A digital wallet — aka an “e-wallet” — is an electronic method of paying for things, usually through an app on your phone. Someone who already feels comfortable using an online bank may be more open to using a digital wallet, but there’s still a lot of people who wouldn’t trust their banking or credit information to an app.
But aside from the sheer convenience of paying via phone, digital wallets are also a way to avoid contact with other people — or, more specifically, avoid their germs. No more awkwardly trying to slot your debit in the card reader as a service worker holds it out the window, or feverishly hand sanitize after receiving the card back.
Last updated: April 14, 2021
With Apple Pay, iPhone users can link their Apple ID with a credit or debit card and use their phone to pay for things online or in person. This is the truly unique feature of Apple Pay — most digital wallets aren’t accepted at in-person retail locations.
Users can protect their transactions by enabling fingerprint or face ID authentication, and can also make payments with their Apple Watch, iPad or Mac. Apple even offers a credit card — aptly named the Apple Card — designed to work with Apple Pay and issued by Goldman Sachs.
In addition, Apple doesn’t store or have access to your full card details, nor will they be shared with merchants during transactions.
Google Pay is like Apple Pay, but for Android users. Users can download the app on the Google Play store, add a card and add authentication measures such as a PIN or fingerprint. Your phone must have NFC technology to make payments in person (and it probably does if it’s a model 2012 or newer).
Both Google and Apple Pay are similar enough so that you should probably let your phone make the decision for you. And WIRED even goes so far as to argue that they’re more secure than physical cards — unable to be stolen or read in public, and faster than a chip card reader.
PayPal is a payments system that’s very popular and widely accepted online. Users can easily set up an account, pair a card and use it to buy things on most any site — which is faster and safer than entering your card info for each purchase.
Although Apple and Google Pay revolutionized in-person payments with digital wallets, PayPal users can now pull up the app in stores, where it should be accepted anywhere that takes Mastercard.
Cash App was developed by Square in 2014, and allows users in the U.S. and U.K. to transfer money to one another via the mobile phone app. Simply create an account, pair your card and find other users by name.
While you can’t use the app to buy things online or in stores, you can get the Cash Card, which is a debit card offered by Cash App that pays for things out of your Cash App balance.
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Venmo is actually owned by PayPal; but while PayPal serves the purpose of retail transactions, Venmo is a more peer-to-peer platform, designed for people to send and receive money from each other.
Like Cash App, users must create an account and link a card to begin using the service, and also have the option of getting a Venmo Debit Card to make retail transactions.
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