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First Data Review

Best High-Volume Credit Card Processor

A Business News Daily Review

Product and service reviews are conducted independently by our editorial team, but we sometimes make money when you click on links. Learn more.

After conducting extensive research and analysis, we recommend First Data as our pick for the best high-volume credit card processor for small businesses in 2018. To understand how we selected our best picks, you can find our methodology and a comprehensive list of credit card processing companies on our best picks page.

First Data Merchant Services is one of the world's largest credit card processors. It serves merchants in 100 countries at nearly six million business locations, processing more than 33 billion transactions per year – that's more than 3,000 transactions per second – with transactions worth more than $2.4 trillion annually. Even though First Data is a huge company that works with large corporations, financial institutions and resellers, it works directly with small businesses in nearly every industry, providing a full range of payment processing services and equipment.

We selected First Data as the best high-volume credit card processor. It's a leader in the payment industry, and experienced merchants who know what to look for in a payment processor and have a high monthly sales volume can negotiate month-to-month terms, no cancellation fee, and competitive rates.

Through its First Data Salutes initiative, it offers perks to merchants who are veterans and military spouses. Its Clover merchants can now accept Alipay, a popular Chinese payment method, allowing U.S. retailers located near popular tourist destinations to cater to this growing segment of travelers.

Although First Data has a lot to offer, other processors may be more cost effective for small businesses. If price is your top consideration, check out our pick for the best credit card processor for small businesses

Editor's note: Looking for information on credit card processors? Use the questionnaire below and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need.

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Like most full-service credit card processors, First Data customizes the pricing it offers you, basing rates on your industry, the products or services you sell, your average monthly sales volume, sales ticket sizes and payment acceptance methods. For this reason, the rates and fees you're quoted may vary from those we were quoted in our testing, and high-volume merchants may be able to negotiate for a better deal. First Data offers a choice between tiered, interchange-plus and flat-rate pricing. Here's how each pricing model works.

For retail processing, where you're accepting payment cards at a physical location using a card reader, there are two tiers: qualified and non-qualified, which apply to both credit and debit cards.

  • Qualified credit and debit cards cost 1.89 percent plus 15 cents. This rate only applies to transactions made using regular cards.
  • Non-qualified credit and debit cards cost 2.89 percent plus 15 cents. Rewards cards are categorized in this tier.
  • PIN debit transactions are exceptions, costing 39 cents per transaction.
  • If you decide to accept American Express, you'll pay an additional 0.55 percent plus 15 cents.

The rate we were quoted for this pricing model is 0.59 percent plus 19 cents. This rate is quite a bit higher than others we were quoted in our testing, but the sales rep we spoke with indicated that it was negotiable, explaining that she'd have to get approval from her manager to give us a lower rate.

First Data calls this pricing model its Simplified Structure Rate. It includes all fees and may be a better option for your business if you accept a lot of rewards cards and want to know exactly how much you're paying for each transaction.

  • Swiped cards cost 2.29 percent plus 19 cents per transaction.
  • Non-swiped cards cost 3.29 percent plus 19 cents per transaction.

For the tiered and interchange-plus pricing plans, there are additional fees that apply to your account.

  • The application fee is $149, though its negotiable and the sales rep we spoke with in our testing offered to waive it for us.
  • The contract terms and early cancellation fee are also negotiable. When we asked about them, the sales rep offered to reduce the terms and waive the cancellation fee.
  • The monthly statement fee is $5.95, and this was also waived.
  • The monthly minimum is $25, which is the amount you need to generate in processing rates and fees, and if you don't meet this requirement, you pay the difference to make up the balance.
  • There's no annual PCI compliance fee; instead, you pay $19.95 per month for First Data's TransArmor Security Solution software.

Before you sign the merchant application (which is actually the contract), you want to request and read the entire contract to ensure that you're aware of all possible fees and that you have a written waiver for any fees the sales rep offered to waive or that they were removed from the contract. You also want to review the cancellation procedure. No matter which processor you choose, this is an important step, because verifying this information now can save you from unpleasant surprises when you get your bill or cancel your account.

First Data offers every payment acceptance method, so you can accept credit and debit cards at your brick-and-mortar business, on your website, on the go using your phone and a mobile app, and over the phone. You can also accept electronic checks using this processor. Here are some of the features this credit card processing company offers.

For its small business merchants, First Data recommends its Clover line of point-of-sale (POS) hardware and software. All Clover card readers are EMV compliant and include NFC technology, so you can accept contactless cards and mobile wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay. You can purchase the equipment or lease it, and there's an additional monthly fee for Clover POS software.

