Top five bill-splitting apps

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By John Hernandez

You see that familiar thin, black monolith standing on the other side of the table and your mind freezes for a moment. A white strip of receipt paper projects from the middle, like a sickly, pale tongue mockingly blowing a raspberry in your direction. What was once a joyous occasion, filled with the merriment and laughter of your closest comrades, is now a tense affair.

Oh sure, everyone pretends it’s no big deal, but you’re about to spend the next half-hour or so squabbling about the bill in that holder. You can see the dread in their eyes as the prospect of negotiating who bought what and who has cash instead of a card looms like a storm cloud over the table.

Luckily, it’s no longer 2012. We men and women of tomorrow now have apps that can make this bill-splitting affair a pleasant one. There is hope for those of you still stuck in the prehistoric rut of hating your friend because she forgot she owes you lunch after you paid last time. There is a light at the end of the tunnel if you’re tired of writing and rewriting passive-aggressive notes to your absent-minded but lovable roommate about his share of the cable bill. Let me lead the way. Come to the light, my friends.

My favorite bill-splitting apps:

1. Square Cash

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Simple and minimalistic solution for transferring money

Pros:

  • Simple and easy to use—no account setup necessary.
  • Immediate deposit of transferred funds into your checking account
  • Virtual card number to use stored Cash funds online (Apple/Android Pay support coming)
  • Shareable link with “$Cashtag” support allows people to send you money without the app 
  • iMessage and Siri support on iPhones
  • TouchID and Android fingerprint support

Cons:

  • Immediate deposit of transferred funds into your bank account incurs a 1% fee
  • No bank account support—must use a card to transfer funds
  • 3% fee for credit card transfers
  • Lower transfer limits

Despite the fact that my friends and I have started to use “cash” as an awkward verb because of this app, as in “you can cash me for that appetizer,” we love the sheer simplicity of Square’s offering. It’s so simple you might not have noticed that Square Cash support is built into Snapchat as “Snapcash” (try entering $___ into a chat on Snapchat and you’ll have the option to send funds).

It’s almost too simple. I jokingly requested $5 from a friend through Square Cash after I convinced her to install it. She countered with a $50 request, which I declined, and I sent her back a request for $2,000 (because there was no way I could let her win). She accidentally accepted my $2,000 request and the money got transferred into my bank account immediately. After having a good laugh at her expense, I gave her back $1999. Profit, simplicity, and fun! Thanks, Square Cash.

However, the good times might be coming to an end. The original reason why I decided to use Cash in the first place, the immediate deposit of funds into your bank account, now incurs a 1% fee. Otherwise, the funds will be transferred to your account the following day. Nothing irks me more than fees and the delay of instant gratification, but I’ll do my best to survive and so will Cash. Especially since they’ve implemented a virtual Visa card into your account that allows you to use your Square Cash funds online, like a debit card. They’re also working to implement this virtual card into Apple Pay and Android Pay. It’s still too early to see how these developments will play out with the general public, but these changes make me feel like this 80s ballad feels right now.

2. Venmo

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For the social butterflies amongst you

Pros:

  • Social aspect allows you to broadcast payments to friends or public
  • Venmo can be used to pay in other apps
  • Supported apps allow for splitting payments in Venmo
  • Works with bank accounts
  • Higher transfer limits (up to $19,999.99 per week with a confirmed identity)
  • TouchID and passcode support
  • Forces you to use two-factor authentication when signing in from another device

Cons:

  • Cashing out your Venmo balance does not immediately transfer funds to your bank account
  • Maybe you’re not into the social aspect—it’s not an opt-in feature (you have to go into your settings to turn it off)
  • Requires you to sign up for a Venmo account to begin using the app
  • App support is limited
  • No fingerprint support on Android

So I decided to hedge my bets with Square Cash by installing Venmo (that and I needed to pay someone for a used office chair). Venmo was the original payment transfer app on the block. If for some reason you feel the need to broadcast that you purchased a used office chair from someone, this is the app to do it with. Venmo also touts its ability to work as a payment option for apps, but that app selection is fairly limited at the moment.

So why would you use it? Well, the user base for Venmo is larger, meaning more of your friends might be using it, because it has been around longer than Square Cash, has a social component, and is owned by PayPal. Cashing out usually takes one business day on Venmo. But it also allows for larger transfers than Square Cash in case you’re the suspicious type and need to move larger sums of money around frequently. Don’t worry though, I’m not here to ask questions.

3. PayPal

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Why mess with success?

Pros:

  • Can do international money transfers with support for different currencies
  • Versatile: can be used for payment on websites and other apps
  • No transfer limits
  • Free transfers from bank account or PayPal balance for friends and family in the U.S.

Cons:

  • Longest wait time on withdrawals to your bank account, 3-4 business days

It would be foolish to talk about money transfers and not mention the OG money mover, PayPal. Being older has it’s benefits (at least that’s what I tell myself as I approach 30) and PayPal capitalizes by offering some unique features, brand recognition, and no transfer limits. While Square Cash and Venmo keep their number of users under wraps, they are limited to U.S. transfers. PayPal, formerly a part of eBay, supports international transfers and has over 188 million active users, according to Statista. That’s a lot of people you can send money to and if it’s a friend or relative in the U.S., you’re able to send that money for free if you use your bank account (or PayPal balance). And so many people recognize PayPal by now that you’re bound to have an easier time convincing tech-wary relatives to use it instead of the new kids on the block.

