For a long time, mobile wallet services like Google Pay and Apple Pay were marketed as technology that could make shopping more convenient and secure.
While these benefits were real, it was the coronavirus pandemic that propelled digital payments into the mainstream.
To show just how quickly our habits changed, let’s take a look at some data from Safeway.
According to Bloomberg, the supermarket chain reported fewer than 50,000 mobile payment users during the week of March 1, 2020, but this number soared to 670,000 by the week of March 29.
Clearly, as fewer shoppers want to handle cash or touch the keypads of point-of-sale terminals, more are turning to their mobile phones to pay.
So, it’s time to find out more about one of the key players in the digital payment sphere: Google Pay.
Just what is Google Pay? Is it secure? How does Google Pay work? And most important, should you use it?
Google Pay in a nutshell
Let’s start at the beginning.
Google Pay is a mobile wallet and payment system that came about after the merger of Google Wallet and Android Pay in January 2018.
It’s now one of the largest digital payment services in the world.
The way it works is that you download the Google Pay app and install it onto your smartphone or smartwatch. You can use Google Pay on your iPhone or iPad, too, but only if you’re in the U.S.
What’s interesting is that you don’t add money to your digital wallet — instead, you add a payment method, such as a debit card, credit card or your bank details.
Google’s secured servers store the details and retrieve them when you use Google Pay to complete a purchase.
Think of a mobile wallet being just like a physical wallet but the cards and accounts are accessible through your mobile device.
You can select Google Pay as a payment method when buying online, paying in person or settling up for in-app purchases, and you can also use Google Pay Send, a feature within the app, to send money to friends and family.
So what makes paying with mobile wallets like Google Pay contactless when you use it in-store?
When you’re making a purchase in person, you simply unlock your phone and hover it over the card reader to complete the payment transaction — there are no keypads to worry about and nothing else you’ll need to touch.
Is Google Pay secure?
While there isn’t a payment system that’s 100 percent secure, Google has a wealth of expertise and experience in data protection: After all, collecting and storing information plays a big part in the tech giant’s phenomenal success.
As a form of security, Google Pay doesn’t store your actual card details on your phone. Instead, that information lives on Google’s secured servers and is strongly encrypted. This means even if your phone is stolen, thieves won’t be able to access your debit or credit card details. They could still make purchases if they can unlock your phone, of course, but you can strengthen your device’s security with pass code protection and biometric identification.
What makes Google Pay potentially safer than using credit or debit cards is that Google Pay creates a temporary virtual account number for every transaction. This virtual account number is transmitted to the merchant to complete the transaction instead of your actual account details, which adds a layer of security. In other words, Google Pay protects your card details so you won’t have to rely on the merchant.
How to set up Google Pay
Setting up Google Pay is straightforward whether you’re using an iOS or Android device.
It’s important to note that iOS users will need to run iOS 7 or later to use Google Pay to send money to friends and family. Also, iOS users can’t use the app on their iPhones or iPads to pay in-store.
Here are the steps to setting up Google Pay:
Download the Google Pay app onto your mobile device. Many Android phones come with it preloaded; if yours does not, you’ll need to find it in the Google Play store. Those using iPhones or iPads can find the app in their App Store. You’ll also find it on pay.google.com.
Sign in to your Google account.
Add a payment method: either a debit or credit card, PayPal account or U.S. bank account. To add your card to Google Pay, select “credit or debit card” as your payment method, then take a photo of your card or enter your card information manually.
Verify your details: You’ll be asked to choose your preferred method of verification, for example, by text or email.
Once you’re verified, you’re ready to go.
If you would like to use Google Pay for in-store purchases, check that your phone has the near-field communication (NFC) feature.
Google Pay is widely accepted
The kind of payments you can make with Google Pay vary depending on where you live and the device you have. As mentioned, Google Pay for iOS is available only in the U.S. and India.
But Android users can use Google Pay to make contactless payments in 29 countries, including the U.S., U.K., Germany and Singapore. Bear in mind that for in-person purchases, the merchant has to support NFC or contactless payments, so check for the GPAY or NFC payment symbol at the store or use your app to find stores that accept this form of payment.
In addition, your bank or credit card issuer has to support Google Pay. Google has a long list of banks and other financial institutions that work with its payment platform, including most major banks and credit unions.
Another cool feature is that you can pay for train and bus travel with Google Pay in countries like Australia, Canada, India, Japan, Russia, Singapore, Ukraine, the U.K. and the U.S.
Best credit cards for Google Pay
It’s a point we touched on earlier, but if you want to link a credit card to Google Pay, then your credit card issuer has to support Google Pay’s system of using virtual numbers. Basically, your credit card issuer has to support Google Pay in order for you to use it.
While there is no charge to send money to family and friends or buying with a debit card, Google Pay will charge 2.9 percent if you use a credit card.
