Digital wallets, or mobile payments, are becoming more widely used, with estimates at around 4.4 billion users by 2025, according to Juniper Research. It’s vital for small businesses to adopt the technology needed to take these payments. Fortunately, the most popular mobile payment services also happen to be the best.
Although we chose Apple Pay as the best mobile payment service after researching all the options and comparing market share, pros, and cons, we suggest reading more about the other top picks. After all, the more payment options you offer customers, the better odds are that you can close a sale.
I’ve worked as a journalist and tech expert for more than 20 years. I transitioned from a features reporter and editor to tech writer when I joined a review website, where I tested everything from encryption software to robot vacuums.
Eventually, I chose software as my expertise and worked for many large publishers to cover a wide range of programs for retailers, marketers, and small businesses of all kinds. I’ve provided my thoughts on topics such as GPS (global positioning system) and payment processing technologies for a variety of publications, including Forbes, L.A. Times, Tom’s Guide, and Reader’s Digest.
How I Rated the Best Mobile Payment Services
Testing mobile payment services mostly comes down to ease of use. The other ways in which I rated the best mobile payment apps was through research. I compared security features, transaction limits, and fees, if present. It’s also important to consider how widely each mobile wallet option is accepted, the market share of specific devices (and the payment app itself), and where you can make payments in person and online.
Ease of use
The last thing you need is for a mobile payment app to be difficult to use; after all, they’re supposed to make paying for goods and services more efficient. I tested the installation of each app to make sure they’re easy to implement (they are).
In fact, I regularly use three of the five listed apps myself.
Paying for items should be simple, too. You should be able to make contactless payments with these apps using your phone, other devices, and online.
For merchants, it should be just as easy to offer mobile payment options. Most payment processors offer NFC card readers so you can take contactless payments. With that said, not all payment processors accept all mobile payments.
Perhaps the most important factor in choosing which mobile payments to accept and which app to use is security. Once upon a time, signing for credit cards was considered secure; then PINs (personal identification numbers) were the height of security. Now I look for payment options that offer tokenization or biometric security that only allows transactions if you use your fingerprint or other physical characteristics.
Encrypting data is also helpful, so your payment information is secure as it travels from app to merchant to payment processor. Even better is the tokenization I mentioned above. It turns a customer’s PAN (primary account number) into a scrambled string of numbers that are unique each time, so no code can be broken to steal payment information.
Fees and limits
As a merchant, the cost of doing business comes from transaction fees. The good news is that, as of now, there’s no extra fee associated with accepting mobile payments.
Most mobile payment apps charge the banks directly for completing transactions. However, this cost may be passed on to you through the percentage you pay.
Users generally shouldn’t see any fees associated with making payments through a mobile payment app. In some cases, you may need to pay a fee for quick cash transfers, such as from PayPal to your bank account. Otherwise, you must generally wait for one to three days.
Using a credit card to make a cash transfer may also come with a fee similar to a transaction fee merchants pay.
Most mobile payment services limit how much money you can transfer from peer to peer or from customer to merchant. These limits may be per transaction, week, or day.
For example, Apple Pay allows up to $10,000 per transaction but also only up to $10,000 per week. Verified PayPal accounts are varied — you may be limited to $10,000 or $60,000, or you may have no limits on the amount you can send.
A frustrating limitation of mobile payment apps is when they only work on one type of operating system (I’m looking at you two, Apple Pay and Samsung). There’s one caveat to this type of monopoly, but I’ll cover more below. Some of the best mobile payment services work on any device because they work through apps made for the most popular operating systems.
Whether you’re a merchant or a customer, it’s a good idea to consider which mobile payment services have the top market share. The most common smartphone in the U.S. is the iPhone, so it stands to reason that Apple Pay would be widely accepted and used. However, Google Pay can be used on Android and iOS devices, so it covers most smartphones in the U.S.
There are outliers, of course. Samsung has a large market share of smartphones globally, so as a merchant, you might do well to accept Samsung Pay, especially if you have a lot of international customers.
And then there’s the PayPal and Zelle apps, which are generally used online or to pay peers. If you accept these forms of payment, you might make a sale that you’d have otherwise missed out on by not accepting them.
Despite Apple Pay only being available on Apple devices, it’s one of the most secure, easiest to use, and widely-accepted mobile payment apps around. It’s free to use to make payments in person or online — and you can send cash to people you know.
Starting price: Free for users, standard payment processing rates for merchants
Security: Uses tokenization
Transaction limit: $10,000 per transaction
Device compatibility: iOS, watchOS, Mac OS (operating system), iPadOS, Safari
Market share: 85%+ retailers accept Apple Pay; <55% of smartphones are iPhones (in the U.S.)
