Overall, Flagship Merchant Services is a good choice if you're a mainstream company selling between $2.5k -- 75k per month. Flagship is not your best choice if; you're selling below $2.5k per month, you sell very large ticket items, or if you need custom swiping or very complicated POS technology.
Flagship Merchant Services is a large Merchant Services Company that is best suited for U.S. companies that process between $2,500 and $75,000 per month and need mainstream services. Flagship offers a bit of everything in terms of technology, compatibility, capabilities, stability, good prices, very good customer service, and a standard set of fine print terms.
Below is a detailed review of Flagship Merchant Services offering. The review is broken down into the following categories.
Depending upon the type of business you own, some of the following features may be very important to you, while others may not matter.
|Microsoft Dynamics GP||No|
|Windows / Blackberry||No|
|iPhone / iPad||Yes|
|Alternative Transaction Types:|
|Snail Mail Orders||Yes|
|American Express (AMEX)||Yes|
|Add Tips to Bills||Yes|
|eCommerce / Shopping Cart||Yes|
|EMV Chip Cards||Yes|
|Loyalty / Gift Cards||Yes|
|eChecks / Electronic Checks||Yes|
|Welfare Benefits (EBT/SNAP/TANF)||Yes|
|Security / Fraud Prevention:|
|AVS Fraud Protection||Yes|
|PCI DSS Secure Transactions||Yes|
|HIPAA Compliance (Healthcare)||No|
|Trust Account Debiting (Legal)||No|
|Fleet Cards (Petroleum)||Possibly|
|Online Menu Orders (Restaurants)||Yes|
Almost every merchant account service company uses either Interchange Plus or Tiered Pricing (to learn the differences read here). Interchange plus pricing offers you, the merchant, more consistent and transparent billing, because the credit card processing company can't make profits through "downgraded transactions." These companies aren't in the business of providing something for nothing, however; so, you usually pay more in monthly or other hidden fees with Interchange Plus pricing. In effect, you net out about the same either way so it's important to look at individual deals.
When companies allow us to disclose pricing information, we show the deals that our secret shoppers were able to achieve. Also, when companies offer both Interchange Plus and Tiered Pricing, we tried to get a quote both ways.
Unfortunately, Flagship does not publish, nor permit to be published, pricing data. So what follows is a summary of the experience of obtaining a quote, and the limited data we were able to disclose:
When: 12/12/2014; TIME: 1:15 CST
Who: Flagship In-House Salesperson
The devil is in the details when it comes to credit card processing companies, so it pays to read the contracts closely. Here's what we found in terms of fees and freebies:
|Fine Print Fees:|
|Setup / Application Fee||None|
|PCI Compliance Fee||$99 Annually|
|PCI Inaction Fee||$19.95 /mo|
|Gateway Fee||$7.95 /mo|
|1099-K Fee||$49.95 Annually|
|Statement Fee||$7.95 /mo|
|Online Reporting Fee||None|
|Monthly Minimum Volume Fee||$25.00 /mo|
|Accept International Pymt Fee||Per Transaction|
|Voice Authorization Fee||$2.00 per call|
|Monthly Min. Process Fee||None|
|Daily Batch Fee||None|
|ACH / Direct Deposit Fee||None|
|ACH Charge Fee||$5.00|
|ACH Return Fee||$15.00|
|Authorize.net gateway setup|
|Shopping Cart Setup|
|Mobile Swiper & Mobile App|
|Online sales tracking and reporting|
|American Express Setup|
|Merchant Account Setup|
|Real-time online processing terminal|
Overall, we feel the fine print fees aren't bad. The one that annoyed us was the PCI inaction fee of $19.95 per month, which we feel is steep for forgetting to fill out a survey. Although the company sends out reminders to complete that survey, this still stinks to pay. So make sure you complete the survey so you aren't paying it. Otherwise, Flagship's fees are fairly standard.
The freebies are somewhat standard as well, with the only exception the RoamPay G4X swiper. That swiper currently is top of the line, so if you own the type of business that wants to take some payments outside the office every on occasion, this swiper is a handy freebie. Warning, however - we"re hearing that the merchant must pay higher-than usual postage costs to receive this "free" merchandise.
While your transactions take place via your merchant electronically, the actual device that you use to swipe a customer's card into is referred to as "the equipment."
