What Is a Mobile Wallet?

How many debit cards, credit cards, gift cards, and customer loyalty cards are you toting around right now? According to a recent study, the average American carries 17 cards. If you're ready to lighten up, a mobile wallet might be the perfect solution.

Key Takeaways

  • Samsung Pay is a true tap-and-pay app that stores credit and debit card information for use in-store and online.
  • Venmo focuses on simplifying payments to and from the user's immediate social circle.
  • eWallet from Ilium Software offers simpler and safer access to all of a user's personal credit information.

How Mobile Wallets Work

The terms digital wallet and mobile wallet are often used interchangeably, but there is one slight but important difference. A mobile wallet is housed in an app on your mobile device, while a digital wallet can be accessed on a desktop or laptop as well as a mobile device.

Three of the four most widely used mobile wallets are currently device- or operating-system-specific. They include Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Android Pay. Only PayPal (PYPL), among the four leading brands, works across all major devices.

Many other popular wallet apps are retailer- or brand-specific, such as Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.'s (WMT) Walmart Pay, Capital One Financial Corporation's (COF) Capital One Mobile, and the ubiquitous Starbucks wallet app from Starbucks Corporation (SBUX).

Anything that helps you jump the line at a Starbucks is worth having, but wouldn't it be more useful to store all of those miscellaneous cards in one app?

These apps are handy enough for their loyal customers. Anything that helps shorten your wait at a Starbucks is a big plus, and the Starbucks mobile app gives you that plus points toward free caffeine.

But wouldn't it be easier and more efficient to store all of those cards in one place? Samsung Pay is a true tap-and-pay (almost) anywhere app. Venmo focuses on simplifying payments to and from members of a user's immediate circle of friends and others. Notably, eWallet from Ilium Software is not used for retail payments but for consolidating personal credit information.

Broadly speaking, all the apps work the same way: You download it to your phone, open it, and follow the instructions to enter the numbers of each card that you want to store on the app.

Security is always a concern. Note that today's mobile wallet apps use encryption and tokenization technology similar to that used by the newer chip cards. To make a payment you need to unlock your device and then enter your wallet's password or use its fingerprint authenticator.

If you’re considering making the move to a mobile wallet, here's a look at three apps that come with something special in 2019.

Samsung Pay

This swipe-or-tap app is only for users of Samsung phones, and late-model Samsung phones at that, but that's about 73 million people since 2011. Moreover, Samsung Pay is a true mobile wallet that allows the user to store credit and debit cards for purchases in person, in the app, or online. It tracks merchant discounts and adds Samsung Cash Back Awards. A Visa check-out option allows for faster payments for online purchases.

One caveat: You can store Visa, MasterCard, and American Express accounts from Samsung Pay's "partner" banks. The company says there are 1,000 of them to date, but it's wise to check and make sure yours is covered.


Venmo is a leader in the growing field of social commerce apps. And "what does that mean?" you may well ask. It means that users store credit and debit card information on Venmo or maintain a Venmo balance so that they can quickly repay friends and others when they owe them money.

The focus is on payments to and from the user's immediate social circle, like splitting a dinner bill or a cab fare. An email address is the only information needed to make a payment, and the app can access your entire contacts list if the user wishes.

Venmo, which is now owned by PayPal, has 40 million active users.


Ilium Software's eWallet is one of the few mobile wallet apps that aren't free to download. It costs $10, but for that, you get a mobile wallet that can store everything from passports and insurance cards to loyalty programs, library cards, and frequent flyer cards. Separate software can be downloaded to a PC or Mac, so it can be used on a laptop or desktop when convenient.

Notably, eWallet is not a mobile payments app. Its purpose is to give you simpler and safer access to your personal credit information. However, eWallet has the ability to encrypt and store sensitive financial data and account numbers, all of which can be accessed via a single password or fingerprint ID for enabled devices.