Total Merchant Services (TMS) is a merchant services provider with a wide variety of offerings, ranging from payment processing and point-of-sale to merchant cash advances and payment gateways.
Founded in 1996, TMS says it has worked with over 500,000 small and medium-sized businesses and processes over $12 billion in annual credit and debit card transactions annually, making it one of the larger merchant services providers in the United States. TMS has a number of negative customer reviews, however, and isn’t transparent about its pricing. Here’s what you need to know to decide whether it’s a good fit for your business.
Total Merchant services is a merchant services provider, meaning it is the provider of a broad range of financial services related to credit and debit card transactions. Some of these services include payment processing, point-of-sale and payment gateways.
TMS is a subsidiary of North American Bancard (NAB), a larger merchant services provider (NAB says it processed $36 billion in credit and debit card payments in 2016) that owns other merchant services companies as well. What this means is that some of TMS’s services are offered through other NAB subsidiaries.
Working with third-party organizations is a recurring theme when you sign up for TMS. The company offers some of its POS hardware and marketing services through Groovv, a payment solutions service it acquired before being bought by NAB. Its payment gateway is also offered through Authorize.net. Only some of this information is explicitly stated on the TMS website, which can lead to confusion for customers.
It is very important to note that TMS uses independent sales agents to sell its products. These are individuals who sell products on behalf of TMS, but are not employed by the company (TMS calls them “sales partners”). Although there is nothing inherently wrong with using independent sales agents, according to Total Merchant Services reviews on Better Business Bureau, more than one former customer says they signed up for TMS through a sales partner, received no support after signing up and then were hit with early termination fees when they tried to cancel their plan.
Total Merchant Services offers a lot of different solutions for business owners:
Total Merchant Services can accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express credit and debit card payments via swipe, dip, contactless and digital payment methods. TMS also provides free PCI compliance and fraud protection on all payments.
When you sign up for TMS, it’ll provide you with your own merchant account to allow you to start processing payments. TMS will deposit your funds into your business bank account within two days of the payment being processed and debits your account at the beginning of each month for the previous month’s processing fees.
About those processing fees — TMS does not list them on its website. Instead, it says working with TMS you can receive the “best credit card processing rates in the industry.” On the FAQ page, TMS says credit card processing fees “vary by card type, entry method and other factors.”
The “other factors” language is ambiguous, but typically, businesses with high transaction volumes tend to get lower per-transaction processing fees.
Total Merchant Services offers POS software and hardware through multiple third-party organizations. On its website, TMS recommends the PayAnywhere Storefront POS system. Note that PayAnywhere is another subsidiary of NAB. This POS bundle comes with a touchscreen tablet, stand, swipe/dip/contactless payment reader, cash drawer and receipt printer.
On the software side, you’ll get inventory, employee and customer-management features, a virtual terminal for taking payments over the phone or via manual entry, reporting features to let you know how your store is performing and the ability to set recurring payments. You can access your PayAnywhere account from any internet-connected device, where you’ll have access to many of the same functions. When you sign up for TMS and select the PayAnywhere POS, you’ll get your system shipped directly to you preloaded and ready to go.
The best part is, all of this is “free.” Note, that all the hardware has to be returned when your contract expires, so it really ends up being more of a lease. However, not having to pay for otherwise-expensive POS hardware could be a difference-maker for a small business just starting out.
If you don’t need all the bells and whistles offered by the PayAnywhere POS, TMS also offers other “free” POS hardware and software solutions through Groovv. Among the options provided by Groovv are card readers, countertop terminals, registers, virtual terminals and payment gateways (more on these later).
There is also an mPOS (mobile point-of-sale) option that includes a Bluetooth-enabled swipe/dip/contactless payment reader and an app for iOS and Android where you can manage inventory, employees and customers, access reporting, take payments via a virtual terminal and arrange recurring payments.
TMS offers payment processing and POS bundles for specific business types, including businesses in beauty and fitness, healthcare, home repair, food and beverage and retail.
TMS can assist with processing “card not present” payments through a virtual terminal or payment gateway. A payment gateway is a software application that authorizes online payments.
TMS uses Authorize.net for its payment gateway — a reputable service that works with most e-commerce platforms. Users either have the option to add a buy button to their website while having TMS host checkout or create a self-hosted checkout experience that is PCI-compliant.
In terms of price, processing fees for digital payments or payments via a virtual terminal are typically higher than in-person payments. Given that TMS provides no information on its website in terms of pricing other than to say you’ll get a virtual terminal and payment gateway for “one low price,” the price you pay is likely something you work out with your independent sales agent.
Another feature offered through Groovv (for presumably an additional fee) is the addition of gift card and loyalty programs to your POS. TMS offers gift card customization services but charges an extra fee for printing them. Groovv’s loyalty program allows you to collect points on purchases and redeem them for free products or discounts on products.
Merchant cash advances
TMS also offers merchant cash advances (MCA) as a financing option for your business. With a merchant cash advance, TMS advances you cash in exchange for a percentage of your daily credit card and debit card sales, plus a fee (TMS characterizes it as “a small, agreed-upon percentage of daily credit card transactions”). The benefit of an MCA is that it does not require collateral, and you can receive funding the same day.
