The first time I heard about Venmo, it sounded like a miracle. Hell yes, I want to send money to friends with my computerphone! I used Venmo enthusiastically for years. Then, it became a cesspool of awkward emoji and hidden fees, a place where money goes to hide. So I stopped, and you should too.
People fucking love Venmo, I realize this. The app got a slow start but has managed to build an almost cult-like following, thanks in some part to those utterly sickening “Lucas uses Venmo” subway ads. What a lot of people don’t realize, however, is that Venmo’s bucket-brigade approach to mobile payments is an entirely unnecessary pain in the ass. The alternative is a sneaky ripoff.
You know what I’m talking about. Venmo lets you send and request money but only if you deposit and withdrawal those funds through your Venmo balance. Want to pay your friend Mario for that slice of pizza he bought you? Super, just deposit that $2 in your Venmo account and then Venmo will move it to Mario’s Venmo balance. When Mario’s ready to put that $2 in his actual bank account, he’ll have to transfer it out of Venmo and wait a day or two for the money to snake its way to the bank. All the while, Venmo itself is essentially holding your money hostage.
This isn’t a big deal if you’re talking about the price of a pizza slice. However, if you’re talking about sending your roommate rent money, things get pretty inconvenient pretty quickly. Early on, some users even complained that Venmo would hold thousands of dollars worth of payments in limbo for no specific reasons. Why someone would funnel thousands of dollars through a dinky mobile app is beyond me, but that sounds like a real headache!
The downsides of Venmo start to make sense when you realize that Venmo isn’t just some cute little startup—it’s owned by payment Goliath PayPal. Venmo started in 2009, but it was soon gobbled up by Braintree, an enterprise-level payment processing outfit, which was in turn gobbled up by PayPal in 2013. The whole holding-money-hostage model is actually pretty similar to how PayPal has always worked, and as time goes by, the two separate services are starting to look even more similar. In fact, PayPal just redesigned its mobile apps, and boy do they look pretty Venmo-y now. The only thing that’s missing is that privacy-invading stream of emoji that shows you every transaction your friends and even random people around the world are making. (This is a great way to get busted if you’re dealing drugs, by the way.)
Venmo retains its cutesy façade in the form of the social feed, which is very irritating, and you can mercifully opt out of it.
What you cannot opt out of are the Big Payment hallmarks like the company’s confusing fees. These have changed so much over the years, I’m never sure if I’m being charged for making a payment, and that’s surely how Venmo likes it. Indeed, Venmo is free if you connect it directly to your bank account and possibly free if you use a debit card. However, Venmo charges a 3 percent fee on some debit cards and all credit cards. That sucks! (Clarification: As my new friend Harry points out on Twitter, the credit cards actually charge the fee, and Venmo makes the user pay it. Still sucks!)
Maybe you love Venmo because it’s easier than writing checks or going to an ATM. But you should really stop because there are much better options out there now. There are a ton of them, in fact.
I’m obsessed with Square Cash. It’s a service run by Jack Dorsey’s dongle-waving sideshow Square, and it’s amazing. You just add a debit card in the Square Cash app and send money to your friends. (Don’t use a credit card, though, because Square also charges a 3 percent fee; all debit cards are free.) If your friend doesn’t have Square Cash, they won’t be forced to download it. They just tap a link in an email or text, enter the information for the destination debit card, and the money is in their account within 24 hours—though sometimes it’s almost instant. There’s also this wacky email feature where you can email a friend and cc Square Cash, and they get a link to go get their money. It all works like magic, no app required.
It’s been a couple years since I switched from Venmo to Square Cash, and I’ll never go back. My friends say shit like “Just Venmo me, man!” And I reply, “Fuck off I’m Square Cashing you whether you like it or not.” And you know what? They usually like it!
But like I said, there are so many mobile payment options out there now, you’d be a fool to keep using Venmo hostage-holding service. Google Wallet is pretty slick and free, if you’re a Google person. Facebook now lets you send money through Messenger. Pretty much every major bank has some sort of money-sending option in its app now, too.
Try them all. See what works for you. Just stop using Venmo. It’s less convenient than you think it is, and there are better options.
Image: Shutterstock / Gizmodo