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Mobile wallets carry the promise of simplifying your life, by enabling you to, for example, quickly pay for groceries without digging out a credit card from your wallet. Or, they can help you swiftly locate the right loyalty card without fumbling through a stack of cards in the checkout line, or immediately reimburse a coworker who picked up your lunch.
But how do mobile wallets work?
A payment app stores your credit card info so you can use your phone instead of a physical card to pay at a checkout counter. Simply bring up your app, then place your phone toward the contactless payment system scanner.
In addition, you may be able to use the app for online purchases — without entering card or shipping information — if specific payment methods are available at checkout.
1. Apple Pay
Apple Pay is available on the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and more recent versions of the iPhone. There are millions of stores that accept Apple Pay, including national chains such as Staples, Trader Joe’s, and Walgreens.
In addition, you may be able to use Apple Pay to complete online purchases made within the Safari browser and certain apps. Online stores that accept this method of payment display the Apple Pay logo at checkout. Apple Pay is available in the United States and several other countries.
For security purposes, transactions require authentication with a pass code or Touch ID. Card numbers aren’t stored on your device or Apple servers and they’re not shared with merchants.
Anonymous transaction information is collected but not tied to an individual and doesn’t include what you buy.
2. Android Pay
Available for Android devices, Android Pay is accepted at millions of U.S. stores and restaurants including the likes of Babies “R” Us, Jamba Juice, and Fuddruckers. At certain merchants, loyalty points and special offers are applied automatically, saving you from pulling out rewards cards.
The app may help you make online purchases when you use Chrome as your browser or initiate certain in-app transactions. When available at checkout, Android Pay conveys your payment and shipping data, allowing you to skip the process of entering this information manually.
For security purposes, you’ll need to unlock your phone to pay via Android Pay. The app uses a virtual account number to complete transactions, and doesn’t send your actual card number with payment. If your phone is lost or stolen, you can use the Android Device Manager to lock your device, change the password, and erase personal information.
Additional payment apps include the PayPal mobile app, which is accepted at a limited number of stores (in my area, AutoZone, Dollar General, and Macy’s). Some restaurants accept payment via PayPal. Find them within the app, where you can also view menus and place orders through its link to yelp Eat 24. It’s available on iOS, Windows, and Android devices.
Certain retailers also have their own payment apps. For example, load money into your Starbucks app and use it to pay for your purchases. You can even order online and pick up without standing in line.
Money Transfer Apps
Money transfer apps allow you to send money to friends or family members, or collect money from them. Some may also allow you to pay businesses.
4. Google Wallet
Available on Android and iOS devices, Google Wallet allows you to send, request, and receive payments from individuals, as long as they live in the United States and have an email address or phone number. Transfers are made using your debit card registered with the app. There are no fees for this service.
Money received can be moved to your bank account, where you’ll get access within minutes of its receipt.
Access to the app is restricted through the use of a Payments PIN. In addition, you can remove access to your account at myaccount.google.com if you lose your phone or it’s stolen.
Your financial data is stored on secured servers and encrypted with industry-standard SSL technology. Activity is monitored for fraud and Google covers 100% of verified unauthorized transactions.
Using the Dwolla iOS, Android, or Windows app, you can request money or send it to other Dwolla users among your friends and family members as well as merchants and nonprofits.
You can find local businesses that accept payments via Dwolla through the “Near Me” directory by allowing location-based services to be delivered to you.
Anyone in the U.S. with a U.S. bank or credit union account can set up a Dwolla account. Even if a contact doesn’t have an account, you can send money to them email address or phone number; however, they’ll need to open an account to receive this money.
There’s no charge for service setup or transactions. Sellers or third parties that collect payments may charge a fee to complete a transaction through Dwolla.
The mobile app is secured with a login and a PIN is required to initiate a transaction. Two-factor authentication is available for those who wish to add an additional layer of protection. In addition, transactions don’t involve passing sensitive financial information to recipients.
Dwolla collects your contact, financial, and device information. It may also gather location-based information and social media contacts when you choose to allow or use certain services.
Money held in a Dwolla balance is not insured.
6. Venmo/Square Cash
More money transfer apps include Square Cash and Venmo, which allow you to send cash with your credit card for a 3% fee in addition to free services available with debit card transfers. Both are available on Android and iOS.
Loyalty Card Storage Apps
By storing digital renderings of your loyalty cards, these apps may lighten a formerly bulky wallet. In addition, you may be able to travel through the checkout line faster by providing prompt access to your loyalty card information — instead of rifling through a pile of cards to locate the right one.
Available as an Android or iPhone app, Stocard allows you to store and access digital versions of loyalty cards.
The app is free of charge and ad-free, except for the offers associated with various loyalty program brands. For example, you can view weekly sales promotions at Staples by tapping the “Offers” tab in the app’s interface.
Scanning technology and methods at stores can affect the usefulness of the Stocard app. You may be able to scan cards yourself. But you might have to hand your phone to a cashier for scanning or enter account numbers manually.
Loyalty cards with a payment or proof of identity function can’t be uploaded. The company says aggregated usage statistics may be collected and reported but information about individual purchases is not, except for legal obligations.
8. Passes in Apple Wallet
The Passes section of Apple Wallet allows you to keep digital versions of boarding passes, movie tickets, retail coupons, and rewards cards. Only passes can be scanned.
Only certain rewards cards are eligible for inclusion in Wallet. For example, you can add a Staples rewards card via its app but not an Ikea loyalty card. Adding a digital loyalty card requires you to add the app associated with the brand first and then place the item inside the Passes section.
9. Key Ring/CardStar
Some mobile wallet apps serve more than one purpose. For example, Apple Wallet contains both payment and loyalty card apps. PayPal has a feature that allows you to pay at brick-and-mortar stores but also has peer-to-peer money transfer capabilities.
You might consider installing apps for which you’ll have an ongoing use. For example, I love the Apple Pay app because it gets me through checkout lines fast; my young adult son likes Dwolla because he and his friends can easily split bills from group outings. Both unburden us from carrying and searching for cards, cash, and coins in our regular wallets.