Nowadays, we find ourselves carrying cold hard cash less and less because you can just as easily make your purchase with payment cards, and track your spending online. Plus, it’s more secure than carrying $350 to buy the latest iPad Mini.
Certain payment or loyalty cards also let you earn rewards or entries to contests, but they do add up. They make your wallet unnecessarily thick and heavy. Perhaps it is time to swap the system again; this time, for something that you have always been carrying around: your smartphone.
Digital wallets can help take you there. They are smartphone apps that hold your payment and loyalty card information. Google Wallet and Apple’s Passbook are two of the more popular ones we often hear about, but if they are not your fancy, there are plenty of other digital wallets that carry perks and benefits that you may prefer.
Instead of tapping your credit card on the NFC machine at the checkout counter, all you have to do is wave your smartphone or tap it on the machine to make your payments. It’ll be able to identify the credit card information linked on your Google account.
For this to to work, Google Wallet requires Near Field Communication (NFC) technology available, which unfortunately is only available on certain smartphones and tablets.
You link your debit or credit card to your Google account and you can leave your wallet at home – but at the moment, it only works with phones and credit cards from the US and only in the US. Currently, it supports 20+ merchants on the ground and online, promising more merchants to come.
Apple’s Passbook was introduced in iOS 6 and relies on scanning 2D barcodes to help you manage your movie, concert and airline tickets as well as loyalty cards and coupons for selected merchants.
The result: you get location and time-based notifications when you’re near a cafe where you can use your loyalty card or when your airline, movie or concert ticket is nearing its due date.
You add passes through apps that support Passbook (link opens iTunes). So instead of bringing your grocery coupons and stack of loyalty cards wherever you go, you can store it in Passbook. Unlike Google Wallet, you cannot use your debit or credit card for purchases in-store, however you can use BillGuard to view your bank balance and other related information on your iPhone.
Available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone Lemon Wallet is a very powerful app that allows you to store and use your debit, credit, ID, insurance member and loyalty cards. It turns all of that information into a barcode to be scanned by merchants. You can also connect payment cards to your bank allowing you to check your balance and transactions from within the app.
The app is passcode protected throughout with a 4-pin passcode; even when accessing your other cards within the app, it’ll ask you to input the passcode again. One more good feature is that it allows you to take pictures of receipts for tax purposes or to track your own spending.
Square wallet is available on iOS and Android and works similar to Lemon Wallet, with a few additional cool features. You link your credit card to the app, but instead of paying directly with the credit card, it requires the use of merchant cards which is why Square works only with their list of merchants.
Because it is location based, the store knows you’re ordering something and will charge it to the card linked on your Square account.
It features Hands-Free Checkout as well where you ‘favorite’ the merchant and all you have to do is say your name at checkout. As you visit these stores, you can also earn rewards and discounts on your next visit. You can also purchase in-store gift vouchers to be sent to other Square users.
Isis comes with its own cash card which is preloaded with $10 to help you start spending. It works with an NFC-enabled Android smartphone and also allows you to manage your coupons, loyalty cards and redeem offers from merchants.
The wallet is also PIN-protected and you can remote freeze your wallet and wireless connection if it gets stolen. If the smartphone gets recovered, you can just call to reactivate your wallet.
The wallet is also protected by a special chip called Secure Element which prevents your cards from being counterfeited. So far it only accepts 3 payment cards and can be used in a few stores in Salt Lake City and Austin in the US.
Don’t have NFC? Try Geode instead. Geode is an iPhone case that features a much cooler alternative. With Geode, you can store your credit cards and loyalty cards in the app, then use the GeoCard (provided) to act temporarily as the card you select.
Just flick the card and start swiping. Once you’re done, all data from the GeoCard will be removed and you can select the next card info to activate.
For loyalty cards, all you need to do is take a picture of the barcode section of each card. The barcode will be displayed in E-ink quality for scanning purposes. To keep all your info secure, the app has a biometric scanner that takes your fingerprints for authentication. US residents can buy the Geode for $200.
Chirpify lets you use social media apps like Twitter and Instagram to buy, sell, send and receive money. You have to first register for an account on their website; it uses PayPal to send or receive money.
On your account dashboard, you can create a listing if you’re selling something or want to start a fund raiser. You can create a listing via Instagram with the captions:
- ‘$5 #instasale‘ to sell
- ‘$0 #instagimme‘ for a giveaway
- ‘$10 #instafund‘ for a donation
A listing will then be created on your Chirpify account dashboard.
Other Chirpify members buying your item simply comment ‘Buy’ on Instagram or reply with ‘Buy’ on a Tweet, and the transaction is complete. Chirpify users can also send money between friends or make donations via Twitter. There is a 5% transaction fee whenever money enters your Chirpify account.
Venmo is an app available for BlackBerry, iOS and Android for transferring money between friends. Once you have an account, you can link a bank account, credit or debit card to it. It works similar to PayPal but only between two parties with Venmo accounts.
Sending money is like writing an email to a friend, plus the amount you want to transfer. You can even share the transaction with a message on Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare.
Access your main account via their website, but make your transactions via your smartphone. Venmo also works via SMS with a few simple SMS commands. Venmo is a free app but only currently works with major US banks and phone numbers.
Dwolla is another mobile payment app available for iOS and Android with a high number of merchants that recognize their service. It connects directly to your bank account via registration on their website.
With Dwolla, you can transfer funds to friends on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. It’s a great way to settle your rent, or pay back your friend for fronting you the taxi cab or last night’s drinks, when you don’t have cash on you.
The app also has an in-built map that locates merchants that accept payments via Dwolla. You can also track your transactions within the app itself.
Paypal is another famous service that can send money between other PayPal users and friends. Available for both iOS and Android, you can easily send money to other users just like you would on the PayPal website. It also allows you to view your past transactions in detail.
PayPal is also entering mobile payments via a card reader with the PayPal Here app, but at the moment it’s still in the ‘invitation only’ stages of testing.
Bonus: 3 More Mobile Payment Apps
If you’ve heard of Bump that app that lets you send contacts and photos from smartphones to computers via an Internet connection, then you should get the idea of Bump Pay. Bump Pay is a free app only available for the iPhone. It allows you to ‘bump’ (transfer) money from iPhone to iPhone with your existing PayPal account.
Zipmark acts as a digital checkbook that connects directly to your checking account. Payments are made with digital checks and can be cleared the next business day with a 1% or $5 maximum transaction fee. Payments are cleared quickly, more securely and cost less. Zipmark is currently only available by invitation.