Apple Pay lets you store credit and debit cards, gift cards, and even cash in the app. Source: Apple Pay
Apple Pay is one of the best-known ways to make mobile payments. According to Apple, more than 85% of retailers in the U.S. accept Apple Pay, which makes it practically ubiquitous. It also offers one of the most secure ways to pay for goods in person, surpassing that of debit and credit cards.
The best payment processors should offer an NFC card reader to enable you to accept it. I use Apple Pay for purchases in places notorious for card skimming. Unbeknownst to merchants, many people fall victim to card skimmers installed at gas stations, ATMs, and restaurants.
One of the reasons Apple Pay has such strong security is that Apple encrypts your credit card data on its servers and then encrypts it with unique tokens each time you use it. You have to authenticate each transaction using your fingerprint, face recognition, or your six-digit PIN for your phone. Apple Pay’s strongest selling points are its security and the fact that it’s widely accepted.
Apple Pay doesn’t cost extra for merchants or users. Rather, Apple Pay charges banks directly. The cost may be felt by merchants, but it’s miniscule.
Other benefits of Apple Pay: As a merchant, you can accept it online, and as a user, you can use it from your Mac or iPad via the Safari browser. Plus, you can use it to send money to friends or family (U.S. only).
The only downside to Apple Pay is that it’s only available on Apple products, which alienates a whole user base that prefers Android OS or Samsung.
Who is Apple Pay best for?
The obvious answer to who Apple Pay is best for is Apple product users, but beyond that, I suggest all merchants get a card reader that accepts Apple Pay. I find it’s the most secure method of payment — especially in person.
If you accept Apple Pay on your website, customers can pay online with Apple Pay if they use the Safari browser or via their own app.
Recent upgrades to Apple Pay
I’d heard rumors about this recent upgrade to Apple Pay, and I think it could threaten all other mobile payment providers if they don’t also do this. You can turn your iPhone into a card reader using Adyen, Square, or Stripe as your payment processor. Literally, a customer can just tap their phone or watch to your iPhone to pay.
Another big trend in the payments world is buy now, pay later, and Apple is getting on board with Apple Pay Later. As a merchant, you don’t have to do anything, and as a customer, you can choose this mobile payment method to split a big purchase into four smaller payments and pay zero interest.
Apple Pay pricing
In addition to working on iPhones, iPads, and online, Apple Pay works on Apple Watch, too.
Whether you’re a retailer or a user, Apple Pay won’t cost you anything extra to accept it or use it. So, how does Apple make its money through Apple Pay? If you’re transferring Apple Cash to a bank account, you can do so with no fees, but you have to wait a couple days for the transfer to complete, or you can pay 1.5% (to a max of $15) to get an instant transfer.
Apple also makes money by charging the bank that issued the card 0.15% fee.
Unlike many other mobile payment apps, Google Pay works on most devices because it’s tied to your Google account. This makes it easy for you (if you use Google, anyway) to make payments online or in person. And Google Pay is easy for you to accept whether you run an online store or a brick-and-mortar shop.
Starting price: Free for users, standard payment processing rates for merchants
Security: Uses tokenization
Transaction limit: $5,000 per transaction
Device compatibility: iOS, Android
Market share: 25 million users (2021, U.S.), or 21% of market
Google Pay works on almost any device, and you can use the mobile wallet for tap-to-pay at many retailers with NFC card readers.
Google Pay combined Android Pay and Google Wallet to create Google Pay to compete with other mobile payment apps. It chose a more homogenized path for users by creating an app for iOS and Android, so you can use it on almost any device.
If you want to accept Google Pay at your store, you need to have two things: a contactless card reader and a UPI ID (unified payments interface identity). To accept Google Pay online, you need to use the Google API (application programming interface) and a payment processor that supports it — many of the best do.
The benefit of accepting Google Pay is that you provide a secure way for your customers to make payments.
Also, Google Pay is super organized; I like that I can see how much I’m spending through Google Pay and see how much I spend at each merchant.Its strongest selling points are security and compatibility — it uses tokenization like other mobile payment apps, and you can use it on almost any device.
One of the things I like best about Google Pay is that it combines so many mobile payment methods. I can use it to purchase items in-store, online, or use it to send money to friends. The peer-to-peer method does cost you, though (see pricing below).
Google Pay is a bit limiting in a few ways. I couldn’t use it on my Apple Watch. And the transaction limits are a bit confusing, but more on that under pricing.
Who is Google Pay best for?
I personally use Google Pay specifically for Google purchases — it’s just easier to set up subscriptions that way. Otherwise I stick to Apple Pay because it makes more sense for my iPhone and Apple Watch.
With that said, I think Google Pay is a great choice for you to have as a merchant just to give customers more options. And as a user, I think it makes sense for you to use it if you aren’t already using another mobile payment app.
