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App-Ed: How Did I Live in a World Without Venmo?

An app that keeps you paid (back)

This past weekend I took a trip with a few friends to Palm Springs, CA. Here is a partial list of things we paid for: gas for the trip there, hotel, Starbucks, dinner, drinks, more drinks and gas for the trip back. All costs were split evenly, thanks to an app that is now commonplace among my friends — even the ones that “hate apps” or “don’t really do technology.” Once they were ushered into the world of Venmo, they never looked back.

Venmo lets you pay (and be paid by) your friends. It’s extremely simple. Do you owe someone money? Pay them. Does someone owe you money? Invoice them. The app does the rest — first changing your “balance” in the app and then allowing you to transfer that balance back into your bank account whenever you wish. It seems easy because it is. For whatever reason, transactions on Venmo are free for now. Perhaps it’s because Venmo’s parent company, PayPal, has dealt with larger payments and business transactions, for a long time now — and charges for a variety of them. But Venmo is for that $4.50 latte you bought your friend before the ballgame. It’s for splitting a dinner check an insane 13 ways (without having to provide 13 credit cards to an already-stressed server).

Venmo encourages pettiness. Not the bad kind (the kind that can turn you into a passive-aggressive monster), but the kind that could help turn you into a financially secure person. Perhaps in the past you were the type who assumed that the person whose beer you just covered at happy hour will definitely “get you back next time.” But now you don’t have to worry about that. Venmo’s invoicing function, the “Request” feature right next to the “Pay” one, is a petty person’s new best friend. Let’s say you split a cab with a friend of a friend (whom you might never see again!) and he gets dropped off first. Oh, you have no cash? No sweat! I’ll find you on Venmo.

Let’s say you’re stuck planning a bachelorette weekend for one of your nearest and dearest, but you’re also fronting the cost of housing for her nearest and dearest? Don’t worry about bugging strangers to pay you — just Venmo invoice ‘em. It’s as easy as, “Do you have Venmo?” and praying that they do. Again: It’s not petty; it’s Venmo.*

Perhaps my love for the app isn’t just financial. In my favorite piece about Venmo, Chiara Atik describes how she uses the money-exchanging app to survey other peoples’ relationships. Turns out, the description field (when not being mined for potential drug sales), is a primo place to spot breakups (and future hookups):

If you’re wondering whether your ex has a new girlfriend, a Venmo transaction for concert tickets might be a better indicator than a Foursquare check-in. If you’re paying attention, a mundane charge for “ConEd” may say more about couple’s stability than a relfie (ugh) posted on Instagram and Facebook for public consumption and posterity.

The “social media aspect” of Venmo feels minor to me, but is a major selling point for many. I didn’t realize this until recently, when my friend had a baby and another friend and I sent her $50 for . I made it public (even though my transactions are usually auto-set to private) because I wanted her to know it was from the both of us. Before the week was over, it got five “hearts” — from perfect strangers. I’ve never felt so generous.

But nothing’s perfect, and here’s your required aside: Venmo, like everything else in the universe, is somewhat problematic. If you’re one of those people terrified of “fraud” you might not be into giving Venmo your bank account information (which it asks for in order to deposit money back into your account after people pay you). Fair! We open ourselves up to possible identity theft and fraud every day that we exist on the internet, but I cannot blame you for not wanting your routing number involved. On security, Venmo writes:

Your personal and financial data is encrypted and protected on our secure servers to guard against unauthorized transactions.

Another understandable reason not to use Venmo? It’s owned by PayPal, the other money-swapping service started by the asshole billionaire who sued Gawker into extinction just this year. He sold PayPal to eBay in 2002, if that makes you feel any better, but it might not.

But back to me.

I can’t imagine how much money I’ve saved the past few years I’ve used Venmo — if only due to my own lazy generosity (“You’ll get the next round!”), other peoples’ inability to “split stuff” (“Let’s just divide it by 17!”) or just plain forgetfulness (“How much did she owe me for that weekend in the Hamptons?”) Finally, an app where your pettiness can be rewarded.

*Venmo, please get in touch with me if you would like to use this catchphrase.