As fewer of us still carry cash or checks, peer-to-peer (P2P) payments have become a popular method to send and receive money from friends, family members and even business customers in an instant.
According to the market research company eMarketer, P2P mobile payments totaled an estimated $309.95 billion dollars in 2019, and may grow to as much as $612.23 billion by 2023.
P2P payments are often more convenient and safer than exchanging cash or paper checks. Whether you're splitting a restaurant bill, paying back a family member or paying a business owner for services rendered, here are the top mobile payment apps to do it.
Owned by PayPal, Venmo is designed for peer-to-peer payments, though some small business owners offer it as a payment method.
It also includes a social aspect that allows you to like and comment on payments you make and those your friends make and add emojis and stickers to individual payments. If the social aspect of the app doesn't appeal to you, Venmo allows you to set it so only friends can view your payments, or so they remain private between you and the other party in the transaction.
To sign up for the service, download the mobile app, then use your email address or Facebook account and create a password to enroll. Next, you'll add a bank account and verify it by providing your login credentials or confirming microtransfers that Venmo will send to your account. Alternatively, you can add a debit or credit card.
Once your account is set up, you can send money using a debit or credit card, your bank account or your Venmo account balance. Note, however, that credit card payments incur a 3% fee. If you have a balance in your Venmo account, you can transfer it to your bank instantly (though transactions can take up to 30 minutes) for a 1% fee, or as soon as the next day for free.
You can also use Venmo to shop online almost anywhere that accepts PayPal. What's more, you can apply for a Venmo debit card, which allows you to shop anywhere in the U.S. using your Venmo balance.
One thing to keep in mind is that Venmo is only available in the U.S. and isn't compatible with foreign bank accounts and phone numbers.
Best for: Payments between friends and family members
- Can be used to shop online and in-store
- Offers quick transfers
- Fees for instant transfers
- No international use
- Default privacy settings make payments public
Zelle offers a mobile app, but you don't have to download it to send payments directly from your bank account. It's primarily meant for P2P payments, but business owners can also use it if their bank participates in the program. There's no way to use the service to shop online.
Zelle works directly with banks, so transfers from one account to another happen within minutes as long as both the sender and recipient are enrolled in the service.
To sign up, check Zelle's website to see if your bank or credit union participates in the service. Click on your institution and follow the instructions to register your account. If your bank or credit union isn't listed, you can download the Zelle app and enroll with a Visa or Mastercard debit card.
Once you establish your account, you can send money to anyone directly from your bank or credit union's mobile app or through the Zelle app. If the recipient is also a Zelle user, they'll receive the money within minutes directly in their bank account. If not, they'll receive an email with instructions on how to receive the money.
Best for: Fast payments directly to your bank account
- Offers free instant transfers
- Make transfers directly in your bank's mobile app
- Separate app for people whose bank doesn't participate
- Both parties must be registered to get free instant transfers
- No option for online shopping
- No international options
Cash App, by Square, is much more than a P2P mobile payments app. In addition to allowing you to send and receive payments, you can also:
- Get a Cash Card Visa debit card, which you can use to shop online and in-store using your Cash App balance
- Get savings when you use your Cash Card at participating merchants
- Set up direct deposit to have your paychecks deposited into your Cash App account
- Invest in stocks with as little as $1
- Buy and sell bitcoin
For P2P payments, you can connect your bank account or a debit or credit card from Visa, Mastercard, American Express or Discover. You can send payments internationally between the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Note, however, that credit card fees are 3% for each transaction.
If you want to transfer your Cash App balance to your bank account, you can do it instantly with a connected debit card for a 1.5% fee. Otherwise, the funds will arrive in one to three business days.
To sign up for Cash App, download the mobile app and add your phone number or email address. Then you can add your payment method of choice and get started.
