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Mobile Payment Apps 101: How to Get Paid For Anything, Anywhere

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It is no secret that many people — especially the younger crowd — prefer to skip the cash and pay with a credit or debit card. Some of the more tech-savvy have even ditched the physical cards altogether and are storing their payment card information in mobile wallets on their smartphones or wearables.

As a business owner, you naturally want to accommodate these customers by letting them use the technology of their choice to pay. However, there are a large number of mobile wallets in the marketplace today, and it can be difficult to know which ones you should focus on. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of Best Of options below to help you pick a few of these wallets to prioritize. A quick summary table is immediately below but read on for a slightly more detailed look on which mobile payment apps are best suited for different situations.

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CompanyBest ForNext Steps

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Best For Paying In-Store

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Best For Paying In-Store

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Best For Paying Online

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Best For Requesting Payment

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Other Featured Options:

  • Venmo: Best For Digital Purchase

Read more below to learn why we chose these options.

Getting Familiar With Mobile Payments

As a merchant, when you hear the term mobile payment app, you might automatically think of your mobile point of sale app, such as Square Point of Sale. These are the apps that you install on a phone or tablet, sync up to a card reader, and take customer payments. Some mobile point of sale apps are quite sophisticated and contain additional functionalities, such as employee timesheet tracking and inventory tracking. These are not the apps we’re looking at.

In this article, we focus on a different type of mobile payment app — the mobile wallet app. These apps go by the names of Apple Pay, Google Pay, Venmo, or Cash App. They are what consumers use to store their credit and debit card information as well as transfer money amongst family and friends. Some of these apps, such as Venmo, have a strong social networking aspect, while others, such as Zelle, just move money between bank accounts.

Because these mobile wallet apps deal with money, they typically use a high level of security to lock the financial information stored in the wallet. At the very least, these apps are password-protected, and some can use biometrics, such as facial recognition or fingerprint scans, to unlock the app. If the app stores your payment card information, the card numbers are almost always tokenized for safety so that the real card number is never stored on the device.

Mobile wallets that allow users to pay at a physical store take advantage of NFC technology. The technology transmits information over very short distances. That is how tokenized payment card information passes from a smartphone or a wearable to a merchant’s NFC-enabled reader. The data can then be transmitted using the mobile point of sale app to the credit card processor.

Not all mobile wallets use NFC, however. Some wallets, such as Walmart Pay, use QR codes. A consumer uses their smartphone’s camera to scan the QR code to initiate the payment process. Additionally, Samsung phones use a proprietary technology called MST to mimic a magnetic stripe card swipe. That means Samsung devices running Samsung Pay can transmit card information even when an NFC reader is not available.

For this article, we looked through many popular mobile wallets and came up with a Best Of list for different situations. Below, we discuss each in detail and why we think an app is best suited for a given situation.

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1. Best For Paying In-Store: Apple Pay

Apple Pay



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It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Apple Pay as one of our top picks. It is one of the most full-featured wallet apps in the marketplace today, and it has the name Apple behind it, so you know the service runs smoothly. Apple announced Apple Pay in 2014. The service is now available in 17+ countries.

With Apple Pay, a user can store their tokenized credit card, debit card, and prepaid card information in the app. You can also store electronic cash in Apple Cash, where you can load cash from a bank account, credit card, or debit card and then can send or receive the money from this cash account. The Apple Pay app is password-protected and can be locked through face recognition or fingerprint scan.

Apple Pay is a feature-rich app. It has a social element — users can send or receive cash through iMessage or by asking Siri. You can also make purchases with your stored payment cards at a physical store, online, or inside an app. You can link your Apple Watch to the app and transfer tokenized payment card information to the watch and later tap the watch to pay for items at a store.

Apple recently started its own credit card called the Apple Card. This card resides in the wallet but also has a physical counterpart for places that can’t take Apple Pay. The Apple Card is a Mastercard issued by Goldman Sachs, so it can process the same as any Mastercard.

From a merchant’s standpoint, to accept Apple Pay in a store, all you need is a credit card reader or terminal that can read NFC signals. Payment card transactions from Apple Pay are charged at standard credit card processing rates. If you run into issues taking Apple Pay, check with your processor to ensure you are running the proper software on your readers and terminals. If you are already set up to accept Discover debit contactless transactions, you can take Apple Cash payments as well.

