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Recently I sent a check through the mail to a friend who still writes checks and is extremely hesitant to conduct any type of monetary business via computer or smartphone. But she needed the money and it had already been a week. “So is this one of those ‘the check’s in the mail deals?’ she quipped. I assured her it was not and could prove it to her if she would simply download Venmo. I walked her through the process and in about 10 minutes she had her money. ‘Wow, its like instant cash!’ she crowed. ‘Now how do I get this off my phone?” It is true that the way people move money around these days is dramatically different from even a few years ago, so for those of you who have never “Venmo’d”, here is a little info on what is happening on the instant money scene. P.S. You know it’s a thing when it becomes a verb, right? Here are the pros and cons of each. The Origin of Payment Apps Venmo was arguably first to the mobile payment party. Founded in 2009 as way to buy MP3s via email, now the app is everywhere. Between April 2017 and April 2018, Venmo processed $40 billion from its rumored 10 million monthly users. The brand name is part of the collective vernacular — “Just Venmo me” is the new “I need a Band-Aid.” The app even gets name-checked in song lyrics. In the background, however, competitors have cropped up. Square, the Jack Dorsey-founded-startup you likely know for its little white boxes at cafe counters, launched Cash App in 2013. Last summer, the decades-old consumer reporting agency Early Warning Services — owned by institutions like Bank of America, Capital One and Wells Fargo — formally debuted Zelle Both have taken off quickly. In its first year, Zelle saw 320 million transactions and more than $94 billion moved, leading research firm eMarketer to predict in June that it would pass Venmo by the end of 2018. Cash App did just that in July, reaching 33.5 million cumulative downloads over Venmo’s 32.9 million, according to one analyst “A lot of my friends use Venmo still, but I’ve been slowly converting them to Cash,” he says. “‘I’ll Venmo you’ — my girlfriend says that, but she pretty much only uses Cash.” How They Stack Up The apps are all similar in that they allow a person to link up their bank account, type in a dollar amount and send the sum quickly. But the intricacies of the services vary. In that vein, Zelle is setting itself apart by courting a slightly older user base. Because it’s already built into several mobile banking services, it’s appealing across generations and tech skill levels. People only need the standalone app if their bank or credit union isn’t a Zelle partner, which theoretically makes it effortless for, say, your grandma to give you a few bucks for your birthday. Zelle also puts that book or birthday money in your account instantly, unlike Venmo and Cash App. In those services, you carry a balance until you’re ready to cash out, which is a process that takes a few days unless you pay a fee. In Cash App, instant deposits cost 1.5% of the total amount. In Venmo, they’re 25 cents and only available if you have a Visa or Mastercard debit card. Consumer Reports recently rated Zelle, Venmo, Cash App, Facebook Messenger Payments and Apple Pay all secure enough to use. But Christina Tetreault, a senior staff attorney for Consumers Union is pushing for more. “The way money moves is changing, and consumers have a lot of confidence in these services, and justifiably, because they do transactions really well,” she says. “The legal protections haven’t kept up with the way scammers are exploiting that ease.” In particular, Tetreault says that the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau should extend error resolution rights to victims who get tricked into sending money to scammers, as well as enforce the existing right for people who accidentally misdirect payments to get help from the provider in getting it back. She says those providers, or apps, are in a better position to know who’s for real and who’s not. “It’s not enough to tell consumers to treat these transactions like cash,” she says. “We’d like to see the law catch up with reality.” Until then, the roughly 76 million people who use peer-to-peer payment apps will have to keep arguing about which service is best.

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