PNC Merchant Services Review
- Chip card hardware available
- Check acceptance
- Virtual terminal
- Expensive hardware leases
- Poor customer support
- Limited pricing disclosed online
- Early termination fee
- Deceptive sales tactics
PNC Merchant Services Overview
PNC Merchant Services is like most other banks that offer merchant accounts: a reseller offering products from a much larger acquirer. There’s very little that’s unique and not much added value beyond convenience if you already have an account with them.
What’s more, PNC is a First Data reseller. First Data is incredibly hit or miss because of exactly how large it is, but it is the company behind the Clover suite of POS/payment processing products, which is commendable as far as the products themselves go. The problem is, as usual, customer service and merchant support.
When you first check out PNC’s site, you’ll notice that Clover is featured first and foremost. But there’s also a terminal package and POS solutions for retail and hospitality. It’s a good mix of products. In theory, going through a reseller can eliminate some of the problems of working directly with the big processors. We see this with some of our favorite processors.
However, it can also be far worse because there’s far less supervision and scrutiny of the sales representatives.
So where does PNC fall? Not quite in the middle, but close — and unfortunately leaning toward the “Bad” side of things. It’s certainly not the worst company out there. However, you should approach PNC Merchant Services with caution, especially with reports of hidden fees, expensive leases, and shady salespeople. That said, the company does have a fairly comprehensive mix of services that cater to a wide range of businesses, and flexibility in designing custom processing packages.
We’re awarding PNC Merchant Services 3 stars. You might find a good deal with PNC, but it’s certainly nothing you can’t get from any other processor, and there’s a risk of prohibitively expensive hidden fees.
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Read on for our full PNC Merchant Services review or check out one of our top-rated processors instead!
Table of Contents
Products & Services
PNC Merchant Services resells a lot of First Data services and products…and First Data has a lot of services and products. So it’s not surprising that PNC does offer a full complement of offerings targeted at a variety of industries. That’s actually a good thing to see, because as far as merchant services go, a “one size fits all” approach just does not work.
Here’s a rundown of what PNC offers:
- Clover Family Package: For retail and restaurant setups seeking an integrated solution, PNC is a reseller of the Clover Suite (the Clover Station, Clover Mini, and Clover Mobile). Check out our reviews of each respective product for more information. The Clover suite has most of the features you need as a business. It even offers a growing marketplace of apps to increase the functionality. However, as far as support goes, you’ll be dealing directly with First Data for technical support.
- Mobile Processing: Need an mPOS? If you need a smartphone-based payment app, PNC also offers Clover Go. It’s a standalone service available in addition to the Clover suite. However, it also comes with an additional monthly fee and required hardware. In my opinion, Clover Go is NOT a good standalone solution for mobile. Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking it is. If you need a solid mPOS as your primary means of processing, you should be looking elsewhere. If you use it as a complement to Clover, you will be better off.
- Counter Package: Still want to process through PNC but don’t want to mess around with Clover? You can also get set up with a terminal (including a consumer-facing PIN pad). PNC offers First Data’s proprietary POS for retail and restaurants.
- EMV & Contactless Acceptance: Neither should be a surprise or considered particularly innovative at this point, but PNC does offer devices so you can accept chip card and NFC payments (Apple Pay, Android Pay, etc.)
- Check acceptance: Process checks in addition to cards. You can even set it up so you can deposit checks into your account from anywhere.
- Internet and eCommerce Package: For businesses that operate online, PNC does offer an online package. In addition to a hosted checkout and payment gateway, it includes a virtual terminal and support for recurring payments, both of which are very good things.
- TransArmor Data Protection: Worried about a data breach? PNC merchants can choose to add First Data’s TransArmor Data Protection plan, which will help you with PCI compliance and add encryption and tokenization to your processing. This monthly service also includes insurance in case the worst should happen.
- Trustwave PCI Compliance Assessment: As part of your PCI compliance efforts, you’ll likely have to completely a quarterly self-assessment. PNC has a partnership with Trustwave to validate your PCI compliance.
- Analytics: PNC offers its own analytics service at no extra charge, which is always nice to see. If you’re using Clover, you can add on Clover Insights (formerly Insightics). You can get a free 15-day trial to test it out. After that it’ll run you $9.95/month. (At least, according to the Clover App marketplace; PNC makes no mention of price.)
- Additional Business Services: If you need more than just payment processing to run your business, PNC can also help with that. You can get gift cards, payroll, and other payment cards, for starters.
I give PNC points here for offering a lot of options catered to a variety of needs. There’s a lot going on here, but not overwhelmingly so. Some of the largest processors have so many options that trying to decide what you need on your own is utterly impossible. PNC seems to have chosen just the right mix of products and services to appeal to a large variety of businesses without being overwhelming.
