Credit Card, PayPal or Cash App? How You Pay Matters
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Credit Card, PayPal or Cash App? How You Pay Matters

A guide to weighing security, convenience and benefits of each payment option

By IMANI MOISE
Wed, Aug 9, 2023 8:39amGrey Clock 4 min

Buyers have more ways to pay for things than ever before: Apple Pay, Venmo, credit cards and dozens of other options. What you choose might matter as much as the purchase itself.

Each of the different payment methods provides various conveniences, perks and protections from fraud. Credit cards have long been the default option of choice. But higher interest rates have now raised the cost of carrying a credit-card balance.

Money-transfer apps such as Venmo and Zelle processed nearly $900 billion last year, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau expects that number to reach $1.6 trillion by 2027.

These apps and services provide easy instant payments, usually for free. The downside is that these options offer fewer protections from scams and unfulfilled orders.

“The U.S. consumer is very driven by convenience. They may not be directly driven by security,” said James Anderson, managing director at Paze, a bank-owned digital wallet.

Payment apps are among the fastest-growing sources of fraud reports and losses, according to Federal Trade Commission data. Overall fraud losses have increased more than fivefold to $1.2 trillion since 2019. Losses tied to payment apps jumped from $5 million to $47 million over the same period, according to the FTC data.

As new payment options gain acceptance, consumers should try to educate themselves how to use these methods safely, said Seth Ruden, director of global advisory at BioCatch, a fraud-detection software company.

“The channel itself is not the villain. The bad actors are the scammers, the social engineers and exploit artists,” he said.

Here’s how to weigh the security, convenience and benefits of each payment option:

Credit and debit cards

When you swipe or tap your card or authorise a card transaction online, the merchant’s bank communicates with your bank through a card network such as Mastercard or Visa to ask permission to withdraw a certain amount. Your bank then decides whether to approve the transaction based on your available funds or credit and the likelihood the transaction is fraudulent. If approved, your bank puts a hold on the funds until they are sent to the merchant’s account, usually within a business day.

Credit cards can be the most rewarding way to pay online. Card issuers use the revenue from transaction fees to fund perks for customers such as cash-back deals, travel points, access to airport lounges and fraud protection.

A credit card can be expensive if you don’t pay your balance in full, and higher interest rates have now raised the cost of carrying a credit-card balance. Paying off a $1,000 balance in 12 months at the current average annual percentage rate of 22.16% means $103 in interest, compared with $77 roughly a year ago when the average was 16.65%, according to estimates from the Federal Reserve.

Debit cards don’t offer the same rewards as credit cards since their issuers make less money from each transaction. They do come with similar fraud and payment protections as credit cards.

Federal regulations require issuers to reimburse customers for unauthorised transactions of more than $50 and allow customers to dispute charges within 30 days. Many credit cards also provide purchase protection, meaning you can ask for reimbursements directly from your issuer if something you buy is lost, damaged or inconsistent with what was advertised.

Few people make the most of their credit-card benefits, payments experts said. After finding most people don’t bother to read the fine print when they sign up for a new card, Mastercard is now notifying customers of benefits in real-time.

“If I have to read a big booklet or call a number to understand what my benefits are, I’m not doing it,” said Chiro Aikat, executive vice president of U.S. market development at Mastercard.

Digital wallets

Digital wallets such as PayPal or Apple Pay are among the safest and easiest ways to pay online. Checking out with a wallet is typically faster than paying with a credit card directly since one doesn’t have to re-enter billing information and shipping address.

All of the protections and benefits associated with the underlying card are still in effect for wallet transactions, so it is best to connect these wallets to a credit card directly to maximise your protection, said Corie Wagner, an analyst at Security.org, a safety-product review site.

If a digital wallet gives you the option to link a bank account directly, you should read the policy agreement to make sure you understand what is protected. For example, PayPal offers an extra level of purchase protection, but Apple Pay and Google Pay don’t.

Wallets also offer additional layers of security through encryption and biometric verification and many don’t share sensitive financial data such as your 16-card number with individual merchants. “Use as many authentication factors as possible” such as Face ID or personal identification numbers, Wagner said.

Peer-to-peer payment apps

Apps such as Venmo, Cash App and Zelle were designed to help people send money to friends and family, but they are now used in more settings. They move money more quickly than card payments because, instead of waiting on banks to approve the transaction, the payment is authorised once the sender hits submit. It is almost impossible to get money back once it has been sent.

