MONEY stocks

Reddit CEO Wants To Give You Stock in the Company

Users of the content-sharing site could get 10% of the company’s stock. Too bad Facebook, now worth $17 billion, didn't have the same idea.

MONEY Investing

Kickstarter Backers Are Investors, and It’s Time They Got Used To It

iStock

Many Kickstarter users still don't quite understand what they're getting into, or why the site is predicated on risk.

It’s been a rough September for Kickstarter. After a three-week period during which two major projects—each of which had raised more than $500,000 on the site—failed spectacularly, the crowdfunding platform has begun to look a little less like a harmless way for underdog visionaries to fund their passion projects and a little more like a casino. It hasn’t helped that a handful of Kickstarter scams and con men were exposed in recent months.

Recently, Kickstarter appeared to respond to the bad press by revising its terms of service. The new document does a better job of laying out the responsibilities creators have to their backers. No scamming, do your best, try to make it up to people if you fail, and so on. But that move likely won’t fix the deeper problem: That most of the site’s users believe that their donations entitle them to some kind of tangible reward, be it a smart watch or a bamboo beer koozie. In reality, nothing of the sort is guaranteed. That’s because Kickstarter backers aren’t customers making a purchase. They’re investors. And like all investments, Kickstarter projects have a chance of going bust.

To an extent, the confusion is understandable. Kickstarter calls itself “a new way to fund creative projects,” which sounds a lot more innocuous than “Craig’s List for angel investing” — even though the latter may be closer to the truth. Backers generally have limited information about the people they are supporting. And once a project is funded, they’re on their own when it comes to enforcing contracts with a creators — to the extent that such contracts even exist. In the event that a scammer takes everyone’s money and runs, Kickstarter won’t offer a refund or even chip in for legal fees. But at least in those cases there’s a clear basis for taking legal action (fraud); when money is squandered in a more conventional way — through bad business decisions — funders have no recourse at all.

However, before anyone deletes their Kickstarter app or swears off crowdfunding for good, it’s worth pointing out that you may have staked your retirement on a similar system: The stock market. Equity ownership, after all, comes with startlingly few guarantees. If Tim Cook decides tomorrow to spend all of Apple’s capital on a strategic Cheetos reserve, there’s really not much the average investor (without a controlling stake in the company) can do about it other than sell off the stock. Sure, the stock market does have additional important protections: greater transparency; legally empowered and (theoretically) independent boards of directors; dedicated regulators and watchdogs, and more. But in both cases investors take on a large amount of risk.

Does that make Kickstarter a bad deal? Not at all. In fact, the risky nature of Kickstarter is arguably the very thing that makes it worth using. Project creators offer something to backers — even if it’s just early access to their product — as a reward for taking a chance on a risky idea.

But it’s important to remember why the maker of that sweet felt iPhone case is giving you priority treatment: Things could all go south. And if they do, you’re the one who’ll take the hit.

TIME Web

How to Take Free Courses from Top Universities

Online Courses
Getty Images

You can continue your education with some amazing and free online resources available from top universities. These institutions offer many of their courses in the form of video lectures, audio transcripts and online quizzes. And some universities give you access to the professor and let you interact with other students taking the class.

Want to give these free online courses a try? Here are the online education offerings from the top U.S. universities that we think are worth checking out.

Stanford Free Courses

Stanford University, located in Stanford, California, offers an especially rich bounty of material for its amateur online learners. Classes are offered on multiple platforms, letting you watch videos lectures, participate in discussion forums and chats, complete quizzes and even participate in group projects. A wide range of courses are available, from Cryptography to Game Theory to Writing in the Sciences. There are courses on stock market investing and running your own business, too – stuff that you can actually use to benefit your family. Self-paced courses are also available, including the popular Computer Science 101. You can check out Stanford’s collection of online courses by visiting online.stanford.edu/courses.

