First Data Review 2020: Pricing, Features, Top Alternatives

First Data (now owned by Fiserv) is one of the largest merchant service providers in the world. When it comes down to it, First Data can provide businesses with every type of solution they need to manage commerce, including payment processing, POS, payment gateways, mobile payments, and more.

This being said, however, just because First Data is one of the biggest merchant service providers doesn’t mean they’re the best—or right for every business. In fact, despite the size of First Data, this processor actually offers the majority of its merchant services through a network of resellers—often making it more difficult to determine exactly what First Data can offer your business.

Luckily, we’re here to help. In this First Data review, we’ll break down everything you need to know about this merchant service provider—including pricing, capabilities, and more—so that you can decide if it’s the right solution for your small business.

What Is First Data?

Despite the fact that First Data is one of the largest merchant service providers in the world, you may be unfamiliar with their solution. In short, although First Data services millions of merchants as a direct processor, they offer the majority of their solutions through a network of partners and subsidiaries—independent sales organizations (ISOs), independent software vendors (ISVs), and value-added resellers (VARs).

Therefore, whereas when you’re working with Square, you’re gaining access to Square’s own solutions, software, hardware, etc.—the same is not true with First Data. Instead, First Data provides the behind-the-scenes processing for businesses, including maintaining their merchant accounts, but the actual solutions they offer come from different providers. As an example, if you need a POS system from First Data, the actual system—software and hardware—will come from Clover, who is owned by First Data.

In this way, as we mentioned, it can be difficult to understand how First Data works and what it offers.

With this in mind then, there are essentially two ways that you can work with First Data as a merchant service provider.

First, you can work with First Data directly by contacting their sales team and customizing a solution for your business. On the other hand, you can also work with one of the many First Data resellers and access their services in that way.

Some of the most popular First Data resellers are Bank of America Merchant Services, Chase Merchant Services, and Wells Fargo Merchant Services. Additionally, there are companies that aren’t exclusively First Data resellers, but do utilize First Data for back-end processing—like Payment Depot and Dharma Merchant Services.

This being said, it’s important to note that there’s a significant amount of variation when it comes to working with First Data resellers or ISOs.

Although some of these organizations will offer you a fair rate and a short-term contract, others will try and lock you into a deal that is not in the best interest of your business with long-term contracts and hidden fees. Unfortunately, even though some resellers prioritize the experience for their customers, others prioritize sales volume over the quality of service.

All of this is to say, therefore, that you’ll want to be cautious in dealing with First Data directly, as well as dealing with some of their resellers.

If you work with First Data directly, they’ll be the ones negotiating your contract, terms, and fees—however, as they’re such a large merchant services provider, it may be harder for small businesses to negotiate an ideal solution. On the other hand, if you work with a First Data reseller, it will be up to that organization to set your rates and terms. In this case, you may have better luck working with a reseller, as long as you fully vet the reseller to make sure they’re a reputable organization.

Overview of First Data Merchant Services

Category First Data Solution
Credit Card Processing
-Dedicated merchant account
-Accept major credit cards, debit cards, gift cards, mobile payments
-Accept checks and ACH payments
In-Person Payments
-POS software and hardware from Clover
-Virtual terminal from Clover
-FD130 credit card terminal to use with existing POS system
Online Payments
-First Data payment gateway
-Payeezy payment gateway
Security and Fraud Tools
-Clover Security protects your data and customer payment information
-Includes PCI-compliance tools
Additional Tools
-Main Street Insights analytics platform
-Money Network for electronic payroll delivery
-Clover Rewards to build your own loyalty program
-Clover Gift Cards to customize and sell your own gift cards
Customer Support
Customer service available by phone or email, plus self-service resources through online support center

First Data Review: Pros and Cons

With this overview in mind, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of working with First Data as a merchant account provider.

Pros

  • Variety of available products and services: The main benefit of choosing a large merchant services provider like First Data is the variety of solutions they can offer your business. Most small business owners don’t want to go through multiple vendors when they have questions or concerns about their merchant services. First Data makes life easier by providing you with one service to go through for whatever you need to manage transactions. Plus, they provide solutions for in-person payments, online payments, and more.
  • Scalable solution: Large merchant services providers become more valuable partners the bigger your business gets. This is because they will offer you their products and services at lower rates, given your transaction volume is higher. Therefore, as your business grows, you can continue to work with First Data—and hopefully, access lower rates as you do.
  • Dedicated merchant account: Although a dedicated merchant account is not required for your business to accept credit card payments, having one offers a level of security and stability that is often lacking with payment service providers—who aggregate all of their customers’ funds into a single merchant account. With First Data, you’ll have a dedicated merchant account unique to your business.
  • Offers robust software and hardware for POS through Clover: Although it can be confusing to sort through First Data’s network of resellers and ISOs, when it comes to POS solutions, they offer one of the best products on the market. Clover can be used for a variety of different business types, offers multiple options for hardware and software, and generally is a user-friendly, intuitive POS system for small businesses.

