The growing crop of digital wallet offerings is making it easy to pay for a variety of everyday things with just a few phone taps. Smartphone apps usually email you an electronic receipt, so no more crumpled wads at the bottom of your purse or pocket. But watch out, once you start paying with your phone, it may be hard to go back to pen, paper and plastic.
Stores and restaurants
Retail stores, coffeehouses and restaurants are increasingly getting wired to accept mobile phone payments. At Starbucks, customers can pay by tapping a downloaded app on the smartphone and then showing the device with the bar code that appears on the screen to the cashier.
The Square app lets users pay for meals at restaurants where it is accepted. When it's time to check out, tap on the Square icon, tag the eatery and the clerk will see a photo of you pop up on the register's screen — the equivalent of asking for a photo ID. Once the bill appears on the smartphone, you just have to fill in how much tip you want to leave and tap to complete the transaction.
With PayDragon, you can order and pay for a burger or a sloppy Joe from a local food truck without even being there — when it's ready, you just walk to the pickup window and grab it.
More stores may soon accept so-called NFC technology to allow a customer to pay by waving his or her phone in front of a credit card terminal, although industry officials agree that it may take another year before many phones and stores are equipped with the technology to do this.
Many online banks have smartphone apps that will let you check your balance and purchase history, as well as transfer funds between accounts. Apps from banks such as Chase and ING also allow customers to deposit funds by using a phone's camera to snap a picture of a personal check.
More movie theaters, sporting events and public transit systems are letting users buy and use tickets directly from their smartphones. The StubHub app lets you search for and download sports tickets to a Dodgers or Angels game. Some teams, like the San Francisco Giants, allow fans to enter the stadium by flashing a bar code on their phones, to be scanned like regular tickets. Various subway systems around the U.S. have experimented with letting riders walk through turnstiles by waving their phones.
Coupons and offers
Many of the newer digital wallet apps incorporate special coupons and offers. The Starbucks app keeps track of how many drinks you buy, and might offer you a free beverage after your 15th purchase. On the Square app, Los Angeles' Bourbon Street Cafe is offering $1 off a customer's first purchase. Google's Wallet app allows users to automatically redeem offer coupons — say, half off a $200 helicopter ride in Santa Ana — if that store's register accepts mobile phone payments.