Webcast.Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley is one of America’s most esteemed public universities. So, as you might expect, its online course catalog is one of the most serious of the bunch. You’ll find multiple webcasts on biology, chemistry, engineering, physics, history, health, political science, sociology and statistics. You won’t be able to take tests or raise your hand in class, but you can audit every lecture in HD on YouTube. UC Berkeley’s catalog of webcast courses is available for review and viewing at webcast.berkeley.edu.

MIT OpenCourseWare

Looking to live out your Good Will Hunting fantasies? Then check out the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) OpenCourseWare system. There, you’ll find video and audio lectures from the top-ranked engineering school. You’ll also be able to access notes, digital assessments and even free online textbooks. Not every class at MIT offers these materials, but the Course Finder tool will let you easily sort the catalog to find those that do. You can view MIT’s searchable wealth of online course materials and lectures at ocw.mit.edu.

Duke University

North Carolina’s Duke University offers a number of interactive, free online courses through the Coursera platform. Lectures in subjects like English Composition and Genetics are offered, with videos broken up into easily digestible YouTube clips; some courses offer online assessments as well. Online learners get to interact with other students and teachers via online message boards and discussion groups, furthering your understanding of the material. To take a look at Duke’s free online course offerings and register for classes, visit coursera.org/duke. You can find plenty of other universities and classes available on Coursera as well.

Harvard Open Courses

World-famous Harvard University teamed up with nearby MIT to create the edX learning platform, which currently offers 42 of its classes for free online. Many of these classes on edX, like Introduction to Computer Science, are self-guided and ready to start anytime you’re are. Others, like AnatomyX, run on a fixed schedule. Some even offer college credit through the Harvard Extension School for a fee; otherwise, completion earns you a nifty free “Honor Code” certificate. You can browse Harvard’s online course listing at edx.org/school/harvardx. (Don’t forget to check out what other schools are offering on the free platform, as well.)

UCLA Free Lecture Webcasts

The University of California, Los Angeles, like UC Berkeley, offers a wealth of class experiences for free online on YouTube. Courses are organized into playlists, so you can watch lectures from courses like Sustainable Living, Modern Civilization 1750 – Present and Probability for Math Science on your own schedule. You should also keep an eye on the UCLA Extension School, which periodically offers free (albeit brief) online classes complete with discussion boards.

Open Yale Courses

Yale, one of the our nation’s oldest institutions of higher learning, offers a limited-albeit-highbrow selection of courses for free online auditing. You can challenge yourself by taking Philosophy and Science of Human Nature, expand your horizons with Listening to Music, or try to get a better understanding of your 401(k) by taking Financial Markets. Courses are available on Coursera, through YouTube and on iTunes through Apple’s iTunes U free learning platform.

Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon currently offers 21 open and free courses via its Open Learning Initiative (OLI) platform. You can take scientific courses like Biochemistry and Modern Biology if that’s your thing, or plan your vacation to Paris while taking Elementary French I and II. OLI makes it easy to track your progress (with sign-in), while “targeted feedback” and online assignments give you an idea of how well you’re absorbing the material. You can browse what Carnegie Mellon’s OLI has to offer at oli.cmu.edu.

iTunes U

Okay, so maybe this one isn’t an actual college. Still, if your hunger for knowledge knows no bounds, you’ll definitely need to check out Apple’s iTunes U application. Inside, you’ll be connected to thousands of free course offerings from schools all around the globe. iTunes U offers tools to start discussions and ask questions of teachers and students. And since everything is rated on a five-star system, you’ll be able to easily hunt down the best courses in the subjects most interesting to you. You can download iTunes U onto your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch through the Apple App Store.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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MONEY Tech

4 Apps That Will Supercharge Your Productivity

Matthew Hollister

Not enough hours in the day? These tools can help you get it all done.

1. For Managing Tasks: Todoist

The problem: You’re juggling multiple projects, and you sometimes lose track of what to do next.

The fix: Todoist is a list-making and task-management app that can be as basic or as powerful as you need it to be. You can create a personal to-do list, of course. But it’s also possible to share lists with other people, so you can delegate tasks as projects get compli­cated. Your lists are available via a web browser, mobile apps, and desktop programs—13 platforms in all—and sync automatically. ­Todoist is free, but if you want reminders and other extra features, you’ll need to splurge on the $29-a-year premium version.

