Skip the plastic: 10 payment apps to keep you safe


Last week brought more news of consumer information breaches, with confirmation that email addresses were stolen along with credit card information for over 50 million Home Depot customers.

Looking for safer ways to pay this holiday season than hackable credit cards? Check out these 10 methods of payment that may be safer than debit and credit cards, both online and off.

The big players in alternative payment methods


Founded in 1998, PayPal is one of the oldest online payment methods around. PayPal allows users to transfer money, receive money from others and pay for many items purchased online. PayPal also has PayPal Credit, a credit line formerly called Bill Me Later, and PayPal Here, a Square-like credit card reading device that accepts payment.

As for safety, PayPal encrypts information and stores it on its server that it describes as “heavily guarded both physically and electronically.” When sending or receiving money through PayPal, no one sees your bank, credit or debit card information. 

Apple Pay

IPhone 6 owners — and soon Apple Watch owners — can use their devices to pay via Apple Pay in stores equipped with near-field communication, or NFC, technology. Apple Pay also works within apps on iPhone 6, iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3, and uses fingerprints on the device to confirm identity.

Recently launched Apple Pay keeps data safe by storing the user’s information on a dedicated chip in the device, not on Apple’s servers. Each credit or debit card is assigned a special number, which is encrypted and secured. When a transaction occurs, the actual credit card number and personal information are not transmitted to the merchant. Apple Pay is unique in that it does not store any information connected to transactions.

Apple Pay is considered a very secure, convenient payment method, but not everyone is on board. Large chains like Wal-Mart, CVS and Rite Aid are turning off their NFC devices, effectively preventing anyone paying with Apple Pay. The reason: they want customers to pay via CurrentC.


Recently hacked payment method CurrentC is the soon-to-be preferred payment method of the 50-plus retailers, including Wal-Mart, who make up the Merchant Customer Exchange. Instead of using NFC technologies like Apple Pay, CurrentC uses QR codes. It links to a user’s bank account rather than to credit or debit cards, saving the retailers transaction fees.

For consumers, it means that they can buy things with CurrentC as long as they have the money in their bank account. It also means that their information can, and likely will be, tracked by the retailer. Shoppers who don’t mind trading their information for coupons and deals will like it, but shoppers who don’t want their information recorded should find another payment method.

Google Wallet 

Like PayPal, Google Wallet allows users to send and receive money as long as they have an email address. Like Apple Pay, it lets users pay in stores with NFC technology using compatible Android devices. Google also has the Google Wallet Card, which is linked to your Google Wallet account and lets you pay anywhere that accepts MasterCard and even withdraw cash from an ATM. Users get money into their Google Wallet either through linking a bank account or credit or debit card, or by receiving money from someone else.

Unlike Apple Pay, Google Wallet does store your payment information on its servers, albeit in encrypted form. It also records transaction data. Access is protected by a password in the form of a PIN. Google Wallet also comes with fraud protection that covers all unauthorized charges.

Others payment apps to consider

LifeLock Wallet

This app, formerly called Lemon Wallet, lets users load up credit, debit, identity and loyalty cards for easy access. It includes the identity protection services of LifeLock.


Dwolla lets people send and receive money online and lets people make purchases. It also features reduced transaction fees compared to PayPal. Dwolla does not use credit or debit cards but does allow free transfer to and from bank accounts. Security features are similar to those of PayPal. 


Venmo is similar to Dwolla, except that it also connects to debit cards. It charges no fees at all for many transactions, only charging for certain debit card transactions. 


Zipmark calls itself “your digital checkbook,” and that sums it up. Users can pay merchants and receive money from other people, bank account to bank account.


Softcard, which recently changed its name from ISIS for obvious reasons, is another app-based payment method for smartphones using NFC technology. Compared to others, it’s limited because, at least as of right now, it connects directly with only some American Express, Chase and Wells Fargo cards. To use another card, users must set up an American Express Serve account.

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