see a single claim by a merchant of actually receiving a payout on one of these offers, from MAS or anyone else.
There’s also a very misleading (and confusing) “no contracts” claim on the MAS website. You can rest assured that your merchant account is always going to be covered by a contract, regardless of the actual terms. This claim makes no sense considering that the company provides a copy of your 64-page contract right on their website. What they’re probably referring to here is that you won’t have a long-term contract with an early termination fee. In other words, they’ll waive the ETF, allowing you to close your account at any time without penalty. However, this offer will only apply if you don’t take advantage of their “free” terminal offer. You can have a “free” terminal (actually a loaner) or a month-to-month contract, but not both.
It appears that Merchant Account Solutions relies entirely on a force of independent sales agents to market and set up its accounts. While the use of independent contractors who are paid on a commission-only basis undoubtedly saves the company a lot of money, it also usually results in a miserable experience for merchants. Independent agents have a reputation throughout the industry for being poorly trained and for using very misleading sales practices in selling accounts. MAS is no exception, as we’ve found a large number of complaints from merchants alleging that these agents failed to disclose important contract terms or even flat-out lied to them about the actual terms of their contracts. Worst of all, we’ve seen complaints that merchants were signed up for contracts without their knowledge after providing their bank account information. This strongly suggests that the agents forged the merchant’s signatures on contract documents, a serious offense. This pattern of unethical (and illegal) activity is reason enough for us to recommend against doing business with Merchant Account Solutions.
The company’s social media presence is almost nonexistent. The only account we could find was on Facebook, and it hadn’t been updated with new content in several years.
Customer Service & Technical Support
Merchant Account Solutions provides customer support via both telephone and email. Unfortunately, they don’t list the hours of availability on their website, so we don’t know whether support is available 24/7 or only during business hours. We recommend that you contact customer support for any merchant services provider during business hours if at all possible, as after-hours support is usually outsourced and often of a lesser quality than you’ll receive from the company’s direct employees.
The company appears to set up each merchant with a dedicated customer service representative when the account is established. While this is generally preferable to being connected to a random customer service representative whenever you call in with a problem, be aware that your dedicated representative will usually not be available outside of regular business hours.
Unfortunately, the overall quality of customer support at Merchant Account Solutions is only fair at best, with many complaints from merchants alleging unhelpful and occasionally rude treatment from support representatives. There are also many complaints about having to wait on hold for extended periods of time before being able to reach a representative at the company.
We’d also note that the Merchant Account Solutions website lacks any kind of knowledgebase that might allow customers to solve common technical problems on their own. While we understand that the company offers a wide variety of equipment and software, and that assembling a complete knowledgebase would be an enormous undertaking, we’d still like to see this feature added sometime in the future. Online knowledgebases are rapidly becoming an industry standard, and MAS falls short of its competitors by not including this feature.
Negative Reviews & Complaints
Merchant Account Solutions has been accredited by the BBB since 2015, and currently has an A+ rating. Despite the high score, the company has had 40 complaints filed against it within the last three years. However, only one of these complaints was filed within the last twelve months. While almost all merchant services providers attract their fair share of complaints, this is a rather high amount relative to the company’s size.
We’re somewhat concerned with a message that appears at the top of the company’s BBB profile, which states: “ALERT: To expedite your complaint and get a quick resolution, please contact the company at 888-875-4808 extension 124.” While this is a legitimate phone number to reach customer service, we suspect that this message represents an attempt by MAS to prevent or at least discourage dissatisfied customers from filing complaints with the BBB. Presumably, customers will have already contacted customer service (and been unhappy with the results) before resorting to filing a BBB complaint, so we doubt that this is an effective strategy on the company’s part.
In examining the details of individual complaints, we also found numerous attempts by MAS to claim that a complaint had been resolved “outside of the BBB” when, in fact, it had not. Merchants almost always rejected this response and continued to press their claim. We’re not sure what the company hoped to accomplish by this clumsy ploy, but it wasn’t effective and only further served to undermine their already-shaky reputation.
There are an additional 14 complaints against the company on Ripoff Report. Common issues found within all of these complaints included the following:
- Nondisclosure Of Fees: Many merchants complain about “hidden” fees that weren’t disclosed by their sales agents when setting up their accounts. This is a very common problem that frequently occurs when a company relies on independent sales agents the way that MAS does. At the same time, we’d also point out that as a merchant, it’s your responsibility to read your contract before signing up thoroughly. Those “hidden” fees are almost always listed on your Merchant Application.
