Contactless payments: The pros and cons of tap and pay

To tap or not to tap? That is the question when using contactless payments.

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Contactless payments are a modern way to pay for your everyday purchases with one simple touch. To enjoy this benefit, you need to wave or tap your card, wearable payment device or smartphone in front of a contactless terminal. There’s no requirement to enter your PIN or sign a receipt to authorise a transaction.

Although it may seem like a fairly new technology, it has been used in the UK since 2007. The rising popularity of contactless payments for transactions under £30 means that Brits are moving ever closer to living in a cashless society. It’s estimated that 9 in 10 transactions under £30 made in pubs or restaurants are made via contactless payments technology.

How do contactless payments work?

Contactless payments use Near Field Communication (NFC), which allows two devices to securely transmit and receive information by bringing them within 4cm of each other. It’s an upgrade to the existing radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, which combines the interface of a smartcard and a reader into a single device. As an example, RFID is used by Transport for London’s Oyster Card ticketing system.

If you see the contactless symbol, it means you can make contactless payments of up to £30. All three networks – Mastercard, Visa and American Express – offer contactless payment technology. Sometimes referred to as “tap and pay”, consumers can either wave or tap their credit cards at counters or machines with contactless terminals without entering a PIN or signing a receipt. For larger transactions of over £30, you are usually required to enter your PIN. After you have tapped or waved, wait a few seconds for a green light or “approved” to show up to confirm that the transaction has gone through. You won’t always get a receipt so be sure to ask for one if you require a record of your transaction.

Contactless devices include:

  • Debit, credit or pre-paid cards
  • Mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets (which use mobile payment systems such as Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay)
  • Wearable devices, such as watches and wristbands
  • Key fobs
  • Stickers

It’s worth noting that mobile payment devices usually don’t have a payment limit because they require an extra level of identification, such as a PIN, face scan or fingerprint.

What are the pros and cons of contactless payments?

Pros

  • Convenient. You just need to tap your card or mobile phone and you don’t need to enter a PIN or sign a receipt. This saves you time and doesn’t cost you any extra money.
  • Peace of mind. You’re protected against fraudulent transactions, and retailers no longer have access to your credit card information.
  • Reduces the threat of hackers. Hackers are usually able to scan your card to steal valuable information, but NFC technology uses data encryption when sending sensitive information.
  • No typing errors. You don’t have to worry about incorrectly typing in your PIN, and the connection is quicker on contactless terminals.
  • Easy to use overseas. You can use contactless payments abroad if the retailer offers it, although the spending limit may vary depending on the local currency. Be aware: foreign transaction fees could still apply.
  • Shorter queues. Convenient and quick payments mean fewer queues at the checkout.

Cons

  • Some risk. If you lose your credit card, your account may be compromised.
  • Easy to lose track of spending. It’s easy to spend money when all you have to do is tap, and you don’t always receive a receipt. Make sure to regularly check your bank statement for potential errors or fraudulent transactions.
  • Risk of spyware or malware attacks and other viruses. Like any computer device, the payments terminal is at risk of viruses.
  • The limit is set. You can’t change or choose the maximum spending limit. This is chosen by your bank.
  • Confusing bank statements. Some retailers may use a different trading name so transactions could look confusing when they come up on your bank statement.
  • Consider your credit rating. If you’ve got a poor credit rating, your provider may not offer you a contactless card.

