Leaders Merchant Services Review: What to Know about This Merchant Account Provider
Among merchant service providers that serve United States-based businesses, Leaders Merchant Services is recognized for its relative longevity. Launched in 2000 and based in Camarillo, California, Leaders is listed as a registered ISO/MSP (MasterCard Service Provider) of Compass Bank in Alabama. To date, Leaders Merchant Services has provided services for more than 100,000 merchants in every state.
Leaders Merchant Services has been a player in several card payment industry acquisitions. For more than a decade, Leaders functioned as an ISO for super-sized merchant account provider iPayment. In 2017, iPayment formally purchased Leaders Merchant Services. Looking at the bigger picture, iPayment has long been an ISO of First Data, one of the United States’ largest merchant acquirers.
Leaders Merchant Services Offerings
Leaders Merchant Services accepts all four major credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express. Leaders’ credit card processing services accept swiped, keyed, and EMV card transactions. All credit card readers support the iOS and Android operating systems.
In addition, Leaders Merchant Services accepts increasingly popular Near Field Communication (or NFC) payments. Using this technology, a customer can complete a contactless payment merely by placing their phone or tablet close to an NFC-enabled terminal. These terminals easily accept several types of digital wallet payments. Examples include Google Pay, Apple Pay, and Samsung Pay.
eCommerce businesses, along with other customers who want to process online transactions, will also have workable options. Mobile credit card processing, typically via a smartphone or tablet, is also among Leaders’ offerings.
Additional Leaders Services
Leaders Merchant Services offers five additional services to its merchant customers. Four services are directly related to transaction processing, while the fifth offers two funding options to businesses with capital needs.
Authorize.Net payment gateway. The Authorize.Net payment gateway enables merchants to connect their Point-of-Sale (POS) systems and websites to the transaction processing network. Internet-based merchants can select the best method for their needs. Retail and mobile businesses use approved third-party hardware and software to connect to Authorize.Net.
CartManager shopping cart. The CartManager shopping cart caters to eCommerce businesses that want a user-friendly shopping/checkout platform. The CartManager offers a full slate of features and secure processing for customers’ peace of mind. The eight-step set-up process is easy and doesn’t require programming knowledge.
Magtek Mini-MICR. The Magtek Mini-MICR paper check reader serves customers who prefer paper checks rather than credit or debit cards. The check reader is adaptable to small businesses along with mega-retail chains.
Instant Accept™ payment solution. This QuickBooks-friendly payment solution processes payments from a computer that doesn’t contain QuickBooks software. Then, the merchant can access transaction and customer information without opening QuickBooks, as long as Internet access is available.
Business loans and cash advances
Through the Leaders Funding Program, Leaders offers a merchant cash advances from $5,000 to $500,000. Business loans up to $1 million are also available. Leaders determines funding limits based on a merchant’s projected sales.
Leaders Merchant Services Pricing and Fees
Like many other credit card payment processing companies, Leaders Merchant Services does not post specific pricing details on its website. Instead, the company notes that each merchant’s rates will depend on the type of transaction and other factors. Leaders states that a New Accounts Associate will determine the best pricing structure for the merchant’s needs.
In October 2020, Leaders’ credit card processing rates started at 1.59% plus $0.19 per transaction. Leaders always claims that its card processing rates are among the lowest in the payment industry. However, there’s no way to tell if a specific merchant will quality for a very low rate.
Interchange-plus pricing vs tiered pricing
Leaders Merchant Services’ Glossary of Terms includes both interchange-plus pricing and tiered pricing. Both pricing methods are common in the payment processing industry.
Interchange-plus pricing. Preferred interchange-plus pricing enables a merchant to see the transaction fee markups charged by the card-issuing bank and credit card associations. Although it makes a card statement tricky to read, it’s a transparent way of doing business. As an added bonus, interchange-plus rates are typically lower than tiered rates.
Tiered pricing. Less-desirable tiered pricing groups processing rates into three tiers. Each transaction’s tier depends on numerous variables, and the payment processor makes this determination.
Although the use of tiered pricing makes a merchant’s card statement easier to read, there’s no way to break out the charges to the card-issuing bank, card associations, and merchant account provider. In addition, the provider will often advertise a super-low rate, but most non-qualifying transactions will be forced into a higher rate.
Leaders Merchant Services notes that interchange-plus pricing is generally restricted to higher-volume merchants, although they don’t define those processing volume parameters. Therefore, it’s possible that some merchants (especially mid-sized companies that would likely prefer interchange-plus pricing) might be discouraged from adopting it.
Leaders Merchant Services may also assess additional fees to its customers. Merchants should ask for written fee assessments prior to signing a contract.