If you want to offer your customers perks through a loyalty program or sell them branded gift cards you can do so through this processor, and these programs integrate with your Clover POS system. You can also add a check acceptance program if your customers prefer to pay you using paper checks or ACH payments.

First Data offers industry-specific data, programs, and tools to merchants in corporate billing, education, financial analysis, government, healthcare, and gambling and gaming industries.

PCI and EMV compliance are two important factors that help prevent fraud and limit your liability. All of First Data's Clover processing equipment is EMV compliant so you can accept chip cards properly, avoiding liability if counterfeit fraud occurs at your point of sale.

No matter which processor you sign up with, you're required to establish and maintain PCI compliance if you have a merchant account. Instead of charging an annual PCI compliance fee like most of its competitors, you pay a monthly fee for its TransArmor security software, which it uses to help you achieve and maintain PCI compliance. It encrypts and tokenizes each transaction, so no sensitive card data is stored in your system. Further, First Data has a questionnaire wizard to simplify the compliance process. It also includes monitoring software that can detect whether your POS software and hardware have been tampered with and a liability waiver that can shield you from up to $100,000 in card association costs if you experience a data breach.

As an industry leader, First Data offers some unique services and incentives, such as the following.

  • Veteran support. Through its First Data Salutes program, the company offers a free Clover Mini or Clover Mobile point of sale device to new merchants who are veterans or military spouses. The company has also been recognized as a top veteran employer by several organizations, including Military Times magazine.
  • Alipay acceptance. If you're a North American merchant located near travel destinations frequented by Chinese tourists, you may be interested in accepting payments made using this popular Chinese payment app. To get in on this program, you'll need to use Clover processing equipment.

You can call the company 24/7 or fill out an online form to have an agent call you at a convenient time. You can also email or visit the company's website to chat with a representative during extended business hours: 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., EST, Monday through Thursday, and 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., EST, on Friday.

A wealth of online resources are available to help you learn about First Data, Clover and topics related to the payment industry such as fraud prevention, e-commerce and small business. It has a YouTube channel, webinars, newsletters, infographics, white papers and success stories. It also has a searchable knowledgebase with product support.

Our experience with First Data's customer representatives was positive. We contacted the company via live chat and were immediately connected to a sales rep. We posed as a small business owner and asked many questions about pricing, terms and products. The rep provided us with a tiered pricing quote but was happy to quote us interchange-plus rates when we requested them. She answered our questions directly and took the time to explain how the company's pricing options work and offered several fee waivers. After the call, the rep followed up with us by email with the pricing quote in writing and a pre-application form.

As one of the largest credit card processors that works with millions of businesses worldwide, it's no surprise that First Data has its share of negative online reviews. Many complaints are about equipment contracts from the company's leasing arm, First Data Global Leasing. Others complain about undisclosed fees or misleading sales reps, which is why it's so important to get a copy of the contract and read it to verify what exactly you're agreeing to before signing the application. Here are some factors to consider before selecting this company as your payment processor.

  • Equipment leases. We don't recommend leasing. It's always much more expensive than purchasing POS hardware, and it has a lengthy, noncancelable contract with liquidated damages. If you're considering leasing, check out the complaints on the Better Business Bureau's profile for this company. You can avoid the headache and expense of leasing by buying your equipment outright – even if that means using a basic terminal until you can afford to upgrade.
  • Lack of pricing transparency. First Data doesn't post its rates, fees or terms on its website, so you must contact the company for a quote. Although customized pricing based on a business' specific needs and qualifications is common in this industry, its inconvenient for merchants that want to find this information online.
  • Contracts aren't easy to preview. You may have to jump through some hoops to get a copy of the contract to review. The First Data rep we spoke with told us she couldn't send us the full contract until we submitted the pre-application form. However, the rep noted that we didn't have to sign it and could withhold our personal information (our Social Security and bank account numbers) to submit this form.
  • More expensive for some businesses. Small businesses with low processing volume and those that don't carefully review the contract before signing up may find it expensive to process directly with First Data. Experienced merchants with a higher processing volume can negotiate for good rates and terms.

Ready to choose a credit card processing company? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:

Editor's note: Looking for information on credit card processors? Use the questionnaire below and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need.

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Lori Fairbanks

Lori Fairbanks has years of experience writing and editing for both print and online publications. After graduating from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of Arts in English, she worked as a magazine editor and then as a freelance writer and editor for a variety of companies, including marketing firms and a medical university. She now writes for Business.com and Business News Daily about financial systems and services for small businesses, such as accounting software, credit card processing and point-of-sale systems.