PNC Merchant Services Rates & Fees
You should be very, very careful in evaluating your rate quote with PNC, especially if you choose the Clover suite of products. Pricing for Clover resellers varies quite a bit — and most leasing programs are an absolutely terrible deal. Not only that, but PNC runs sales gimmicks that look appealing up front but may wind up costing you more in the long run. We’ll come back to these in Sales and Advertising Transparency, though.
At the time of writing this, PNC claims that its Clover swiped rate is 1.4%. (You’ll have to click the “Apply Now” button to get to this page on the site.) However, just below that, in the same box, you’ll see the fine print:
“Additional rates and fees may apply.”
This is a pretty ambiguous statement (and one lots of processors make to cover their behinds). It’s almost certain that you’ll see a higher rate for manually entering transactions. You could see a higher rate for other kinds of non-qualified transactions too. And that says nothing of monthly fees, which are often the real source of problems in any merchant agreement.
And, of course, that doesn’t cover the cost of hardware. You can buy the Clover Station from PNC outright for $999, or lease it for 36 months for $64.99 per month. That, for the record, comes to a grand total of $2,339.64 at the end of the lease period, which is about 133% more than just buying it outright — in other terms, double and then another third again of the original price.
However, that quote applies only to Clover Family processing. It doesn’t include Clover Go, for which you’ll pay 1.8% + $0.19 for swipes and 3% + $0.19 for keyed transactions. That’s another $30/month in fees. The card reader will cost you $100 on top of that.
PNC doesn’t post rates for its Counter package or for the Internet and eCommerce package (for which you’ll absolutely pay higher processing rates). I’m a little bit frustrated at the lack of transparency, but it does seem like PNC offers some flexibility and will work with you to find a solution based on your unique circumstances.
Remember that this doesn’t include the terminal cost. A Google search suggests the going retail rate (at least through third party sellers online) is about $200. Please don’t pay more than you have to. If the Clover hardware pricing didn’t tip you off, let me say it again: Don’t lease a machine if you can help it. Buy outright and you’ll save a lot of money long-term.
And finally, don’t forget that you could wind up paying extra for additional services such as Clover Analytics or TransArmor Data Protection. PNC doesn’t list any information about PCI compliance, statement fees, or monthly minimums, so make sure you read the agreement before you sign and ask questions.
Applying for a PNC Merchant Account:
You can apply for a merchant account with PNC online. However, if you do, I wouldn’t expect much in the way of flexibility. You’ll get the standard offer and that will be that.
If you need something more specialized, you should contact PNC directly, and let their sales reps come up with a plan. Just be aware that you might wind up paying a bit more. Also, if you sign up through a sales agent, you typically won’t be eligible for any of the special offers advertised on the PNC site.
I’m not a huge fan of this but I certainly see the appeal. Merchants with simple needs can sign up online with no need for a sales rep to spend time closing the deal. The big unknown is whether those merchants will get the same level of attention and care as the ones who sign up with a sales rep and custom package do.
Contract Length & Early Termination Fee
PNC offers a standard 36-month contract with an early termination fee (undisclosed, with some merchant complaints reporting up to $900 in ETFs).
You can find the reference to this information on the Clover Go page of the website, in the fine print:
“Waiver of standard 36 month contract term and standard early termination fee only for merchants that apply for a PNC Merchant Services account via this website and purchase a non-refundable Clover Go EMV enabled card reader. Waiver of contract term requirement and early termination fee does not apply to telephone and in-person application for merchant services. This waiver is not applicable to current PNC Merchant Services Customers. This offer may be canceled at any time.”
I don’t necessarily agree with this practice. I understand that online applications make it easier for PNC to manage its merchants and it takes less time. However, it means that merchants needing more assistance or to get specific answers to questions can’t also take advantage of the deal. Waiving the 36-month contract and ETF is a big deal when this is, hands-down, the biggest complaint merchants have about large processors (or resellers for large processors).
Sales & Advertising Transparency
The word “gimmick” probably makes your skin crawl and conjures up images of cheap offers designed to lure impulsive people in. And you’re definitely not wrong — most gimmicks are designed to get people to buy quickly. PNC definitely falls into this category.
At the time of writing this, PNC offers no fewer than three separate gimmicks, from a credit on your processing for setting up an account to a rebate on the Clover Go reader, to the waiver of the contract. I can understand offering a rebate on the hardware, and I love to see waivers of the contract length. But you’ll always wind up paying for any “get free cash!” deals in the long run. Precious little in the payments space is ever actually free.
I’ll give PNC points for making the fine print (fairly) visible on the site. I will also say that PNC Merchant Services does have extensive resources for business owners, with special focuses on women and veterans, which is nice to see. The company also offers quarterly newsletters. It’s pretty rare that I think any company is doing perfectly on that front, but I will say PNC seems to be doing better than most.
Because PNC is mostly a consumer bank, it has no dedicated social media profile for merchant services. There’s a general Facebook page (filled with a non-insubstantial amount of complaints from unhappy customers) as well as a Twitter account (@PNCBank) and a customer service Twitter account (@PNCBank_Help). PNC also has a YouTube channel that’s filled with a huge assortment of videos, and oddly enough, a Pinterest account. They’re active and the support team responds to the negative complaints quickly and in a positive way. However, you won’t find a whole lot of posts or information specific to merchants on their social media.
