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By Anne Dennon, Staff Writer

The Best Mobile Payment Apps

Kennedy 50-cent pieces and $2 bills — soon, all cash might feel as antiquated as these. Financial thinkers say we are headed toward a cashless economy, but many of us already live in one. Income is automatically deposited, bill payments are automatically withdrawn. We pay with plastic or, increasingly, a phone tap. As for paying friends and family, mobile payment apps make it easy to reimburse, gift, and split the check, but others also support online commerce and international transfers. Here are the best mobile payment apps for however you want to use them.

The 6 Best Mobile Payment Apps

  • Venmo -

    Best for P2P Payments

  • Zelle -

    Best for Sending Money to Family in the U.S.

  • PayPal -

    Best for Merchant Payments

  • Xoom -

    Best for International Transfers

  • Apple Pay -

    Best Mobile Wallet for iOS

  • Google Pay -

    Best Mobile Wallet for Android

Venmo

Best for
P2P Payments

Venmo
Venmo
“I’ll Venmo you” — this peer-to-peer money transfer app is so popular, it’s a verb. Growing capabilities means you can do a lot more than just send money.
Pros
Ubiquitous
Flexible
Cons
Social media feed

Why we chose it

Ubiquitous

If you’re looking to download a single payment app, one you can be assured will be used by the majority of the people you are looking to pay, and who are looking to pay you, Venmo is it. It’s the lingua franca of mobile payment apps. Its seamless integration with Facebook means you can use your existing friends list to build out your Venmo contacts, and verify that you are sending money to the right person with the imported Facebook profile pics.

Flexible

Venmo makes it easy to move money. Fund your transfers with the full gamut of options (debit, credit, or bank account) and either transmit your Venmo balance to your account or debit card, or store it within the Venmo app. In-app balances make it easy to pay friends and family but with the Venmo debit card you can “take your Venmo balance shopping.” Because the debit card is linked to all the same accounts as your Venmo, you can easily replenish the balance. Soon, you may also be able to get a credit card with Venmo, as the Wall Street Journal and others reported in April 2019. Anticipated to be announced later this year, a Venmo credit card will likely offer a specialized reward system for affiliate purchases and money transfers.

Points to consider

Social media feed

Incorporating a social component to money transfers is unique to Venmo. While users have met the news feed with cringing consternation alongside happy compliance, Venmo bigwigs peg the social element as a big factor in the app’s runaway success. The annotated transactions may personalize payment, but they are far from personal: Everything but the dollar amount is public. It’s possible to change your account settings so your transactions are not public. But, as it is for so many opt-in privacy features, the process of changing defaults proves too niggly for many people to pursue. In fact, an FTC complaint charged that Venmo makes it prohibitively difficult for consumers to effectively change their privacy settings. Now, the company has to make it easier for users to make transactions private (among other changes). Here’s a how-to guide.

Zelle

Best for
Sending Money to Family

Zelle
Zelle
Zelle partners with over 200 financial institutions and acts as a turbo-boost to your bank app’s capabilities.
Pros
Direct link with bank account
Works within bank app
Cons
Low limits without affiliate bank

Why we chose it

Direct link with bank account

With account holders outsourcing money transfers to Venmo and similar apps, some of the biggest banks in the U.S. (JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and so forth) jointly launched Zelle, as reported by the Wall Street Journal and others in 2011. While most apps need to amass a lot of subscribers before they’re highly functional, Zelle was able to bypass the growth stage entirely. It’s affiliated with a large and growing number of banks and is designed to be embedded into their existing apps. What this means for you is that with Zelle you have the convenience, security, and comfort of keeping your money transfers “in-house.” And while other P2P apps can take up to three days to transfer funds into a bank account (or charge extra for greater speed), Zelle offers instant transfers for free. These qualities make Zelle a great option for sending money to kids away at school or making birthday deposits into a relative’s account.

