How To Set Up and Use Apple Pay

Woman using mobile payment in coffee shop
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If you’re in search of a fast, safe payment method, Apple Pay may be a good option to consider. Let’s say you’re at the grocery store and ready to check out, but instead of taking out your credit card, debit card, or cash, all you need is your Apple device. You can tap your phone or watch at the register to pay—no need to swipe, insert a chip, or exchange cash. Learn how Apple Pay works and why it might (or might not) be a good option for you.

What Is Apple Pay?

First launched in 2014, Apple Pay is a digital wallet that allows you to make purchases without your purse, wallet, credit card, or cash, both online and in person at millions of retailers, including restaurants and grocery stores. You can also send and receive money to and from friends or family with Apple Pay. At its core, a digital wallet is an electronic version of your credit or debit card that’s stored in an app on a device.

Specifically designed to be compatible with the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and MacBook, Apple Pay is a convenient and efficient way to make contactless payments at most stores. With this mobile payment system, you can complete transactions faster, and eliminate the security and safety issues often associated with physical wallets. While a real wallet can be misplaced or stolen, Apple Pay keeps your credit or debit card in one place. It also secures it by using a generated code specific to your device with every purchase, ensuring your card information is never stored on any Apple servers or card readers.

How Do You Set Up Apple Pay?

If you have an Apple device and would like to set up Apple Pay, follow these steps.

Gather Everything You Need

Before you start the setup process, make sure you have the following on hand:

  • An eligible Apple device, classified as a recent version of the iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple Watch
  • A credit or debit card
  • An Apple ID
  • Current iOS, watchOS, or macOS software

Open the Wallet App

Go to the Wallet app and tap the plus sign on your iPhone. If you’re on your iPad, visit Settings and open Apple Pay. On your Apple Watch, hit the My Watch tab and tap Wallet and Apple Pay. If you’d like to use your MacBook, go to System Preferences, then proceed to Wallet and Apple Pay.

Click Add Credit or Debit Card

Plug in your credit or debit card details, which will likely include the:

  • Card number
  • Expiration date
  • Security code

Depending on the device, you may be able to open the app and simply hold it over a credit or debit card, scanning the card to add it to your digital wallet.

Wait for Verification

Once you add your credit or debit card, your bank or card issuer may need to confirm that it’s eligible for Apple Pay. Depending on the card you use, this may occur automatically; you may be required to enter a verification code; or you may need to reach out to your bank or credit card company directly. When your card has been verified, click "next."

Select a Default Card

While you can add multiple cards to Apple Pay, it’s required that you select the one you’d like to use for most of your purchases.

The first card you add will serve as your default. However, if you’d like to change your default card, go to "default card," then select a new card. You can also remove a credit or debit card connected with Apple Pay at any time.

How Do You Use Apple Pay?

After you’ve set up Apple Pay, you’ll be ready to use it for your online or in-store purchases.

Using Apple Pay in Stores

Millions of stores allow consumers to use Apple Pay when shopping in person. If you wish to pay with your iPhone, open the Apple Wallet App, then place your device near the card reader. When you do, the default card will automatically be used for your payment. To use a different card, tap the screen and select another one.

To pay with your Apple Watch, open the app, double click on the side button, and hold your Apple Watch up to the card reader. With both devices, you’ll be good to go as soon as you feel a gentle tap that verifies your purchase.

Using Apple Pay Online

When you’re at the checkout screen on a browser such as Safari, select Apple Pay as your preferred payment method.

Next, place your finger on the Touch ID to verify your purchase. Or, if you have an iPhone model that requires Face ID, double-click the side button and place the device in front of your face to activate facial recognition. You can also type in your passcode instead. If the payment went through properly, you’ll notice a checkmark and “Done” on the screen.

For your initial purchase with the digital wallet, you’ll be asked to plug in your contact details, as well as billing and shipping information, which will become the default information. Make sure the billing and shipping address matches the card you plan to use for Apple Pay.

Apple Pay also records your transactions so you can look back to see what you paid. This could help you better manage your budget and understand your monthly spending.

Pros and Cons of Apple Pay

Pros
  • Easy payments

  • Greater security

  • You can continue to earn rewards

Cons
  • Only works on Apple devices

  • Setup required

  • Not accepted everywhere 

Pros Explained

  • Easy payments: Once you set up Apple Pay, you can pay for your products and services without the hassle of looking for your credit card, counting your cash, signing receipts, or doing any of the other timely tasks that come with traditional payment methods.
  • Greater security: Every time you make a purchase, Apple Pay uses a number that’s specific to your device, as well as a unique transaction code, to ensure your credit or debit card information is never stored on any Apple servers. Plus, retailers won’t have access to your card number after a transaction is complete.
  • You can continue to earn rewards: You can still earn cash back, points, and other credit card rewards if you use Apple Pay. Simply make the card with your favorite rewards the default card on Apple Pay and you’ll continue to reap the benefits.

Apple Pay is also more secure than traditional payment methods because you may need to use two-factor authentication, such as Touch ID or Face ID. This means that if your device is stolen, the person who has it won’t be able to make a purchase with Apple Pay since their fingerprint or face won’t be recognized by the device.

Cons Explained

  • Only works on Apple devices: If you don’t have a compatible iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad, or MacBook, Apple Pay is not an option.
  • Setup required: Apple devices do not have your personal credit or debit card account information automatically stored. So to use Apple Pay, it’s vital to go through the setup process first.
  • Not accepted everywhere: While millions of online and in-person retailers have jumped on the Apple Pay bandwagon, there are still many that do not accept it as a payment method. For those who own their own business or operate a storefront, it’s essential to contact your payment provider to properly set up a terminal, ultimately establishing Apple Pay.

Alternatives to Apple Pay

If you like the idea of a digital wallet but don’t own an eligible Apple device, or you simply wish to explore other options, consider these alternative payment apps.

  • Google Pay: Google Pay is similar to Apple Pay but compatible with Android phones, tablets, and watches.
  • Venmo: Venmo is a mobile app that enables you to send and request money from others. It’s available on both Apple and Android devices.
  • PayPal: PayPal is a digital, third-party payment system for both individuals and businesses. You can use it to send and receive payments on your phone, tablet, or computer.

Digital wallets are a good option for those who want the convenience of leaving their physical wallets or purses at home. However, they’re not foolproof. If the provider’s servers go down, you may not be able to access the app or pay with the digital wallet. There’s always the chance for data breaches, too. Be sure to use secure Wi-Fi networks, difficult passwords, and passcodes, and consider other ways to protect yourself when using technology.

Key Takeaways

  • Apple Pay is a digital wallet for compatible Apple devices.
  • Once you set up Apple Pay, you can use it at millions of in-person and online retailers.
  • There are many alternatives to Apple Pay including Google Pay, Venmo, and PayPal.