Now that so many of our financial transactions – whether shopping, paying bills, or monitoring our investments – take place online, it can make a more old-fashioned , like writing a check or taking out cash from an ATM, seem hopelessly outdated and inconvenient.
As the use of credit cards and online shopping portals have exploded, so have different kinds of online payment systems. You’re probably very familiar with at least one of them: PayPal.
But there are other e-commerce systems now. Some are designed for less “official” transactions, ones that aren’t between a customer and a business but rather between friends or family members: they’re called peer-to-peer payment systems. Others involve business payments.
With these peer-to-peer payment apps, it’s easy to pay someone – whether for your half of a shared dinner, your share of the rent, or for that concert ticket your friend graciously offered to buy with her credit card – using nothing but your smartphone.
PayPal alternatives overview
|TransferWise||Transferring money internationally|
|Google Pay||Transferring money and making purchases|
|Square||Taking business payments on the go|
|Stripe||Integrating with online store|
|ProPay||International payments for businesses|
Venmo (a subsidiary of PayPal) is a mobile payment system that is wildly popular among Millennials. It’s a digital wallet that allows users to send money to their contacts. It’s somewhat personal, too. (It has a feed where you can leave comments about a transaction, like a social media platform.)
With Venmo, it’s free to send money from your bank account, but if you pay by credit card there is a 3% charge (which means: don’t do this).
Although Venmo was originally created for personal use, I was first introduced to it by a client who wanted to pay me that way. I did hit a snafu with linking up my bank account. The two deposits they sent didn’t land in my account, and it took me a while to straighten that out, but that was several years ago. I’ve been using it to pay my mobile pet groomer and hairstylist for the past year.
One issue I’ve found on the business side of things is that there’s no tip option. I purchased some hair product from my stylist a couple of weeks ago and had to mentally subtract the hair product, calculate the tip on the haircut part only, then add the product back on – all while my stylist waited patiently for me to finish paying. I’m not all that good at math under pressure, so it didn’t go well.
Get Venmo for iOS or Android.
There are plenty of apps to help you split the cost of a pizza with your buddies, but what about your international friends? Wise, formerly TransferWise, helps with that. You can send money to consumers in 59 countries, with new currencies added on an ongoing basis.
Wise is custom-built for any or money transfer you want to make. I just have to enter how much I want to send in USD, then choose the currency of the receiving party. Right there, it shows how much I’ll pay for a monthly fee. There are bank fees and Wise fees, but they are minimal.
To send $100 USD to Europe using Wise’s personal account, I’d pay $0.16 in bank/debit card fees, plus a $0.96 Wise fee. Compare that to $5 per transaction fee for a personal international bank transfer with PayPal payments. That alone makes this perhaps the around.
Wise business members pay a fixed fee of $1.40 to send money. PayPal, in contrast, charges a 1.50% international business payments fee in addition to the standard fee (2.89% and up).
I’ve only been a Wise payment recipient, so I had to check out how paying someone works. It’s pretty simple – well, as simple as paying internationally ever is. You’ll need the email address, full legal name, and mailing address of the person. You’ll also need the International Bank Account Number (IBAN) of the recipient, as well as the type of account it is and the name and address of that bank.
The business side of Wise has some advanced features, including invoicing and compatibility with Stripe. You’ll also pay a one-time $31 fee to set up your account for international banking.
Get Wise for iOS or Android.
Google Pay allows you to send money from your bank account or GoogleWallet through Gmail for free. Just look for the $ symbol when you’re composing an email and input the amount of money you want to send. If you’re like me, you already do most of your communication through Gmail, so this may boost Google Pay to the top of your list.
Signing up for Google Pay is easy if you use your Google account for most of your business interactions. You just have to download the app and add your phone number. Google automatically pulls in all your frequent contacts.
The interface with Google Pay is not all too different from Venmo’s. You just choose a name from your contacts and input the amount you want to pay. You can also add a note.
