Transparent Merchant Services offers a unique interchange + 0.0% price model with very few monthly fees. This model could be a good fit for mid-sized businesses that want simplified pricing. But probably not a great fit for small or very large companies.
If you're in the merchant services business and you call yourself "Transparent," you had better back it up. While we scoured Transparent Merchant Services' site and found a few odds and ends that we weren't happy with, in general, they lived up to their name. Transparent might be a perfect fit for a mid-sized U.S. business that conducts over 500 transactions per month.
Transparent's claim to fame is their unique pricing model. They use interchange plus pricing and actually charge Interchange Plus 0.00%. There's literally not a cent of profit in that, so the company makes up for it by charging a markup in the per transaction fee, and a monthly fee ($49 or $99 depending on your business size). This can be very attractive to merchants who are sick of getting nickeled and dimed through monthly fees or downgraded transactions.
While their pricing is transparent, their ownership structure is a little muddled. The company is under the same ownership as Vantage Payments, and affiliated with Base Commerce, however, who is their ISO.
In sum, Transparent's simple pricing with no interchange upcharge, and merchant friendly terms like month-to-month contract with no early termination charge make this an attractive option for mid-sized companies, but probably not a good fit for small or very large merchant services companies.
Below is a detailed review of Transparent 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 or may not be important to you. To learn more about any given feature, just click on it.
Transparent does offer a lot of features through their hardware bundles, but only the iConnect POS can integrate everything such as eCommerce and QuickBooks.
|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)||No|
|Online Menu Orders (Restaurants)||Yes|
Almost every merchant account services company uses either Interchange Plus or Tiered Pricing (to learn the differences read here). Where companies allow us to disclose pricing information, we show the deals that our secret shoppers were able to achieve. When companies offer both Interchange Plus and Tiered Pricing, we try to get a quote on both options.
The Pro and Elite price points are based on processing no more than $100,000.00 monthly or $1.2 million dollars annually. If you conduct process more than $1.2 million you'll need to contact the company directly to learn more about their "Enterprise Pricing."
Our Experience: Transparent is not for the hobbyist who is selling on eBay or Etsy, because even the base monthly fee is too high if you're only doing a few transactions a month. If however, you're a mid-sized merchant doing about $50,000 to $75,000 in monthly transactions, this could be a good fit. If you're doing volume much beyond that, you can probably get a cheaper per transaction rate elsewhere, so this isn't likely your best fit.
If your company is in that $50 - 75k per month range, the savings comes on the low, low transaction fees (even for manually keyed-in sales), the non-existent interchange markup, and the lack of gateway fees and other hidden "gotchas" (see below).
Transparent presents a conundrum: On one hand, they state that by eliminating hidden fees, they offer a great way to save. On the other hand, Transparent doesn't talk about the fees they eliminate in a coherent fashion, making it difficult to ascertain exactly how much in fine print fees a merchant would actually be paying. We're assuming those fees concern the items listed below:
|Fine Print Fees:|
|Setup / Application Fee||None|
|PCI Compliance Fee||None|
|PCI Inaction Fee||$99.00|
|Online Reporting Fee||None|
|Monthly Minimum Volume Fee||None|
|Accept International Pymt Fee||Per Transaction|
|Voice Authorization Fee||Possible|
|Monthly Min. Process Fee||None|
|Daily Batch Fee||None|
|ACH / Direct Deposit Fee||None|
|ACH Charge Fee||Possible|
|ACH Return Fee||Possible|
|No Applicaiton Fees|
|Free Customer Service|
Our Take: The one thing that Transparent is selling me is simplicity. Although there's a charge for PCI compliance and chargebacks, Transparent deals with that issue through their equipment and software. The flat rate fees paid in the levels shown above this section cover all the hidden costs minus the "gotchas" that other companies might charge. The other plus is the month-to-month contract with no early termination fee.
While your transactions usually take place electronically, the actual device that you use to swipe a customer's card is referred to as "the equipment." This equipment includes hardware and, often, software or apps for that hardware to function properly.
Transparent offers only a few options for hardware and software, and some of these items can be purchased elsewhere and then used with Transparent at a possible savings:
The cloud-based POS system listed last under hardware (iConnect POS) comes in various price ranges depending upon the size of your business. All options contain a full-featured set of tools and tech support. and preferred credit card rates (whatever that means). Currently, it appears that all options offer a 15-day free trial.
