CardConnect is a quote-based payment processor serving over 230,000 merchants in the United States. Their flagship product, CardPointe, is a complete payments platform for businesses—offering everything from transaction management software to a hosted payments page. CardConnect also sells security tools that integrate with other software to allow tokenization and point-to-point encryption.
CardConnect offers one of the more unique product catalogues of any merchant services provider we’ve reviewed. There are POS tools, but not a dedicated POS system. There are security features that can be integrated into other software, and there is a platform designed to help CardConnect third-party sales agents manage their merchants.
Overall, it makes the most sense to think of CardConnect as a payment processor with some high-tech add-ons. The business launched in 2006 and has grown to work with over 230,000 merchants, including major brands like Adobe and The New York Times. That’s all well and good, but we’re here to learn if CardConnect is a good fit for your (likely smaller) business.
So let’s break down everything CardConnect offers to determine its overall value. We’ll also refer you to a couple of alternatives so you’ll understand just what the payment processing market has to offer.
CardConnect: The Basics
The first thing to understand about CardConnect is that it is a First Data subsidiary. First Data is the largest merchant services provider in the United States, processing over 3,000 transactions per second and over $2.4 trillion every year. First Data acquired CardConnect in 2017 to go along with its impressive portfolio of vendors that also includes Clover Point of Sale. This means that when you use CardConnect as a payment processor, you’ll be getting a First Data merchant account.
The next thing to know is that CardConnect uses both internal and external sales agents. We strongly recommend demanding to work with an internal sales agent, as third-party sales agents in the payment processing industry have a track record of unethical behavior, such as offering quotes above market value and not disclosing hidden fees. If you do have to work with an independent sales agent, tread carefully and be sure to negotiate to the best of your abilities.
While on the topic of independent sales agents, we should revisit that third-party sales agent platform we mentioned in the introduction. It’s called CoPilot, and it gives CardConnect resellers access to online applications, pricing templates, sales metrics, and more. It’s nice to see that CardConnect provides resellers with a structured system for selling their products, but we would still always try to work with an internal sales agent.
Lastly, CardConnect is designed to work for both small and large businesses. Furthermore, its solutions can apply to businesses across a wide variety of industries. And just what are those solutions? Let’s find out.
CardConnect sells three branded products, two of which are security-focused. Their flagship product is called CardPointe, which is chock-full of features. Let’s learn about this product first.
CardConnect calls CardPointe their “complete platform for business.” Indeed, it does have most of what you would need as a small business owner, and then some. Let’s break down everything it provides, piece by piece. Note that you can also purchase most of these products individually.
As previously stated, CardConnect offers merchant accounts through First Data. First Data merchant accounts can accept credit and debit card transactions, as well as ACH payments. There are also merchant account options for high-risk merchants. Note that all merchant accounts come with a built-in payment gateway, making them a great solution for ecommerce merchants.
CardPointe’s transaction management system is a desktop application that gives merchants a high level overview of their business’s payments in real-time. From the platform, merchants can conduct refunds, voids, reprint receipts, set recurring payments, manage PCI compliance obligations, create customer profiles, edit their product catalogue, and parse sales data.
Credit Card Terminal
CardPointe integrates with a variety of credit card terminals that can be purchased through the CardConnect store. Amongst your traditional countertop terminal options are the Ingenico iCT220 ($170) and the Ingenico iCT250 ($220). Both feature point-to-point encryption and can accept magstripe and chip card forms of payment, but only the iCT250 can accept contactless forms of payment.
Note that CardConnect also sells a mobile credit card reader that works in conjunction with the CardPointe mobile app (more on this later) for a cost of $25.
CardPointe comes with a virtual terminal that can run on your desktop device to accept transactions where a card isn’t present. The platform comes with tokenization and point-to-point encryption. The software can also be integrated with a variety of countertop credit card processing machines that feature keypads—allowing you to key-in credit card information for card-present transactions.
Compatible credit card processors include the ID TECH SecuRED ($115), ID TECH SREDKey ($160), Ingenico iPP 320 ($310), Ingenico iPP 350 ($360), and Ingenico iSC Touch 250 ($500). All of these products can be purchased in the CardConnect store.
The CardPointe Mobile App is an extension of the CardPointe Transaction Management system. It’s free to download from the Apple or Google Play stores and works in conjunction with a mobile card reader to process payments. Note that you cannot process chip card payments with the mobile card reader.
Hosted Payments Page
The CardPointe hosted payment page allows ecommerce merchants to build a customizable checkout page for their website. The payments page is integrated directly with the CardPointe payment gateway and features tokenization, plus the ability to send invoices and set recurring payments.
CardPointe integrates with most popular ecommerce shopping cards, account software, and point of sale systems. As a CardConnect customer, you can also acquire a Clover POS system through First Data.
CardSecure is software that integrates into enterprise resource planning systems, customer relationship management systems, web stores, mobile apps, POS devices, and other legacy software to enable electronic payment acceptance. All transactions are backed by tokenization and point-to-point encryption. CardSecure can also function as an omni-channel solution, consolidating the payment experience across a variety of different sales channels. Other features include data breach protection and a reporting suite.
The point-to-point encryption (P2PE) we’ve been referencing is powered by another CardConnect product called Bolt. The nice thing about Bolt is that you can use it separately to enable P2PE on any software. Bolt also works for card-not-present and omni-channel transactions.