I’m going to give PNC mediocre marks on transparency. The fact that they’re cranking out content targeted at all kinds of business owners is a positive, but I also see some worrisome practices. My biggest concern is hidden fees — and that’s a big one. We’ll cover it more in the Negative Reviews and Complaints section.
Customer Service & Support
PNC handles its own customer service, and it’s mostly phone-based. The good news is that phone support is available 24/7. There’s multiple lines based on your needs: general questions, terminal support, authorization assistance, and security concerns. You might have a bit of trouble finding the merchant services support page on your own — I had to google “PNC Merchant Services phone support” to find it. But I like this setup because you’re less likely to go through an automated menu or get shuffled from one department to the next. As long as you know what you’re asking about, anyway.
You can also contact PNC via social media (the most direct option being to tweet @PNCBank_Help). While PNC does have a knowledge base, it doesn’t address any sort of merchant services. The closest it comes is business checking accounts.
However, there isn’t much to commend the quality of customer support. There aren’t an overwhelming number of complaints, just some frustrated comments on social media, where the social media team is friendly and helpful — even when posters are less than kind. They will try to get your problem solved. However, there’s very little information out there about how PNC handles complaints of account holds, processing and hardware troubles, etc. I’m inclined to think PNC does OK in this department, but those of you who have first-hand knowledge and experiences, please share them!
Negative Reviews & Complaints
PNC doesn’t have a BBB page for its merchant services — at least not an active one. A listing comes up but it’s not accredited and there are no reviews and no comments, and wading through PNC’s general BBB page is mostly sifting through consumer complaints.
But I like to think I’m fairly adequate at this whole “scouring the internet” thing, and so I did manage to find complaints through the usual suspects: RipOff Report, ComplaintsBoard, etc. You can also tell by looking PNC’s social media that it encounters unhappy customers regularly, though the social media team tries to make it right.
There’s not an overwhelming volume of complaints at this point, but a solid number all claiming mostly the same things:
- Hidden Fees: This is an unfortunate complaint about a LOT of merchant account providers, and one we know all too well: Some merchants find themselves hit by unexpected, unpredictable fees that eat away at profits. It’s very disheartening to see this, because there’s a lot more about PNC that I do like. But hidden fees are hugely problematic, especially reports of early termination fees in the $750 to $900 range.
- Expensive Leases: The number 1 rule for hardware is, “Don’t lease equipment if you can buy it.” Leases tend to be some of the most expensive, overpriced, awful deals you can get. See our Rates and Fees section for an example of why leases are terrible. PNC merchants aren’t happy with the lease agreements, judging by complaints.
- Shady Sales Tactics: Shady sales reps will often promise you the world to get you to sign that piece of paper. Don’t fall for it. If any sales rep seems overly eager and pushy, you should just walk away, especially if you’re getting other bad vibes. PNC’s reps seem to engage in some dubious practices according to merchant reports, including not disclosing fees, obscuring the fact that applications are actually contracts, etc. Again, this is very disheartening.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of testimonials out there for PNC bank beyond the content it puts out on its own site.
Overall, I find that there really isn’t much to commend most personal banks over other types of merchant service providers. If you don’t have an account with the bank, there is very, very little incentive to open a merchant account with them, because they’re almost always resellers of other, larger companies’ services. One of the biggest advantages is usually next-day deposits if you’re an account holder with the bank, but PNC makes no clear mention of that, either.
I like PNC’s offerings. I do. It has just enough flexibility to cater to a large range of merchants without being totally overwhelming and confusing with options. I also like that you get 24/7 phone support. I even like the resources PNC offers for merchants.
But I do NOT like the lease agreements for the hardware. And I REALLY don’t like the merchant complaints of hidden, occasionally devastating fees. That’s hugely problematic, especially with so little else to set PNC apart from the rest of the First Data resellers.
I don’t think PNC is problematic for everyone. It’s a fairly large bank, and its merchant services division has been around for a while. If it were nothing but problematic, there would be many other warning signs.
So I think there’s likely a decent sized group of merchants who got fair deals and reasonable rates. And then there’s another group of merchants who have dealt with shady sales reps desperate to close the deal, and they’ve been burned as a result.
PNC Merchant Services gets a 3-star rating from Merchant Maverick because of the problematic hidden fees and insanely expensive lease agreements.
If you’re dealing directly with your local bank, you’ll likely have fewer problems than if you were dealing with a random sales rep. In either case, I urge you to be cautious. Read your contract before you sign anything. Be careful of the fine print when you apply for anything. Get EVERYTHING in writing. Don’t, whatever you do, lease a terminal or hardware if you can buy it outright. Please. You will wind up paying far more in the long run, with little to justify the cost beyond the convenience of a “low” monthly payment.
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