Transparent states on their home page that they will not charge for a reprogramming fee, so think about getting that hardware somewhere else if you can find it cheaper. We found a complete iConnect bundle that included a iPad Air, 1616 cash drawer, cable, barcode scanner, and card reader for $1,320.50. That's a big one-time payment, but a heck of a lot better than renting indefinitely.
Also, we discovered that the swiper might be free for the merchant depending upon the merchant's situation. Be sure to ask for the free one.
Transparent Merchant Services can handle payments from and for merchants in the United States. They also allow merchants to accept cross-border and international cards at a higher rate.
I generally don't like long-term contracts or termination fees in merchant services agreements, because the ability to cancel keeps the credit card processor on its best behavior, including the willingness to make you happy if there's a dispute. Plus, this ability to cancel gives you the ability to move on if you find a better deal.
Transparent offers a month-to-month contract with no early termination fees. As always, read your contract carefully to confirm before signing, but this looks great. Also, be aware that service with Transparent needs to be formally terminated well in advance, because they'll continue to extract your monthly fee from your bank if you merely discontinue using their equipment and service. The PCI compliance fee is nonrefundable.
The merchant account services industry is multi-layered. Understanding how those layers fit together can be confusing (Read More in this Article). A good thing to know, however, is whether or not your company is a direct processor (good if yes) or, if not, then to know who they process with and whether or not that processor is reliable. The second thing to know is whether or not the service or sales staffs are in-house or outsourced. In-house staffs are preferable for you, as these staff members may have more access to sources that can resolve your issues.
Processor: Transparent Merchant Accounts are provided by Base Commerce, LLC, a registered ISO/ MSP of Synovus Bank, 1125 First Avenue, Columbus Georgia. Transparent is located in Scottsdale, Arizona. Base Commerce is located in Tempe, Arizona. The sales person we spoke with stated that they operate their own gateway, which could account for lower processing fees.
Account Sales: Transparent keeps up active social media sites and they offer affiliate relationships to marketing companies, web hosting services, consultants, and anyone seeking an opportunity to market Transparent's services. Because they have a unique pricing model, they don't have to do a ton of marketing, as others, including word of mouth, do it for them.
Account Service: Transparent offers a pop-up chat window at their site that readers can utilize to ask questions. We had a spotty experience with that tool, as someone came on to ask us about our business and how they could help - we didn't respond immediately and lost contact. Otherwise, Transparent isn't very transparent about their customer support. They do have a contact page that is clear about their hours and location.
As part of our review process, we try to test merchant account service companies' claims by placing test calls and working through the customer service process.
2/25/2015; TIME: 2:15 pm EST
Call to Customer Support
I called the sales number and was met with a limited phone tree. I chose "sales," and was put on hold with a number (I was number one in line at the time). A receptionist picked up and seemed confused about my call, even when I asked twice for the sales department. She finally patched me through to Patrick after putting me on hold for about a minute.
Patrick sounded like he was in a tunnel, and I'm fairly certain he had me on speaker phone. I asked about the cost of the swiper, which he stated was free for certain accounts. He wasn't certain about the chargeback fees (which are not included on the site that we could see), and had to look up that information. He seemed to be preoccupied with some other business, so I let him go at that point.
Our Verdict: This is one case where the website is pretty, but the back end appears muddled. If we owned a mid-sized business, we'd be pretty concerned about the confusion on the front end of the call. Small businesses might tolerate a little confusion, but for a company whose pricing makes it geared to mid-sized companies, we'd expect better customer service than this.
We scoured the web to find past and current customer complaints about this processor. Then, we investigated those complaints that seemed legit, and provide our verdict on how well the processor handled the issues.
Transparent is a fairly new company (2008), which could explain the lack of complaints (we found none). Their BBB listing began in 2014, which also could explain a lack of complaints or compliments. We'll see how this section grows down the road.
WHO IT'S GOOD FOR:
WHO IT'S NOT GOOD FOR:
|PCI Compliance Fee||$8.25|
|Online Reporting Fee||$0.00|
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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