Works within bank app

If your bank supports Zelle, there’s no need to clutter up your home screen with another app. Simply access Zelle within the bank app you already use. (Each bank app incorporates Zelle a bit differently. Check for it in a tab, on the main menu, or in optional settings.) All the bank info you need to get set up is ready and awaiting activation. When you exchange money with someone also enrolled in Zelle, funds go directly between bank accounts. If you are sending money to someone outside of Zelle, you still only need their email and phone number. They will be prompted to enroll through their bank (or through the Zelle app if their bank isn’t affiliated) to receive the funds.

Points to consider

Low limits without affiliate bank

The number of institutions affiliated with Zelle is growing all the time, but if your bank doesn’t yet support Zelle, you will have much lower limits for money transfers than you would with practically any other P2P app. For example, if you bank with Capital One, you can transfer $2,000 per day and $10,000 per month. Without an affiliate, Zelle limits you to just $2,000 per month.

And transfer limits aren’t the only concern, as the New York Times reported in 2018. The standalone Zelle app scored low for security with Consumer Reports, citing its lack of fail-safe features to keep you from sending money to the wrong person. The company has been responding to these red flags, but we say Zelle is only worth using if you don’t need to go through the app: affiliate bank or bust.

PayPal

Best for
Merchant Payments

PayPal
PayPal
Buyer protection makes the original mobile payment service the best choice for transactions with online merchants.
Pros
Versatility
Security
Cons
International fees

Why we chose it

Versatility

PayPal is the most commonly accepted online payment method in the world. You can use PayPal Cash for the P2P transfers that its offshoot Venmo is known for, but you can also use PayPal to purchase from a huge variety of online vendors and accept payments for sales of your own. Plus, there’s no monthly transfer limit.

PayPal’s global reach is wholly unmatched by any other player in the mobile payment space. The bulk of our top picks function exclusively within the states. PayPal moves money between 25 currencies and over 200 countries.

Security

Since its origination, PayPal has provided a degree of separation between your credit card information and an online vendor. In this way, PayPal acts as a payment rail. Instead of supplying your credit information to each site, you just give PayPal permission to pay. Like an escrow account, it moves money from payer to payee in a protected fashion. That premium on security means that while other payment apps won’t intercede if transactions go awry, PayPal offers dispute resolution and purchase protection. They’ll hold onto the funds until disagreements are resolved and will reimburse you for purchases that do not match what you ordered.

Points to consider

International fees

While PayPal has global reach, it will cost you something to make use of it. Expect to pay currency conversion fees for private transaction and further fees for international sales, including receiving commercial payments and withdrawing your balance. Rates and fixed fees vary by country.

Xoom

Best for
International Transfers

Xoom
Xoom
With Xoom, PayPal’s speed-oriented international money transfer service, you pay a premium for convenience, but your money will get where it’s going fast.
Pros
Speed
High transfer limits
Cons
Higher than average fees

Why we chose it

Speed

With most mobile payment apps, international P2P transfers take one to two business days to arrive, and then longer for the receiver to be able to use the balance by, say, moving it into their bank account. With Xoom, the entire process can take minutes. Rather than having both parties wait for days while money lurks in limbo, funds are moved and accessed within the time span of a phone call. Processing time varies depending on the country in question (Xoom works in over 100 countries), but the longest a Xoom transfer can take is the best other services offer: a couple days. Note that if you send more than $10,000 in a 24-hour period, Xoom waits two to three days for the funds to clear from your bank before sending it down the line.

High transfer limits

Xoom has three tiers of transfer limits, depending on the level of personal identification you provide. Leave it at simple user profile information and you’re restricted to $3,000 per day, $6,000 per month. Supply Social Security or passport information and you’re bumped up to $10,000 per day, $20,000 per month. Provide your driver’s license and a pay stub or bank statement, and confirm your email by answering security questions, and you get the lofty limits of $50,000 per day, $100,000 per month.

Points to consider

Higher-than-average fees

If minimizing fees is more important to you than maximizing speed, you should shop around for the cheapest method of transferring money to the country in question. It’s the classic trade-off between time and money. While Xoom transfers, particularly those funded by credit or debit card, may cost you more than OFX or TransferWise (between $5 and $10 for most transfers, but sometimes as much as $20), there are a number of factors that determine Xoom’s affordability. Payment method is the first (sync your bank account if that’s an option), but also how much money you send, where it’s headed, and the currency it will be disbursed in. Like speed, the cost to send money depends on the destination country.