I would say Google Pay isn’t the pick for debit card transfers; although the 1.5% fee (minimum of $0.31) is low, you can use another peer-to-peer app for paying friends and family with no fee. Also, you both have to be using Google Pay for it to work.
You can easily see retailers, restaurants, and people you’ve paid using Google Pay.
Recent upgrades to Google Pay
Google has brought back Google Wallet. It’s only available for Android devices, but it works similarly to Apple Wallet. You can store boarding passes, event tickets, and credit and debit cards in your Google Wallet.
Make checkout quick and give your customers more choice by adding Google Pay to your online checkouts.
You won’t be charged anything to use Google Pay, whether you’re a merchant or a user. However, there is a small 1.5% fee for debit card transfers from your Google Pay balance (minimum of $0.31).
Pros and cons of Google Pay
Works on Android and iOS
Pay peers or merchants in person and online
Works across multiple devices
Users must pay a 1.5% fee on debit transfers from Google Pay balance
Zelle is a mobile payment app that works by connecting directly to your bank account. You can use Zelle to pay bills, friends, or even service workers — and the beauty is that you don’t have to use the same bank for it to work.
Starting price: Free for users
Security: Uses authentication
Transaction limit: Varies
Device compatibility: iOS, Android, banking apps
Market share: 15.1 million users (2021, U.S.)
Zelle makes it easy to send or receive money — it’s available in most banking and credit union apps.
Zelle has quite a bit of competition in the P2P (peer-to-peer) payment market, and it somewhat competes with the business side of mobile payment apps. It’s managing to do well despite its smaller user base because it positioned itself inside banking apps across the U.S., making it an easy choice for sending money to friends or even service-based businesses.
Open your banking app and you’re likely to see Zelle in there. It’s in my banking apps and I use it. If I just want to transfer money from one bank to another, I just use the regular transfer option, but if I want to send money to a friend or my landscaper, I use Zelle.
Zelle has made it ridiculously easy for you to send or receive money. All you have to do is connect your banking account by verifying your identity using a phone number or an email address, which should also be associated with your bank.
In fact, its strongest selling point might be that you don’t even have to have Zelle in your banking app to receive money. Just download the Zelle app and register to get your cash deposited to your account.
I’m a big fan of Zelle because transfers are instant and there are no fees. With that said, Zelle doesn’t offer purchase protection, so I have to be 100% certain I can trust those I send money to.
Who is Zelle best for?
My testing and research showed that businesses may have a harder time using Zelle. As long as you’re using a bank that supports Zelle it’s possible, but it’s better if you’re running a service-based business that tends to send invoices to customers. For example, I use it to pay my landscaper. I think it’s also best for you if you’re just sending money to someone you know; all you need is their phone number or email address to send.
You don’t even need to be a Zelle user to receive money; all a sender needs is your phone number or email address to send you money.
Recent upgrades to Zelle
There are no published roadmaps for Zelle. The most recent upgrade to Zelle is how many financial institutions signed up to include Zelle in their apps (more than 1,100 at publication time).
It’s easy to request money from others and split the cost for something using Zelle.
Zelle doesn’t charge a fee for sending or receiving money. Small businesses can even accept payments via Zelle and there’s zero fee (at least by Zelle). Some banks may charge you a fee as a business, but it’s likely on par with low transaction fees.
Pros and cons of Zelle
Fast money transfers
Send money to friends or businesses using bank account
PayPal is one of the best-known online and mobile payment apps in the world, which is why it’s captured more than 40% of the online payment market share. It’s easy to use and there are no fees to send or receive money to others. Small businesses are smart to include PayPal as a payment option — especially online.
Starting price: Free for purchases, varied rates for other purposes
Security: Uses encryption and monitoring
Transaction limit: $4,000 to $60,000 per transaction
Device compatibility: iOS, Android, browsers
Market share: 42% of global online payments
It’s easy to check out online via PayPal; you just need to click a button and log into your PayPal to pay.
PayPal is practically synonymous with online shopping. More than 425 million people use the online and mobile payment app, which is one of the largest user bases. It helps that PayPal is free to use, can be used via an app for iOS or Android, or can use it on a browser.
If you run an online store and you aren’t offering PayPal as a checkout option, you could be losing out on big revenue. According to a study by Forrester Consulting (paid for by PayPal), 35% of mobile users abandoned a purchase because their preferred method of payment wasn’t available.
I use PayPal regularly because I’ve found it’s easier to keep all my online purchases in one place in case I need to return anything; I’ve never had an issue with refunds. It’s fair to say PayPal’s biggest benefit is that it’s easy to make payments online, and it’s also easy to add a PayPal button to your online store.
I will say that I like the idea of being able to pay for purchases in person with PayPal. It isn’t nearly as straightforward as the tap-to-pay method most mobile payment apps use, but it’s still doable. PayPal has its own POS (point of sale) system, or you can set up a QR (quick response) code to let customers pay for items with their mobile devices.