contactless card payment in cafe Shutterstrock

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Comparison is ordered by representative APR with affiliated products shown first.
Updated November 14th, 2019
Name Product Balance transfers Balance transfer fee Purchases Rep. APR Incentive Representative example
0% for 12 months reverting to 19.9%
3% (min. £3)
19.9%
19.9% p.a. (variable)
Earn Asda vouchers every time you shop - 1% cashback on all Asda spend, 0.2% on all other transactions and 10% on selected insurance products. Once £2.5 is earnt a voucher can be downloaded to spend in Asda stores.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).
0% for 23 months reverting to 19.9%
0% for transfers in first 3 months
0% for 3 months reverting to 19.9% p.a. (variable)
19.9% p.a. (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).
0% for 23 months reverting to 19.9%
0% for transfers in first 3 months
0% for 3 months reverting to 19.9% p.a. (variable)
19.9% p.a. (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).
0% for 20 months reverting to 19.9%
2.9% (min. £5)
0% for 20 months reverting to 19.9%
19.9% p.a. (variable)
Earn 1 point for every £1 spent at Marks and Spencer's and 1 point for every £5 spent elsewhere. 100 points = £1 reward voucher. Points will be converted into reward vouchers 4 times a year.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).
0% for 12 months reverting to 15.9%
0% for 3 months reverting to 2.4% (min. £5)
0% for 12 months reverting to 15.9%
15.9% p.a. (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 15.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 15.9% APR (variable).
0% for 12 months reverting to 17.9%
0% for 3 months reverting to 2.4% (min. £5)
0% for 12 months reverting to 17.9%
17.9% p.a. (variable)
Customers will be able to earn commission-free purchases abroad by using their Credit Card each time they make a purchase in Sterling. The calculation will be based on a 5:1 ratio - for example, £5 spent in Sterling will earn an allowance of £1 commission free-purchases abroad. Purchases abroad beyond the earned amount will be charged 2% commission.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 17.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 17.9% APR (variable).
0% for 18 months reverting to 18.9%
0% for 18 months reverting to 3% (min. £5)
0% for 3 months reverting to 18.9%
18.9% p.a. (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 18.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 18.9% APR (variable).
0% for 18 months reverting to 18.9%
2.9% (min. £5)
0% for 9 months reverting to 18.9%
18.9% p.a. (variable)
Earn 1 point for every £1 spent in store or online at John Lewis, Waitrose and John Lewis Insurance. Earn 1 Point for every £2 spent elsewhere. Earn double points on selected insurances taken out through John Lewis Financial Services. Vouchers issued once customer reaches 500 points in Feb, Jun or Oct when vouchers are automatically issued to customers. Every 500 points is worth £5. Earn double points at John Lewis and Waitrose for first 90 days if card applied for by 29.2.20.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 18.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 18.9% APR (variable).
0% for 27 months reverting to 18.9%
2.29% (min. £5) for 3 months reverting to 2.9% (min. £5)
18.9%
18.9% p.a. (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 18.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 18.9% APR (variable).
0% for 18 months reverting to 18.9%
1.4% (min. £5)
0% for 9 months reverting to 18.9%
18.9% p.a. (variable)
A selection of rewards from a range of partners. Earn 1 point for every £1 spent within the UK and earn 2 points for every £1 spent outside the UK. Points can be redeemed for shopping vouchers and frequent flyer miles.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 18.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 18.9% APR (variable).