- Expensive Early Termination Fee (ETF): At $545, the company’s ETF is quite high, and often comes as a surprise to dissatisfied merchants when they try to close their accounts. While it’s not quite as potentially expensive as a liquidated damages clause, it’s still significantly higher than the industry average. The frequency of these complaints suggests to us that the company may be using a “churn and burn” strategy to capitalize on the high turnover rate among their merchants. Good providers not only don’t charge an ETF at all; they also keep their merchants happy and have a much higher retention rate. In the long run, a provider that keeps its merchants satisfied over a long period of time will earn more money than one that relies on early termination fees to make a quick profit.
- Poor Customer Service: As we’ve discussed above, many merchants allege that they’ve had difficulty in reaching the company’s customer support division and that they’ve often received poor service when they did manage to get through. Unfortunately, poor customer service is a common problem throughout the processing industry.
- Merchants Involuntarily Locked Into Contracts: This is a very serious issue, and potentially involves illegal conduct on the part of the company’s independent sales agents. We found many complaints from merchants who claim that they never agreed to sign up for a merchant account, but nonetheless found fees being taken out of their accounts without their permission. Many of these merchants further allege that they were never provided with either a digital or paper version of their contract documents. It appears that MAS uses an electronic sign-up procedure that accepts digital signatures. Unfortunately, the convenience of this method is outweighed by the ease with which an unscrupulous sales agent could forge a merchant’s signature on the contract documents. Although we doubt that the majority of independent agents are engaging in this sort of behavior, the company doesn’t appear to be doing much of anything to help merchants who’ve been duped in this way. This alone is reason enough for us to recommend that you avoid doing business with Merchant Account Solutions. At the very least, do not provide your bank account information unless you’ve decided to sign up for an account.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
We couldn’t find any positive testimonials from merchants on the company’s website. Company-provided testimonials are always at least a little one-sided anyway, so this isn’t a huge loss. Despite the high number of complaints against Merchant Account Solutions with the BBB, we did find 77 customer reviews that were posted on their BBB profile.
Surprisingly, almost all of these were 5-star reviews. Most of the reviews include praise for specific customer service representatives that were mentioned by name. While the quality and believability of these reviews vary quite a bit, we suspect that the company is pressuring merchants to post the positive reviews in an effort to deflect attention away from their high complaint volume. Hint: It’s not working.
At this point, just about the only positive thing we can say about Merchant Account Solutions is that they offer a strong lineup of hardware options, including several of the most popular countertop terminals on the market and the full line of Clover POS systems. They also offer you the option of purchasing your equipment directly rather than leasing. Although equipment leasing is still an option with MAS, we highly recommend that you avoid it.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a single product or service available through Merchant Account Solutions that you can’t get elsewhere. In fact, the merchant services industry is inundated with companies that re-sell First Data and iPayment processing services. While there are plenty of re-sellers that are just as bad as MAS (and even a few that are actually worse), there are also some that manage to provide top-notch services and high-quality products at a fair price.
The main theme that emerges from our research into Merchant Account Solutions is one of a company that has taken all the wrong steps to attempt to remedy a negative public image. Rather than implementing improvements in the areas that have gotten them into trouble, they’ve chosen to try to cover them up by switching to a very generic DBA and attempting to “put their thumb on the scale” with the BBB by soliciting positive reviews from customers and discouraging merchants from filing complaints. None of these efforts appear to have been very successful, and we’d much rather see the company make positive changes to the way they do business. Actions such as hiring an in-house sales team (or at least providing much more training and supervision to their independent agents) and providing more transparency regarding their pricing and contract terms would go a long way toward improving their score on future review updates.
As it stands, the best we can award Merchant Account Solutions is a below-average 2 out of 5 stars. In all honesty, their lack of a liquidated damages clause and the fact that they don’t appear to be the current subject of a lawsuit are the only things keeping them from dropping down to a 1-star rating. As we’ve stated above, we strongly recommend that you avoid doing business with this company. If you like the Clover lineup of products and are looking for a high-quality First Data reseller, we can’t say enough good things about Dharma Merchant Services (see our review). They’re one of the best and most ethical companies in the industry, and one of our favorite providers. We also recommend checking out our Merchant Account Comparison Chart for a side-by-side comparison of several of our top-rated merchant account providers.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.