One feature I like with Google Pay is that you can easily split payments with friends. Just tap on “Split with Friends” from the Pay screen and choose the friends from your contacts. There’s also a Scan QR Code feature that will make it easy to pay a business that accepts Google Pay.
Speaking of business use, Google Pay has the same weakness Venmo does when it comes to paying vendors. You’ll have to figure out the tip and add it to what you’re paying. But these apps are designed to keep things as simple as possible, so that’s one unfortunate by-product.
Get Google Pay for iOS or Android.
Payoneer is an online payment system and peer-to-peer payment solution that allows you to transfer money to anyone anywhere in the world, in addition to making purchases. It provides you with a pre-paid Mastercard that you can use anywhere Mastercard is accepted.
As a freelancer, I’m familiar with Payoneer through sites like Upwork. The service is useful, but if you’re not a freelancer, there are better options. Professionally, what I like about it is that you can send payment requests to clients and they can pay you directly through the app.
Payoneer is another great option for freelancers who are crossing international borders with their work. You’ll pay no fees on the money your clients send to you, and if you send money, there are no fees as long as the recipient is a Payoneer member. Otherwise, you’ll pay 3% for a credit card payment and 1% on ACH transfers.
But, chances are, if you’re using Payoneer, you’ve encountered it on one of the many platforms that use it. Upwork is where I’ve seen it, but it’s also a payment option on Fiverr, Wish, and Airbnb, among many others. If you pay for products and services on sites like that, a Payoneer account for personal use could come in handy, but otherwise, it’s mostly for freelancers and small business owners.
Get Payoneer for iOS or Android.
Not every in-person business operates in a storefront with a cash register. Square helps with that, equipping small business owners and freelancers with a way to easily swipe a card. The reader attaches to a phone or tablet, allowing you to accept payments anywhere.
I made the mistake of not using Square when I had an in-person event where I needed to accept cards a few years ago. I used the PayPal reader because I figured I already had an account so it would be easier. The swiper didn’t work, so I had to manually enter every single credit card. It was a pain.
For the next event, I ordered a Square reader and never looked back. It works every time, which comes in handy when you have a line of customers holding credit cards. Fees vary from 2.6% + $0.10 for swiped cards to 3.5% + $0.15 for manually-keyed transactions, so while it might come in handy to be able to swipe your buddy’s credit card to pay you back for dinner, one of the apps built for personal payments will likely be better for that.
But Square isn’t just for taking in-person payments on the go. You can use it as a one-stop shop for all your business’s sales. You can send invoices directly from the dashboard, set up gift cards that you sell directly through their site, and even take sales on your website using their platform.
What I like about Square, though, is that you can see, at a glance, your total daily sales. If you’re regularly collecting money from customers–in person or online–having this easy access to your progress comes in handy.
Is it for personal use? Not really. You could swipe your friends’ cards using the reader, but the fees will cut into whatever you’re taking.
Get Square for iOS or Android.
Another option geared toward the needs of small businesses is Stripe. The payment platform can be integrated with your online store or used separately by directing customers to pay you there.
Stripe is for business. You could use it to send money to friends, but the fees make it cost prohibitive. Fees start at 2.9% + $0.30 for each successful card charge. You can also accept international transactions, with an additional 1% fee added to each transaction.
I’ve used Stripe to accept payments from clients, and I loved the easy signup process. They do require identity verification, but all I had to do was snap a photo of my driver’s license and set up two-factor authentication to start accepting payments.
What I like most about Stripe is the dashboard. When you log in, you can see, at a glance, how much you’ve made today, as well as your financial activity over the past seven days. You can also see any disputes customers have filed on previous charges.
Yes, you can send invoices using Stripe, and that’s how I get paid for what I do. But where Stripe really shines is in its API. You can easily add Stripe to your website to start taking payments, and, in fact, if you use one of the top web hosting services, you probably see Stripe as an option when you’re setting up your e-commerce store.
Stripe also has terminals and mobile payment options. You don’t need a card reader to accept in-person payments – simply hold the card in front of your phone and the camera will capture the information you need. If you regularly take payments on the go, it’s worth considering.
