It's 2012, and we're still fussing with paper currency. Why isn't everything electronic? Or at the very least, exclusively utilizing magnetic strips on plastic rectangles? Where are those ID/Passport/money-replacing cards we were promised in the 90s?
There's hope. Over the past few years, a handful of savvy startups and developers have begun exploring the electronic money transactions made possible by the rise of smartphones and tablets, the lowered cost of technology and the ubiquity of the internet. It may not yet be 100% possible to avoid cash altogether, but you can get close.
You already know a few things you can do. Buy things online, use a credit card, set up automatic payments, etc. That's obvious. But what about day-to-day stuff? We've narrowed that down to three main areas you may deal with in your daily interactions with money: Buying goods, selling goods, and exchanging funds. For each category, we've gone and found apps, services, and hardware that will help you in your quest.
Google Wallet is probably the most mature e-wallet technology around. It supports all the major credit cards and is compatible with the NFC terminals already active in restaurants, shops and retail outlets. All you do is load your data, and when it comes time to pay, you tap your phone to your terminal and voila! PAYMENT RECEIVED. Plus, you can take advantage of merchant deals and rewards without having to carry around a card or piece of paper. Sadly, Google Wallet is only available on a handful of Android phones at the moment (and will likely be Android-only for the foreseeable future).
Pay With Square
Square was one of the first companies to make electronic payments cheap and easy for small businesses and individuals alike. Their next evolution as a company is Pay With Square, an app-based system which uses mobile apps, GPS and wireless networks to connect you and the merchant. In an ideal world, you walk into a participating store, the Pay With Square app detects your location via GPS, and it automatically negotiates details between you and the merchant. All you have to do is approve the transaction. Maybe not quite as elegant and easily implementable as NFC, but if done right, shopping would feel like magic.
Apple's new thing doesn't really have many apps supporting it at the moment, and the ones that do are more about rewards and ticketing than payments. But Amex will allow you to buy things with your credit card, and Starbucks will allow you to add gift certificates, which counts for something, I suppose.
Like Google Wallet, Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 solution will allow you to upload your credit card and use your phone as an NFC-enabled money machine, along with access to rewards cards, ticketing services, and deals. And though it's not quite available yet, it will likely pop up on most Windows Phones going forward.
Square is nearly a household name when it comes to mobile payments. The little plastic reader, offered for free by the company, plugs into the headphone jack of your smartphone or tablet. You can instantly accept payments from anyone packing a credit card (for a low transaction fee). It's almost commonplace to see small merchants opting for the service, and now bigger companies, like Urban Outfitters, are beginning to trade in cash registers for iPads and Square readers checkout terminals.
PayPal has been a mainstay for the better part of a decade, being one of the first services to connect credit cards and bank accounts to an online infrastructure allowing people to send money to one another. As a seller, all you have to do is give a customer your email address so they can push funds from their PayPal account to yours. Alternatively, you can use its card reader to accept payment (just like Square), or use the smartphone app to capture a photo of a credit card or check and accept payment that way. Versatility is the name of the game here.
Just like Square and PayPal, VeriFone has a card reader of its own. What separates its service from the others are its low and flexible transaction fees. Wanna have VeriFone charge you per swipe? That's fine. Seeing a lot of customer volume and want a lower rate that you pay for in bulk? That's possible too. Plus, the company's API platform not only allows you to bake your own deals and rewards into the system, you can build payment elements directly into an app of your own, which really opens up your selling power.
Bank of America and Chase are miserable institutions on nearly every front, but the companies, along with the less miserable Wells Fargo, do have two bright points: the ability send and receive funds directly to and from another person's bank account, and the ability to deposit checks with your smartphone camera. When you owe someone money, or really need to deposit that birthday check from your grandparents, this really makes life easy. Plus, you can pay your bills from the websites and apps of these banks, which is an added bonus.
PayPal is not only for those times you buy things on eBay. You know when you go out to dinner or drinks with friends and you forget your wallet or purse? You just have a friend cover your bill, PayPal them shortly after (if not immediately after), and all is well. Why not just use this excuse all the time? Sure, you'll look flighty as shit, but it beats carrying cash.