Here are three top credit cards to use with Google Pay:
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Best for everyday purchases
The Blue Cash Preferred is a great card to link to your Google Pay account because of its generous cash back rewards for purchases in family-friendly spending categories. While there is an annual fee of $95, you’ll be rewarded the following cash back rates:
6 percent at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in purchases per year (then 1 percent thereafter)
6 percent on select U.S. streaming services
3 percent on transit purchases (which includes ride-shares, tolls, parking, taxis and more)
3 percent at U.S. gas stations
1 percent on all other purchases
A big advantage with this card is that you won’t have to enroll to earn these high cash back rates.
To sweeten the deal, there is a welcome bonus offer of $250 in statement credits if you spend $1,000 within the first three months. Add to that an offer of 0 percent intro APR on purchases for 12 months (then APR of 13.99 percent to 23.99 percent thereafter) and it’s clear the Blue Cash Preferred is a real winner for rewards on everyday purchases.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®: Best for simple cash back with no annual fee
If you value a simple rewards program you won’t have to think about, then Chase Freedom Unlimited is hard to beat. For starters, this card has no annual fee, so it won’t cost you to have it as long as you pay outstanding balances at the end of each month.
Here are some of its other benefits:
5 percent on travel purchased through Chase, 3 percent on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 1.5 percent on all other purchases
$200 welcome bonus if you spend $500 within the first three months
5 percent cash back on grocery purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases), on up to $12,000 in the first year
0 percent intro APR on purchases for 15 months, then a variable APR of 14.99 percent to 23.74 percent
With Chase Freedom Unlimited, you can redeem your rewards for cash back, statement credits, gift cards, merchandise, experiences or even travel rewards. You can redeem conveniently through the Chase portal and your rewards won’t expire as long as your account remains open.
Citi Rewards+SM Card: Best for rewards on smaller purchases
Continuing with the theme of no annual fee, the Citi Rewards+ Card deserves a place in your Google Pay account if you tend to make many smaller purchases.
This card offers:
2x ThankYou Points at supermarkets and gas stations on up to $6,000 in combined purchases each year, plus 1x ThankYou Points on all other purchases
No annual fee
15-month intro 0 percent APR offer on purchases and balance transfers (then 13.49 percent–23.49 percent variable APR thereafter; transfers also require a $5 or 3 percent balance transfer fee)
15,000 bonus ThankYou points after spending $1,000 within the first three months
The Citi Rewards+ extra features make it unique. For example, points get rounded up to the nearest 10 on every single purchase. So, if you buy a $3 coffee you’ll earn 10 points instead of three. For someone who makes small purchases frequently, points can add up quickly.
You’ll also receive 10 percent of points back for the first 100,000 ThankYou Points you redeem each year, so you’re rewarded for both earning and redeeming rewards.
Your Google Pay wallet is a good storage place
Just like your physical wallet, your Google Pay mobile wallet is a great place to store bits and pieces you’ll need while on the go. It can make your travel virtually paper-free.
For example, you can store rail passes in your Google Pay mobile wallet so all you have to do to board the train is hold your smartphone near enough to the reader at the fare gate.
You can also use your mobile wallet to store digital loyalty cards, gift cards, flights, event tickets and boarding passes.
You can send and receive money with Google Pay
In the U.S. and India, you can also use this digital platform to send or request money without incurring extra fees.
This functionality, however, was developed primarily for money transfers between family and friends. You can send up to $10,000 in a single transaction or over seven days. Florida residents can send $3,000 every 24 hours. If your recipient doesn’t use Google Pay and fails to claim the money within 14 days, your money will be returned to you.
How Google Pay stacks up to other mobile wallets
Aside from Google Pay, there are several other mobile wallets you can consider — Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Chase Pay, PayPal and Venmo are just a few other well-known providers.
Where technology giants like Google and Apple have the edge is their reach, as Google Pay and Apple Pay are accepted at many retailers. This means if you’re looking for a mobile wallet to use in-store, you’re likely to get more out of Google Pay and Apple Pay.
If you’re deciding between these two platforms, your choice will likely be determined by which device you own. While iOS users can use the Google Pay app to transfer money between friends and family, Apple Pay can be used only on Apple devices.
Google Pay also has advanced security features that include multi-layer encryption and you can link your PayPal account to Google Pay — a feature not available on Apple Pay.
However, Apple Pay doesn’t charge a fee for making payments using a credit card. It does charge a 3 percent fee if you want to send money to family or friends using a credit card – but there are no fees for sending money using a debit card.
The bottom line
We’ve taken a close look at Google Pay — what it is, how to use it, what you can use it for and how secure the platform is. When it comes down to it, we like what we see.
The platform features multiple layers of security, is widely accepted by retailers and extremely easy to set up. It delivers convenience and it really is as good as a physical wallet in terms of keeping cards as well as other important bits and pieces in one place.
With many shoppers worried about the hygiene of giving and receiving money, it’s likely that mobile wallet adoption will continue to grow. If you’re thinking about setting up a mobile wallet, then Google Pay is definitely a top choice — especially if you’ve got an Android handset. Just make sure not to use a credit card as a payment source if you want to avoid fees.