The pros and cons of contactless payment

What are the pros and cons of contactless payments in the time of Covid-19? Are they right for you? Nicole Gardner finds out.

The content of this article was relevant at the time of publishing. Circumstances change continuously and caution should therefore be exercised when relying upon any content contained within this article.

As we all try to avoid touching anything – including cash – because of coronavirus, contactless payment is becoming increasingly popular. But how do contactless payment methods compare to traditional methods like cash, cheques, and Chip and PIN? Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of contactless payment!

What is contactless payment?

Contactless payment is based on special radio chips embedded in things like bank cards and travel cards. You tap the object against a special terminal, or just wave it nearby, and the system transfers your payment to the vendor. You don’t need to swipe or insert a card, enter a PIN, or even physically touch the terminal!

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Here are some pros and cons to consider when comparing contactless payment to more traditional methods of paying for goods:

The pros

Cash

Cash is simple. It’s widely accepted, it’s not tracked, you don’t need any technical knowledge to use it, and there are no fees involved. Cash naturally limits your spending: you can’t spend more than you carry, and you’re fully conscious of every transaction.

Cheques

Cheques are similar to cash in that they’re simple, and mindless spending is impossible. You sign every cheque and keep the stubs, so it’s easy to keep track of your spending.

Recipients often wait a few days before depositing cheques. You can collect a few extra days’ interest from your bank, and if you really have to, you can cancel the cheque during this time.

Chip and PIN cards

Chip and PIN cards are convenient. They’re more secure and easier to carry than cash, and they’re more widely accepted and quicker to use than cheques.

Chip and PIN cards have multiple layers of security and encryption to protect you against fraud, and your transactions are automatically recorded. Even if your card is lost or stolen and used by someone else, if you report it to your bank as soon as possible, you’ll be able to get your money back.

Contactless bank cards

Compared to Chip and PIN cards, contactless bank cards are even more convenient: they’re fast, easy and clean. Queues are shorter, you don’t have to worry about remembering your PIN and typing it correctly, and you don’t have to fumble for cash. Sometimes you don’t even have to take your card out of your wallet!

Hygiene can be a big concern when paying for things, and this is where contactless payments shine. You don’t need to handle money, hand anything over at the checkout or even touch the terminal.

Contactless payments use the same system as Chip and PIN, so they’re just as secure. They only work when the RFID/NFC chip is within a few centimetres of the terminal, so it’s very difficult for hackers to steal your information without you noticing.

The cons

Cash

Cash is anonymous and widely accepted. That makes it a tempting target for thieves. If a pickpocket steals your cash, your bank definitely won’t reimburse you.

For larger sums, cash can be unwieldy. And even for smaller payments, fumbling in bags and searching for the right money can be a real hassle.

As we’re becoming more aware of hygiene, we’re realising just how unhygienic cash is. Have you ever thought about how many people have put their hands – and germs – all over your coins and notes?

Cheques

While cheques are slightly more secure than cash for you, they’re high-risk for the recipient. If you’ve got no money in your account, the cheque will bounce. Likewise, you can cancel the cheque. Because of this, many shops won’t accept them.

Cheques are time-consuming to fill in, time-consuming to deposit, and less hygienic than other available payment options.

Chip and PIN

We’ve all experienced the frustration of having a bank card declined because the chip is unreadable. Friction from everyday use can cause the surface of the chip to wear out over time, causing difficulties at the checkout.

Of course, a PIN is only useful if you remember it. Even if you know it by heart, you still have to type it into a keypad that’s been touched by countless hands before yours.

Contactless bank cards

One of the biggest advantages of contactless payments is also a disadvantage: they’re easy. They make it easy to lose track of what you’re spending, so you’ll need to check your bank statement regularly to stay on top of it.

Contactless cards have a low spending limit: you can only use them for transactions under £30 (or £45 during the coronavirus). That might be enough for a quick top-up shop, but might not be enough for your family’s weekly groceries.

If you have several contactless cards in your wallet, it’s the luck of the draw as to which card – if any – scans successfully when you try to use it without taking it out of your wallet.

Imagine for a moment that you’re a pickpocket. Would you rather steal £100 out of someone’s pocket, or a contactless card with a £30 or £45 limit that you can use multiple times? It’s not hard to see why a contactless card is a target for theft.

Takeaway

As with any technology, there are pros and cons to contactless payment methods. Don’t go into it blindly: make an informed decision about whether contactless payments are right for you!

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