These payment methods aren’t regulated as heavily as cards, so users might still be on the hook for unauthorised payments if a swindler gets control of their accounts.

“Use it to pay people you know, and trust,” said Meghan Fintland, a Zelle spokeswoman. “They’re not meant to have the credit-card security.”

Bank transfers

Businesses are increasingly offering ways to pay with your bank account directly since Automated Clearing House, or ACH, transfers are much cheaper to process than cards. This option should only be considered in exchange for a discount, payments executives said.

Consumers should be selective in sharing their bank information with merchants since wire transfers don’t have the same protection guarantees as cards.

If a business requests a direct bank transfer instead of a card payment, choosing a slower option over the newer instant methods such as Zelle might be best. ACH transfers typically take a few days to settle, giving you a few more days to try to stop the transaction before the money leaves your account.

“The slower it is, the greater likelihood is that you’ll be able to get recourse,” Ruden, at BioCatch, said.



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The Loneliness of the American Worker

More meetings and faceless chats. Fewer work friends. How the modern workday is fueling an epidemic of isolation.

By TE-PING CHEN
Wed, May 29, 2024 6 min

More Americans are profoundly lonely, and the way they work—more digitally linked but less personally connected—is deepening that sense of isolation.

Nick Skarda , 29 years old, works two jobs in logistics and office administration in San Diego to keep up with his bills. After a couple of years at the logistics job, he has one friend there. He says hi to co-workers at his office job but doesn’t really know any.

“I feel sort of an emptiness or lack of belonging,” he says. Juggling two jobs leaves Skarda exhausted, with little energy or time to grab drinks with co-workers . “It makes it harder to go in and give it your all if you don’t feel like anyone is there rooting for you,” he adds.

Employers and researchers are just beginning to understand how workplace shifts over the past four years are contributing to what the U.S. surgeon general declared a loneliness health epidemic last year. The alienation affects remote and in-person workers alike. Among 1-800-Flowers.com ’s 5,000 hybrid and fully on-site employees, for instance, the most popular community chat group offered by a company mental-health provider is simply called “Loneliness.”

Consider these phenomena of modern work:

It is a marked shift from even a decade ago, when bonds fostered at work helped compensate for declining participation in church , community groups and other social institutions. As the American workday becomes more faceless and scheduled , the number of U.S. adults who call themselves lonely has climbed to 58% from 46% in 2018, according to a recent Cigna poll of 10,000 Americans.

The faceless workday

The disconnection is driving up staff turnover and worker absences, making it a business issue for more employers, executives and researchers say. Cigna, the health-insurance company, estimates that loneliness is costing companies $154 billion a year in absenteeism alone.

“Work is social, it’s a lot more than a paycheck,” says James McCann , founder and chairman of 1-800-Flowers.com.

Earlier this year, 1-800-Flowers.com moved from three days in the office to four to boost a sense of connectivity among workers. It has also begun tapping workers across teams to serve as designated hosts during lunchtime, encouraging people to sit with colleagues they don’t know in common areas and chat, and suggesting conversation topics.

While today’s workers have more ways to connect than ever, “there are only so many memes and jokes you can send over Slack,” says Maëlle Gavet , chief executive of Techstars, a pre-seed fund that has invested in 4,100 startups. “We tend to have more and more people with back-to-back calendars, more meetings and less connections.”

Gavet says that is especially the case for hybrid workers on in-office days, which they tend to use to dash from one meeting to the next.

Paradoxically, meetings can make people feel lonelier—and even more so if the meetings are virtual, behavioural researchers say. A 2023 survey by employee experience and analytics company Perceptyx found people who described themselves as “very lonely” tended to have heavier meeting loads than less-lonely staffers. More than 40% of those people spent more than half their work hours in meetings.

In Cincinnati, Kelly Roehm says she came to chafe at the meetings—sometimes as many as 12—consuming her day after joining a consulting company in 2021. She would often feel her eyes glazing over as she multitasked on other screens.

“It’s like you’re a zombie, there but not there,” says Roehm, who lived 10 minutes from the office but worked mostly remotely because she says few colleagues typically came in. It is a more common setup as companies distribute teams across more locations: At Microsoft , 27% of the company’s teams all worked in the same location last year, compared with 61% in 2019.