Cons

  • Mostly offers solutions through resellers and ISOs: As we discussed at length above, First Data mostly offers their merchant services through resellers and ISOs. Although this is a common practice among merchant service providers, it makes the process of accessing payment processing much more difficult process for business owners. The resellers and ISOs have the freedom to dictate their own pricing, contracts, and terms—meaning there’s little information upfront about the services that are offered and how much they’re going to cost. This being said, even though not all resellers and ISOs have poor reputations, many are known for deceptive sales tactics, hidden fees, and long-term contracts.
  • Lack of transparency: Continuing off our last point, because First Data mainly offers their services through third-party organizations, there’s an inherent lack of transparency with regard to their services and pricing. With this lack of transparency, it’s difficult to compare First Data to other providers and know if you’re getting a good deal for your business. Plus, because you have access to very little information upfront, it’s easier for resellers or ISOs to try and upcharge the services or offer less-than-ideal terms for your business. Overall, you’ll always be better off using a merchant service provider that provides transparent information about their pricing and services.
  • Complaints and negative customer reviews: As we’ll explore in greater detail below, First Data does not have a great reputation amongst online reviewers. Although not all reviews are wholly negative, there are a number of businesses complaining about the price of their services. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, First Data has over 800 Better Business Bureau complaints in the last three years. Even for a large company, this is a significant number of complaints.

First Data Pricing

When it comes down to it, First Data’s pricing will vary.

First, as we’ve mentioned, resellers and ISOs of First Data will be able to set their own pricing—meaning if you decide to work with one of these organizations, the pricing you receive will depend on the specific provider and how they price their services.

On the other hand, if you work with First Data directly, you’ll receive quote-based pricing (some resellers may also operate with this type of pricing model). In short, this means that First Data will craft a pricing quote that’s unique to your business and will depend on factors such as the services you need, the size of your business, your business’s transaction volume, and more.

This being said, in either of these cases, your pricing will break down into four categories:

  • Credit card processing: You’ll have to pay to accept and process credit cards. These fees will typically be charged on a per-transaction basis.
  • Software: You’ll likely pay for any software you need to accept credit card payments. This might be a monthly software fee for a POS software or a monthly payment gateway fee for the payment gateway you need to accept online payments.
  • Hardware: If you’re accepting in-person payments, you’ll pay for the hardware needed. You may opt for a full countertop POS system or a sole credit card terminal. Along these lines, it’s important to note that First Data (as well as many of their resellers) will offer hardware leasing programs. We’d recommend avoiding these leasing programs if possible—they are often expensive, require long-term contracts, and are hard to break without incurring large fees.
  • Additional tools and fees: Finally, if you need any additional tools—gift card program, loyalty program, etc.—you may have to pay for these capabilities. Moreover, you may face other ongoing, incidental, or one-time fees, such as monthly account maintenance fees, chargeback fees, setup fees, cancellation fees, PCI-compliance fees, etc.

All in all, it’s impossible to determine the cost of First Data without contacting their sales team to get a customized quote for your business or by working with one of their resellers.

With this in mind, however, when it comes to their POS solutions, we can look to Clover’s website to get a sense of what this pricing might look like. As we mentioned, with a POS system like Clover, you’ll pay for the software and hardware you need, as well as credit card processing. Their pricing breaks down as such:

Clover POS Software and Processing

  • Register Lite: $9.95 per month; 2.7% + $0.10 for in-person transactions, 3.5% + $0.10 for keyed-in transactions
  • Register: $39.95 per month; 2.3% + $0.10 for in-person transactions, 3.5% + $0.10 for keyed-in transactions
  • Counter Service Restaurant: $39.95 per month; 2.5% + $0.10 for in-person transactions, 3.5% + $0.15 for keyed-in transactions
  • Table Service Restaurant: $69.95 per month; 2.3% + $0.10 for in-person transactions, 3.5% + $0.10 for keyed-in transactions

Clover POS Hardware

  • Clover Go: $69
  • Clover Flex: $499.00
  • Clover Mini: $749.00
  • Clover Station: $1,399.00
  • Clover Station Pro: $1,649.00

Once again, any First Data reseller or ISO may sell the Clover software and hardware at different prices and charge different processing rates. Therefore, if you’re interested in Clover POS, we’d recommend working through Clover directly—as they offer upfront pricing information, no hidden fees, no long-term contracts, and no cancellation fees.