PayPal charges their standard fees (2.9% + $.30) when transferring money with a card or to sellers of good and services. But that support of sellers means PayPal can be used as a payment method on other websites and apps. However, PayPal entrenches itself as the middleman in all their transactions and, similarly to Venmo, requires the additional step of withdrawing your PayPal balance to get it in your bank account. It also has the longest turnaround time, 3-4 business days, for withdrawals. That’s not ideal, but they also take on the most risk with their added features.

4. Splitwise

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For those of you with roommates, bills, and a need to keep track of both.

Pros:

  • Keeps a running tab of who owes who for trips, living expenses, etc.
  • Ability to create different groups for different sets of expenses (i.e. roommates, friends, bandmates, etc.)
  • Cross-platform support (iOS, Android, and third-party Windows apps)
  • Able to create recurring bills and expenses
  • Ability to add pictures (receipts!) to transactions
  • Can be used with people who don’t want to install the app

Cons:

  • No built-in money transfers means more steps involved to get settled up
  • There’s some work involved setting everything up, especially if you have to convince others to install the app or need it only occasionally.
  • No OCR support for receipts

Let’s say you have a way to transfer money: Square Cash, Venmo, or PayPal. Maybe you’re even using some antiquated bartering system that involves trading paper you claim has some sort of denominational worth for goods and services—I don’t want to know about such crazy schemes. You might just need a wiser way to split the cost of certain expenses. Enter Splitwise.

Splitwise is more than an Excel spreadsheet about shared expenses. It’s the accountant for you and your roommates that you didn’t know you needed—after all, you’re all adults now, right? You can add other users, create a group of users, and then add bills and expenses that need to be divvied up. It doesn’t do any money transfers, but that does mean it can focus on being a good calculator for shared costs. It also keeps a running total of what’s owed, so you don’t have to constantly nag about things that happened in the past.

Lastly, Splitwise released a new iOS-only app, called Plates by Splitwise, specifically for splitting a dinner bill. They must have realized that not all millennials have roommates: some of us live alone and others might still live with our parents (and here’s what mom and dad might be thinking).

Unlike the superfluous but fun social aspect of Venmo, Splitwise’s ability to connect with others about transactions is a well-developed and essential function. Plus, using it in conjunction with the aforementioned money transfer apps makes you feel in control of shared expenses, which is a constant source of frustration for roommates everywhere. Don’t be those people.

5. Tilt

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When you and your friends have something to plan, but you don’t have all the money to plan it with.

Pros:

  • Creating a “tilt” allows for crowdfunding and event planning
  • Comparable fee structure and cash out times as other apps

Cons:

  • Not the most popular app on the block

Finally, I want to offer an option for those of you who don’t have the luxury of fronting the funds for every birthday, event, or whim that your friends have. Tilt does social payments, like Square Cash and Venmo, but it allows for planning and organization that these other apps lack. You can create a “tilt,” i.e. a request for funds from other users that can go towards any mass expense, and send out notifications so that everyone pays their fair share.

You can also set Tilts up so that everyone pays the same amount, any amount, or a minimum amount and that no one gets charged until you hit the goal. Once the event or gift is funded, the money is deposited into your account to proceed with paying for whatever you planned for. That’s a killer feature and a great way to collect money when the need arises. People have even used Tilt to pay for fixing potholes in their neighborhood in Dallas! And here I am, forlorn and staring at my phone notifications, wondering if my friend is ever going to pay me for that drink I bought him yesterday.

Tilt crosses the typical boundaries of other payment transfer apps; allowing for crowdfunding and fundraising as well as paying for everyday expenses. For example, if you’ve ever had that weird conversation with prospective roommates about how to pay for the security deposit and first month’s rent on a new apartment, you can be the hero that pulls out Tilt and takes charge. There’s no additional charge for this service and the rest of their fee structure is similar to Venmo and Square (free debit card transfers/3% for credit card transfers). Their bank transfers take 1-3 days, as well.

All of these apps have their strengths and their best use scenarios. It might be to have them all conglomerated into one powerful super application, but where’s the fun in that? Plus, all the options lead to innovative features and lower costs on transfers. And now that the stigma and the frustration about paying each other for stuff has disappeared, I’ve noticed my friends are happier, closer, and no one wants to flip the table at the end of dinner because they should not have to pay for someone else’s mineral water. That’s a win-win situation for us all.

About the Author

John Hernandez is a Customer Success Specialist at Self.

Written on October 4, 2016

Self is a venture-backed startup that helps people build credit and savings.
Comments? Questions? Send us a note at hello@self.inc.

Disclaimer: Self is not providing financial advice. The content presented does not reflect the view of the Issuing Banks and is presented for general education and informational purposes only. Please consult with a qualified professional for financial advice.

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