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The Best Ways To Pay (Securely) With Your Phone

If you’re wondering about the easiest, fastest, safest way to pay someone without writing a check (what’s that?) or deal with cash (seriously?), check out these five peer-to-peer (P2P) payment apps.

Venmo, PayPal, Zelle, Google Pay, and Square Cash all get the job done and each has advantages and disadvantages — which is best for you?

If you’re not familiar with how P2P apps work, you first download the app to create an account. Then you attach one or more of your existing financial accounts (bank, debit, credit card) to the app. You are identified by your phone number and/or email address and some apps let you add a picture — this is how people find and pay each other from within the app. For cash transfers, PayPal and Venmo hold money in a dedicated account, like a cash way station, while the rest transfer funds directly into and out of your bank account. Venmo just added an instant transfer feature as well.

All of these apps work on Android and iOS and all, except Square Cash, also offer a web option. Tens of billions of dollars have traded hands using P2P technology.

What is each app known for?

Venmo

  • College kids and Millennials use “Venmo” as a verb — Venmo me the money
  • Social sharing if you want to share comments about your payments
  • Owned by PayPal since 2014

PayPal

  • Around a long time and the most well-known (200 million users)
  • Unlimited transfers
  • Global reach

Zelle

  • Must access through a participating bank
  • As secure as wire transfers between banks but without the hassle
  • No credit card options

Google Pay

  • Created when Google Wallet and Android Pay merged in January 2017
  • Syncs with other Google apps, including Gmail, to pay instantly from within those apps
  • Also use it to pay at store checkout counters

Square Cash

  • From the company that invented the white square credit card readers that plug into phones and tablets
  • Can use a cashtag ($YourName) to create your own payment page
  • Extra security features

 

Which app is best for what you need?

Splitting bills with friends or roommates is different from paying rent or the handyman you want to hire once.

I want to pay family and friends
Any of the apps work well among your trusted circle.

I want to pay the guy selling his bike on Craigslist
Use Zelle or an app that’s connected to your debit card so you can get instant confirmation that the transfer went through. This is only possible with a debit card transaction because it uses a different transfer protocol than the other transfer types, which take up to three days to complete. Since you can cancel the transfer before it’s complete, the buyer will likely want to confirm the cash has arrived before handing over the bike. And you can be sure the seller doesn’t have time to sell your new bike to someone else in the meantime.

I want to pay the guy selling his bike using my credit card
All apps except Zelle let you connect credit cards.

I want to pay people in other countries
PayPal is your only option.

I want to transfer a lot of money
PayPal and Google Pay let you transfer big bucks. With PayPal, you can make a single transaction for as much as $60,000, although some transactions are limited to $10,000, and there are no limits on the total amount of transfers you can make per week or month. With Google Pay, you can transfer up to $10,000 per transaction and up to $50,000 in a five-day period. Zelle lets you transfer $1,000 a day with a $2,500 per-week cap, although individual banks can set different limits. Venmo maxes out at $299 a week, but if you verify your account you can transfer 10 times that ($2,999). Square Cash has the same transfer verification policy as Venmo but for slightly lower amounts — $250 per week or $2,500 per week if verified.

I want to pay zero fees
Sending and receiving cash from your bank account is free in all of the apps unless you choose instant transfer with Venmo, which costs $0.25 per transaction. If you want to pay via a connected credit card you’ll pay a 2.99% or 3% fee for each transaction, depending on the app. PayPal adds $0.30 per credit card transaction, too, and charges the same fees for using your debit card.

I want to create a payment home base
Square Cash lets you create a unique cashtag ($YourName) that links to a shareable personalized web page.

What about the risks?

Millions of P2P transactions have successfully completed without any problems. As long as each party is honest and in agreement, most of the risk disappears. Be aware, however, that P2P payments do not protect you from people who change their minds or make bad decisions. You have no recourse. They are like cash. And if someone accesses or steals your phone, they can clean out your accounts using your P2P apps — make sure to keep your phone locked and use two-factor authentication on each P2P app. In some situations, P2P providers have covered the loss from scams and theft but only after considerable hassle on the users’ part.

If the mistake is on the app’s end, however, such as sending money to some place you didn’t request, you’re covered.

There are also risks related to not understanding inconsistent practices across different banking systems (we’re looking at you, Zelle). And there is always an inherent risk of fraud when connecting accounts that have important personally identifiable information (PII) like your bank account to other accounts.

How great is your risk when using any of these five P2P apps? Very low if you use them correctly with people you trust and, as always, use all the available security features and keep your passwords private. If you’re a Leapfrog Services client and have a question about using these apps, please feel free to contact the Help Desk. Us frogs are all about helping you stay productive and happy while also keeping your important data secure, even if you’re just splitting a bill with friends.

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