The 5 Most Downloaded P2P Apps to Send Money Safely

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Peer-to-peer (P2P) money apps make it easy to transfer cash. But with so many options to choose from, it can be hard to decide which app—or apps—you should use.

In part, your top choice may depend on your social circles. If your friends, spouse or roommates use a particular app, it may be most convenient to join them. But there are still pros and cons to consider, and a particular feature might lead you to try a new option.

According to a report from Apptopia, an app analytics and business intelligence company, the following five choices were the most downloaded P2P payment apps in the U.S. during the first half of 2021. You can download all of them onto your iOS or Android device.

1. Cash App

Square's Cash App allows you to link to debit cards, credit cards and many government payment cards to send payments. You can also have money directly deposited to your Cash App account.

Use your Cash App to instantly send money to other Cash App users, including users in the U.K. To send money, you'll need the person's phone number, email address or username, called a $cashtag. There's a 3% fee to send money using a linked credit card, but the other options are free.

If you receive money via Cash App, you can transfer it to a linked bank account and access the funds in one to three business days. Or, you can request an instant transfer to an eligible debit card for a fee.

Cash App also offers a free Visa debit card that you can use to spend your Cash App balance. Alternatively, you can use your balance to invest in stocks and Bitcoin from the app, with fractional shares starting at $1.

Pros

  • No fees when using a debit card
  • Earn cash back Boosts with a Cash Card debit card
  • Send money between the U.S. and U.K without additional fees

Cons

  • Fee for instant transfers
  • Limited international options
  • Cash App balances don't accrue interest

2. Google Pay

Primarily a digital wallet, Google Pay lets you add bank accounts, credit cards, debit cards and transit passes to your account. You can use your account and phone to tap to pay at eligible stores and transit systems.

For P2P transfers, you can find someone using their name, phone number, email address or QR code. You can then send money for free using your linked bank account or debit card.

Transfers from your Google Pay balance or a debit card are often quick, but it could take three to five business days with linked bank accounts. Google Pay also supports transfers to recipients in India and Singapore if you create a Western Union or Wise account and connect Google Pay.

Money you receive gets stored in your Google Pay balance. You can withdraw the funds to an eligible debit card for a 1.5% fee—these are often instant. Bank account withdrawals may take one to three business days, but they are free.

Pros

  • Link payment and transit cards
  • Supports several international transfers

Cons

  • Can't send money from a credit card
  • Bank transfers and withdrawals may take several days
  • You can only make purchases in the U.S.

3. PayPal

One of the first and most well-established P2P services, PayPal is a popular option for sending money online.

You can link a bank account, debit card and credit card to your PayPal account and send money to someone using their phone number or email address. There's no fee to send money within the U.S. from linked bank accounts or using a PayPal balance, but debit card, credit card and PayPal credit transactions have a fee of 2.9% plus 30 cents. International transactions are also possible, with an additional 5% fee ($0.99 minimum and $4.99 maximum per transfer).

Free PayPal withdrawals take one to three business days. Instant transfers with eligible debit cards may take up to 30 minutes and there's a 1.5% ($15 maximum) fee.

PayPal could be better than some P2P apps for business transactions. It may have higher daily or monthly transfer limits, and you'll be covered by PayPal Purchase Protection if you initiate a P2P transfer and select the "goods or services" option. The recipient will pay a fee for these transfers.

Pros

  • A well-established payment option that many merchants accept
  • Allows international transfers to recipients in many countries
  • High limits and protection for business transactions

Cons

  • Charges fees when using linked debit and credit cards
  • PayPal balances don't accrue interest
  • Can't use unique usernames to transfer money

4. Venmo

PayPal owns and runs Venmo, but the two P2P payment apps operate independently. Venmo adds a social element to payments, allowing you to send emojis and messages with a payment. The app discontinued the global feed in July 2021, but you can still see your Venmo friends' payment feed. If you'd prefer, you can also set your payments to private.

A Venmo account can be linked to debit cards, bank accounts and credit cards. Direct deposits can also be set up, and the money you receive is kept in your Venmo account. It can then be transferred to a linked bank account within one to three business days—instant transfers (within 30 minutes) may be available for a fee.

You can send money to another user if you know their name, Venmo handle, email address, phone number or account's QR Code. There's no fee to send money from a debit card or bank account, but a 3% transaction fee applies to credit card payments.

You can also pay for products and services with your Venmo account using the app or a Venmo Debit Card, which also offers cash back at select merchants. If you're purchasing goods and services rather than sending money to a friend, Venmo's Purchase Protection Program may cover the transaction and the sender doesn't pay any additional fees.

Pros

  • Free payment and withdrawal options
  • Variety of ways to use your Venmo balance
  • Can automatically split payment requests that are sent to multiple people

Cons

  • Venmo is only available to U.S. residents
  • Funds don't accrue interest
  • Fees for instant transfers

5. Zelle

Zelle stands out in the list as the only non-third-party app. Early Warning Services, a company that's co-owned by several major U.S. banks, runs the Zelle app. The benefit of using a "bank-centric" P2P app is that money will be sent directly between bank accounts.

A transfer between two Zelle users could be completed within a few minutes, making it one of the fastest ways to move money from one bank account to another.

You can download the Zelle app, or it may be built in as a benefit for many bank and credit union accounts. As a result, you might be able to use Zelle from within your online bank account or banking app.

You can also use Zelle to send money to someone who doesn't have the app, but they'll need to sign up and connect a U.S. bank account to receive the money.

Pros

  • Direct bank-to-bank transfers with no fees
  • Doesn't require a third-party holding account
  • Accessible from within eligible banking apps

Cons

  • Can't connect multiple accounts to your Zelle profile
  • Doesn't offer a credit card option
  • The recipient must have a U.S. bank account

The Bottom Line

P2P apps can be a convenient way to send money to friends and family members, or to make small or informal business transactions. And a P2P app could be safer than carrying large amounts of cash or accepting a check from a stranger. But no matter which app you use, you still need to beware of scams because the apps generally don't offer the same fraud protections as debit or credit cards.

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