Why use peer-to-peer (P2P) payment apps?
Peer-to-peer payment apps work just like writing your friend a check, except without the check writing, because who does that anymore? With a P2P payment app, you can send money straight to your friend’s bank account using your cell phone, which makes it perfect for things like like splitting utilities with roommates, splitting the bill at a restaurant, buying concert tickets from Craigslist, and so on.
According to a Business Insider report, P2P mobile payment volume could reach $86 billion per year in the U.S. by 2018. As more people become comfortable with the idea of paying someone with their cell phone, these apps will only gain more users. The features and specifics vary from app to app, so we've reviewed the specifics of the most popular peer-to-peer payment apps.
Venmo allows users to send and receive money with their existing contacts. All you have to do is open the app, choose who to send money to, add the amount you’re sending and a short message, and the funds go directly to the friend’s Venmo account. The money will show up in their Venmo balance instantly, and if they choose to cash it out to their bank account, it will deposit the next business day.
It’s free to send money from a bank account, debit card or Venmo balance, but there is a 3% charge for paying with a credit card. The nature of the app is very social—there’s a newsfeed section where all of your friends’ recent transactions appear (the dollar amount is left out). This lends itself to some creative storytelling, intricate emoji usage and a weirdly interesting and kind of voyeuristic timeline that I love to look at. (You can also make your transactions private if you choose.)
With Google Wallet, you can send money to any email address, and it’s free to send money from your account balance or from a bank account, but there is a 2.9% fee to send from a debit or credit card. It can also take up to 3-10 business days to deposit money from a Google Wallet balance into a bank account. However, Google Wallet can be used to make purchases, and it will hold loyalty card information and gift cards for companies such as American Eagle, AMC, Chili’s, Sephora, Nike and lots of others.
The Google Wallet card can be used at most in-store locations that accept MasterCard, and you can also use it to withdraw cash from ATMs. Online, your Google Wallet balance is accepted as payment through some popular apps and websites, eliminating the need to enter credit card information over and over. I’m not sure if it should be that easy to order a Domino’s pizza.
Dwolla charges a flat fee of $0.25 to the receiver of any transaction greater than $10. While transferring money to another friend with the Dwolla app is relatively easy, signing up for a Dwolla account is more complicated than any of the other apps reviewed here. According to The Andera Blog, the Dwolla identity verification process is quite extensive. Andera’s test reviewer was required to upload a picture of her I.D. for verification, and then had to wait 1-2 business days until she could start sending and receiving money. Kind of a bummer for an app that’s supposed to make transferring money faster and easier.
The biggest selling point of Square Cash is that it’s 100% free to send and receive money—no fees at all. You can send and receive money from anyone in your phone’s contact list if you have their phone number or email address, and they don’t need to download the app themselves. This app also transfers money directly from bank account to bank account instead of holding it in a balance until the user cashes out. I’m not sure it gets much easier than that.
Popmoney transfers money directly from bank account to bank account, and can also be used to request and send money to any phone number or email address, regardless of whether or not users at both ends of the transaction have the app. However, this app is pretty expensive if you’re sending small, frequent transfers. Popmoney charges a flat rate of $.95 to the sender of each transaction. That doesn’t seem like much if you’re not using it often, but for users who are constantly splitting checks with friends and paying each other back for coffee, that dollar per transaction can really add up, especially when there are plenty of cheaper options.
This chart compares all of the payment apps described above to see how they stack up against each other:
Best for Easy Sign Up and User Interface: Square Cash
This app was the smoothest to download and set up. The bold lettering and clean design led my eyes exactly where I was supposed to go, and within minutes I was set up and ready to send money to anyone in my iPhone contacts list. This kind of simplicity is exactly what will work for those trying to make mobile payments. I am really not excited about the idea of an app that would ask me to upload my I.D. to verify identification and take a day or two to give me full access to my account. At that point, I may as well have gone to the bank.
Best for Splitting Checks and Getting Money Fast: Venmo
I’ve never had an issue with the app taking longer than one business day to deposit funds into my account once I’ve cashed out. Having a positive experience with that aspect of an app might be the most important thing to a user, and Venmo is great for this. While it doesn’t transfer the funds directly from bank account to bank account and holds the funds in your Venmo account, this can be pretty useful to people who use it very often. If I cover the bill for dinner with a few friends of mine, but I know I’ll also have to split a cab later, keeping the money from dinner in my Venmo balance just takes one step out of the equation later on in the night. For users who are splitting checks and sharing money with each other often, this app makes sense.
Best for Money Organization: Google Wallet
The fact that I could have my bank account, brand loyalty cards and gift cards all in one app is pretty awesome. Nothing is worse than shopping and realizing you left a gift card you were planning to use at home. And I’ll admit it, I love the fact that I could order a Domino’s pizza without entering my card information. As far as P2P transfers go, this app still leaves things to be desired. Really, the fact that I might have to wait as long as 10 business days to receive my funds is enough to turn me off from using it to send and receive payments.
We'd love to hear about your experiences using these peer-to-peer payment apps. Which is your favorite?
Photo credit: Daniel Foster