With 88% of 18- to 29-year-olds and 78% of 30- to 49-year-olds using some type of social media daily, it’s not surprising that social-based payment apps have become more common. In fact, experts estimate that some 143 million Americans used mobile payment in 2019.
We explore the most popular social payment apps, what people are using them for, and how they’re changing the landscape of how we shop and share payments with friends and family. (Our favorite part? No more splitting the dinner bill amongst eight different debit cards.)
Popular Social-Based Payment Apps
There are several popular peer-to-peer (P2P) payment apps. Perhaps most notable of the group, Venmo allows you to instantaneously send money to family or friends for items like your share of dinner, a cab ride, and even rent.
Owned by PayPal, Venmo incorporates a Facebook-like newsfeed, which shows your transactions to your group of friends within the app. So this means your payments are public amongst your group of friends, unless you set your settings in the app to private. Venmo users also frequently use emojis in the notes section of their payments—sometimes to illustrate what the payment is for, other times as a joke. Millennials, am I right?
Speaking of Facebook, the social media platform has its own peer-to-peer payment tool through Facebook messenger. You probably already use Facebook messenger to chat with friends, but now you can send or receive funds via the platform, as well. Simply link a debit or credit card (or Facebook gift card), then find the $ button in messenger. Input your amount, hit send, and—poof!—your money is sent.
Zelle is another popular payment app. You can access the app via simple download or, if your bank participates, within your bank’s online banking app. Zelle is used by more than 1,000 banks, so chances are, you’ll be able to find it within your bank’s app. Once your account is linked, you’ll choose who to send money to, select an amount, and the funds are deposited into their account in minutes.
Other popular peer-to-peer payment apps include PayPal, Apple Pay, Square's Cash App, and Google Pay.
How Are People Using Them?
Peer-to-peer payment apps can be used for anything from paying for your share of drinks at happy hour to splitting rent with roommates. One study by LendEDU found that Millennial Venmo users frequent the app to pay for things like pizza, alcohol, Uber rides, and rent. (Though keep in mind that this study was based mostly on emoji use, a cornerstone of this P2P app.)
Zelle, which is used widely across all age groups, sees users paying rent with the app, especially if they use a bank that supports it. Venmo also typically handles smaller transactions, while Zelle payments averaged about $256 in 2020.
Benefits and Risks
Benefits of these payment apps are many. For one, they make transferring funds or paying back friends quick, easy, and painless. No more writing checks or getting cash out of an ATM. They also allow you to send funds immediately. Another bonus? Most of these tools are free to download and use (though some charge fees for credit card payments.)
Since you are dealing with an app that links directly to your bank account or debit card, security is key. Drawbacks of these apps include potential concerns about data and privacy. A Consumer Reports test of these apps ranking them from most-to-least secure, and found Apple Pay to be the most secure, followed by Venmo, Square’s Cash App, Facebook Messenger’s P2P, then Zelle.
Scammers are also increasingly using P2P apps, which can be another concern. You can avoid being a victim by only paying or receiving funds from people you know, not carrying a balance in your account, and utilizing any additional security measures the apps offer.
Additionally, since you are instantaneously sending money via these apps, the margin for error is high. Before sending any cash to anyone you know, be sure you have the right person or username.
The Bottom Line
Peer-to-peer payment apps make transactions easier. But whether you're sending birthday money to a friend, splitting a dinner bill, or paying for your share of the rent, make sure to change your settings to private, be aware of credit card and other transaction fees, and confirm the username before sending money.