***Please note there is currently a technical error on this page indicating a rating of “excellent” on the providers below. These “excellent” notations should be ignored until further notice. All other content is generating accurately.***
The easiest way to save money on credit card processing is to find the best merchant accounts, but there are plenty of good reasons to keep tabs on the worst merchant account providers, too. The credit card processing industry is full of scam companies that seemingly pop up out of nowhere. These processors are willing to say or do anything to make a quick buck at the expense of small business owners. Bad processors are notorious for duping desperate sales agents into working commission-only and then training those agents to deceive merchants into signing long-term, expensive contracts with outdated equipment and poor customer support. To make matters worse, these ripoff companies appear, disappear, and rebrand too often for any one merchant to keep them all straight.
Our Rating Criteria
To help you steer clear of bad deals, we’ve put together the following list of the worst merchant accounts on CPO. These companies have all received “F” or “D” ratings in their CPO reviews due to a combination of some or all of the following factors:
- Deceptive sales tactics
- Undisclosed rates and fees
- Expensive monthly, annual, and early termination fees
- Non-cancellable or long-term contracts and leases
- Numerous public complaints from current and former merchants
- Numerous public complaints from current and former employees
- Reports of poor customer support
- Public interactions with merchants or with CPO that do not reflect favorably on the company
- A poor rating with the Better Business Bureau
- Proven or suspected affiliations with other ill-reputed companies
You can learn more about how we determine our ratings in our CPO Rating Criteria.
Depending on your business type or the sales agent you work with, it might be possible to receive competitive pricing and quality service from some of these providers. However, the available evidence overwhelmingly indicates that you are most likely to receive an unsatisfactory outcome. If you’ve been contacted by a company on this list, we strongly recommend that you conduct some research on the company’s reputation within the industry and consider other options before signing a contract. It may end up saving you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in the long run.
Why These Providers
Although its website is no longer active, ElitePay Global (elitepayglobal.com) ranks as the most unethical and least merchant-friendly provider that CPO has ever reviewed. We have received over 190 merchant complaints about ElitePay Global and its affiliated businesses in under three years, and nearly all of these complaints describe aggressive sales tactics, deceptive rate quotes, extremely expensive long-term leases, and unreachable or unhelpful customer service. A significant number of former employees have also contacted CPO to describe a highly unprofessional work environment that actively trains sales representatives to misinform merchants.
These reports alone would be enough to make ElitePay Global one of the lowest-rated providers on CPO, but the company further distinguished itself by filing a trademark infringement lawsuit against CPO in April 2014. It is our firm belief that this lawsuit was filed in an attempt to suppress our critical review of the company. In June 2015, the United States District Court for the Central District of California issued a summary judgment in favor of CPO, denying ElitePay Global’s claim of trademark infringement. CPO may have prevailed in the lawsuit, but we view ElitePay Global’s behavior as a chilling firsthand example of the lengths to which credit card processors will go to prevent independent reviewers from exposing their unethical tactics.
Ironwood Payments (iwpmts.com) takes its place on this list largely due to its affiliation with ElitePay Global. Although the exact relationship between the two companies has yet to be firmly established, we have obtained irrefutable proof that Ironwood Payments shares certain facilities, employees, and marketing materials with ElitePay Global. Now that ElitePay Global’s website is no longer active, it is extremely likely that the company’s executive team and sales staff will transition to a new brand, and Ironwood Payments is a candidate for the company’s new identity. Another potential new DBA of ElitePay Global is One for Merchants.
In addition to its links to ElitePay Global, Ironwood Payments has racked up over 45 complaints in the 10 or so months that it has been an active brand. This accelerated rate of complaints mirrors that of ElitePay Global when it was most active, and the complaints themselves mention the same issues that ElitePay Global merchants were having: misrepresented rates, poor customer service, and exorbitant leasing fees. These factors suggest that Ironwood Payments deserves a place on this list for the time being.