She compares that experience with her time more than a decade ago at a company now owned by AstraZeneca . There, she enjoyed lots of social outlets at work: a Weight Watchers group and a lunchtime crochet club.

“Now if I were to think about asking, ‘Hey, do you want to participate in something like this,’ it would just sound weird,” says Roehm, who left this year to focus on her own career-consulting business. “There wasn’t that emotional attachment that made it difficult to say, it’s time to move on.”

The power of small talk

Office chitchat, sometimes an unwanted distraction, seems to provide more benefits than many people realise, says Jessica Methot , an associate professor at Rutgers University who studies social ties at work.

In a study of 100 employees at different workplaces, Methot and fellow researchers surveyed participants at points throughout the day. They found those who had engaged in small talk reported less stress and more positivity toward co-workers.

Even exchanging pleasantries with a co-worker you barely know can help, says Sarah Wright , an associate professor at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury who studies worker loneliness.

“We used to think loneliness has to be overcome by developing meaningful relationships and having that degree of intimacy,” Wright says. “More and more, though, we’re seeing it’s these day-to-day weak ties and frequency of [interactions] with people that matters.”

Such interactions are substantially harder to replicate in a virtual environment. “The default now is, I have to schedule time with you, even if it’s five minutes, instead of just picking up the phone,” says Katie Tyson , president of Hive Brands, an online food retailer founded in 2020 as a fully remote company.

The frictions add up, she says. Last fall, the company added an office in New York where employees voluntarily gather a couple of times a week to foster more cohesion.

Coming to the office, even on a hybrid basis, tends to yield a roughly 20% to 30% boost in serendipitous connections, according to Syndezo, which analysed survey data and email and messaging traffic from more than two dozen large companies.

Yet there are diminishing returns to time in person, says Philip Arkcoll , founder of Worklytics, which analyses workforce data for Fortune 500 companies. Coming in once a month provides a significant boost in ties; two or three times a month adds a little more, Worklytics data show. Once or twice a week results in a smaller increase, though, and working in-person four or five days a week makes almost no difference.

A business priority

Ernst & Young has asked managers to use the first five minutes of team calls to engage in conversation “as real human beings,” says Frank Giampietro , whose title, chief well-being officer for the Americas, was created in 2021 to help support employees during the pandemic.

The professional-services firm is also training employees to spot and reach out to co-workers struggling with issues such as isolation. To date, more than 1,600 employees have taken the training.

One challenge is that American workers have sacrificed connection for productivity, says Julie Rice , co-founder of fitness chain SoulCycle. These days, with more business contacts preferring video calls, she finds breakfast meetings and coffee dates on her calendar have been replaced with Zoom. Though efficient, such video calls are less likely to yield conversations that can turn into useful professional connections or lasting friendships, she says.

Julie Rice says that her work schedule, once packed with coffees and in-person meetups, is now an avalanche of Zooms. PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER GREGORY-RIVERA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“Even people I’m meeting with here in New York, we’ll just Zoom,” she says.

Last year, Rice co-founded Peoplehood, a company that runs “gathers” to improve connectivity and relationship skills, and employers are signing up. One, a beauty-services business with hundreds of field employees who never see each other, asked Peoplehood to host a series of gatherings for workers to meet and share job advice. Another, a marketing company with far-flung employees, requested help after surveys showed staff wanted to feel more connected.

“Whatever relationships we had pre-Covid have sort of run out of gas,” Rice says.

Good luck prodding employees to socialise, though. Nearly all the 150-odd staff at the Pleasanton, Calif., headquarters of Shaklee, the nutrition-supplements company, used to attend annual Earth Day gatherings, which involved community service, lunch and breaking early for the day, says Jonathan Ramot , the company’s North American human-resources director. Office happy hours, bowling outings and “mix and mingles” were also robustly attended.

Now that the workforce has gone remote, last year’s Earth Day event attracted 20 staffers, even though most workers live nearby.

“We have a lot of people asking for in-person events, but when we plan them, they don’t show up,” Ramot says. “Then they complain they’re lonely.”

This past April, Shaklee instead held a mandatory get-together with the chief executive, who had relocated to Florida during the pandemic and was in town. About 100 employees gathered at a brewery for food, drinks and conversation—and no speeches from the bosses.

There was a buzz in the air, Ramot says, as staff hugged and delighted in seeing each other, some for the first time. “People were saying, I miss this,” he says.

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