- Potential merchant account fees
- Setup fee
- Annual or a monthly fee
- Gateway fee
- PCI compliance fee
- PCI non-compliance fee
- Per-transaction fee
- Premium customer care fee
- Equipment service program fee
- Cancellation fee in the event of an early contract termination
Service Contract Requirement
Leaders Merchant Services requires its merchants to sign a three-year service contract. If a merchant cancels before the contract is fulfilled, they will be charged an early termination fee (ETF) of $250 to $350.
For reference, a merchant will be charged $350 for canceling the service within the first year. During the second and third years, the merchant will be charged $250 if they cancel the contract. Merchants should always ask if Leaders will waive the ETF fee, and get that promise in writing.
Customer Service and Tech Support
Leaders Merchant Services advertises 24/7/365 customer service and technical support. In addition, Leaders states that it maintains one of the industry’s largest chargeback and fraud departments.
Leaders Merchant Services: Pros and Cons
In evaluating a merchant account provider, a merchant should look at the company’s pros and cons before making a decision. Always choose the company that appears to be the best overall fit for your business needs.
- Welcomes clients from diverse industries
- Accepts high-risk business applicants
- Easy application process
- Good selection of equipment
- Provides Merchant Services Glossary of Terms
- Questionable advertising practices
- Questionable sales methods
- Certain business exclusions
- Confusing tiered pricing structure
- High early termination fee (ETF): $250 to $350
- Excessively high complaint volume
Leaders Merchant Services and the BBB
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) maintains profiles on thousands of businesses throughout the United States and Canada. Over 400,000 of those companies have earned the BBB Accreditation Seal. This coveted credential means that the BBB has decided that a business complies with the Bureau’s accreditation criteria. In part, the company must show good-faith efforts to resolve customer complaints.
Currently, Leaders Merchant Services does not have BBB accreditation. In fact, Leaders was last accredited in 2004.
For reference, during the past three years Leaders has garnered lots of negative attention, amassing over 200 complaints on the BBB website. This is a high complaint volume based on the company’s size. Although BBB’s ratings don’t reflect user reviews, Leaders now carries a B rating because of its high complaint volume.
Leaders Merchant Services Reviews
During Leaders Merchant Services’ 20 years in business, the company has been the subject of hundreds of merchant postings on consumer review websites. In addition, industry reviewers have weighed in on Leaders’ offerings and business practices.
What merchants are saying
Many previous Leaders customers have been very vocal about their dissatisfaction with their merchant account experiences. Their complaints fall into five general categories. (Quoted reviews can be found here.)
Sales agent practices. Besides maintaining an inside sales team, Leaders Merchant Service uses independent sales agents and telemarketers to sell its services. Merchants have related their displeasure with agents’ aggressive sales techniques and lack of disclosure about fees.
Misleading rate quotes. Leaders prominently displays very low transaction rates on its website, but doesn’t talk about the higher rates that merchants will actually pay for most transactions. In fact, some merchants report being charged an 11 percent transaction rate. According to reviews, salespeople sell the service based on the lowest possible rates without any mention of higher ones before the contract is inked.
Real review: “The transaction fee that [the salesperson] mentioned to me when I signed up was completely different from the debits posted to my account.” – Kizmedia Group, 2022
Finally, some merchants placed in a tiered pricing plan noted that their rates were raised to an extremely high level during the first year of their contract.
Real review: “I was opening a small business and shopping for a credit card processing company. The representative from leaders offered me a free cc reader and a fee of $10.00 a month, $.18 per transaction. I’ve had it 3 months. Every month my fee goes up. This month it was $140.00. I just spent an hour on hold (still haven’t spoken to anyone) trying to get my account canceled.” – Dorothy, 2020
Early termination fee surprises. Some merchants report that they weren’t told about the early termination fee (or ETF) for early contract cancellation. Although the final contract likely includes an ETF clause, the sales agent should have also disclosed it during the signup process. In addition to the undisclosed ETF, reviews indicate that Leaders makes cancellation extremely difficult and may send a few final extra surprise charges.
Real review: “I’ve used them for approximately 10 years. I was recently offered a lower rate and statement credit from another provider and switched. Tried to cancel their service online and over the phone, but they didn’t close the account and charged me an end of month fee of $139.94. They won’t refund.” – William, 2022
Additional hidden fees and clauses. Most merchants’ complaints relate to Leaders’ imposition of hidden fees. In many cases, merchants report receiving an application for an electronic signature. However, they never saw the complete listing of fees and legal terminology until a later date.
Subpar customer service. Merchants have also been dissatisfied with Leaders’ customer service quality. In addition, it’s possible that in-house service associates aren’t available 24 hours a day. After hours, a merchant might be connected to a third-party support associate who isn’t necessarily familiar with Leaders’ products and services.
Real review: “I will never work with this company any more. Started new account on 09/21 and got POS malfunction POS. No tech support was able to help and needed to wait for new POS. Never got any help with account setup and waited more than a week for payment. At this point, I closed the account but the merchant decided to reopen the account and keep charging for services. Account closed again but still get monthly charges, no one to talk to.” – Ilan, 2021
What the experts are saying
Payment processing industry reviewers have also analyzed Leaders Merchant Services’ offerings and practices. Following are opinions from two independent analysts.
