Money transfer apps have changed how we pay each other.
Gone are the days when we would wonder if we’d ever see the money someone promised to pay us for their share of something. Now we know they don’t need cash or a checkbook to pony up. And we also know that the best money transfer app is the one that works for you.
PayPal: Most Experienced Money Transfer App
Venmo: Most Like Social Media Money Transfer App
Zelle: Most Accommodating Money Transfer App
Cash App (Formerly Square Cash): Most Global-Friendly Money Transfer App
Facebook Pay: Most Socially Connected Money Transfer App
Google Pay and Apple Pay: Most Adaptable Money Transfer Apps
How Money Transfer Apps Work
Money transfer apps are an easy, secure way to exchange money between friends or family. By downloading an app on your phone, or in some cases going to a web site, you can send money to people. All you need is their mobile phone number or email address.
The apps are linked to bank accounts, debit cards or credit cards, which is how they access your funds and transfer money with just a few taps. Some payments are free, but others have fees, which often depends on how you fund the transfer.
When someone sends you money through the app, you can get access to the money by initiating a transfer to your bank account. Some apps allow you to store money with their service for easy access.
These types of apps are not the same as the payment-processing apps businesses use for transactions, but some companies do offer both.
All of the apps are available wherever you usually get apps for your phone.
What to Look for With Money Transfer Apps
When looking at the different apps, here are some things to look for.
Fees: Some apps charge a fee for paying someone by credit card or sending money internationally.
Transfer time: How long does it take to get your money? Some are instant, while some take some time.
Security: Is the transaction encrypted on both ends?
Limits: Some apps limit the number of transactions you can do in a set period of time. Others limit the amount of money you can send.
Customer service: How can you contact someone if there is a mistake with a transfer or a transfer happens that you didn’t authorize?
Protection: Unlike bank accounts, many balances in money transfer apps are not insured against loss or fraud.
Correct information: Make sure you check and double check the recipient’s information before you confirm a payment. Once you send a payment, is it often impossible to get it back unless the recipient refuses it.
How the Best Money Transfer Apps Stack Up
The best app for you might not be the best for someone else. It all depends how you plan to use them. Chances are, you’ll use different ones for different purposes.
Speed of Transfer
Protection & Security
None for transfers between bank accounts; can also enroll debit cards tied to a bank account
Uses bank’s security infrastructure, so it is as secure as your bank
New as of Aug. 2, 2021: Free for linked bank account, 2.9% for credit or debit card
A few days for bank account, instant transfers cost 1.5%
Encryption, fraud protection, dispute resolution, purchase protection
New as of Aug. 2, 2021: Free for linked bank account, 3% for credit card
1-3 days for standard transfer, instant transfer for 1.5% fee
Most like social media
Uses PayPal security features
None for linked bank accounts, 3% for credit card
A few days, instant transfers are 1.5%
Most global friendly
Encryption, security locks, fraud protection, account notifications
Uses credit cards, debit cards, or PayPal account, does not link directly to a bank account; No fees
Up to one business day
Most socially connected
Can create a PIN or use device’s biometric security
With debit card up to 24 hours; 3 to 4 days with bank account
Multiple layers of security protection
1 to 3 days or 30 minutes with Instant Transfer linked to eligible debit card
Like Google Pay, also an adaptable app
Multiple layers of security protection
PayPal is the grandparent of money transfer apps, as it’s been around the longest and is probably the most familiar to many people.
How it works: PayPal is secure and you can send money both domestically and internationally, although fees apply for international transfers. You can also use PayPal online and not just from a phone app.
To send money via PayPal, you’ll need to know the email address or mobile number of the person you’re sending money to. Both the payer and the recipient will need PayPal accounts to transfer money.
People can also request payments through PayPal.
Fees: The fee structure for PayPal can get a bit confusing. You won’t pay any fees if you’re sending money from a linked bank account or through the app. However, if you want to use a credit or debit card, you’ll have to fork over a 2.9% fee (plus a transaction fee if you’re using a currency other than the U.S. dollar). Those transaction fees vary.
Transferring the money from PayPal to a linked bank account is free, but can take a few days. Instant transfers are available for a 1% fee. That fee increases to 1.5% on Aug. 2, 2021. You can also have PayPal mail a paper check to you for $1.50.
International transfers: You can transfer money internationally, but if you’re sending money to someone outside of the United States, be aware that you’ll be subject to a different fee structure.
PayPal also offers business accounts, which can be a simple way to get paid for goods and services you provide through your job or business. Please note the fees are different for merchant accounts. Many fees for business users increase Aug. 2, 2021.
Pros and Cons: PayPal has many protections in place to keep you from losing money. If either the sender or recipient has an issue, PayPal will put a hold on the funds. There are also business accounts to pay for goods and services, but the fees are higher than for personal use.
Venmo serves two purposes: It’s a secure way to pay while also connecting you with the people you pay. (Venmo’s parent company is PayPal.)