2. For Staying Focused: Anti-Social

The problem: It’s time to get serious work done—but you keep checking Twitter and Facebook.

The fix: This software for Macs and PCs blocks distracting sites for a period you set. It costs $15 (it’s free five times) but has a just-right mix of flexibility and strictness that free programs lack. If you do decide you need a Twitter fix, you must reboot—just annoying enough to make you reconsider. Facebook and Twitter are blocked by default, but you can shut out any site you choose.

3. For group editing: Quip

The problem: Everybody on your team has an opinion, and it’s hard to keep straight all their ­suggested changes to the Word doc you’re working on.

The fix: Quip, which is free, merges word processing with instant messaging. Designed by Facebook’s former tech chief, it’s a web-based word processor with a stream of chat messages and revision notes docked to the left of your text. It also lets you put docs into shared online folders, so you can keep track of multiple versions.

4. For easy presentations: Haiku Deck

The problem: Creating great presentations is a ­vital skill, but the process can be frustrating for ­PowerPoint newbies.

The fix: This free app makes presentation prep easy—and almost fun. Available on the web and the iPad, Haiku Deck lets you choose from a range of backgrounds, fonts, and layouts to create a slick package, even if you have no eye for design. Then you can put your work online, post it to Twitter and Facebook, or send it via email. A cool extra: Use your iPhone as a remote control to click through your presentation.

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MONEY Autos

Used Car Prices Are Plummeting. Here’s Why

Vehicles for sale at a used car lot.
Chuck Franklin—Alamy

When the market for new car sales is hot, smart buyers know to look instead at the overflowing inventory of used cars—a supply that's cheap and getting cheaper.

It’s a great time to be in the market for a used car. The Wall Street Journal recently cited data indicating that used-car prices declined for the four consecutive months through August. USA Today noted that the average used car purchased at a franchised auto dealership sold for $10,883 in August, down 1.6% from the previous year and 2.4% versus July 2014. Edmunds.com predicted that used car prices would dip around 2% overall this year, and that some used vehicles—in particular, large crossover SUVs like the Chevy Traverse—would drop in price by upwards of 8%.

What’s more, the forecast calls for used-car prices to stay on a downward trend for the foreseeable future. AutoTrader.com, the Atlanta-based online marketplace for new and used vehicles, says that its inventory of certified pre-owned vehicles has risen 6% since March, and that by year’s end buyers can expect a handful of top “pre-loved” car models—including the 2011 versions of the Ford Fusion, Toyota Corolla, and Honda CR-V—to be priced at roughly 5% less than what dealers were asking just six months ago.

What accounts for the sudden price dip? A quick review of what has happened in the new and used car markets over the past few years sheds some light. In 2011, used vehicle prices hit a 16-year high in the wake of the Great Recession, when relatively few consumers were purchasing or leasing new cars because money was tight and credit was less available. That meant a shrinking supply of used cars, as there were fewer trade-ins or vehicles coming off lease. The “Cash for Clunkers” stimulus program also removed millions of used vehicles from the market, further tightening supply.

According to Cars.com, the average 2012 listing price for five popular used vehicles five or more years old had risen a whopping 29% over the three years prior. Around that time, however, new car leases and sales surged, rising 13% in 2012 and continuing with impressive growth in 2013 and 2014. All of those new vehicle purchases and leases have translated to a parallel rise in trade-ins and cars coming off leases. “Leasing has surged in recent years with thousands of those cars coming back to dealerships as used cars,” Michelle Krebs, AutoTrader.com senior analyst, said via press release. “The abundance of returned lease cars should result in used cars coming off their historical highs of recent years, representing good buys for consumers.”

The takeaway is that used cars are cheap, at least when compared to the record highs of a few years ago, and that the market for previously owned vehicles should remain attractive to buyers through the near future.