Apple Pay

Best
Mobile Wallet for iOS

Apple Pay
Apple Pay
Thanks to top-notch security and versatile function, Apple Pay is a whole-wallet replacement that makes P2P payments easy, too.
Pros
Security
Range of uses
Cons
Not compatible with older iOS and Apple devices

Why we chose it

Security

For something that allows you to make purchases with a tap and pay friends with a text, the security of Apple Pay is exceptionally strong. This mobile wallet compiles your credit and debit cards as well as bank accounts, but doesn’t store or transmit their information in original form. Instead, the details of each are cryptographically adapted into unique, safely-stored identities. Apple Pay can complete transactions without ever sharing the original details. The added security measures of one-time-use security codes and biometric verification (FaceID or TouchID) means your financial information is just about as protected as the pope. In fact, Apple Pay provides all the security benefits Apple touted as being exceptional to its branded credit card — Apple Card.

Range of uses

Apple Pay can replace your whole wallet, storing credit and debit cards, rewards and loyalty cards, even student IDs. Pull it up on any phone, tablet, or watch running the appropriate iOS for a truly breezy payment experience. And because Apple Pay works with Siri, you can execute transactions by voice. The P2P functionality of Apple Pay simply pulls on the funds stored in the digital wallet, sending money via text. Just say, “Siri, send Danielle $25,” and the transfer is on its way. The only fee associated with the P2P element of Apple Pay (Apple Pay Cash) is a typical 3% fee on credit card-funded transfers. Stick with debit or bank account and you’ll be in the clear.

Points to consider

Not compatible with older iOS and Apple devices

While arguably the safest, best functioning mobile wallet, Apple Pay is also the least accessible. It’s no surprise that it works exclusively on iOS (though that does make it the only app or wallet we considered that doesn’t swing both ways), but it also only works on iPhone models 6 and newer (which allows for that biometric security of face or fingerprint identification) with the latest iOS installed. If making an online purchase with a Mac, you have to use the Safari browser, and verify your purchase with your iPhone or Apple Watch. If you are holding on to an older iPhone, consider Google Pay.

Google Pay

Best
Mobile Wallet for Android

Google Pay
Google Pay
The former Android Pay provides for the full gamut of transfers and transactions and is compatible with any device or operating system.
Pros
Extensive mobile wallet capabilities
Pay with QR code
Cons
Shortcomings for Apple and Samsung users

Why we chose it

Extensive mobile wallet capabilities

Google explored payment methods through a variety of apps for several years; Google Pay is the culmination. Like the iOS-only Apple Pay, Google Pay stores credit and debit cards, bank accounts, passes, tickets, and rewards cards. No fumbling through your wallet – just tap your phone and NFC (near field communication) does the rest. In 2018, Google added P2P payments, a capability previously restricted to a separate service, Google Pay Send. In addition to sending or requesting money from friends, you can also split the bill for purchases made in-app. Just tap on the transaction and ask up to five people to pitch in.

Easy pay options for in-person transfers

Rather than search through your contact list or add someone for a one-off payment, Google Pay offers two easy options for IRL transactions. Option one: Enable the microphone for Google Pay, then the two parties swipe “Pay” and “Receive,” respectively. The payer verifies the recipient by photo. Option two: the recipient generates a QR code which the payer scans. Both options add an extra level of ease and security, as it eliminates the risk of sending a payment to the wrong person.

Points to consider

Shortcomings for Apple and Samsung users

Google Pay is unique in that it lies in the Venn diagram overlap between Apple and Samsung devices, while the mobile wallets offered by both of those companies only function on their own devices. Still, you may be better off by staying on-brand if you carry around an iPhone or a Galaxy. Apple users won’t be able to make in-store purchases with Google Pay. Samsung users won’t get the magnetic secure transmission (MST) technology of Samsung Pay that allows them to use their wallet wherever credit cards are accepted.