First Data Capabilities

On the whole, as we’ve mentioned, First Data doesn’t provide too much detailed information about their solutions on their website. Therefore, if you’re interested in their services, you’ll want to contact them directly for more information or work with one of their resellers or ISOs to learn more.

This being said, however, you can get an overview of First Data merchant services for small businesses below:

Clover POS

As we’ve discussed, First Data provides POS systems via their subsidiary Clover. Clover offers small business owners four software options with which they can run transactions and manage their operations. They are as follows:

  • Register Lite: Allows you to accept swipe, dip, and contactless forms of payment; set employees permissions and shifts; track sales and reports; process payments offline; and access the Clover App market for additional tools.
  • Register: Receive all Register Lite capabilities, plus inventory management and the ability to access customer feedback and add gratuity to checks
  • Counter Service Restaurant: Receive all Register capabilities, plus bar tab pre-authorization, bundled apps, and specific features designed for quick-service restaurants
  • Full-Service Restaurant: Receive all Counter Service capabilities, plus floor plan management, reporting based on revenue center, and more

    first data review, clover POS

    Clover Register software on the Clover Mini hardware terminal. Image source: Clover

In terms of POS hardware options, Clover offers:

  • Clover Go: A plug-in card reader that allows you to process magstripe, chip card, and contactless forms of payment.
  • Clover Flex: A handheld POS device that allows you to accept magstripe, chip card, and contactless forms of payment and also scan barcodes and print receipts.
  • Clover Mini: A countertop POS system that features all of the same capabilities as the Clover Flex as well as a display screen where you can perform employee management functions and track sales.
  • Clover Station: A large countertop POS system that can process magstripe, chip card, and contactless payment methods; boasts enhanced security and processing capabilities; and can perform inventory and customer relationship management functions.
  • Clover Station Pro: Includes everything offered with Clover Station, plus a customer-facing terminal

FD130 Terminal

If you already have a POS software and only need credit card processing and a terminal, you can use the FD130 terminal to accept and process payments with First Data.

Data Security

Secure payments is another service First Data outsources to their subsidiary Clover.

With Clover Security all card payments are encrypted and tokenized, helping merchants remain PCI compliant. In the event of a data breach, Clover Security provides merchants with a liability waiver for card association fines and expenses of up to $100,000. Clover will also monitor your POS system for possible tampering, and provide you with a dedicated specialist to field your security questions.

Check Acceptance

If your business wants to process checks and ACH payments, First Data will pair you with Clover Check Acceptance.

This service allows you to securely convert paper checks to electronic transactions at your POS, and accept ACH transfers online. You can also arrange to receive recurring payments, and all funds are deposited into your business bank account within two days.

Loyalty and Gift Card Program

Next up in First Data’s list of features offered through Clover is a rewards program called Clover Rewards. With Clover Rewards you can set up a rewards program for your business that allows your customers to collect redeemable points on sales. Clover Rewards also allows you to send customized marketing texts and emails to customers and collect data that reveals customer preferences.

With Clover Rewards, First Data also offers the Clover Gift Card program. This service allows you to distribute gift cards to your customers that are customized with your business’s branding. Your Clover POS can also track gift card balances.

Payment Gateway

If you’re an ecommerce merchant, First Data can provide you the means to process digital transactions with their payment gateway or with the Payeezy Gateway.

The Payeezy Gateway integrates with over 70 ecommerce platforms and can process a variety of different credit card types as well as PayPal payments and electronic checks. It can also convert foreign currencies, allowing you to accommodate customers all over the world.

Reporting

First Data allows you to collect data on your business with Clover Insights. This reporting suite will track sales data and generate reports that will help you make better business decisions.