Yet this turn of events isn’t all good for consumers. When used car prices tank, so does the value of your trade-in, if you have one. Also, automakers are more likely to offer low-price lease deals when their anticipated resale value is high. The flip side is that when used car prices crater, like they’re doing now, car dealerships must assume that they’ll be forced to sell off-lease vehicles for less money—and therefore they need to make more money from the person leasing the car in the first place. In other words, typical monthly payments for a customer leasing a new car are likely to rise compared to the rates available not long ago.

MONEY Odd Spending

FTC Says Claims for Caffeine Underwear Are Groundless

The Federal Trade Commission settles with two marketers of caffeine-infused "shapewear" over claims their products promote weight loss.

MONEY Customer Service

3 Industries That Desperately Need Customer Service Makeovers

Chimpanzee on a telephone
Brad Wilson—Getty Images

Comcast is hardly the only company that should be doing some soul searching and commit—not only with words but actions—to making customer service genuinely better.

Because the state of customer service has been bad for so long, and because we’ve heard many times over that some or another big initiative would improve customer service dramatically only to have little or no impact, we’re skeptical about the effectiveness of any broad campaign supposedly crafted to address age-old customer grievances. Nonetheless, it was good to see Comcast’s recent announcement that a long-serving executive named Charlie Herrin had been named as the company’s new senior vice president of customer experience. “Charlie will listen to feedback from customers as well as our employees to make sure we are putting our customers at the center of every decision we make,” a message from Comcast president and CEO Neil Smit explained on Friday.

Read between the lines and it sure looks like Comcast is acknowledging that in the past, customers haven’t exactly been top of mind when it comes to company decisions. That’s no revelation to consumers, of course, who have routinely dinged Comcast for terrible customer service. In 2014, Comcast “won” the annual Worst Company in America competition as voted by Consumerist readers, the second time in recent years it has nabbed that dubious honor.

While it’s unclear what Herrin and Comcast will do to improve customer service, the first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that you have one, which Smit did more squarely when he said, “It may take a few years before we can honestly say that a great customer experience is something we’re known for. But that is our goal and our number one priority … and that’s what we are going to do.” To which the consensus reaction among consumers is … it’s about damn time. Followed by, we’ll believe it when we actually see real,meaningful change.

To be fair, it’s not just Comcast that’s sorely in need of a customer service makeover. Here are three entire business categories that are regularly bashed for not putting customers’ needs first on the agenda.

Pay TV & Internet Providers
Current Comcast competitor and likely merger partner Time Warner Cable is also a regular contender for the worst service title, as are other pay TV-Internet providers including DirecTV and Verizon.

Among the complaints are that there is a lack of true competition in the category, because roughly three-quarters of Americans have exactly one local choice for a high-speed Internet provider. A survey published this summer indicated that more than half of Americans would leave their cable company if they could, and nearly three-quarters said that pay TV providers are predatory and take advantage of the lack of competition. Among the most hated pay TV practices that consumers would love to see changed are promotional rates that are replaced by skyrocketing monthly charges, frustrating and time-consuming run-ins with customer service reps, and bundled packages overloaded with channels and options the customer doesn’t want (let’s add smaller packages and a la carte channel selection, please).

Wireless Providers
The good news for cell phone users is that customer satisfaction is on the rise, increasing 2.6% according to the 2014 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The bad news, however, is that while we’re happier with the actual gadgets (from Samsung in particular), satisfaction with the companies providing our cell phone service—including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint—remains stagnant and below average.

Plenty of other studies also show just how frustrated and dissatisfied consumers are with wireless providers nowadays. A vote-off at Ranker.com, for example, placed AT&T at the top of the list of “Companies with the Worst Customer Service.” Among the many problems consumers have with wireless providers is that choosing a handset and data-minutes-texting package is absurdly complicated, with countless permutations, obfuscations, and mysterious add-on charges. This past weekend, a New York Times columnist presented a painstaking step-by-step analysis of why the $199 price advertised for the new iPhone 6 is a joke—because by the time fees and monthly upcharges are tacked on, upgrading to the new phone will easily run more than $600.