Venmo has a social media feel, including a feed that allows you to share who you paid and what you paid them for. (You can even use emoji!) Venmo says the average user checks the app several times a week to see what their friends are up to. Venmo can also link up with your phone or Facebook contacts.
If you’re not interested in publicizing your financial transactions with friends and family, you can turn this option off.
How it works: You can send money to anyone, as long as they also have a Venmo account. You just need their mobile number or email address. Users can also request payments.
Fees: Venmo is secure and is free to send money using a balance within the Venmo app, linked bank account, debit card or prepaid card. You’ll pay a 3% fee when you use a credit card to send money.
Transferring money from Venmo to your linked bank account is free with a standard transfer. This could take some time, usually 1-3 business days.
If you’re short on time, you can initiate an instant transfer, which carries a 1% fee or a minimum of $.25 and a maximum of $10. These fees increase Aug. 2, 2021 to 1.5% to transfer instantly with the same minimum but an increased maximum fee of $15.
Venmo users can also buy or sell cryptocurrencies with fees attached.
International transfers: Both sender and receiver need to have U.S. bank accounts, so sending money abroad isn’t possible.
Pros and Cons: The fact Venmo feels like social media can be both good or bad, depending how you look at it. Others you are connected to will know who you’re conducting business with and when. For those of us who are bad at math, a function of the app will help you split bills. It is also easy to request money from people within the app.
Zelle is part of most banking apps and allows you to securely send money almost instantly between bank accounts. It works with hundreds of US banks.
Each bank determines the types of accounts that are eligible to be part of Zelle. Credit cards, international debit cards or international bank accounts cannot link to Zelle.
How it works: You need an email address or a phone number to send money. The sender and recipient don’t need to be customers of the same bank; they only need to both be enrolled in Zelle.
In most cases, you’ll need your regular online banking user name and password to enroll and link accounts within Zelle. However, if you want to use the Zelle app — instead of initiating transfers using your bank’s app — you’ll need a separate login.
If you don’t have a smartphone, you can also send money using Zelle at your bank’s website.
Fees: Zelle charges no fees for sending or receiving money. However, individual banks might have a fee.
Pros and Cons: The fact you probably already have the capability of using Zelle within your online or mobile banking app or line is a definite plus. The only thing you need to do is to sign up using an email or mobile phone number and you can start sending and receiving money right away. The fact transfers are also almost immediate is a good thing because you get paid quickly, just make sure you’re sending money to the right person. Also, it is not possible to use a credit card with Zelle, just linked bank accounts.
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Cash App sets itself apart in a couple of ways. For one, it not only handles regular currencies; it also handles cryptocurrency.
You can also get special offers called “cash boosts,” which can include discounts like 20% off DoorDash or 15% off Chipotle. The cash boosts change regularly, which many users say makes the app worth checking out on a regular basis.
How it works: To send money, you need to know the recipient’s email address, phone number or unique ID the app calls a $cashtag.
When you sign up, you’ll need to link at least one bank account to the app. You can also store funds in the app.
Fees: There are no fees to send or receive money between friends if you have a linked bank account or debit card with accepted financial institutions. There is a 3% fee to send money using a credit card.
Like the other apps, Cash App is secure and transferring your money to your bank account is free but can take a few days. Instant cash outs will cost 1.5% with a $.25 minimum.
Cash App allows you to use your money to buy stocks or convert dollars to bitcoin, but there are fees associated with these services.
International transfers: Cash App is mostly used within the United States, but it can also be used to facilitate transfers between the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
Pros and Cons: Cash App markets itself as more than just a money transfer app. The app also has a banking-type feature that allows users to receive their paychecks and other direct deposits earlier than most banks. But be aware, the money you leave in the app isn’t insured.
If you want to send money to people you’re already connected with on Facebook, Messenger, Instagram. Portal and WhatsApp (in limited places and eventually more), Facebook Pay might work for you.
You can also use Facebook Pay to buy many items you see in Facebook or Instagram ads or from Facebook Marketplace or Facebook Shop Through fundraisers, you can even use it to donate to a cause or make in-game purchases.
How it works: Facebook Pay isn’t a standalone app, but rather an enhancement to those primary social media apps, so you’ll need to set it up in each app.
To set up Facebook Pay:
Instagram: You can first set things up on Facebook or Messenger and then connect the payment info through the Instagram app, or you can set it up directly in the Instagram app. Messenger: You can connect your Facebook Pay information to Messenger or set it up in the Messenger app. Once everything is working, you just attach a payment like you attach a photo.
Portal: Just connect your existing Facebook Pay information to Portal or you can do it separately.
WhatsApp: Brazil was the first country where WhatsApp rolled out a way to send money and that happened in June of 2020. The feature is expected to expand to other countries in the future.
One big difference between Facebook Pay and other money transfer apps is you cannot link it directly to a bank account. Instead, you connect the service to a credit card, debit card or PayPal account.
