The evolution of payments has seen cash and checks largely replaced by cards, and digital payments may become the method of choice in the future.
That's something already happening in countries like India and China where credit cards aren't as prevalent, according to Beerud Sheth, CEO of Gupshup, a global conversational messaging platform that can also facilitate payments. "There's more innovation in payments happening outside the U.S." he says.
However, the U.S. may not be far behind. More than 3 in 4 Americans used some form of digital payment last year, according to the 2020 Digital Payments Consumer Survey, published by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. What's more, 58% of people used two or more digital payment methods.
Payment apps can serve different purposes, which is why it makes sense to use more than one. "You have to use what all the merchants are using or what your friends are using," Sheth adds.
Here are some of the best payment apps available today. Keep reading for their details and who should consider using each one.
-- Google Pay
-- Apple Pay
-- Facebook Messenger
-- Cash App
Best for: Purchase protection
Paypal holds the distinction of being one of the pioneering payment services and came to popularity as a way to pay for online auction purchases. "You didn't want to share your credit card with some stranger, and Paypal fit that need," Sheth says.
Today, Paypal can be used to pay individuals as well as buy items from stores both online and in person. Users can hold a balance in their Paypal account, set up direct deposit and use cryptocurrency. Plus, the app comes with a wide range of other features for both personal and business customers.
For buyers, Paypal offers an added layer of purchase protection beyond what might be provided by a retailer or auction site. If an eligible item isn't received or arrives substantially different than promised, Paypal will issue refunds for disputes filed within 180 days of the purchase. Customers also have $0 liability for unauthorized transactions so long as Paypal is notified within 60 days.
Best for: Sending money to friends and family
Venmo rose to popularity as a way for people to easily split expenses with friends and family members, and it continues to be a top payment app for that purpose. Many people like that payments can be personalized with notes and emojis, and payment feeds can be made public or kept private.
Simplicity is one of Venmo's key benefits. The app features a clean interface with a minimalist design. Although sending and receiving money is its main function, Venmo can also be used for direct deposit, cryptocurrency purchases and business payments.
Best for: Transferring money between banks
Those who don't want to hassle with a separate payment app may find what they need within their current banking app. Zelle is used by a network of hundreds of banks and credit unions across the United States.
"Consumers increasingly want to manage their finances from one place, and with Zelle, most consumers can send money right from their bank's app," says Rohan Amin, chief product officer for Chase. "At Chase, it's one of our most popular features, and our customers have been using it even more frequently since the start of the pandemic."
Zelle eliminates the middleman for person-to-person transactions. Rather than having money go from an app to a bank account, Zelle makes it possible for money to go directly from one bank account to another. It can also be used for some small business payments.
Best for: Comprehensive payment solutions
Some apps go beyond simply making payments. "There's a lot of blurred lines nowadays," says Jed Danbury, vice president of international sales for Computop, a global payment service provider.
Google Pay is a good example of how payments can be integrated into a multifunctional app. While Google Pay can make payments and purchases, it can also be used to monitor spending, track receipts and earn cash back rewards.
Like other payment apps, money can be sent directly from one user to another. However, Google Pay also serves as a digital wallet to make contactless purchases using a mobile device at many retailers.
[Read: Best Budget Apps.]
Best for: iPhone users
While Google Pay can be downloaded onto iOS devices, iPhone users may prefer to use Apple Pay instead. It is built into Apple devices and offers many of the same features, such as payments to family and friends and a digital wallet.
"The younger generation likes the wallets," Danbury notes. Digital wallets can be loaded with multiple debit and credit cards, providing a convenient way to travel and pay with only your phone.
Apple Pay notes that it can be used at 85% of U.S. retailers and provides a safe and secure way to pay both online and in stores.
Best for: Social media users
Social media is a daily part of life for many people, and now payments can be made via Facebook Messenger as well. The company recommends that money only be sent to trusted family and friends, and Marketplace purchases are not eligible for purchase protection.
To send money using Facebook Messenger, users must be at least 18 years old and link a qualified debit card or Paypal account using the Facebook Pay option in their Messenger profile. While Facebook Messenger doesn't seem as popular or as intuitive as other payment apps, it is free and can be a convenient option for social media users.
Best for: International transactions
If you send money internationally or need to manage funds in multiple currencies, Wise is an app designed for you. One of its key benefits is that there is no markup on the exchange rate for currency conversions. "That's why the company was built -- because we believe in pricing transparency," says Lindsey Grossman, director of product, North America for Wise.
Wise's money transfer option provides a way to make single payments, but the app can also be used to create a multicurrency account. This allows people to hold money in more than 50 different currencies and have local account details in 10 currencies.
"We're seeing a much-heightened need for digital payments across borders," Grossman says. With Wise, customers can easily make those payments and, in some cases, conduct transactions like a local.
Best for: Investing
Cash App is notable for its simplicity and ease of use. Like other payment apps, it can be used to send and receive payments within the same country. There is also an option to request a free debit card, and ATM withdrawals from Cash App are free so long as you have at least $300 directly deposited each month.
One feature that sets Cash App apart from other payment options is the opportunity to invest money with as little as $1. The app allows its users to buy fractional shares of stocks and set up recurring buys as well. Bitcoin purchases are also available via Cash App.
Investing accounts on Cash App are free and don't require a minimum balance or assess commission fees. On the other hand, you won't get any investment advice or recommendations from the app either.
Best for: Installment payment plans
The future of payments may include more " buy now, pay later," or BNPL, options that allow customers pay for purchases over time. "These alternative payment methods can be better (for) those who aren't qualified for credit cards," Danbury says.
BNPL is a feature available in some other payment apps such as Paypal, but Klarna specializes in these types of purchases. Shoppers can make a purchase at any online store through the Klarna app and pay off the balance in four interest-free payments, with a payment due every two weeks. It can be used for some in-store purchases as well.
Founded in Sweden in 2005, Klarna has 90 million customers today, including 15 million in the U.S. In addition to its "Pay in 4" option, customers can choose to pay off their balance in 30 days or finance purchases over six to 36 months.