Flagship gives you the choice of one piece of free equipment, either a free mobile swiper that works with your cell phone or tablet, the RoamPay G4X swiper, or a traditional wired credit card terminal. Depending on your needs, you can pick any option. Flagship uses tried and true wired terminals, and people seem to really like the RoamPay G4X swiper. So we don't think you can go wrong either way.
We love the fact that Flagship provides one piece of free equipment, because for most small or mid-sized businesses, one terminal or swiper is all that's needed. So effectively, many merchants won't need to buy equipment, or worry if what you bought is incompatible with their system if you do need more equipment.
On the other hand, because they give equipment away as opposed to selling it, Flagship provides pedestrian offerings. Everything they offer is reliable, but a little on the boring side. We generally recommend buying your equipment through your merchant account services company so that you're assured pre-programmed compatibility and workability. That means if you want sexy equipment, it's probably best to pick another company.
Flagship Merchant Services via both iPayment and Authorize.net can handle payments from and for merchants in the United States and Canada. Flagship does not list that they can handle international transactions, so if you must, ask first. Better yet, pick a processor that focuses on handling international transactions. Find one here.
We generally don't like to see long-term contracts or termination fees in merchant services agreements, because the ability to cancel a contract keeps the credit card processor on its best behavior (and more likely to try to make you happy if there's a dispute). The ability for the merchant to cancel gives you, that merchant, the ability to choose a better deal that might come along down the road before your current contract expires.
To that end, Flagship gets it right on both accounts. The contract is month to month, and there is no termination fee.
The merchant account services industry is multi-layered. Understanding how those layers work together can be time-consuming and confusing (Read More in this Article). It's worth the effort to know whether or not your company is a direct processor (which is good) or, if not, who they process with (reputation and credibility are musts). The second thing to know is whether or not their service staff and / or sales staff are in-house or outsourced. If you've had experience with outsourced service and sales staffs, you know that in-house services usually are better and more productive.
Flagship processes payments through iPayment, so technically they are not a direct processor (which is normally bad because it means you're doing business with a middleman who includes his or her own markup). But, because Flagship is now wholly owned by iPayment (as of 2012) you get all the benefits of having a direct processor, because now they've eliminated that middleman. As for iPayment, they're among the top ten processors by volume in the U.S., so no concerns there. There are no charges to process through Authorize.net once you pay the gateway fee of $7.95.
This is all done through an in-house team. The reason I view this as a positive is that the sales folks aren't wildly overpromising just to get a sale that they can dump onto another company. Rather, if they overpromise, they get fired. So you'll get the straight scoop from your sales person. Moreover, the fact that all of their customer calls are now recorded, means any promises you extract over the phone will be followed through on. In sum, the structure of their sales team gives me confidence that you can rely on what you hear.
Account sales are all conducted through an in-house team. We view this in-house service as a positive, because the sales folks aren't wildly overpromising just to get a sale that they can dump onto another company. You might think that if they overpromise, they get fired; however, sales reps may say anything to make a sale. The fact that all customer calls are now recorded means that they must follow through on any promises you can extract from them over the phone, but you might still end up in court to extract the information from those calls. In sum, the structure of their sales team might give us confidence that we can rely on what we hear.
Flagship claims to offer prompt 24/7 customer support, which is great, especially if you have a business that operates outside of 9-5pm.
As part of our review process, we try to test out the claims made by the Merchant Account Services provider by placing a few test calls and working through the customer service process.
1/15/2015; TIME: 3:50 CST
Call to Customer Support
Call was answered by automated system and we were connected to a live customer service rep in approximately 45 seconds. Their software had already pulled up a name / company name using the phone number we were using. Our customer service agent was very friendly, spoke English as a first language, and appeared able to help with whatever I needed without having to escalate our issue to other departments.
Having made a number of these calls to Flagship's competitors, I can say that this experience was among the best. The rep was organized, not too pushy, and seemed capable of handling any issue or question.
We scour the web to find past / current customers' comments / complaints about merchant services processors. Then, we investigate those complaints that seem legit, and give our verdict on how well the credit card processor handled the issue(s). We found several overall complaints about Flagship Merchant Services, and those complaints focused on the following issues:
Business owners hate "gotcha fees" from their credit card processors. And nothing feels more like this "gotcha" than the PCI Compliance Non-Action Fee. Basically, if a merchant didn't fill out their annual PCI compliance survey, they got billed an extra $19.95 per month until they did. Complaints abound.