However, generally speaking, MCAs are an expensive financing option because fees tend to be higher than with other loan products. In addition, having a daily deduction of credit card receipts reduces cash flow, and once you start receiving MCAs, it makes it harder to change merchant service providers.
If you make a majority of your sales from credit card purchases, an MCA from TMS might make sense — just tread lightly, especially because TMS isn’t the most transparent when it comes to pricing.
Total Merchant Services provides customers with some in-depth reporting and analytics functions through Payments Hub — another subsidiary of NAB. On the TMS website, it says Payments Hub “monitors vital aspects of a merchant’s business automatically so business owners can better understand their revenue, customers and competing businesses.”
When you sign up for Payments Hub (presumably for an additional fee) you’ll get access to a series of dashboards through the Payments Hub portal where you can see how customers spend their money in your store, where you generate your biggest returns and the impact of your discount and marketing campaigns.
Payments Hub also alerts you when your business is talked about on major social media or review platforms and provides you the option to track your competitors so you can see if and how they are winning customers from you.
Note that new merchants get to use Payments Hub free for 60 days.
Although TMS doesn’t offer any simple integrations with other software applications, it does provide a developer suite with application programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) that developers can use to integrate TMS payments into other software, mobile applications or websites. Those who use TMS’s developer suite also receive a free credit card terminal.
Total Merchant Services operates multiple 24/7 hotlines for assistance with different services it offers. In addition, there is a FAQ page on its website with a somewhat limited amount of information.
A lot of what you’ll end up paying for Total Merchant Services depends on the payment processing rate you work out with your independent sales agent. TMS does not provide any pricing on its website, although according to customer reviews, TMS offers interchange-plus pricing. This means it takes a small percentage of every credit or debit card transaction, plus an additional fixed amount.
One of the best things you can say about TMS is that it provides merchants with a lot of different products to help them manage their business. It’s convenient to be able to go through one merchant services provider to get your payment processing, point-of-sale, marketing tools and even financing. While some of these products are offered through NABs other subsidiaries, variety is a clear advantage to going with a large merchant services provider.
Free POS hardware
POS hardware isn’t cheap, so getting yours for free is a huge boost to merchants who can’t afford to make that upfront expense. Just remember that you have to return your hardware when your contract expires, and you’ll have to pay a fee if the hardware is damaged in any way.
BBB and G2 Crowd ratings
Total Merchant Services isn’t widely reviewed across the major review sites. Interestingly, neither is its subsidiary, Groovv, or its parent company, NAB.
Better Business Bureau: A+.
G2 Crowd: 4.8 stars out of 5 (NAB payment processing).
TrustPilot: 2 stars out of 5 (NAB).
The Better Business Bureau rating is odd, considering there are 123 complaints against TMS and only 21 of them have been closed in the last year. The G2 Crowd rating is based on only two reviews. Among the positive reviews (there weren’t many), customers said they appreciate TMS’s range of services and ease of use.
In our experience, it’s not usually a good sign when a business doesn’t list at least some pricing information on its website. Furthermore, TMS is ambiguous about which services it provides and which services are offered through other NAB subsidiaries. Not knowing who you are working with should be a red flag for merchants.
Independent sales agents
The reason TMS doesn’t list prices on its website is that the pricing is worked out between the customer and the independent sales agent. This means that two similar customers could get wildly different deals depending on how well they are able to negotiate with their sales representatives. Compared to other merchant services providers who offer the same pricing for all merchants, this will likely be a drawback for many small-business owners.
Many of the online Total Merchant Services reviews are negative. On Better Business Bureau, users complain of deceptive contracts, high prices, surprise fees and bad customer service. Over on TrustPilot many of the same sentiments are echoed.
Given those cons, you’re probably going to want to learn about some alternatives.
The best thing about Square is that it is transparent. On its website, you can find all the information you’ll need to make an informed decision. Plus, all of Square’s services are offered through Square, not a third-party organization. Square also offers many of the same services that TMS does, including payment processing, POS and marketing. Square even offers a few add-ons that you won’t find with TMS, like Square payroll processing. Plus, Square receives high marks across all the major review sites.
Chase Merchant Services
If you’d rather go a more traditional route, you could consider using Chase Bank as your merchant services provider. With Chase Merchant Services, you’ll have a two-in-one processor and acquiring bank, which means that the payment processing back-and-forth can move that much quicker. Chase also offers POS hardware, including mobile card readers. Note that with Chase you’ll also get quote-based pricing, but it is a more transparent process than what you would experience with TMS.
The final word
The only situation in which we would recommend Total Merchant Services is if you were able to get a very good deal through your independent sales representative. Even if you do, you’ll want to read the fine print of your contract closely, as many users have complained of surprise fees and deceptive policies. Generally speaking, given the market, you could do a lot better than TMS. As a small-business owner, you already have plenty to worry about — don’t let your merchant services provider be another.
A version of this article was first published on Fundera, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.