“Wireless service has always been one of the most complex purchases a human can possibly make,” Eddie Hold, a wireless industry analyst with market research firm NPD Group, summed up in a Consumer Reports story last year. “It’s always been horrific.”

Banks
Number 3 on the Ranker list of companies with the worst customer service, just below AT&T and Time Warner Cable, is Bank of America. Another study, from 24/7 Wall Street, used customer service surveys to put Bank of America in the #1 spot for its Customer Service Hall of Shame, and two other banking institutions, Citigroup and Wells Fargo, are in the top (bottom?) 10. (The study factored in ratings for these institutions’ banking and credit card services.)

What may come as a surprise—a sad and ironic one, at that—is that customer satisfaction with banks is apparently at a record high. The 2014 J.D. Power study on U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction indicates that big banks and regional banks have made some strides in terms of making customers happier (or less disgusted) with their service, and that overall bank scores are higher than they’ve ever been since the study has been conducted. Yet the J.D. Power study shows there’s a long way to go: The most common reason given for switching banks is poor customer service, and millennials, minorities, and affluent consumers stand out as being particularly dissatisfied with today’s banks.

“Even with record high satisfaction, there are some banks that fall far short in meeting customer needs,” J.D. Power’s Jim Miller said via statement. “It is easy for banks to become complacent. To stay at the top of their game, banks should focus on those customers who are not satisfied. And consumers should keep in mind they have the opportunity to shop banks to find the right combination of services, products and fees to meet their needs.”

What’s your pick for the company with the worst customer service? Tweet us at @MONEY with the hashtag #unhappycustomer, and we may publish your feedback in a future post.

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5 Packages That Could Replace Pay TV As We Know It
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MONEY Financial Planning

Why Financial Planning Needs More Religion

In God We Trust on a coin
iStock

Acknowledging faith and spirituality helps people better understand their financial goals — and stick to them.

As part of my getting-to-know you interview with new clients, I ask about their faith. Most are caught off guard. “Why do YOU care?” was one client’s response.

Such a reply comes with good reason; my clients hired me to talk about money, not religion. But there are many advantages to discussing spirituality with clients before we address their finances.

Know Thyself

Spiritual thinkers from Socrates to John Calvin advocated the importance of introspective familiarity in the pursuit of wisdom. Certainly, in the financial realm, the client who understands why he behaves the way he does will be more successful in achieving goals. Asking him to articulate the spiritual beliefs that drive him is a great exercise for him as well, even in cases where those beliefs are simply, “I don’t practice any sort of spirituality.”

If you don’t practice your own spirituality, or you simply don’t want to talk about spirituality with clients, a discussion of values can be an effective start to the relationship. Everyone has values, regardless of their stated faith or religion. Even old Ebenezer Scrooge valued wealth, frugality and financial independence. My clients receive a list of 140 common values from which they select the most important. I then have them narrow the list down to 20, then 10 as they look at themselves in a completely new way.

Integrating Faith into Financial Plans

As many advisers have learned by experience, it is the long term that will make or break a client’s financial goals. When our assets serve a larger purpose, we experience a deep inspiration and motivation over the long haul. By incorporating the big picture into our planning, we have better success with helping clients implement behavior changes. Rather than saying, “You need to spend less next month, and every month thereafter,” we can include a client’s faith to motivate a greater level of intentionality: “I know you want to be able to provide XYZ for ABC. That will be much easier if you spend less in the short term.”

Putting money in its place

Maybe money shouldn’t be the key ingredient in our financial decisions. Where strong values are present, ideally our financial life will reflect them. When your money is in service to your values, it becomes a supporting cast member of a show where your values play the leads.

In a fast-paced, credit-loving society, it is easy to let money guide our decisions. We make risky investments in hopes of large payoffs with money we can’t afford to lose. We take jobs that pay well but require such dedication of time that we begin to lose touch with the people we love. We constantly seek “more” without taking the time to be grateful for what we have.