This well-known consumer review website gives Leaders good marks for its numerous transaction types and equipment options. The reviewer also recognizes Leaders for its additional transaction-related services and notes that its rates are among the lowest in the industry. Finally, Leaders accepts customers from diverse industries, including many high-risk businesses. The Leaders application process is simple with a fast turnaround.
Unfortunately, Leaders does have one notable downside. Like many other credit card processing companies, Leaders has a standard three-year contract that automatically renews unless the merchant has issued a proper notice of cancellation.
However, merchants who opt out before they’ve fulfilled their contract terms will be charged an early termination fee (ETF). Depending on the length of time left in the contract, the merchant will pay a hefty $250 to $350 fee for their early cancellation.
This industry reviewer recognizes Leaders Merchant Services for accepting all currently available payment types. This nationally known merchant account provider also accepts many high-risk businesses that might be turned down by other providers. Finally, Leaders offers 24/7/365 technical support (and customer support) to its merchants.
On the negative side, Leaders Merchant Services requires a three-year contract with a $250 to $350 ETF for merchants who leave prior to contract fulfillment. Leaders also doesn’t provide much information on its rates and fees, requiring applicants to get that information from a New Accounts Associate.
Finally, Leaders has been flooded with negative reviews on consumer websites over the years. In addition, from 2017 to 2020, Leaders has been the subject of 254 Better Business Bureau complaints.
Payment Processing Equipment
Leaders Merchant Services offers a good selection of payment processing hardware. However, the company’s website doesn’t say whether it sells or leases the terminals. Leasing equipment is not recommended, as the business will pay far more than the purchased cost of the hardware over time.
Clover Point-of-Sale (POS) equipment. A Clover POS system replaces a cash register, barcode scanner, payment terminal, and receipt printer with a powerful product suite. Besides accepting credit cards and processing EMV and NFC transactions, Clover enables a business owner to run reports from any location. Numerous other Clover applications are also available. Important note: Because First Data owns the Clover brand, it’s likely that First Data will be the default card processing contract choice.
Clover Station POS System. This full-sized POS hub features a 14” HD screen with a touchscreen display. An optional customer-facing screen enables contactless payments. Many add-ons allow further system customization.
Clover Mini Countertop POS System. This compact system accepts swiped and EMV cards, contactless payments, and gift cards. With the Clover Mini’s front-facing camera, QR and barcode reading is simple. By adding new applications, a merchant can even track customers and manage employees.
Clover Flex. This portable payment terminal enables easy payments from any location. Clover Flex accepts credit and debit cards along with EMV chip cards and NFC payments. A built-in scanner and receipt printer offers added flexibility. Real-time sales tracking, detailed reporting, inventory functions, and customer management are additional Clover Flex applications. Clover Flex also interacts smoothly with other Clover hardware.
Clover Go. The compact Clover Go contactless reader performs many of the same payment functions as its larger partners. Clover Go also accepts conventional chip and swipe transactions. This little card reader works well with a smartphone or tablet.
Verifone VX805. Accepts credit, PIN-based debit, and EMV chip cards. Add new capabilities with programmable functions.
Verifone VX680 terminal. This unit offers wireless technology and enables mobile payments. The equipment also supports mobile wallets, value-added applications, and loyalty-building programs.
Verifone VX520 DC terminal. NFC technology enables the acceptance of mobile wallets and value-added applications.
First Data FD150 terminal. This terminal accepts every major credit card. The all-in-one package contains a terminal, chip reader, PIN pad, contactless reader, and printer.
First Data FD150 terminal and RP10 pin pad. This device duplicates the FD150’s capabilities. However, this unit contains a different PIN pad.
PAX300 retail PIN pad. This PIN pad is ideal for multilane retail settings. The unit accepts magnetic stripe, chip & pin, e-Signature, and contactless payments.
PAX S80 countertop payment terminal. This terminal accepts magstripe, EMV, and contactless/NFC payments. The unit also supports value-added applications.
Walker 2.0 mobile credit card reader. This little credit card reader works with a smartphone, tablet, or PC. Once connected, it supports magstripe and chip & signature payments.
The Bottom Line
When evaluating any business services provider, it’s important to perform your due diligence. Identify the terms and conditions that will fit your business parameters. Thoroughly research all service provider candidates, and pay attention to any red flags. Finally, get the salesperson’s promises in writing before you make a final decision. Ultimately, the best credit card processor for your business will depend entirely on your unique needs and type of business.
If you’re shopping around for payment processing services, consider Payment Depot. Unlike traditional providers, we don’t take a cut out of your sales. Our membership pricing model saves merchants an average of $400 per month, allowing Payment Depot’s members to be more profitable.