Editorial Policy

Credit Card vs. Smart Phone: The Showdown

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By Steven Gibbs
August 12, 2010

The “big news” in credit cards last week was mostly about cell phones.  Three of the largest carriers, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, joined with Discover Financial Services (the world’s fourth largest plastic payments network after Visa, MasterCard, and American Express) to enable payment by cell phone. 

Sounds cool, right?  Rather than pulling out your wallet, you’d just waive you smart phone in front of the register.  You’d get an electronic receipt right on your phone.  This method of payment is already big in Japan. 

But don’t write off plastic just yet.  For consumers, there are issues of convenience and security.  At $200 per register, merchants may be reluctant to install new readers.  This means that the places that accept pay-by-phone may be limited.  You’ll still have to carry your card anyway.  And some experts fear that a lost or stolen cell phone could pose more of a risk than a card alone.

Personally, I don’t see the advantages of pay by phone.  Not having to carry a card? I’m still going use a wallet to carry driver’s license, cash, business cards, library cards, grocery lists, etc.  Not having to swipe? Yea, that’s huge labor savings.  Not having the theft risk of my credit card numbers exposed? I’m sure thieves have already figured out how to intercept the signal between my smart phone and the register.  Plus, do I really want to migrate my credit account every time I get a new phone or carrier?  I think I’ll keep my card and my phone separate for now.