We get it. Visa and Mastercard require that Flagship demonstrate that their merchants are PCI compliant via the annual survey, and a lot of merchants just won't respond to the survey until a financial incentive / penalty creates that urge to fill out the survey. That said, we think some sort of automated system that continues to send a reminder to complete the survey, say weekly, could eliminate any perception that Flagship was trying to sneak in an extra fee. As it stands, we understand why the fee exists, but we also understand why merchants are pissed when they only received one to two emails about it, then ended up paying six months in penalties totaling over $100.
Flagship's Mobile swiper "RoamPayX" had a glitch for approximately three days in June of 2014, where Flagship enabled merchants to accidentally double charge clients for merchandise, because the reader didn't appear to be working on the initial swipe. Needless to say, this incident incited tons of online complaints.
The fact that a glitch existed isn't all that noteworthy. The fact that the issue existed for three days without notifying the merchants is inexcusable. Once fixed, Flagship did not take ownership of the problem and offer some proactive solutions. Instead, merchants were left to deal with the issue. For a company that works with merchants who handle sales over $2,500 per month, we feel that's a lot of work for the merchants.
Dozens of bad reviews across the web exist concerning the ability for merchants to cancel their Flagship accounts.
As with many merchant account companies, canceling your account is more difficult than it should be. Flagship makes you fax in your cancellation notice, and up until recently didn't have a comprehensive system for recording / tracking phone calls to them, so simply taking a Customer Service Rep's word that a service was cancelled was risky business. That should be fixed now, but if you cancel just be prepared to dot every "I" and cross every "t" in your transactions.
Anytime you've cancelled a service and then get a charge related to that service months later, you're bound to be annoyed. There's a legit explanation, but frankly an explanation that the company should fix.
Most of the after cancellation billing complaints that we discovered are for the annual PCI Compliance fee of $99. Basically, if you do business with Flagship Merchant Services at any point during the year, you'e going to get charged this fee. Weirdly, they don't charge the fee at the beginning of the year. So, if you cancel in February, you may get a $99 charge in June. That's going to annoy the heck out of you. That said, they technically disclose it. We think they could avoid pissing people off by just charging it at the beginning of every year, so that there weren't any situations in which you're getting charged after you've cancelled your service.
We've seen numerous complaints where merchants sold merchandise or services for thousands of dollars and didn't receive the money from Flagship until weeks or even months later. Some complaints went as far as saying they were taking Flagship to court for non-payment of merchandise sold.
The first time you see a complaint like this, as a merchant, you'll freak out. Once you understand it, however, it's not that scary. The deal here, is that Flagship has a really high merchant acceptance rate, meaning they'll start an account with almost any business. Inherent in that, however, is that you're going to accept some shady companies. If Flagship processes a transaction that was based on fraud, they can be held liable for that transaction. So they're very suspicious, especially early on in an account of unusual or very large transactions. It seems that the issue begins when a large-ticket item, say in the ten-thousand-dollar range, is processed. It's important to remember that if you operate in a high-risk industry, you're better off paying more and going with a high-risk merchant account services company, of which Flagship isn't one.
If you're doing more than $2,500, but less than $75,000 a month in credit card transactions, Flagship is a good option for you. In that monthly transaction range, the slightly higher-than-average monthly charges that you face are outweighed by the lower-than-average per transaction charges Flagship offers. At the other end of the spectrum, at below $75,000 a month in transactions, you probably don't need a highly customized POS system, as you can work with something off the shelf.
Merchants that Need a Little of Everything:
If you want better than average pricing, customer support, technology, mobile and online processing, and fine print contract terms, these guys are a pretty good choice. I don't think they're the leader in any single category, but running #2 or #3 in almost everything makes them the overall best pick for a lot of mainstream mid-sized businesses. That may not sound like a resounding endorsement, but in this industry, sometimes "pretty good" across the board, is better than awesome in one category, and crappy in others.
Mid-Sized Merchants that Need Some Mobile Transactions:
Most of the companies that cater to mobile credit card processing like Square, are frankly a rip-off to anyone who is doing more than a couple of hundred dollars a month in transactions (Read More Here). Flagship's iPayment MobilePay processing with the RoamPay G4X swiper allows you to take mobile credit cards while still taking advantage of the MUCH cheaper per transaction rates that a traditional company like Flagship Merchant Services offers. So, if you need mobile transactions, but are doing $2500+ per month in volume, Flagship is a good fit.