Who is PayPal best for?
I feel like everyone is already using PayPal, and it’s right for everyone. Mostly, I’d say it’s a great pick for online sellers, though it’s also workable for in-store payments. It’s easy to use a QR code to pay, but if you haven’t used QR codes before then you might need a little instruction. Just use your mobile phone’s camera to scan the QR code.
You can easily send money to someone you know on PayPal. It’s equally easy to send money to small businesses or freelancers using a phone number or email address.
Recent upgrades to PayPal
It’s safe to say PayPal is mostly an online payment solution, but it seems to always be branching out in other ways. It’s a financial institution in its own right, with options for buying and selling cryptocurrencies, as a bank, and now you can even set up a savings account with PayPal.
In fact, you can earn 3.25% APY (average percentage yield), which is massive. Compare it to Bank of America’s, which is only 0.01% for standard savings accounts.
PayPal is now offering a savings account if you want to keep your PayPal balance rather than transfer it to your bank account.
It costs nothing for you to send or receive money to family and friends. If you’re a business owner, though, you’re going to pay a myriad of fees depending on how you receive money for goods or services. I can’t show you all the rates (you can see PayPal’s merchant fees here), but the range is 1.5% to 8% (average rates are 2.99%).
It’s also worth noting that instant transfers from your PayPal balance to your bank account will incur a 1.75% fee. And as a business owner, you’re looking at some high chargeback fees ($20) and dispute fees ($15 to $30).
Samsung may be best known for electronics, which could be why it offers one of the most unique value propositions in the mobile payment app space: It works on older card readers. It also offers a points reward system for using its app.
Starting price: Free for users, standard payment processing rates for merchants
Security: Uses tokenization
Transaction limit: N/A
Device compatibility: Galaxy devices, GearOS
Market share: 16.3 million users, or <20% smartphone global share
You can store up to 10 payment cards in your Samsung Pay wallet.
Samsung Pay has stepped up the mobile payment app game with many features not found in its competitors’ apps. You can use it to pay for goods and services almost anywhere credit cards are accepted, earn rewards, and breathe easy knowing it’s secure.
As a merchant, you don’t have to worry too much about how to accept Samsung Pay. Even if you have an older card reader, it should still accept Samsung Pay payments, though this is being phased out for newer Galaxy models.
Honestly, that is one of Samsung Pay’s biggest selling points.
I have to say I was surprised to see a rewards program from Samsung Pay. Typically you expect rewards programs from credit cards, not a payment app, so it’s a nice bonus that you can get cash back. Also, you shouldn’t see any added fees for accepting or using Samsung Pay.
Who is Samsung Pay best for?
In my research and testing of Samsung Pay, I found that it’s easy for merchants to accept. You don’t even have to do anything to ensure you can accept it, but maybe check with your payment processor to make sure it isn’t a problem.
Also, it should go without saying that you’ll only use Samsung Pay if you have a Galaxy phone.
Is it worth it to switch your phone to use Samsung Pay? I’m going to say no for now. It has some nice features, but you can’t use it to pay for gas at the pump, and it doesn’t have a browser-based app for paying online.
If you use Samsung Pay to buy stuff at certain retailers, you can earn points for rewards and cash back.
Recent upgrades to Samsung Pay
Samsung Pay is a bit quiet about how it improves its app, so there isn’t much to say about recent upgrades. There does seem to be a plan in the works to make Samsung Pay available in more markets.
As of now, Samsung Pay works in most retail shops around the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy.
Samsung Pay pricing
Samsung has figured out how to send a magnetic signal from your app to a swipe card reader.
There are no fees to use Samsung Pay. In fact, Samsung offers you its 30% off employee discount on Samsung products.
It’s easy for me to test mobile payment services because I use so many of them, including a few not even on this list. For the ones I wasn’t familiar with, I downloaded the app and tested as a consumer. This is mostly to get a feel for the app and how easy it is to pay for goods or services with it.
I also looked at how each mobile payment service allows business owners to accept payments. The easiest way to get you to adopt these payment options is to incorporate it into what you’re already using, like a contactless card reader.
While it’s important for you to offer many payment options to your customers, you have to consider the cost of doing business. I know you have to pay transaction fees anyway, but if you have to pay more on top of that, is it worth it? And if you pass along those fees to the customer, well that’s not always legal (see the credit card surcharge controversy).
Transaction limits are also important to you as an individual and as a business owner. If you’re too limited by lower transaction limits, you may not be able to reasonably do some business with one app.
At the end of all my testing and researching, I found there’s a good reason to use any one of the mobile payment apps on this list. They’re all excellent ways to accept money for business or to split the bill on a pizza in their own right.
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