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Western Union WU Pay: Better Option, Not Perfect

April 5, 2012
Credit Cards
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In step with the day’s prevailing cyber proclivities, Western Union just unveiled WU Pay—a digital payment platform that allows online shoppers to pay with cash or an account transfer. Indulging in the convenience of online shopping no longer requires plastic. No credit card? No problem. Don’t do debit? Totally fine. If you’re looking to shed a few greens, the Internet will gladly lend a hand.

Purchase without plastic

WU Pay offers 2 payment options for online purchases: online bank transfer and in-person cash exchange. The bank transfer option is free and relatively easy if you utilize some form of online banking. You need only log into your account and set WU Pay as a payee. Then, when shopping online and ready to check out, select the WU Pay option (positioned next to the Visa, MasterCard and PayPal logos). You pay the charge the same way you’d pay a bill (utilities, for example).

Alternatively, if you don’t participate in online banking, you can pay web purchases with cash in person at a Western Union location. But BEWARE. This exchange isn’t free. Each payment will incur a service charge between $2.95 and $6.95. That’s not a fee you want to pay on a regular basis. Fortunately, product prices tend to be lower online than in-store, which helps offset the cost. But if you can get the same item for the same price at a nearby retail location, there’s no sense in dishing out the extra dough just to order from home. Because remember, even if you’re the quintessence of lazy, you’ll have to leave the house to pay at Western Union, anyway.

Where does it work?

While far from ubiquitous, the WU Pay option is already available on hundreds of major retail websites, including Sears, and Kmart. By visiting the Western Union site, you can browse available merchandise by store or category. The store selection is slightly underwhelming, but the participating retailers cover most basic shopping needs, and WU makes browsing easy. (By the way, for tons of online shopping coupons and discounts, check out NerdWallet’s new shopping page!)

Earn cash rewards

To incentivize shoppers, Western Union offers cash back on WU Pay purchases. If your first purchase consists of a gift card order over $100, you’ll be eligible for $20 cash back. Further purchases earn 1% back, limited at $20 in earning per order and $200 in earnings per year. You can redeem for coupons or cash. Coupon redemption starts at $10, and cash redemption starts at $50. The program is a little weak, but hey, it’s better than nothing.

Better than prepaid?

WU Pay may come to serve as a viable financial product for the unbanked. Much like prepaid debit cards, the program provides an alternative means of conducting online transactions. If your options are loading cash onto a prepaid card or paying cash through WU, we highly recommend WU Pay. Adding cash to a prepaid card usually incurs a reload fee similar to the WU Pay cash service fee, but prepaid comes with a whole slew of additional costs. Many prepaid cards demand monthly maintenance fees, purchase fees, cancellation fees and more, aiming to lock consumers into long, costly programs. WU Pay is less restrictive and charges on a strictly per-use basis. If you make a purchase today but wait a few months before your next, WU Pay won’t charge between transactions.