To accept Apple Pay online or inside an app, you’ll need the help of a software developer to integrate some code into your store or app.

We picked Apple Pay as one of the best in-store apps not just because it’s a great app with all the popular features of a top mobile wallet but also because of its user base. Apple users are typically thought of as being media-savvy and young and who adopt new technology quickly. They are more likely than a typical smartphone user to make payments through a smartphone. That is why if you take mobile payments at your store, you are highly likely to see an Apple Pay user who wants to tap an iPhone or Apple Watch to pay. It would, therefore, make sense to get your store ready for Apple Pay.

The list below summarizes Apple Pay.

  • Compatible With: iOS devices
  • In-Store Payments: Yes
  • eCommerce & In-App Payments: Yes
  • P2P Payments: Yes
  • Debit Card (Digital Or Physical): No
  • Noteworthy Features: Send funds via iMessage
  • Cost To Merchants: Standard credit card processing rates
  • Requirements For Merchants To Accept: NFC-compatible credit card reader/terminal for in-store purchases, developer for eCommerce

Read our in-depth review

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2. Best For Paying In-Store: Google Pay (Formerly Android Pay)

Google Pay



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Apple Pay may have many users but so does Google. Even back in 2011, Google already had a product called Google Wallet that could be used for person-to-person money transfers via Gmail and for making NFC payments at a store. After the launch of Apple Pay, Google launched Android Pay as a direct competitor and rebranded Google Wallet as a P2P app instead. Google merged the two in 2018 to form the mobile wallet now called Google Pay.

Google Pay is available on both Android and iOS. As is fairly standard for a full-featured mobile wallet, you can store credit, debit, prepaid/cash, and loyalty cards in Google Pay and use the cards for purchases through a browser, a phone, or inside an app. You can do person-to-person money transfers (or make requests) from the app by using a phone number or email. You can even link your PayPal account to Google Pay for an additional layer of convenience. Your card information is securely stored in the cloud. On a device, card tokenization, encryption, and password or biometrics protect the information.

When compared to Apple Pay, Google Pay is no slouch. The two apps have nearly the same core features. Given that Andriod has a worldwide market share of somewhat over 85% to Apple’s roughly 13% and given Google Pay is available on iOS as well, the odds of you seeing a Google Pay user is at least as good as seeing an Apple Pay user. Therefore, it would be good to be prepared to take Google Pay at your store as well. Fortunately, you need the same hardware for Google Pay as you need for Apple Pay — an NFC-enabled reader or terminal. Theoretically, this is all you need to take Google Pay. However, we’ve had some reports of stores not being able to process Google Pay but can take Apple Pay. If this happens, contact your payment card processor to see if there are additional software requirements you might need.

Below is a summary of Google Pay’s major features.

  • Compatible With: Android, iOS devices
  • In-Store Payments: Yes
  • eCommerce & In-App Payments: Yes
  • P2P Payments: Yes
  • Debit Card (Digital Or Physical): No
  • Noteworthy Features: Can link PayPal account
  • Cost To Merchants: Standard credit card processing rates
  • Requirements For Merchants To Accept: NFC-compatible credit card reader/terminal for in-store purchases, developer for eCommerce

Read our in-depth review

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3. Best For Paying In-Store: Samsung Pay

Samsung Pay



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Rounding out our Best For Paying In-Stores picks is Samsung Pay. Samsung Pay, as its name suggests, is available only on Samsung phones. The app was launched in 2015 and is now available in 26 countries.

Samsung Pay can store credit, debit, prepaid/cash, and loyalty/membership cards. It also connects to PayPal, just as Google Pay does. Like the other two services, cards stored in Samsung Pay are protected by several layers of security, from card tokenization to storage encryption to password/biometric access protection. You can use Samsung Pay for in-store, online, and in-app purchases, but unlike our other two Best For In-Store picks, Samsung Pay cannot do person-to-person transfers.

Samsung Pay, however, does have an advantage over its competitor apps — it uses a proprietary technology called “magnetic secure transmission” or MST. This technology allows the smartphone to mimic a magnetic stripe card swipe to send the payment information to card readers that cannot read NFC signals. As a merchant, Samsung Pay can save you a little bit of money — or, at least, it won’t force you to spend more money to upgrade to an NFC reader just to take wallet payments. The MST technology works with most magnetic stripe readers, except those used in gas stations where the card is inserted into a slot and then pulled.

