By Augusta Stone

Madison Headley, a sophomore pharmaceutical sciences student at the University of Georgia, first downloaded Venmo before her freshman year in summer 2019. She needed to make a payment and figured a mobile app would work best.

Almost two years later, Headley, 19, estimated she uses the payment app twice a week for everything from a $2 Sonic slush to utility payments split among her roommates. Headley said she spends $15-$20 a week on small transactions through Venmo.

Mobile payments are so common that Headley used the term “Venmo” as a verb.

“When I go out to eat with my friends, we just go through the drive-thru,” Headley said. “Whoever drives pays, and then you just Venmo the other one so it’s just one transaction.”

Payment apps, such as PayPal, Venmo, Cash App and Zelle, allow money transfers through a mobile device, and they are popular. Cash App, owned by Square, totaled more than 30 million users in June 2020. PayPal’s Venmo counted more than 60 million in July 2020. PayPal grew to 377 million accounts in late 2020.

Alan Perry, a certified public accountant at Seymour & Perry LLC in Watkinsville, Georgia, said payment apps’ popularity can be boiled down to their ease. But he said it’s not necessarily a good thing.

Perry said he feels a bit of pain as cash comes out of his wallet. He’s concerned the reaction to losing money could be numbed by college-aged app users pressing a button, but he doesn’t blame the app. Perry said it comes down to financial discipline.

“The app itself is benign,” Perry said. “It’s like a kitchen knife. It’s a tool, just like money is a tool, and it can be used for good or bad, depending upon what you do.”

Perry has experience with college students as an adjunct accounting professor at the University of North Georgia. He advised users of payment apps to keep their own transaction record on paper, but he has never known a college student to do so.

“I have yet to have one of my students raise their hand and say ‘Yeah, I keep a check register,’” Perry said. “It doesn’t happen at that stage.”

Headley doesn’t keep a written record of her bank transactions, but she said she tracks expenses through her bank’s website.

Venmo keeps a record of app payments on its users’ profiles, which can be set to public or private. Headley said she knows people who look at their friends’ Venmo transactions to see who they’re spending time with. She keeps her account private because of an identity theft incident she heard about through her mother.

Venmo doesn’t automatically transfer to bank accounts, allowing users to move balances instantly for a 1% fee or in 1-3 business days for no fee. Cash App also keeps a balance in the app, while Zelle is directly linked to a bank account.

Headley is cautious not to leave large amounts of money in Venmo and transfers to her bank quickly. Perry said he’s never heard of any incidents with Venmo security, but he advised users to keep multiple bank accounts. When linking to payment apps, choose one with a smaller balance to prevent fraud.

Perry said payment apps can make life easier when used correctly, and problems associated with them typically start with the user.

“The app in and of itself does not create a problem,” Perry said. “The problem is created by lack of discipline, not just in spending, but also in record keeping.”

Augusta Stone is a journalism student at the University of Georgia.