Pay With Your Mobile Phone

Mobile payments
Photo: Robert Kneschke/Moment Open/Getty Images

Do you have your phone with you more often than you have a wallet or purse? If so, paying for things with your phone might be the most convenient option.

Aside from the convenience factor (and just being cool), there are several practical reasons to make payments with a mobile device. Security is one of them: Mobile payment tools can provide more security than traditional magnetic-stripe cards, which are susceptible to skimming and data breaches (although this benefit diminishes as chip-and-PIN cards take over). Plus, if you keep multiple cards open, it’s easier to choose the payment method you want without having to carry a quiver of cards around.

Learn about how to use your phone to replace your current method of spending with debit and credit cards (and occasionally cash) at brick-and-mortar locations. 


There are several ways to make electronic payments with your phone. For example, you might want to send money to friends or pay a contractor who doesn't have a payment terminal. Those types of mobile payment tools are covered here: How to Send Money.

What You Need

Compatible Devices

To make payments, you might need a phone with Near Field Communication (NFC) capabilities enabled. NFC lets your phone communicate with a merchant’s payment terminal via radio waves, and newer phones likely have NFC hardware available. However, you don’t always need NFC—you might be able to process payments entirely online with some merchants. Look at where you shop most often, and find out exactly what those merchants require.

Mobile Wallet

To spend with your phone, you typically need to store payment information in a mobile wallet. To do so, enter your credit card, debit card, or bank account information into the wallet (by typing it in or taking a photo of the card). Alternatively, you might be able to link a wallet to another payment account. Several popular mobile wallets include:

How to Pay Merchants With Your Phone

Once you set up a mobile wallet (or several of them) on your device, you’re ready to make payments.

In most cases, you go to a cashier or self-checkout terminal as usual. When it’s time to pay, follow the merchant’s instructions. In many cases, you hold your device near the payment terminal or touch the terminal gently with your phone. Depending on your device and your mobile wallet, you might or might not need to “wake” the phone or unlock your wallet first. Before completing the payment, you’ll need to verify your identity (with a PIN, fingerprint, or another method), and then the payment happens.

Some merchants are not ready for mobile payments, so you might need to ask a cashier for help. Likewise, some companies only work with specific mobile wallets, so it’s best to research this before you plan to make a payment.

Security: Is it Safe?

Is it safe to make purchases with your mobile phone? 

Mobile payments are just as safe as using a credit card, and in some ways, the practice is safer. 

The mobile wallets described above all hide your information from merchants. You might pay with a credit card, but the merchant does not see your actual credit card information (like the card number, expiration date, or security code). Instead, they use randomized “tokens” to authenticate your payment.

To protect yourself, keep the following in mind:

  • "Jailbroken" or "rooted" devices carry extra risk—if your device gets infected with malware, your payment information may be compromised.
  • Use strong identity verification measures: a long PIN, strong password, orbiometric characteristic.
  • Use security features that help you find a misplaced device or that “wipe” a lost or stolen device.

Mobile Payment Challenges

Mobile payments might make your life a lot easier. But you might not want to leave the house without other forms of payment just yet. Retailers have not completely warmed up to the idea, so you’ll need to pay the old-fashioned way from time to time. There is also the problem of a dead battery—the more we depend on technology, the more helpless we are when it fails. 


Your cash, checks, and cards work when you have a dead battery.

Ultimately, paying with your mobile phone might be an option that you use when it’s available. In time, it’s likely that the world will catch up with your desire to pay this way, and competitors will improve these systems. Until then, maybe swiping a card isn’t all that bad.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do you pay a vending machine with a phone?

Vending machines, gas station pumps, and other self-serve stations may allow for mobile payments. Check for any symbols that represent NFC compatibility. These NFC symbols will be located on the part of the machine where you tap to process the transaction. Not all vending machines or gas pumps will be compatible with mobile pay.

How do you pay for the bus with your phone?

The same technology that allows you to complete purchases with your phone can also be used to ride public transit. Check with your local transportation department to learn whether it offers an app that uses NFC technology to collect ride fares and check tickets. The exact way this technology is incorporated into public transit will vary by region.

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  1. Bank of America. "How to Pay With Your Phone Using a Digital Wallet."

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