If you have a Samsung phone, then you know that Samsung nags its users to try Samsung Pay. That is why there may be a large number of Samsung Pay users in the wild. Just like Apple Pay and Google Pay, if you have an NFC-enabled reader or terminal — or even if you don’t — you should be able to accept Samsung Pay without additional work. The user base and the MST technology are why we add Samsung Pay to our Best For In-Store wallet apps.

  • Compatible With: Samsung devices
  • In-Store Payments: Yes
  • eCommerce & In-App Payments: Yes
  • P2P Payments: No
  • Debit Card (Digital Or Physical): No
  • Noteworthy Features: MST technology, connects to PayPal
  • Cost To Merchants: Standard credit card processing rates
  • Requirements For Merchants To Accept: Magstripe or NFC-compatible credit card reader/terminal for in-store purchases, developer for eCommerce

Read our in-depth review

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4. Best For Paying Online: PayPal

PayPal



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While all our top pay-in-store wallets can also be used to pay online, when it comes to online payments, PayPal is still king. Back when PayPal got its start, it specialized in P2P payments. That payment method was adopted by merchants who did not (or maybe could not) qualify for a merchant account for taking credit cards. It was a safe way to pay and receive payment from strangers, and a person can sign up for an account easily. PayPal also had little to no competition, so it signed up a lot of users.

Because of PayPal’s enormous user base (286+ million active user accounts at the time of writing, by PayPal’s count), it is still the best mobile wallet for online payments. (It’s also available for payment processing for physical locations.) A user funds a PayPal account by linking a credit card or bank account to PayPal. If the user receives money into the PayPal account, the funds can be kept there indefinitely, transferred out to a bank account, or used through the PayPal debit Mastercard.

PayPal has both a web dashboard and a mobile app compatible with iOS and Android devices. It offers its users a fast checkout option called One Touch, which allows for automatic login and auto-fill of billing information. PayPal can also be linked to Google Pay and Samsung Pay to automatically draw from PayPal for purchases made through these third-party wallets.

If you have an online-only business, you should at least take PayPal Payments in addition to the other credit cards. Many consumers prefer to use PayPal over other types of payments because of online security. So you might be missing out on sales if you don’t have PayPal as a payment choice for your shoppers. As a business, you can set up a business account separate from your personal PayPal account, so the accounting can be kept separately.

Here’s a quick summary of PayPal.

  • Compatible With: Web, iOS, Android
  • In-Store Payments: Yes (via Google Pay)
  • eCommerce & In-App Payments: Yes
  • P2P Payments: Yes
  • Debit Card (Digital Or Physical): Yes
  • Noteworthy Features: Large user base
  • Cost To Merchants: 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction
  • Requirements For Merchants To Accept: PayPal Business Account, developer for eCommerce/in-app

Read our in-depth review

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5. Best For Requesting Payment: Square Cash

Square Cash App



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If you run a small services business, you might be able to use Square’s Cash App to get paid. Square started the Cash App back in 2015. The app allows individuals, organizations, and businesses to send and request cash via email or by using a unique identifier called a cashtag.

The Cash App is compatible with both iOS and Android devices. Users also get a personalized website at www.cash.me/$URL, where they can visit and input their payment information to send another user money.

Users can fund the Cash account by linking a bank account (for free) or through a credit or debit card (for a fee). To withdraw money from this account, simply transfer the funds to a bank account or to a special debit card called the Cash Card. The Cash Card can be used like any debit card, including making ATM withdrawals and even be added to Apple Pay or Google Pay.

Users of the Cash App can send money to or request money from other users. While Cash App’s competitor apps, such as Venmo and Zelle, also allow their users to submit payment requests, the Cash App is the only one that uses the cashtag. The cashtag is a word preceded by the $ symbol, can be used in place of a phone number or email, and uniquely identifies only one Cash App user.

Through the Cash App, a business can request payment by sending the request to the customer’s cashtag, phone number (via text), or email. There is no reminder option, however, so if a customer forgets to pay, you, the business owner, will have to send reminders until they do pay up.