Flagship presents themselves as a jack-of-all-trades provider, but in our opinion there are certain types of merchants they're a good fit for, and certain types that frankly they're a terrible fit for.
Very Small Merchants:
If you're conducting less than $1,000 per month in gross credit card sales at your business, you shouldn't be with Flagship Merchant Services. The monthly fees at Flagship are higher than at a lot of other credit card processors, and the only way it makes sense to pay those monthly fees is if you're doing enough volume that their lower per transaction rate makes up for it. If you're doing under $2,500 a month, read our articles about startups or about small business to pick a vendor instead.
Very High Volume Merchants:
If you're doing over $75,000 per month in gross credit card sales with an average transaction size of below $50, then you're probably in a high volume retail environment. While Flagship can certainly handle those types of clients (and would certainly love more), in our opinion they're just not your best option. You're going to want a customized POS solution that takes advantage of the latest technology and integration so that you can shave seconds off of your average transaction time. Flagship can do it, but when there are dedicated merchant account providers that exist to serve this type of merchant at the same price-point, then it makes no sense to choose Flagship. Read this article to pick a vendor instead.
Non-Detail Oriented People:
The biggest complaints merchants have about their credit card processing company is getting changed what they perceive as "hidden fees." Flagship charges a PCI Compliance Inaction Fee, which is a fancy way of saying that if you didn't complete your annual survey that Flagship and other providers like them need to demonstrate to VISA that their merchants are PCI compliant. This fee is stout at $19.95 /mo. If you're the type of person who might ignore that email reminder to fill it out each year, you're going to end up paying the fee. So pick a merchant services company with slightly higher per transaction costs and no PCI Compliance Inaction Fees if you'd prefer to avoid this cost.
If you're looking for trendy technology, Flagship Merchant Services isn't really the best choice. Their POS offerings are mostly off the shelf stuff designed for mainstream businesses. So, if you're into looking for something slick, their mobile pay swiper, the RoamPay G4X, while functional, doesn't look nearly as cool as Square. And if you're on the high-volume end and want a sexy custom POS, you can find merchant account providers that do a better job on that end (read more here).
|PCI Compliance Fee||$8.25|
|Online Reporting Fee||$0.00|
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DISCLOSURE: Advertising, Affiliate and Conflicts of Interest: Merchant Negotiators accepts advertising via the Google Adsense platform, directly from advertisers, and has common parent ownership interests with other payments related companies leading to conflicts of interest. Read our Affiliate / Conflicts / Advertising Disclosure for a more detailed disclosure.
About the Reviews: These reviews, and for that matter any reviews, are inherently subjective, and should be regarded as our opinion, not as a statement of fact. Selecting a merchant services provider is an important decision, and we urge you to use no single source of information as the basis of that decision.
About the Pricing: This pricing is an estimate based on limited available information. In some cases, the Processors' pricing information was provided directly by the company, in others, we obtained it from public information, through calls to the company, or through past or current clients of the company. Where, despite these efforts, we were unable to obtain any information about certain fees, we used estimates based on similar providers in the industry. While we're working, in some cases, with the company directly to get more accurate pricing, even in those circumstances, we can't guarantee the pricing's accuracy. Complicating all of this, is that for some companies individual salespeople are given authority to modify terms on a deal by deal basis. In any case, if you know of an error, please let us know and we'll fix it.
About the Calculations: With respect to your estimated savings, this is based on a lot of factors and some hard math. The reason we do it, along with the "Actual Gross Rate" calculation is that every Processor prices their product differently (e.g. interchange v. 3 tier v. 4 tier v. flat v. membership, etc.) and some make it intentionally complicated or opaque. Trying to convert their pricing structure to a consistent "Overall Cost of Processing" is the only way you, the merchant, can do an apples to apples pricing comparison and know whether an offer is actually a good deal. Our system isn't perfect but we're trying.
Conclusion: In sum, these rankings, ratings, and scores are inherently subjective, and should be regarded as our opinion and not as a legal statement of fact. Moreover, use these prices and estimates at your own risk, and make sure to verify the pricing you see here in any formal contract you receive. Finally, if you do find something wrong in our pricing, terms, etc., tell us and we'll try to fix it.
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