Total Merchant Services (totalmerchantservices.com) is a mid-size merchant account provider that appears to have entered the credit card processing industry in 1996. The company provides several financial services including processing for all major card brands, debit card acceptance, check processing, gift card programs, and merchant cash advances. Although Total Merchant Services serves its merchant customers directly, the company uses Global Payments for its actual card processing services. The company is a registered ISO/MSP of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Walnut Creek, California, with corporate headquarters located at 21650 Oxnard St Ste 1200, Woodland Hills, California 91367-7814.
|Key Points – Sales & Marketing|
|Uses independent resellers?||Yes|
|Promotes deceptive rate quotes?||No|
|Discloses all important terms?||No|
Total Merchant Services appears to employ independent sales agents and sub-ISOs to market its services. This hiring practice is common within the industry, and it is usually a major source of merchant frustration. In this case, we are currently able to locate over 50 negative Total Merchant Services reviews that describe deceptive sales strategies by sales agents across the country. The overwhelming majority of these complaints describe nondisclosure of terms, particularly with regard to early termination fees and equipment leases, and misrepresentation of rates or sudden changes in rates after signing up for the service. To its credit, the company does not appear to engage in any deceptive advertising strategies in its official materials.
|Key Points – Costs & Contract Terms|
|Termination fee:||$295 or none|
|PCI compliance fee:||Variable|
According to documentation available below and numerous online complaints, the standard Total Merchant Services contract is an automatically renewing three-year agreement through Global Payments with a $295 early termination fee. Merchants also report varying PCI compliance fees and other undisclosed fees, and many complaints refer to costly equipment leases with high termination fees. Although the company’s merchant account terms are basically unchanged Global Payments contracts, the added cost of leasing terminals and other equipment through the company appears to be the more distressing factor for merchants.
There is some confusion among the company’s own agents about whether it enforces a termination fee. On this and other consumer protection websites, sources have issued rebuttals to merchant complaints either insisting that there is no early termination fee in the Total Merchant Services contract or claiming that they were told during training that no such fee existed. Most available evidence indicates that this fee is in fact standard, and merchants are advised to exercise extreme caution when interacting with a Total Merchant Services agent who insists otherwise. All of these factors combined have lowered the company’s score in this section to a “C-.”
|Key Points – Complaints & Service|
|Live customer support:||Yes|
|Most common complaint:||Hidden fees|
As noted above, there are over 60 Total Merchant Services complaints on this and other consumer protection websites, many of which accuse the company of being a scam or a ripoff. Consistent themes include deceptive sales tactics, difficulty cancelling accounts, and withholding of funds. Most of these complaints appear to be the result of conduct on the part of sales agents at the point of signing rather than rude or unhelpful customer service, but it is our belief that an effective customer service team resolves complaints before they are taken to public forums. It is unclear at this time whether the company employs an in-house sales staff or outsources its customer support to Global Payments, but its website lists dedicated phone numbers for merchant support.
|Key Points – BBB Report|
The shutdown of the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Los Angeles-area branch has resulted in Total Merchant Services receiving a rebooted profile that only dates back to March 10, 2013. When we last saw the company’s original profile, it had an “A+” rating with the BBB and showed BBB accreditation since 2003. A total of 98 complaints had been filed with the BBB within the previous 36 months, with 38 categorized as problems with products and services, 32 with billing and collection disagreements, 26 with advertising and sales issues, one with a delivery problem, and one with a guarantee or warranty issue. Of the total complaints, 90 had been resolved while eight left merchants dissatisfied with the company’s response.
The company’s new profile also shows accreditation and an “A+” rating, but the company has only racked up 57 complaints on this profile in the last year. Forty-one are due to problems with the product or service, while 12 are attributed to billing or collection. Total Merchant Services has resolved 51 of these complaints to the merchant’s satisfaction.
Given the company’s former BBB profile and the number of complaints on its rebooted profile, we have adjusted the BBB’s grade to a “C” for the purposes of this review.
Total Merchant Services rates as an average merchant account provider according to our rating criteria. We have found many merchant complaints of deceptive tactics by the company’s sales agents, and the company’s contract terms appear to be average at best. The company does not appear to have taken advantage of the fact that its BBB profile was wiped clean in March 2013.
This review was originally published on 9/18/12 and was last updated on 8/25/14.
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