Lastly, CardConnect offers a variety of developer tools that allow you to customize the connection between your website and their payment gateway. You can also use the API to integrate third-party tools.
CardConnect offers 24/7 customer support via phone and email. The CardConnect website also has a lot of resources for merchants, including a dedicated Support Center, a blog called LaunchPointe, and an API documentation database. Another interesting feature is CardConnect’s free startup cost calculator, which provides entrepreneurs with an estimate of how much it will cost to launch their business.
CardConnect is also active on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn.
The two most common costs with a payment processor are the per transaction fee and the fee for maintaining a merchant account. CardConnect does not disclose any pricing information on its website, leading us to conclude that pricing is entirely quote-based and depends on the products you need and the type of business you operate.
Speaking in generalities, higher-volume merchants usually get interchange-plus pricing while smaller businesses and high-risk merchants get stuck with a tiered pricing plan, which is more expensive. Additional fees you may encounter include a PCI compliance fee, payment gateway fee, paper statement fee, and chargeback fee. Remember that CardConnect uses independent sales agents who may try to lock you into deals with higher fees, so negotiate aggressively.
An additional factor to be wary of is your contract type. This is another area where smaller businesses can get a raw deal, as payment processors typically try and offer them longer-term contracts with early termination fees. You want flexibility, so try and negotiate month-to-month pricing that allows you to leave at any time. From what we can tell, CardConnect contracts vary widely from business to business, so push hard for terms that are in the best interest of your business.
Now that we know everything CardConnect can do, plus what it costs, let’s look at the pros to this payment processing service:
Not to geek out on payment processing solutions, but CardPointe is a very cool service. With it you get a payment processor that can do a ton of stuff, like host a website payments page and track your transaction history. Plus, it integrates with most POS devices, meaning a little tinkering can turn it into a full-fledged POS system. The only drawback is that it’s unclear how much you will pay to use CardPointe. It’s a shame really because this service offers a lot of value.
It’s clear that CardConnect prioritizes security. Their payments platform has built-in tokenization and P2PE, and these tools are also capable of being integrated into other platforms. They also provide assistance in helping merchants meet requirements for PCI compliance, which can be a headache to deal with on your own.
Our major qualm with CardConnect is their pricing model. It’s common for payment processors to be ambiguous when it comes to how much their service costs, but that doesn’t make it any less customer-friendly. However, we could accept CardConnect’s ambiguous pricing if it wasn’t for the fact that they use third-party sales organizations. The combination of these two things makes us feel that customers are at risk of getting an unfair deal when working with CardConnect. We’re not saying that you will get a bad deal, but there are far too many services on the market today that offer transparent pricing and honest sales practices for business owners to resort to using a provider that doesn’t.
CardConnect User Reviews
Here is what customers are saying about CardConnect on major review websites:
The reviews are a bit of a mixed bag. In negative reviews, customers unsurprisingly complain about being hit with hidden fees and having trouble getting out of their contracts. They also say they dealt with dishonest sales agents, and they found CardConnect’s customer service to be unhelpful when they reached out.
In positive reviews, users say they were able to get a fair deal with low interchange-plus pricing. Note that this varies from customer to customer, so low pricing for one customer isn’t indicative of CardConnect’s overall pricing model. Other users say they find CardConnect very easy to set up and use, and their API is simple and intuitive.
If CardConnect’s pricing model leaves you wanting, here are some other payment processors to consider:
Payment Depot is the polar opposite of CardConnect in that it offers one of the most transparent and cheapest pricing models in the industry. For all transactions you’ll pay the wholesale interchange price (the cheapest price on the market) plus a small fixed fee ranging between $0.15 and $0.05. The catch is that you will also have to pay a monthly fee ranging between $49 and $199. The membership fee you pay is determined by your processing volume. Each membership comes with everything you need to process payments: A merchant account, credit card terminal, payment gateway, and virtual terminal. Payment Depot also sells third-party POS systems.
If all else fails, there is always Square. Square won’t charge you anything outside of its interchange-plus pricing and the cost to buy one of its credit card readers. As for those fees, users pay 2.75% on all in-person transactions, 2.9% + $0.30 for ecommerce transactions, and 3.5% + $0.15 for virtual terminal transactions. There are lower rates if you purchase one of Square’s more advanced credit card readers, such as the Square Terminal or Square Register. When you sign up you also get free POS software and a free mobile credit card reader.
Is CardConnect Right for Your Business?
Give CardConnect credit for offering some really high-tech and cool payment solutions. If that was paired with a transparent pricing model, we’d give CardConnect five stars out of five. Alas, it is not. This does not mean we will categorically dismiss CardConnect. If it’s solutions work well for your business, we encourage you to pursue a contract with them. Just be careful. Having good payment technology isn’t worth it if the cost is going to hurt your business over the long run.
Matthew Speiser is a former staff writer at Fundera.
He has written extensively about ecommerce, marketing and sales, and payroll and HR solutions, but is particularly knowledgeable about merchant services. Prior to Fundera, Matthew was an editorial lead at Google and an intern reporter at Business Insider. Matthew was also a co-author for Startup Guide—a series of guidebooks designed to assist entrepreneurs in different cities around the world.