As more merchants implement cardless payment systems, your smartphone’s digital wallet can be your ticket to a more streamlined shopping experience.
Many new smartphones, tablets and wearables now have built-in contactless payment systems that use a technology called near-field communication. NFC transmits your stored credit and debit card information when you bring it in close proximity to the retailer’s payment terminal, allowing you to complete a transaction without fumbling through your physical wallet.
Three of the largest NFC-enabled smartphone systems were created by Apple, Android and Samsung. Each has its own digital wallet service that allows you to make secure payments with a wide variety of merchants. Here are the features of each service.
Apple Pay — which combines NFC with Apple’s fingerprint reader, Touch ID — is accepted by many major brands. Users can add credit, debit and prepaid cards, as well as select loyalty cards that are listed on the Apple Pay home page.
Apple Pay can be used in stores, online and in apps. To set it up on your iPhone, make sure you’ve activated your Touch ID function. Add your credit and debit card account information via the phone’s Wallet app. Some banks may ask you to verify your card. You can add multiple cards and select a default.
Then, when checking out at a store that allows Apple Pay (you can tell by the logo on the merchant’s point-of-sale system), hold the phone close to the payment terminal and touch your finger to the home button so that Touch ID can sense your fingerprint and authenticate the purchase.
Alternatively, you could pay with an Apple Watch by double-clicking the side button and then holding it near the reader.
Apple Pay with Touch ID fingerprint verification is available on the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus, iPhone SE, iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.
Apple Pay also works with the iPhone 5, iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S, but these devices have to be paired with an Apple Watch to work at checkout.
Android Pay also can be used at many different retailers. Again, check the point-of-sale device for the Android Pay logo or another symbol that indicates contactless payments are accepted.
You can add debit, credit, gift and select loyalty cards to your account, which can be used for in-store, in-app and online transactions.
To use Android Pay, download the app and add your cards. As with Apple Pay, you can choose a default. When you reach the checkout terminal, unlock your phone and hold it in close proximity to the card reader. A green checkmark will appear on your phone, indicating payment has been sent.
In contrast to Apple Pay, Android doesn’t require a fingerprint scan to authorize a transaction from a smartphone. Some Android phones do have fingerprint-scanning technology that can be used to unlock the phone, but you can also use a PIN, password, iris scan, face recognition or pattern, depending on the lock-screen security options on your device.
Android Pay is compatible with NFC-enabled devices running Android 4.4 or higher.
Like Android Pay and Apple Pay, Samsung Pay is widely accepted. Samsung phone owners use an app to add their credit, debit and gift card information. Samsung Pay’s home page also notes it “can store almost every card with a barcode so you can add loyalty, membership and rewards cards to your phone or wearable.”
To set up Samsung Pay, launch the app and register your fingerprint and PIN. Then add your cards. To use Samsung Pay at the register, swipe up on your phone (even when the display is asleep) and then select the card you want to use. After that, authenticate your identity with a fingerprint scan or password before putting your phone next to the payment terminal to complete the transaction. Unlike Apple Pay and Android Pay, Samsung Pay can be used at magnetic stripe or EMV terminals in addition to NFC point-of-sale devices.
For avid users of Samsung Pay, purchases can rack up Samsung Rewards points on top of credit card rewards. Once enough points are earned, they can be redeemed for items in the Samsung reward catalog, which includes gift cards to retailers and Samsung products like the Gear VR headset and the Gear Fit 2 fitness wearable.
Samsung Pay is available on: the Galaxy S8, Galaxy S7 edge, Galaxy S7, Galaxy S6 edge+, Galaxy Note5, Galaxy S6 edge, Galaxy S6 active, Galaxy S6, Gear S2 (with NFC only) and Gear S3.
Digital wallet security
No matter which of these three payment systems you use, your card information is never collected by the merchant. Instead, each of these services “tokenizes” account information. When you make a new transaction, your account is represented by a random transaction code, but your actual card numbers are never shared with the business. Tokenization helps prevent fraud and minimizes damage if the merchant undergoes a data breach.
For additional security, make sure your device’s lock screen is password-enabled with a PIN; alphanumeric phrase; pattern; or a fingerprint, facial or iris scan.
More on mobile payments
- Credit card tokenization: What to know
- Don’t fear your mobile wallet
- Ditching cash for P2P payment apps? 3 things to know
Chanelle Bessette is a staff writer at NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @crbessette.