Northern Leasing Systems
Currently the subject of a second lawsuit filed by the New York State Attorney General in just the past five years, Northern Leasing Systems (northernleasing.com) is a credit card processing equipment lease provider rather than a full-service merchant account provider. Despite its narrow focus on equipment, the company is responsible for hundreds of merchant complaints due to its standard practice of selling four-year, non-cancellable equipment leases.
Northern Leasing typically allows any sales agent with any merchant account provider to sell its equipment leases as an addendum to their standard merchant account contracts. In fact, many of the companies on this list are known to provide equipment leases through Northern Leasing. This causes some confusion among merchants who don’t realize that they’re signing a contract with two separate entities, and that confusion often turns to rage once merchants learn that Northern Leasing’s leases run for four years (one year longer than the standard multiyear merchant account contract), cannot be cancelled without paying the full sum of the four-year term, and will almost always end up charging merchants an amount that is several times larger than the actual purchase price of the equipment. The New York Attorney General’s lawsuit seeks restitution for all merchants who have victimized by Northern Leasing and demands the dissolution of the company and its subsidiaries, among other severely punitive terms. Merchants who have dealt with Northern Leasing Systems are instructed to file complaints here or to call 1-800-771-7755.
Lease Finance Group
Along with MBF Leasing and Golden Eagle Leasing, Lease Finance Group (signaturebankonline.com/leasing/) is a subsidiary of Northern Leasing Systems that engages in precisely the same style of equipment leasing as its parent company. Lease Finance Group is the second-most active brand used by Northern Leasing and has been cited in far more merchant complaints than its other affiliated subsidiaries.
Lease Finance Group is also named in the New York Attorney General’s lawsuit against Northern Leasing and is known to offer the same long-term, non-cancellable, exorbitantly priced equipment leases as Northern Leasing. It has an “F” rating on CPO and an “F” rating with the BBB.
Payment Systems Corporation
Payment Systems Corporation is a seemingly defunct merchant account provider located in Los Angeles, California. Under normal circumstances, we would not place an inactive company on this list, but a merchant has speculated in the comment section of our review that the company may have rebranded under the names Smart Choice Payments, First Choice Payments, and North American Processing Solutions.
At the height of its activity, Payment Systems Corporation received a large number of merchant complaints related to expensive equipment leases through Northern Leasing, deceptive sales tactics, unexpected fees, and long contract terms. In fact, despite Payment System’s Corporation’s inactive website, the company is still showing over 180 complaints and an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau.
Ladco Global Leasing Solutions is an equipment leasing company that appears to be the preferred equipment leasing partner of Elavon, one of the largest direct credit card processors in the world. Ladco Leasing’s standard equipment lease terms are nearly identical to those offered by Northern Leasing Systems and its subsidiaries: multiyear, non-cancellable, inconsistently disclosed by agents, and far more expensive than the actual purchase price of the equipment.
Ladco’s unclear status as a potential subsidiary or affiliate of Elavon makes it difficult to determine how much of the company’s marketing and customer service is managed by Elavon. Nevertheless, we have located over 200 merchant complaints that express frustration with the company’s ironclad lease terms and excessive cost.
First Data Global Leasing
See our First Data Global Leasing review for more information about this company.
First American Payment Systems
See our First American Payment Systems review for more information about this company.
North American Bancard
See our North American Bancard review for more information about this company.
Leaders Merchant Services
See our Leaders Merchant Services review for more information about this company.
Merchants' Choice Payment Solutions
See our Merchants’ Choice Payment Solutions review for more information about this company.
Eliot Management Group
See our Eliot Management Group review for more information about this company.
Main Street Processing
See our Main Street Processing review for more information about this company.
Encore Payment Systems
See our Encore Payment Systems review for more information about this company.
Electronic Merchant Systems
See our Electronic Merchant Systems review for more information about this company.
Future Payment Technologies
See our Future Payment Technologies review for more information about this company.