Use a smartphone money transfer app?

No cash to pay that dinner check? Instead of running to an ATM or waiting to pay your friend back later, you could use a smartphone app to settle up with her right now.


  • Convenient compared with the alternatives.
  • No or low cost.
  • Eliminates risk of losing a paper check or paper money.


  • Some services charge a fee.
  • Not as instant as getting cash in hand.
  • Potential hacker target as they become more popular.
  • In many cases, both parties must sign up for the service to make or receive payments.

Odds are you’ve probably never tried it. While smartphones are pretty ubiquitous these days, sending money to a friend with one isn’t, says James Wester, global payments research director at IDC Financial Insights.

These apps are being pitched as a way to split a check with friends, but the average amount transferred, he says, is in the $300 to $400 range, and is typically for things like roommates giving each other money for rent and utilities, Wester says.

“When you pitch that peer-to-peer service as being something for small things you might normally handle with cash, I don’t think it’s resonated very well yet,” Wester says. “I do think that over time, peer-to-peer payments will be something a little more common once people discover on their own the usefulness of it.”

Sending money via your bank’s smartphone app or mobile site

Many banks have either created their own peer-to-peer programs or hired companies like Fiserv or ClearXchange to set one up for them.

Each bank has its own fee schedule, but most offer the service for free.

One provider of such services is Popmoney, a product of Fiserv that’s used by 1,800 banks and credit unions.


Cost: 95 cents, paid by sender.

Whom you can send to: Anyone with a mobile phone number or email address.

How: Users can access the service through banks’ apps and mobile sites. Those whose financial institutions don’t offer it can still use Popmoney on a third-party basis through the Popmoney app or

Limits: If not requested by another user, $500 per day and $1,000 per month if drawn from a debit card; $2,000 per day and $5,000 per month if from bank account to bank account. You can request $1,000 per day and $2,500 per month. You can also pay requests through Popmoney of up to $2,500 per day and $4,000 per month.

Speed: After a request is accepted, the money will appear as early as the next business day for transfers through a debit card and three business days for transfers through a bank account.

Whom it’s for: People who want to make peer-to-peer payments through their banks.

Sending money via 3rd-party apps

With these apps, tech companies have gotten into the financial services game to allow users to send money regardless of where they choose to bank.

Most of these are no or low cost, says Wester, because tech companies want people to feel comfortable paying with the Web or their phone.

“Once you’ve gotten someone comfortable with making a payment to friends and family, it becomes a little bit easier,” Wester says.

Here are four of the most popular options:


Cost: Free when sending money from a bank account within the U.S. or from your PayPal account balance; 2.9 percent plus a 30-cent transaction fee when sending from a debit or credit card.

Whom you can send to: Anyone with a mobile phone number or email address.

How: You can give or ask for money through or the PayPal app. If your bank account is linked to your PayPal account, you can send money right from there. Otherwise, you pay via credit or debit card, which involves a higher fee.

Limits: Limits for unverified PayPal accounts vary per account. For verified accounts, total value of payments is unlimited, but you can send only up to $10,000 per single transaction.

Speed: Payment into another PayPal account is made instantly, but it takes three to seven business days to transfer money out of a PayPal account and into a bank account.

Whom it’s for: Current PayPal customers and those who don’t want their friends to have to sign up for a payment service to get their money. Paul Donfried, a former Verizon CTO and current chief technology officer of LaserLock Technologies, also recommends PayPal for consumers with security concerns since this is an established, legacy company.

Square Cash

Cost: Free.

Whom you can send to: Another Square Cash user.

How: Transactions can be either made through the Square Cash app or through email. If you want to send through email, the recipient will still need to sign up for Square Cash service. Once you’ve done that, you can email your friend with entered in the “Cc” field on the email and then put the amount of money you want to send in the subject line.

Limits: $250 per week, or $2,500 per week when you upgrade by providing Square Cash with detailed personal information.

Speed: Funds are deposited into your bank account in one to two business days.

Whom it’s for: Current Square Cash customers and those who want the money in their bank accounts as quickly as possible.

Google Wallet

Cost: Free when you send money from a Google Wallet balance or bank account; 2.9 percent (30-cent minimum) when sent from a debit or credit card.

Whom you can send to: Another Google Wallet user. If they’ve ever purchased anything on Android’s app store, Google Play, they probably already have an account.

How: Through the Google Wallet app, choose a friend through their phone number, email or Facebook account, type in the amount of money you want to give your friend, and then send.

Limits: $10,000 per transaction and $50,000 per five-day period.

Speed: Instantly for payment to be added to your Google Wallet balance. Transferring money out of Google Wallet and into a bank account takes three to four days.

Whom it’s for: Google superfans and those already using the Google Wallet.


Cost: Free if sending money from a Venmo balance, bank transfer or debit card; 3 percent if sending from a credit card.

Whom you can send to: Another Venmo user.

How: Through the Venmo app, choose a friend through their phone number, email or Facebook account, type in the amount of money you want to give your friend, and then send.

Limits: New, unverified users can send up to $300 per week; after verification, which can be done through Facebook or a partial Social Security number, users can send up to $2,999.99 per week. Users can receive unlimited funds.

Speed: Instantaneous between Venmo accounts, and it takes one to two business days for money to be transferred out of Venmo and into a bank account.

Whom it’s for: Debit card users who want to avoid fees.

Other money transfer apps include Dwolla and the new service, Ribbon.


Mobile wallets are only as secure as your phone is, Donfried says. Even though there hasn’t been a big hacker attack on mobile wallets, it’s a possibility if they become more popular. Plus, someone can just take your phone.

“Somebody can steal your phone, and if they know your PIN they can transfer money whenever they want,” Donfried says.

If the mobile wallet has additional security features, like requiring a password authentication for every transaction, use them. Google Wallet offers a two-step authentication that not only requires a password to get into Google Wallet but also texts you an authorization code every time you want to make a transaction.

With a few simple precautions, you can get that pesky check settled — safely.