But when values take the lead in our decision-making, our behavior finally changes for good. Investments no longer cause insomnia, jobs support a worker’s lifestyle, and gratitude becomes a regular part of life. Clients will appreciate an adviser who cares for the whole person and advocates that kind of wellness.

I have one client who took a different view of money; she hated it. Despite tremendous earning potential, she considered wealth the cause of greed in this world. In what she deemed acts of faith, she continually put herself in positions to earn very modest amounts. Is she wrong? That’s not my place to determine, but I do have a responsibility to help her understand her default reactions so she can evaluate whether or not they reflect her core beliefs.

I knew she was a Christian, and her upbringing took place in a notoriously upper class town. I suggested she examine her religious teachings for more detail on the topic of wealth. She eventually decided that her attitudes don’t reflect the actual teachings of her faith. She read of biblical figures who used the power of their wealth to serve God and in so doing, mightily improve the lives of others.

My client’s entire financial plan changed once she acknowledged her attitudes toward money were more reflective of her teenage response to her home town than they were an outcropping of her faith. She has accepted a new mantle; while avoiding monetary entrapments, she wants to make more money so she can use it to improve the lives God brings into her path.

It’s About Our Roots

I liken our spirituality to the root system of a tree: It gathers nutrients and supports the weight of the tree. In nature, what we see above ground only partially represents the root structure we can’t see. Everyone has roots, and ignoring those root systems can lead to ineffective attempts to grow.

As much as we hate this fact, we grow in leaps and bounds when we suffer. For those who dedicate their lives to a higher purpose, even life’s pitfalls present growth opportunities; we learn to grapple gracefully and walk out of those pits with our soul intact. I frequently mention to my clients my own financial struggles due to two chronically ill family members. While I wouldn’t want to relive those life setbacks, their spiritual benefit seriously outpaces the dollar signs. Where the prudent financial plan would create such stability that you never find yourself in a financially precarious position, there still is beauty in those down times, and they serve to forward our purposes for being in this world.

Certainly, knowing your client’s faith is not a shortcut; there are as many varieties of beliefs among denominations as there are types of trees and root structures. But it helps you know the right questions to ask. Perhaps you are wondering why there is a disconnect with a longtime client of yours. When you look at her, could there be something underground that will give you a better understanding of the whole person? How much more effective could you be if you brought your advice under the umbrella of her faith and spirituality?

——-

Candice McGarvey, CFP, is the Chief Story Changer of Her Dollars Financial Coaching. By working with women to increase their financial wellness, she brings clients through financial transitions. Via conversations that feel more like a coffee date than a meeting, her process improves a client’s financial strength and peace.

MONEY Spending

See Why This Halloween Will Be the Most Expensive Ever

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TIME How-To

Mobile Payments: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

We use our smartphones in place of maps, health trackers and cameras, so why not use them to replace our credit cards, too? It’s not like Americans don’t already choose their smartphones when it’s time to shop and bank online.

Yet a 2013 survey from financial services company TSYS (PDF) found that just 6% of Americans valued being able to use their card or cash via a smartphone virtual wallet.

Consumers seem comfortable with credit cards, whether they’re signing a receipt, entering a PIN or waving the card at a contactless payment terminal, and they see little perceived extra value in using smartphones to pay in stores, asserts Rajesh Kandaswamy, an analyst at information technology research and advisory firm Gartner. “Consumers need an incentive to move to mobile payments,” he says. And Softcard mobile payment app (formerly Isis) does that, offering a dollar off every purchase you make with an American Express Serve card (up to 50 transactions).

The upcoming launch of Apple Pay will also help. The app will download automatically in October as part of an update to iOS 8 for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and it works with American Express, MasterCard and Visa cards.

“Given that Apple already stores millions of customers’ financial info in iTunes, Apple Pay is likely to be a catalyst for higher adoption of the smartphone wallet because it reduces the efforts of millions to even try mobile payments,” Kandaswamy says.

Apple Pay is also supported by major banks, including Bank of America, Chase and Citi. These big banks are unlikely to spike the cost of processing Apple Pay transactions versus credit card transactions, giving more merchants more incentive to make the service available to their customers.