Best for: An array of financial services
- Offers more than just P2P payments
- Provides the chance to earn savings on debit card purchases
- Allows direct deposits
- Transferring money to your bank can take up to three days
- Instant bank transfers cost 1.5% of the transfer amount
- Few international options
Primarily a digital wallet for online shopping and tap-and-pay purchases, Google Pay also allows you to make P2P payments using a debit card or bank account. Simply provide an email address, phone number or even a name of your recipient, and you can send or request money.
Because the app's primary function is as a digital wallet, you can add a debit or credit card to your Google Pay account and use it to make purchases online and in mobile apps, and also make in-store purchases using your phone to tap and pay. You can't, however, use a credit card for P2P payments. Also, you can only send money to family and friends in the U.S. and India.
If you want to transfer money from your Google Pay account to your bank account, you can do so for free. If you transfer via a linked debit card, you should receive your money within minutes but it can take up to 24 hours. Transfers to a bank account directly can take up five business days.
Set up Google Pay by downloading the app on your phone or visiting pay.google.com. You'll use your Google account to enroll seamlessly, then add a payment method to get started.
Best for: Digital wallet payments
- Can be used to shop online and in-store
- Free instant bank transfers with a debit card
- Downloading the mobile app is optional
- Bank transfers can take up to five business days
- Few international options
Founded in 1998, PayPal is one of the pioneers of the P2P industry, and it still offers a lot of features in a crowded field. Add a bank account, credit card or debit card, and you can send money to family members and friends, pay online and in-store merchants, and more.
The service also provides a variety of business-related features for business owners. There's no fee for sending money to family and friends via a linked bank account or when you use a PayPal Cash debit card. But if you send money using your credit card or debit card, there's a 2.9% fee on each transaction, plus a fixed fee, depending on the currency.
You also won't pay a fee on online or in-store purchases, but payments sent in return for goods and services incur a fee of 2.9% plus $0.30 for the recipient.
Where PayPal really shines compared with other P2P apps is with international transfers. You can send money to more than 200 countries and in 25 different currencies.
If you want to transfer your PayPal balance to your bank account, you can do so for free and get the money the next business day. If you want it sooner, you can request an instant transfer via a linked bank account or debit card for a 1% fee.
You can sign up by downloading the PayPal app or by registering on the company's website.
Best for: International transfers and business
- Several ways to pay other people and businesses
- Wide international reach for P2P payments
- Offers fraud protection on covered items purchased using PayPal
- Charges a fee if you use a debit card to send money
- Instant transfers will cost you 1% of the transfer amount
How to Make the Most of Mobile Payment Services
There's no single P2P mobile payment service out there for everyone, and it's not uncommon for someone to use more than one P2P payment app, depending on the situation. As you consider which ones are best for you, compare all the features, including transfer time, fees and ease of use.
Also, make a note of each service's limitations, especially for the specific reasons you're planning to use a P2P mobile payment app. Some apps are more popular than others, which means that some people you want to send or receive money from may not have the same one you use.
For security, always be cautious about how and to whom you send money. P2P payment platforms are gaining popularity with scammers thanks to often lax consumer protections. You may buy concert tickets or merchandise through an online merchant that requires payment via Venmo, Zelle or Cash App, only to get nothing in return. In a scenario like this, many of these apps don't provide much in the way of fraud protection, and you may never get your money back.
It may be helpful to view payments sent through these apps as equivalent to sending cash—once it's gone, it's gone. With that in mind, avoid sending money through a mobile payment service unless you know the person or they've already provided the good or service you're paying for. Also, make sure to verify that you're sending the money to the correct account—if you type in the wrong username or email address, you could be left with little recourse.
PayPal is the only platform that offers fraud protection, but only if you're using the service to purchase covered goods—for example, items bought in person, money sent to friends or family, motorized vehicles and more aren't covered under the policy.
Finally, keep in mind that there may be situations where it makes more sense to use a different payment method entirely. Communicate with the person you're planning to send money to, so you can determine the best way to do it.