Earlier this year, Google did away with Android Pay and Google Wallet in an attempt to unify all its digital wallet features into a single app: Google Pay. The rollout was anything but smooth (the first rendition didn’t have the option to send money to friends), but with more than 100 million downloads, Google Pay is becoming a dominant mobile wallet.
Is it the right mobile wallet for you? Here’s what you need to know about Google Pay.
How Google Pay Works
Google Pay works just like your personal wallet, only it’s digital. You can store credit card information, debit card information, loyalty cards, and select gift cards in the app. When you get to a store to pay, you simply unlock your phone, wave it over the digital payment processor, and wait for a blue check mark to appear. This option will allow you to use your “primary” card at the store.
If you want to use loyalty cards or gift cards, you actually have to open up the Google Pay app, have the cashier scan a barcode, and then complete the transaction. To change credit cards, you select the card you want, and then complete the “waving” to complete payment.
Google Pay also allows you to send money to friends via email (they’ll have to download Google Pay to receive the money) and to check out quickly online through certain apps and websites. It’s probably important to note that Google still has a separate P2P cash transfer app called Google Pay Send. This app is available on both Android and iOS devices. Since the features of Google Pay Send have been integrated into Google Pay, I suspect that Google Pay Send could disappear in the next year or so, but that may not be the case.
Of course, it’s important to note that at this point, going somewhere with just Google Pay and no backup option is risky. Plenty of stores don’t accept Google Pay (my three favorite grocery stores have the equipment, but can’t get it to work), and the digital payment technology seems to go down regularly (I’ve seen my local Starbucks forced into comping several drinks while the manager fixed the payment system).
What Features Does Google Pay Have?
Despite the rocky rollout earlier this year, Google Pay is now one of the most comprehensive digital wallets on the market. Here are a few of the important features:
Secure and Encrypted Card Storage
Personally, one of my big worries about using any form of digital storage is the ability for my information to be hacked and stolen. Google Pay uses the highest level of encryption, so it’s as safe as using your banking app.
That said, a hack at Google would be a pain. In the event of a hack (that affects Google Pay data), the most prudent people will need to have their banks reissue all their credit cards, and probably change their checking account number too. You will also need to use Touch ID to open Google Pay (a nice touch if your phone is lost or stolen).
Send Money to Friends
Initially, users need to use Google Wallet or the app Google Pay Send to send or request money from friends. However, today you can send money to any friend, as long as you have their email address or phone number. You can even use the Android voice command feature to send the cash.
To receive money, people will need to do a one-time download of Google Pay (or go to Pay.Google.com). They will need to connect their bank account to receive money.
Loyalty Program and Gift Card Storage
Google Pay isn’t just for credit cards, you can store loyalty program and gift cards on the app. That said, using these features can be a little bit cumbersome.
Some major apps including Airbnb and Instacart have integrated the Google Pay option into their apps. Users can choose to pay through Google Pay without having to enter or update any payment information.
Google Pay requires users to have an Android device. It also supports offline payments, so you don’t have to have Wi-Fi or data to make a payment.
What Are the Best Mobile Wallet Alternatives?
Apple Pay is the iOS alternative to Google Pay. It has nearly the same features as Google Pay, but doesn’t allow users to store gift card information at this point.
One advantage of Apple Pay is that it allows users to store their credit card information on both their Mac computer and their iPads. This makes online checkout very easy. If you’re already part of the Apple “ecosystem” it probably makes sense to use Apple Pay.
Samsung Pay offers most of the features of Google Pay, but it doesn’t currently allow users to send money to friends. It’s also supported on fewer Android devices, making it a somewhat inferior choice. However, Samsung Pay has a rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars on the Google Play store compared to Google Pay which boasts just 4.2 out of 5 stars.
Of course, not everyone wants to store their credit card information on their phone. If you’re just looking for a way to send money, Venmo, Cash App, and PayPal are all dominant person-to-person cash transfer apps. You’ll still have to store your bank account information in the cloud, but these are simple-to-use alternatives to a full mobile wallet.
Venmo is one of the most popular choices for sending money for college students and young adults today. In fact, it’s become my de facto favorite as well. It easily links to your bank account to add funds, and you can store money in the Venmo wallet and send as needed. The only “weird” feature of Venmo is that your transactions can be public — meaning others can see them — unless you mark them private. Keep that in mind when you use Venmo for the first time.
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him here.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.