TransFirst Merchant Services (transfirst.com) is one of the larger privately held merchant account providers in the credit card processing industry. The company boasts a processing volume upwards of $30 billion thanks to a relatively large merchant customer base. TransFirst not only markets merchant services under its own brand but also under Independent Sales Organizations (ISOs), one of which used to be called Merchant Express or Merchant Accounts Express.
The company was founded in 1995 and although its corporate headquarters is found in Hauppauge, NY, TransFirst operates another major office in Broomfield, Colorado. The company is sponsored by Wells Fargo Bank of Walnut Creek, California, and Columbus Bank and Trust Co., Columbus, Georgia, as its Acquiring Banks.
|Key Points – Sales & Marketing|
|Uses independent resellers?||Yes|
|Promotes deceptive rate quotes?||Yes|
|Discloses all important terms?||No|
Evidence suggests that TransFirst relies heavily on recruiting independent agents in a “hiring mill” type fashion, and a few agents have reported receiving poor training. This is a common marketing strategy among merchant account providers that often results in a high number of complaints from merchants. This company does not appear to be an exception as evidenced by merchant complaints associated with the practice.
TransFirst no longer appears to use alternate business names (DBAs) in order to sell its services under unsoiled brand names. As mentioned earlier, one of these companies used to be “Merchant Express,” and another was reported to be “US Merchant Services.” The TransFirst website includes a page listing their mergers and acquisitions; the businesses on this list were once independent but appear to have been absorbed into the TransFirst brand name by now. The company’s services are also marketed by other independent companies (sub-ISOs) that operate under their own brand names.
The retail processing page on the TransFirst website quotes rates as low as 1.69% plus $0.19, and there are similar quotes on the company’s e-commerce, wireless, phone, and mobile processing pages. These are probably either the company’s rates for debit transactions or its “Qualified” rates for credit cards, but they are unrealistically low compared to what merchants will likely pay for the majority of their transactions. Since there is no mention of the much higher “Mid-Qualified” and “Non-Qualified” rates that the company charges, we consider this type of rate quote to be deceptive.
|Key Points – Costs & Contract Terms|
|PCI compliance fee:||Variable|
The pricing, rates and contract terms of a TransFirst merchant account will likely vary based on several factors including a merchant’s business type, processing volume, agent setting up the account, and the sub-ISO reselling the account. The standard TransFirst contract is available for review below, but there is no guarantee that the terms outlined therein will be the terms offered by a TransFirst sales rep. The agreement outlines a 36-month service term that automatically renews for one-year terms unless cancelled at least 90 days prior to the expiration of the initial term. The early termination fee is $250 for merchants who cancel with a year or less remaining in their contract and $500 for merchants who cancel with more than one year remaining. Some merchants also reported what sounds like a “Liquidated Damages” cancellation fee. Normally, a Liquidated Damages clause in combination with an automatically renewing contract would earn a provider an “F” in this section; however, reports of this fee remain unverified, and the fee may only be applicable when dealing with certain ISOs or agents.
|Key Points – Complaints & Service|
|Live customer support:||Yes|
|Most common complaint:||Hidden fees|
There are a moderate amount of TransFirst merchant complaints for a provider of its size and time in business. The common themes in the complaints are merchants reporting unexpected and hidden fees, expensive terminal leases, poor customer service, and that agents failed to verbally disclose important contract terms such as the service length agreement and cancellation fees prior to setting up the account. As mentioned earlier, these are the types of complaints often found with providers that use independent agents and resellers to market their services. However, the ultimate responsibility rests with the company since it sets and enforces the service agreement policies.
|Key Points – BBB Report|
As of this update, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is reporting that TransFirst has been “BBB accredited” since 2009 and is awarding the company an “A+” rating despite 113 complaints filed within the last 36 months, which is down from 124 complaints as of the last update. Of the complaints, 46 are due to problems with service, 34 with billing/collection, 31 with advertising and sales issues, and two with delivery issues. 93 of the complaints were resolved to the merchants’ satisfaction while 20 were not. The company also has six negative reviews posted to the BBB, but these reviews are not subject to verification.
It is our philosophy that “A+” ratings should be reserved for companies with zero complaints. Therefore, we have adjusted the rating of this section to a “C” for the purposes of this review. You can learn more about why we adjust BBB ratings in our rating criteria.
TransFirst rates as an average merchant account provider in the credit card processing industry. Many of its business practices and policies are common and can be found among several of its competitors. The company can improve its rating by removing policies that allow merchants to be set up in expensive accounts, removing its cancellation penalty, and eliminating future complaints.
This review was originally published on 2/17/12 and was last updated on 8/22/14.
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