The Cash App is fairly popular with the younger crowd. If you operate a one-person business with a younger customer base, the Cash App might be right for you.

  • Compatible With: Web, iOS, Android
  • In-Store Payments: Yes (debit card)
  • eCommerce & In-App Payments: Yes
  • P2P Payments: Yes
  • Debit Card (Digital Or Physical): Yes
  • Noteworthy Features: Can use Cashtag to send or receive money
  • Cost To Merchants: No charge if paid directly through Cash App; standard Mastercard debit card rates if linked through Apple Pay or Google Pay
  • Requirements For Merchants To Accept: Square Cash account dedicated to business use; NFC-compatible reader/terminal for in-store purchases through Apple Pay or Google Pay; developer for eCommerce through Apple Pay or Google Pay

Get Started with Square Cash App

Read our in-depth review

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6. Best For Digital Purchases: Venmo

Venmo



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The first Venmo app was released in 2009. Since then, the app has grown to be one of the most popular mobile wallets, especially for younger users. It is known for the social networking element to the app, where you can broadcast your latest purchases to your family and friends for discussion.  The app is often used to split bills among a group of friends or for sending money to family members. In 2012, Braintree bought Venmo, and a year later, PayPal bought Braintree. So, today, Venmo is a subsidiary of PayPal.

When you sign up with Venmo, you open a Venmo account that can be funded by linking it to a bank account or a credit card. This Venmo account is where the money is pulled from or added to when money gets transferred between Venmo account holders. You can take money out of your Venmo account by transferring it to your bank account or by using the Venmo Card, which is a Mastercard debit card linked to your Venmo account.

For online purchases directly through Venmo, there are two basic avenues. On some websites (powered by Braintree), a dedicated Pay with Venmo button can be integrated directly into the checkout. With other sites, you might see only a PayPal button. Once you hit that button, you are taken to the payment screen. If the merchant takes Venmo and if you are paying from your smartphone, you will see a Pay with Venmo button along with another Pay with PayPal button. Select Pay with Venmo, and you can pay that way.

Alternatively, because the Venmo card is a regular Mastercard debit card, you can link the card to Apple Pay or Google Pay and make purchases wherever Mastercard debit cards are accepted.

We think Venmo is best for digital purchases because of the app’s social networking platform. Once the Venmo card is linked to Apple Pay or Google Pay, an entire world of music, books, and other in-app purchases open up to Venmo users. Given Venmo’s user age group (i.e., fairly young) and the social nature of the app, it seems relatively easy for a good song, book, game, or similar items to become popular through word of mouth advertising. That is why we think Venmo’s social network features make it a perfect venue for selling digital goods.

  • Compatible With: Web, iOS, Android
  • In-Store Payments: Yes (debit card)
  • eCommerce & In-App Payments: Yes
  • P2P Payments: Yes
  • Debit Card (Digital Or Physical): Yes
  • Noteworthy Features: Heavy social networking element; Venmo Mastercard debit card is usable by tapping directly on an NFC-enabled reader/terminal
  • Cost To Merchants: For eCommerce, 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction through Braintree or PayPal but custom pricing available for high-volume merchants; Standard Mastercard debit card rates for in-store purchases
  • Requirements For Merchants To Accept: Venmo and PayPal or Braintree business accounts, developer for integrating code to web store/app; NFC-enabled reader/terminal for in-store debit charges

Read our in-depth review

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Honorable Mentions

There are a lot of good mobile payment apps out there, and while we highlighted some of the best, we think there are a few more worth brief mentions because you might hear about them in the future.

Fitbit Pay & GarminPay

Fitbit and Garmin Pay are all smartwatch-based digital wallets. They’re quite similar to each other, and they can both be used with an NFC-enabled reader or terminal.

Fitbit Pay

Fitbit is best known as a health tracking device, and it is gradually evolving into a smartwatch. As such, the newest Fitbit trackers come with an embedded NFC chip and can be used as a mobile wallet. The chip on the Fitbit can store up to six credit or debit cards. To set up the wallet, you have to enter all the information from the Fitbit app on your smartphone. Only a token for each card is saved on the watch, and the wallet on the watch can only be accessed after entering a passcode or PIN.