Get Stripe for iOS or Android.
ProPay offers payment processing tools for businesses of all kinds. Whether your business is small, on the road, or global, they can work with you.
ProPay is for the business that’s serious about accepting payments on the go. You can swipe cards using the ProPay JAK™card reader. If you aren’t near your card reader, you can manually input the information. You can also opt to securely save a customer’s payment information to make things go more quickly the next time they buy from you.
One thing I love about ProPay is that it works even if you are offline. I’ve sold items at libraries, book fairs, craft fairs, and even in the parking lot after an event. You aren’t guaranteed to have Wi-Fi or even cellular connectivity at all times, and this app comes in handy for that. The transaction is logged the next time you go online.
For personal payments, this is another app that won’t really help you much. But if you’re a freelancer or work in direct marketing, this is a great app for processing payments.
As for fees, they depend on the type of card being used and the account you have. Rates start at 2.40% for swiped transactions. The complete rate chart is posted here.
Get ProPay for iOS or Android.
Benefits of online payment apps
First, it can help to take a look at the overall features of online payment apps. Online payment apps make it easy for a business of any size to collect money from customers. Peer-to-peer payment apps make it easy to transfer money to your friends.
Here are some benefits to consider:
- Easily pay friends and family members.
- Transfer funds from your bank account to someone else’s with a few clicks.
- Set up recurring payments to friends or family members.
- Avoid carrying cash around with you.
- Skip the trip to the ATM before you go out with friends.
- Accept secure payments for products or services on your small business website.
- Set up a Point Of Sale system in a brick-and-mortar business using a tablet.
- Accept payments on the go using a card swiper.
- Provide an alternative to personal checks, which can be risky.
Some of these won’t appeal to you, while others will. By looking through all the various features that are available, you can start to narrow down what you’re looking for in a payment app.
Best payment app features
As you’re researching payment apps, there are some features to consider. You may not even realize you can do some of these things using a payment app until you see one offering it as a feature. Here are some features you may find important in a payment app:
- Fees. Of course, we’d all love for everything to be fee free, but we know there’s a cost associated with some financial transactions. I look for an app that at least has a “friends” option, letting me send money without fees to people I know personally. Often you’ll have to link up a checking account to do this, though, as credit card-based transfers will typically incur a fee.
- Social feeds. This isn’t something I look for, but with peer-to-peer payments, some find social updates valuable. When you pay your buddy for your half of those summer concert tickets, this lets all your other friends know about it.
- Security. Yes, the verification process can be a pain with some of these apps, but I like it. It means that the platform takes security very seriously, which boosts my confidence that my financial data is safe with them.
- Send to email. Some peer-to-peer payment platforms let you send email to someone else using an email address or information from your contacts list. You can even send money within some email and messenger apps with just a tap on the screen. I found this comes in handy when you’re interacting with someone about upcoming plans. You can submit your share of the funds within the same message string to make sure the other person sees it.
- All-in-one functionality. Some apps combine the best of peer-to-peer and online payments, letting you pay using the same app. You’ll need to identify which businesses accept payment that way, but it can be a handy way to manage your budget.
- Expand payment options. Businesses face the ongoing issue of keeping things as convenient as possible for business. The more payment options you can offer, the less likely you’ll lose customers who are limited in how they can pay.
- International payments. The internet has opened businesses up to reach out to an international customer base. Being able to accept payments across multiple currencies with minimal fees is a huge bonus if you want to go global.
- If your business uses financial software, check for integrations. Being able to import information about your transactions can help you stay on top of things while reducing your own workload.
You don’t have to assume that there is no PayPal alternative out there. There are so many options that exist now to compete with PayPal.
But with easy online purchases comes the potential for fraud, too. Venmo had its fair share of fraud incidents, the consequences of which can be very serious. With online payment services exploding, you have to be very careful using them – ease may lead to carelessness and fraud.
The main features of each online payment system that you should consider are: the ease of use, fees, fraud protection, and where and how the system can be used. Not all payment systems are created equal.