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How to make payments with your phone

Person holding mobile phone to contactless card reader
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Mobile wallets have been around for a while, but they’re not always easy to understand (even though they’re very easy to use).

When you swipe, tap or insert your credit card into a standard credit card terminal, the card reader collects the information stored on your credit card and uses it to complete the transaction. Paying with your phone works in the same way—it’s just that the credit card information is stored on a phone app instead of a piece of plastic.

Are mobile wallets secure?

Yes, storing a credit card on your phone is safe. In fact, it’s one of the most secure ways to pay. Phone payment apps use the same security technology as contactless credit cards (the kind you tap instead of swipe), and pay-with-phone transactions use tokenization to mask your actual credit card number during the transaction and protect your card information from being stolen.

Mobile wallets also let you add multiple credit cards on your phone, which is good for people who want to maximize their credit card rewards by using different cards at different retailers. You can even use contactless payments on some bus and subway systems. Just tap your smartphone to the turnstile, and the credit card on your phone will take care of the rest.

But what do you need to do before you’re ready to make credit card payments with your phone?

Here’s a step-by-step guide for three of the most popular mobile wallet apps: Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay.

Apple Pay

If you’re an iPhone user, here’s how to use Apple Pay:

First, you have to add your credit cards to Apple Pay. Open the Wallet app on your iPhone, tap the plus sign and follow the instructions to add a new credit card to Wallet.

Once you’ve added the card, your bank or card issuer will verify the card. From there, you can begin using the verified credit card on Apple Pay.

First, unlock your iPhone.

  • If you have a newer iPhone that has Face ID, double-click the side button. Then you’ll be asked to authenticate via Face ID or entering your passcode.
  • If your iPhone has Touch ID, rest your finger on the sensor.

Then, select the card you’d like to use (you can choose a default card during setup) and hold your unlocked phone over the contactless credit card reader. Once the payment goes through, you’ll see a “done” icon on your phone screen.

Paying with your Apple Watch

You can also pay with your Apple Watch. If you’ve completed the Apple Pay setup process on your phone and have your watch connected to your phone, it’s simple.

Just double-click the side button on your watch. Your default card will appear first, but you can scroll down and choose another card. When you have the right card selected, just hold your watch near the reader. You’ll feel a tap when the payment is complete.

Google Pay

If you have an Android phone and want to use Google Pay, begin by adding at least one credit card to the Google Pay app. Use the app to take a photo of your credit card or enter the information manually. Allow your bank or credit card issuer to verify your card, and you’ll be ready to begin making payments.

To make Google Pay payments from your phone, simply unlock your phone and hold it over the contactless credit card reader. If a blue checkmark appears, your payment is complete.

Google Pay lets you set a default credit card to use when making payments. If you want to pay with a different card, open your Google Pay app and swipe through your available cards until you find the one you want to use. Then, hold your phone over the credit card reader to make the payment.

Samsung Pay

If you’ve got a Samsung phone, you’ll want to set up Samsung Pay. The app comes pre-installed on most Samsung phones. Open the app, tap “Get Started,” and create a unique PIN. Then follow the instructions to add credit cards to Samsung Pay.

Once your credit cards are set up within the app, you can begin using Samsung Pay to make credit card phone payments. First, open the Samsung Pay app on your phone. Confirm your identity by entering your PIN, letting Samsung scan your iris or putting your thumb or finger on your phone’s fingerprint scanner. Then hold your phone over the contactless card reader, and the payment will process automatically.

Samsung Pay’s Favorite Cards feature makes it easy to switch between credit cards before making payments by phone. Simply swipe up from the bottom of your phone’s screen to access your Favorite Cards and choose the card you’d like to use for your next Samsung Pay purchase.

The bottom line

Knowing how to use your credit card on your phone can make shopping more convenient and keep you from having to make contact with the card terminal.

Instead of having to dig a credit card out of your wallet, you can simply unlock your phone and hold it over the contactless credit card reader. Look for your mobile wallet’s logo or a contactless symbol (which looks like a Wi-Fi signal turned sideways) on the card reader to verify it can accept mobile payments.

These mobile wallet apps also work for online purchases with many retailers, turning online shopping into a near-seamless process. Paying with a credit card by phone is easy to set up and as secure as a traditional credit card transaction. Why not give your mobile wallet a try the next time you make a purchase?

Written by
Nicole Dieker
Personal Finance Contributor
Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012—and a personal finance enthusiast since 2004, when she graduated from college and, looking for financial guidance, found a battered copy of Your Money or Your Life at the public library. In addition to writing for Bankrate, her work has appeared on CreditCards.com, Vox, Lifehacker, Popular Science, The Penny Hoarder, The Simple Dollar and NBC News. Dieker spent five years as writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money. Dieker also teaches writing, freelancing and publishing classes and works one-on-one with authors as a developmental editor and copyeditor.
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