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Last updated on Nov 21, 2019

Best Mobile Payment App/Service

The right way to digitally pay ​
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How We Found the Best Mobile Payment Apps

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1 month of research

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9 apps considered

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6 top picks

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 Income is automatically deposited, bill payments are automatically withdrawn.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.

How We Chose the Best Mobile Payment Apps

Broad user base

Money exchanges are easier when both parties are using the same app. We combed through tech reviews, user reviews, and app ratings to surface the most popular options. These companies jointly command the largest swathe of the mobile payment market and make it a safe bet that the person you want to send money to is set to receive it.

We also explored two money transfer alternatives that most people probably already have access to: Facebook Messenger and Gmail. Both services offer a send money feature, accessible within a message or an email just like any other attachment.

Most of these household names, while capable of the same basic functions, have carved out a niche for themselves, excelling in one area above the competition. Frequently send money overseas? Want to send an allowance to a kid at college? We matched mobile payment apps to specific user intents like these, ditching only Square Cash for not standing out beyond the basics. (And, with low transfer limits and high instant transfer fees, not nailing the basics, either.)

High limits and no sneaky fees

How much money you are able to send, and whether or not you’re charged for the convenience, dictates the value of an app. We compiled the transfer limits and associated fees of each and found that for most transactions, the fee to pay with a credit card and the fee to instantly transfer your balance to a bank account are the ones to watch. (Note: If you use a mobile payment app to sell goods, you will run into further charges.)

None of our finalists have exorbitant fees for either, but you can avoid both by 1) funding your transactions with a bank account or, in most cases, a debit card (only PayPal charges the same fee for a debit card as a credit card), and 2) waiting the 1-2 business days for a non-rush bank transfer.

Security

Concern for safety is the primary barrier to consumers using mobile payment, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. However, the data security of most mobile payment apps is just about on par with bank accounts and credit cards. “Bank-level” security — a concept thrown around a lot in P2P promotional material — generally means data encryption.

Sensitive information, whether government documents or your financial details, are transmitted electronically through encryption — extremely long, random keys that are considered unbreakable. The apps we considered employ 128-bit encryption or better. In other words, an astronomically high number of combinations would need to be cycled through to break the encryption key — an impossible feat for even the most powerful computers.

And all electronic transfers of funds are protected — up to a point — by the Electronic Funds Transfer Act. The consumer protection measure assumes some of your personal liability when it comes to electronic money. The act kicks in when you lose a credit or debit card and any unauthorized charges are wiped from your bill. The act also extends to mobile payment apps. If your account is fraudulently accessed, you will be reimbursed.

But the primary vulnerability of mobile payment apps doesn’t derive from scammers accessing your account. Rather, it’s simply sending a payment to the wrong person. Your primary recourse in that situation is asking for the money back and crossing your fingers.

No mobile payment app will reimburse you for mistaken payments or unfulfilled purchases (if you pay a vendor who doesn’t follow through). Still, we confirmed that all our top picks prominently note that you should only transfer money to people you know and trust, and offer contact hotlines if you experience fraud.

The 6 Best Mobile Payment Apps

    Venmo


    Best for P2P Payments
    Venmo
    Venmo


    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 in the US
    Zelle
    Zelle


    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


    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


    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


    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


    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

    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%

    About the Authors

    Anne Dennon

    Anne Dennon Home Technology Writer

    Anne has covered home security and home automation for Reviews.com for two years. She's interested in human-computer interaction and tech ethics. She previously worked in education and information literacy.