Facebook Pay is secure, but if you want added security, you can create a PIN or use your device’s biometrics security every time you make a payment.
Fees: There is no fee to send or receive money through Facebook Pay.
International transfers: Facebook Pay is expanding to other countries outside of the United States.
Pros and Cons: It’s super-convenient to be able to send money, donate money, and buy things from whatever app you might be using and familiar with. You might want to set up extra security features just in case someone gets a hold of your accounts. Customer support is available 24/7 via chat or email.
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Apple Pay started as ways to store your personal payment information, like credit and debit card numbers, and to make contactless payments using your phone and an encrypted number instead of your actual credit card number.
How they work: Now they’re also handling peer-to-peer payments, which means you can send or receive money if you have the other person’s email address or phone number.
Google Pay makes peer-peer-payment using debit card information. The app has a rewards program where you can earn cashback rewards if you activate certain offers. Some offers might include cash back with a minimum spend at places like REI, Target, or Warby Parker.
Soon, Google Pay has plans to offer a program called Plex which is a digital bank account with a variety of banks and credit unions.
Apple Pay goes a step further and allows you to pay someone in the iMessages messaging app. Apple Pay is built into devices so there is no separate app to download. Apple says more than 85% of retailers in the United States accept it.
Both Apple Pay and Google Pay payment methods are secure.
Fees: No fees for transfer of money to family or friends, and also no payment when you use the app to pay for purchases. There are fees if you use the apps to buy on credit. Up to 4% on Google and %3 on Apple.
Pros and Cons: The apps are easy to set up and use and they keep a good record of what you’ve spent and where. Some users say the communication about platform changes along with terms and conditions could be better.
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Transferring Money Internationally
While some of the above money transfer apps can be used to transfer internationally, other apps and websites focus primarily on transferring large sums of money internationally. Check exchange rates in each app when you send money internationally.
From our research, you don’t need dedicated international money transfer apps. One of the apps discussed in this story will work as an international money transfer service.
However, popular apps for international money transfers are:
WorldRemit: People in more than 50 countries can send money to people in more than 130 countries using a phone or computer. Many of the transfers happen instantly. Fees vary. One recent change is WorldRemit no longer accepts Google Pay.
Western Union: Has been around for years and works in more than 200 countries and territories.
OFX: Competitive rates compared to banks and has a minimum of $1,000.
Azimo Money Transfer: The first two transfers are free. Instant or one-hour transfers are possible to many countries.
Remitly: This app adds the possibility of physically delivering the money to the recipient’s home instead of just a cash pickup or depositing it into a bank account. The rates vary by country.
Pros and Cons: Sending money internationally has never been easier, however the fees can really add up.
Money Transfer Etiquette
In today’s world of instant gratification and constant connections, what is proper money transfer etiquette?
In July 2019, Venmo surveyed 1,000 users and then partnered with an etiquette expert to help create some modern money manners.
Here are a few of the survey’s findings:
75% said it’s appropriate to wait 24 hours before issuing a request for payment.
24 hours is the longest you should wait before paying someone.
42% said the person who pays for dinner when the check comes back for the entire group should be paid immediately — before anyone leaves the table.
24% said no amount is too small to ask for, even $1 to $5.
As for advice from the etiquette expert, Venmo suggests:
Practice social awareness: When using apps that have a social component, be careful of emojis and inside jokes that could embarrass someone. You never know who might see it.
Respond quickly: If you can’t pay someone within 24 hours, send the person a text or email saying why you can’t pay them back.
Stay in contact: Don’t just ghost someone and make your friends and family track you down. It isn’t fun.
Discuss: If you’re going to split payments, discuss this plan before an event. Don’t surprise someone with a money request. Also, if you pick up the check and say something like “I got this,” don’t expect people to pay you back.
Correct mistakes: If a money request has the wrong amount, politely point out the discrepancy, and decline the transaction. Send back money if someone sends you more than you were expecting.
The survey also found 65% of people say it’s more stressful to owe someone money than to be owed money. The money transfer apps make it easy to relieve that stress — by paying up.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What Is The Safest App to Transfer Money?
All of the apps mentioned have several security features in place to keep your account numbers and personal information private. Just make sure you send money to the right person. Once you tap send, it’s sometimes difficult to get the money back.
What App Transfers Money Instantly to a Bank Account?
Zelle provides instant transfers between bank accounts for free. Most of the other apps will do instant transfers, but there is a cost associated with them.
What Happens If I Send Money to the Wrong Person?
Sadly, that depends on the app. In some cases, you can contact customer service and they can help reverse the process. In others, you have to rely on the honesty of the wrong recipient to decline the transfer
Do I Need a Smartphone to Use Money Transfer Apps?
The answer is, it depends. If your bank or credit union uses Zelle, you can often send and receive money from the financial institution’s website. It’s similar for PayPal. Venmo has some services available online, but not all.
Tiffani Sherman is a Florida-based freelance reporter with more than 25 years of experience writing about finance, health, travel and other topics.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.