With Clover Insights you can track the impact of your marketing efforts, perform customer segmentation, identify seasonal patterns, and learn about customer behavior and buying habits.

first data review, clover insights

Clover insights shown on desktop and mobile. Image source: Clover

Financing

Your business can receive merchant cash advances with Clover Capital. With a Clover Capital merchant cash advance, Clover will advance you a percentage of your daily credit card and debit card sales, plus a fee.

Clover promotes a simple, one-page application process, and says eligible merchants could start receiving funding in as little as three days.

Payroll Delivery

Through Money Network, First Data allows you to simplify your payroll, offering electronic payroll delivery and using a digital onboarding portal.

Customer Service

First Data provides customer support via phone and email. On their website, there is also a Client Support portal with self-service resources for the various solutions they offer.

First Data Customer Reviews

As we mentioned above, although online First Data customer reviews are not completely negative, there are some important things to note.

First and foremost, there are customers that share positive experiences with First Data. Some of these customers highlight the ease of use of their solution, customization options, and simple implementation.

On the other hand, customers who write online reviews with a generally negative sentiment focus on things like:

  • Issues with locked accounts and passwords
  • Expensive costs
  • Trouble contacting customer service
  • Slow processing

Perhaps the most notable “review” of First Data are actually complaints listed on the Better Business Bureau website. As we stated earlier, First Data has over 800 complaints in the past three years—even though they have an A- BBB rating.[1]

This being said, not only does First Data have a surprising number of complaints, but the content of the complaints is also concerning.

Customers report issues such as:

  • Hidden fees
  • Erroneous charges
  • Large cancellation fees
  • Unclear contracts
  • Misleading sales tactics, and more

As we’ve discussed, these complaints may be the result of customers working with First Data resellers, however, considering the number and caliber of the complaints, this is certainly something to keep in mind when you’re considering First Data as a merchant service provider.

Top Alternatives to First Data

Whether or not you think First Data may be right for your business, it’s always worth exploring top alternatives to see if another merchant service provider will be a better fit for your needs.

Here are two to consider:

Square

Modern payment service providers like Square are disruptors in an industry dominated by companies like First Data.

Square’s value proposition is tech-forward solutions at affordable, transparent prices. If you choose to go with Square, you’ll get a free mobile card reader and POS software, plus a payment processing fee of 2.6% plus $0.10 for each swiped, dipped, or tapped transaction. In addition, you’ll get to pick and choose from Square’s popular POS hardware to complete your system.

Square also integrates with a variety of payment gateways for ecommerce merchants.

This being said, although Square offers a full suite of products, their POS system is one of the biggest competitors to Clover.

Read our full review of Square POS.

Payment Depot

As we mentioned briefly above, Payment Depot is one of the companies that uses First Data for back-end processing. This being said, however, unlike some resellers or ISOs, Payment Depot offers businesses affordable pricing, clear terms and services, and significant transparency.

Therefore, if you’d prefer a more traditional merchant account provider instead of a payment service provider, like Square, Payment Depot might be worth considering.

Overall, Payment Depot offers membership pricing for their services and wholesale interchange rates.

Monthly memberships range from $49 to $199 and with your membership, you’ll receive the lowest interchange rate possible, plus transaction fees ranging between $0.15 and $0.05. Every membership will include a merchant account and you’ll be able to choose the way you want to accept payments—whether using a POS system, simple credit card terminal, virtual terminal, or online payment gateway.

Read our full review of Payment Depot.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, considering the lack of transparent information, BBB complaints, and issues with resellers and ISOs, it’s difficult to recommend First Data for small business merchant services.

Although, overall, there’s nothing wrong with the back-end processing First Data provides, the way they market and sell their services is less than ideal for business owners. Therefore, if you’re interested in a merchant service provider similar to First Data, we’d recommend exploring reputable providers (who may or may not use First Data for processing) like Payment Depot, Payline Data or Fattmerchant.

On the other hand, if you think your business could benefit from a more tech- and user-friendly solution, similar to Square—you might look into providers like Stripe or PayPal (for online payments) and Toast, ShopKeep, or Lightspeed for point of sale systems.

Additionally, if you’re interested in the Clover POS system, we’d recommend going through Clover directly or working with a reputable reseller, like those we listed above, that also offers Clover products.

Ultimately, despite the prevalence and size of First Data (now Fiserv)—and although this company may be able to serve larger, enterprise-businesses—it’s not as worthwhile a choice for most small businesses.

Article Sources:

  1. BBB.org. “First Data Merchant Services

Matthew Speiser

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.

Read Full Author Bio