Why switch to a smartphone wallet

A mobile wallet app offers a better way to manage payment cards, from debit and credit cards to discount vouchers and loyalty vouchers, Kandaswamy says. “A mobile wallet app can also offer better control over finances, in the sense that you have a single place to examine and analyze your purchases,” he says.

Paying with your smartphone can speed up the checkout process. Instead of rifling through your wallet (and possibly realizing you forgot to bring a card at all), simply tap your smartphone on a payment terminal to authorize a transaction and simultaneously apply discounts or loyalty points.

How the money moves

Most current smartphone wallet apps with a tap-to-pay feature require a phone with a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip to work. For iPhones, that means the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Most Android phones that run Android 4.0 or newer are NFC-compatible, although some apps require a special, extra-secure SIM for storing financial information. Check with your carrier to see if your Android phone is e-wallet-friendly.

If you use a Windows Phone or BlackBerry device, you’re facing a wait. Microsoft recently announced Wallet for Windows Phone for storing credit cards, loyalty cards, vouchers and tickets, but the app’s tap-to-pay functionality isn’t yet supported by any Windows Phone devices. And although Visa approved the BlackBerry mobile payment framework last year, we have yet to see any official launch of a wallet app.

But the mobile payments game is heating up. Retail giant Wal-Mart has announced that it’s piloting its own mobile payments system, along with several other large brands. Current C, which will work on any smartphone, won’t launch until next year.

The apps to consider

For now, Android and iPhone owners can turn their smartphones into lean, mean paying machines with one of these apps:

apple-iphone-6-apple-pay-510px
Apple

Apple Pay

Apple Pay will be available in October for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus as well as for the Apple Watch when it launches next year. Apple Pay holds credit and debit cards, and iTunes users can automatically link the credit card they already have on file. Once you’ve activated Apple Pay, you can use it for secure one-tap purchases in shopping apps as well as services such as Uber and Panera Bread, without having to fill out billing and shipping information.

Tap to pay: Touch the front of your iPhone 6 or 6 Plus to a contactless payment terminal while holding your finger over the TouchID fingerprint sensor. You get a gentle vibration when the transaction is complete.

Security: Instead of storing and sending credit card numbers, Apple Pay allocates a device-specific account number encrypted on a dedicated chip in the iPhone 6/6 Plus. This number is sent with a one-use transaction ID called a token. “The consumer’s credit card is never exposed during the transaction, and merchants are no longer storing giant databases of credit cards, waiting for some hacker to come along and compromise them,” says Marc Rogers, principal security researcher at mobile security company Lookout. “However, whether [this is more secure] depends on how the token itself is protected and if it is securely stored, neither of which are clear at this point.”

Why you want it: It’s fast. Using the iPhone’s fingerprint scanner to tap and pay beats signing a receipt or entering a PIN code. And with the support of every major U.S. bank, the number of shops that accept Apple Pay could skyrocket very quickly.

Where you can use it: Use it at about 220,000 shops over about a dozen retailer chains, including McDonald’s, Subway, Bloomingdales and Walgreens.

Which phones support it: iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus only.

Google Wallet

Google Wallet holds credit and debit card information as well as loyalty cards and discount coupons. You can transfer money into a prepaid card called the Wallet Balance. If you’re using an NFC-enabled Android 4.4 phone, you can pay for purchases in-store. Tap-to-pay won’t work on iPhones or on Android phones running Android 2.3 or older; however, these can access the Wallet’s other features, such as sending or requesting money, one-click checkout at online retailers and tracking orders made with linked payment cards.

Tap to pay: Open the Google Wallet app on your phone, then enter a PIN before holding it against the terminal.

Security: Google encrypts and stores users’ financial details on its servers, and use of the app is protected by a PIN. If someone should manage to pilfer your phone and guess your PIN, Google claims its fraud protection covers 100% of “verified unauthorized transactions.”

Why you want it: Google Wallet supports dozens of loyalty programs and coupon sites. Adding points and receiving discounts when you purchase something is hassle free, even if you’ve forgotten which vouchers and cards you have.