Guide to Digital Money Transfers

How to Make Mobile Money Transfers Work for You

Get ahead of the cashless curve

There are a lot of reasons to adopt cashless methods of moving money – ease, convenience, organization, safety. One notable reason is the number of people who rely on e-commerce, rather than hard cash or even credit cards, is growing by leaps and bounds. Conversancy in the next monetary system will help you make informed decisions as the shift moves from the private sphere to the public sphere with digital currencies.

Boost your security

Security is always a concern when it comes to money. No matter the encryption and privacy measures any app promises, it’s important that you do your part to ensure your own safety. Double up on the authentication needed to access your account. Shorten the time span before your phone auto locks. And double-check the recipient before you send money.

Understand fees

There are no surprise fees, just unread contracts. Before choosing a funding method for a transfer, sending money across national lines, or dumping your balance into your bank account, give your app’s fee structure a good read. You are typically better off linking to a bank account than a credit card, shopping around for transfer rates by country, and opting to let your account transfer take a couple of days, rather than getting dinged for demanding your money now.

Choose your top players

While the world’s most zen home screen would have a single app for every purpose, you are probably better off downloading a couple of mobile payment apps. According to Money Under 30’s finance editor, Yoni Dayan, “Having multiple P2P apps would be the most ideal for users, as it ensures they can pay and receive payments to/from anyone.” While Venmo and PayPal dominate in terms of market share, there are other front runners that are worth your time (and screen space) to download. Having two to three P2P apps at the ready will make swift payments all the easier.

Mobile Payment FAQ

Are mobile wallets safe?

While hackers are always a low-simmering concern for electronically stored data, the real safety issue is negligence. In this way, a mobile wallet is analogous to a physical wallet. If you leave either wallet (metaphorical or literal) open on a table, it’s easy for someone to grab a dollar bill or hit send on a payment. Make your virtual wallet hard to get to with a fast automatic screen lock. Then, put up barriers to accessing the payment app. Opt for two-factor authentication or biometric security – the fingerprint scan.

Can you get reimbursed for mistake payments?

Sending payments to a scammer or simply the wrong person is probably the biggest security concern of payment apps. Unlike banks and credit cards, mobile payment apps offer no consumer protection for mistake charges. The most they offer is protection for fraudulent charges – if someone physically steals your phone and completes a payment or hacks into your account. But for human error, there’s no safety net. For that reason, mobile payment companies insist you only transfer money to people you know and trust.

What fees should you watch out for when using mobile payment?

The only sizable fee levied by most mobile payment apps is assessed when you finance a transfer with a credit card. Expect a 3% credit card fee. While not an enormous upcharge, 3% on a transfer of, say, $500 adds on an annoying $15. Best practice: Sync the app to your bank account instead.

Do you need more than one mobile payment app?

It depends on how varied your transfer behaviors are. If you exclusively use mobile payment to reimburse friends and family, you will be set with a single app, likely Venmo or Zelle. But if you also wire money to family in another country or buy and sell products online, you probably want to employ another app that excels in international or merchant transaction.

The Best Mobile Payment Apps: Summed Up

OS support
Platforms
Per transaction limit
Per month limit
Fee for paying with credit
Venmo
Best for P2P Payments
iOS, Android
Mobile, desktop
$5,000
$15,000
3%
Zelle
Best for Sending Money to Family
iOS, Android
Mobile, desktop via affiliate bank sites
Limit set by bank
Limit set by bank
Varies by bank
PayPal
Best for Merchant Payments
iOS, Android
Mobile, desktop
$10,000
N/A
2.9% + 30 cents
Xoom
Best for International Transfers
iOS, Android
Mobile, desktop
$50,000
$100,000
Varies by bank
Apple Pay
Best Mobile Wallet for iOS
iOS
Mobile, desktop only with latest OS and Mac features
$3,000
$40,000
3%
Google Pay
Best Mobile Wallet for Android
iOS, Android
Mobile, desktop
$10,000
$40,000
2.9%

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