To pay with a Fitbit watch, simply tap the watch on an NFC reader or terminal, and the card processes through the usual channels.

Garmin Pay

Garmin Pay is available on select Garmin smartwatches. Like the Fitbit trackers, the Garmin wallet on the smartwatch must also be set up through an app installed on a smartphone. The credit and debit cards on the watch are all tokenized, and the watch is password-protected. Just like the Fitbit tracker, the Garmin watch has an NFC chip built into it. Users can tap the watch on any NFC reader to send credit or debit card information for processing.

Xoom

Xoom is another mobile wallet, but it is one with a fairly specialized niche — that of international money transfers. Xoom was founded in 2001 and was acquired by PayPal in 2015.

Xoom has many banking partners around the world, and it helps users transfer money using existing international money transfer networks already used by banks. Money transfers through Xoom typically take several days. The recipient can pick up the cash in person at designated banks, have it deposited into specific accounts, or even have it delivered by a person. Xoom also allows its users to pay certain out-of-the-country bills, such as cable or utility bills or add cell phone minutes for phones outside the US, through the Xoom app.

As a merchant, you probably won’t see Xoom used by your customers very often. However, since Xoom has a rather large transfer limit — up to $50k per day and $100k every six months — you might be able to pay some of your international suppliers this way.

Zelle

Zelle is a money transfer service owned by several large banks. Zelle transfers money from one user’s bank account directly into another user’s bank account by using the recipient’s email or cell phone number. Most banks in the US are participants of Zelle and allow any account holder to transfer money for free. For those who bank at non-participating banks, Zelle can transfer money through a debit card issued by the non-participating bank.

Money transfers through Zelle can take just minutes. You can request money or split a bill, just like you can with Venmo. Zelle lacks the social networking element of Venmo, however. There are both daily and monthly transfer limits with Zelle, and individual banks set those limits, so they vary. Nevertheless, the transfer limits are typically higher than Venmo’s, making Zelle a better choice than Venmo for transferring larger amounts of money.

Some, but not all, banks allow small business owners to set up Zelle for their business accounts. You can request payments from customers/clients through Zelle, but there are no automatic reminders if your customers do not pay right away.

Are Mobile Payments Right For Your Business?

In today’s increasingly cashless society, consumers are more and more likely to use mobile wallets to pay for goods and services. Some of these apps store payment card information and allow consumers to pay with the payment cards either online or in person. Others are mostly apps that keep electronic cash funded with a credit or debit card or bank account. Electronic cash can be used to pay for goods or services or transferred between friends or family. Yet others are optimized for transferring directly between bank accounts.

Consumer behavior is rapidly changing as a result of these mobile payment apps. As a small business owner, you can take advantage of these changes. If you own a physical location, you can accommodate these younger, tech-savvy customers by having an NFC-capable reader, so you can take payment from a smartphone or a smartwatch. If you have an online store, you can hire a developer to add a “pay with” button to your store. With yet other wallets — mostly those for sending money to friends and family — you can send payment requests to your customers for payment.

As you can see, you can integrate many types of mobile payments into your business. Of course, not all payment apps are suitable for every business. For instance, if you own a restaurant, you wouldn’t allow the customer to walk out the door right after you send a Cash App payment request, but you can allow your patrons to tap their phone on your NFC terminal to pay for the meal.

How many types of mobile payments have you integrated into your business? Let us know of your experience, good or bad. Have questions? Leave us a comment, and we’ll get back to you!

A Last Look At Our Top Picks

  1. Apple Pay
    Best For - Best For Paying In-Store
  2. Google Pay
    Best For - Best For Paying In-Store
  3. Samsung Pay
    Best For - Best For Paying In-Store
  4. PayPal
    Best For - Best For Paying Online
  5. Square Cash App
    Best For - Best For Requesting Payment
  6. Venmo
    Best For - Best For Digital Purchase
Hsin-Wei Luang

Hsin-Wei Luang

Hsin-Wei is a freelance writer focused on small business and technology writing. Before becoming a writer, she worked as a techie lawyer for many years until she came to her senses. Now, in her spare time, she plays frisbee with her Mini Australian Shepherd dog.
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Our unbiased reviews and content are supported in part by affiliate partnerships, and we adhere to strict guidelines to preserve editorial integrity. The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone.

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