Where you can use it: Use it at any store where contactless payments are accepted.

Which phones support it: Android 2.3; 4.4 and higher required for tap-to-pay; iOS 6 or newer, but does not support tap-to-pay.

softcard-paying-at-kiosk-510px
Softcard

Softcard

Softcard was created by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, so (you guessed it) you’ll need to be on one of these carriers to use it. You’ll also need an NFC-compatible Android phone. The app supports American Express, Chase and Wells Fargo credit cards plus a handful of loyalty and discount cards. You can set up an American Express Serve account and use it to make payments with any debit card, credit card or U.S. bank account.

Tap to pay: As with Google Wallet, open the app, enter your PIN, then hold your NFC smartphone against the payment terminal.

Security: To use Softcard, you need a secure SIM card that can store your financial information so that only the Softcard app can access it. (You can request one from your carrier, assuming your phone is Softcard-compatible.) For each transaction, a one-use token is created so that your card details are not sent to the merchant. Like Google Wallet, a PIN protects the use of the app.

Why you want it: Softcard also scans nearby merchants for offers or discounts available to Softcard users, which you can then use at checkout.

Where you can use it: Use it at dozens of chains including Urban Outfitters, Subway and Walgreens. Check the full list at paywiththis.com.

Which phones support it: Android 4.0 and higher.

LoopPay

LoopPay, a Kickstarter success, works via a smartphone app combined with a Loop device — either a fob ($39, pairable with iPhone or Android phones) or a ChargeCase for iPhone 5/5S ($99). Credit and debit cards, loyalty and rewards cards and your driver’s license can be scanned into the Loop app. Most Android phones running Android 4.2 or newer work with Loop, but some have compatibility issues; check to see if yours works at LoopPay’s compatibility page.

Tap to pay: Hold your fob (or ChargeCase-sheathed iPhone) by the credit card terminal, then swipe your phone screen or press the fob button to pay. If you need to show ID (say, for an alcohol purchase), hit the ID icon on the phone screen and display a scan of any identification you’ve loaded.

Security: All payment information is encrypted and stored in a secure chip inside the Loop fob or ChargeCase, and a PIN protects the use of the app.

Why you want it: LoopPay works at 90% of retailers around the world — far more shops than any of the other apps.

Where you can use it: Use it anywhere there’s a credit card reader.

Which phones support it: iPhone, Android 4.2 and up.

More than an app, not quite a wallet

starbucks-app-balance-screen-320px
Starbucks

Starbucks

This iPhone app combines your loyalty card and prepaid card balance into one handy app for tap-and-pay, keeping track of rewards you’re due and seeing how much more coffee you need to buy before you hit the next reward. Starbucks got this right — the app is used for $6 million in transactions every week.

PayPal

If you’re in a shop that accepts PayPal, log in to the app (iPhone and Android) and check in to your location. You can then take your purchases to the register, tell the cashier you’re paying by PayPal and simply approve the payment on the phone screen. It’s not quite a wallet replacement, but it is handy if you forget your real-world wallet. The app can scan your vicinity for PayPal-friendly merchants.

Keep your information secure

Using a mobile wallet app can be more secure than using a credit card because wallet apps don’t send as much sensitive information (such as your credit card number and expiration date) in the course of a transaction. To maintain security with a mobile payment app on your phone, follow these suggestions from Lookout’s Rogers:

  • Set a password on your phone.
  • Download an app for finding your phone if it’s lost. When your phone becomes your wallet, loss or theft becomes even more inconvenient.
  • Only download mobile payment apps (or, indeed, any apps) from sites you trust. Check the app’s ratings and permissions and read reviews to make sure they’re widely used and respected before you download.
  • Turn off your device’s NFC connection when you’re not using it.
  • Use NFC payment stations with caution; you might end up paying for someone else’s purchases.

Will you be replacing your wallet with an app? If so, which one? Let us know in the comments.

This article was written by Natasha Stokes and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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