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Updated November 14th, 2019
Name Product Purchases Balance transfers Annual/monthly fees Rep. APR Incentive Representative example
0% for 20 months reverting to 19.9%
0% for 20 months reverting to 19.9%
£0
19.9% p.a. (variable)
Earn 1 point for every £1 spent at Marks and Spencer's and 1 point for every £5 spent elsewhere. 100 points = £1 reward voucher. Points will be converted into reward vouchers 4 times a year.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).
0% for 6 months reverting to 19.9%
0% for 6 months reverting to 19.9%
£0
19.9% p.a. (variable)
Double points on spend in M&S for first 12 months (2 points per £1). Then earn 1 point for every £1 spent at Marks and Spencer's and 1 point or every £5 spent elsewhere. 100 points = £1 reward voucher. Points will be converted into reward vouchers 4 times a year.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).
0% for 27 months reverting to 19.9%
0% for 27 months reverting to 19.9%
£0
19.9% p.a. (variable)
Buy tickets for up to 3500 selected live events through Barclaycard entertainment and get 5% off tickets per year and exclusive pre-sale tickets on selected festivals with 10% off ticket prices.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).
0% for 26 months reverting to 20.93%
0% for 26 months reverting to 20.93%
£0
20.9% p.a. (variable)
Introductory 0% purchase offer only applies to purchases made within 60 days of opening.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 20.93% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 20.9% APR (variable).
0% for 26 months reverting to 15.9%
0% for 26 months reverting to 15.9%
£3 per month
21.7% p.a. (variable)
0.5% after £1 of monthly spend. Cashback paid Monthly into Card Account. Maximum spend for cashback purposes is limited to credit limit.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 15.9% (variable) p.a. with a fee of £3 per month, your representative rate is 21.7% APR (variable).
0% for 25 months reverting to 20.95%
0% for 25 months reverting to 20.95%
£0
20.9% p.a. (variable)
Earn 750 bonus Nectar points each time £35 or more spent on Sainsbury's shopping, up to ten times in your first 2 months, up to a total of 7,500 points, offer available for new customers. Earn 2 Nectar points per £1 spent on Sainsbury's shopping and fuel. Earn 1 Nectar point for every £5 spent elsewhere.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 20.95% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 20.9% APR (variable).
0% for 24 months reverting to 19.9%
0% for 24 months reverting to 19.9%
£0
19.9% p.a. (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).
0% for 24 months reverting to 19.944%
0% for 3 months reverting to 21.814%
£0
19.9% p.a. (variable)
1 point per £4 spent (£4 minimum) in Tesco and 1 point per £8 spent (£8 minimum) outside Tesco. Must have available credit to earn points. Points are converted to Tesco vouchers or can be exchanged for Partner rewards to receive money off a variety of restaurants, entertainment or Avios points.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.944% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).
0% for 22 months reverting to 20.95%
0% for 3 months reverting to 20.95%
£0
20.9% p.a. (variable)
Earn 750 bonus Nectar points each time £35 or more spent on Sainsbury's shopping, up to ten times in your first 2 months, up to a total of 7,500 points, offer available for new customers. Earn 2 Nectar points per £1 spent on Sainsbury's shopping and fuel. Earn 1 Nectar point for every £5 spent elsewhere.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 20.95% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 20.9% APR (variable).
0% for 20 months reverting to 19.95%
0% for 20 months reverting to 19.95%
£0
19.9% p.a. (variable)
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.95% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).

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Updated November 14th, 2019
Name Product Purchases Annual/monthly fees Credit limits Rep. APR Incentive Representative example
0% for 6 months reverting to 19.9%
£0
Min. limit £500, max. limit not specified.
19.9% p.a. (variable)
Double points on spend in M&S for first 12 months (2 points per £1). Then earn 1 point for every £1 spent at Marks and Spencer's and 1 point or every £5 spent elsewhere. 100 points = £1 reward voucher. Points will be converted into reward vouchers 4 times a year.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).
0% for 20 months reverting to 19.9%
£0
Min. limit £500, max. limit not specified.
19.9% p.a. (variable)
Earn 1 point for every £1 spent at Marks and Spencer's and 1 point for every £5 spent elsewhere. 100 points = £1 reward voucher. Points will be converted into reward vouchers 4 times a year.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).
19.9%
£0
Min. limit £100, max. limit not specified.
19.9% p.a. (variable)
Earn Asda vouchers every time you shop - 1% cashback on all Asda spend, 0.2% on all other transactions and 10% on selected insurance products. Once £2.5 is earnt a voucher can be downloaded to spend in Asda stores.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 19.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 19.9% APR (variable).
22.9%
£0
Min. limit £500, max. limit not specified.
22.9% p.a. (variable)
Earn 5,000 bonus Membership Rewards points when you spend £2,000 in your first 3 months, and 1 point for virtually every £1 spent thereafter.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 22.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 22.9% APR (variable).
22.9%
£0
Min. limit £700, max. limit not specified.
22.9% p.a. (variable)
5,000 Avios when you spend £1,000 within 3 months of account opening. Earn 1 Avios for virtually every £1 spent. Spend £20K in 12 months and get 2 for 1 travel when redeeming Avios for a BA reward flight. Earn up to 90,000 bonus Avios points per calendar year, 4,000 points per friend/family member that successfully applies for an American Express card (Excl. Basic card) and uses the Referral Programme.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 22.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 22.9% APR (variable).
22.9%
£0
Min. limit £700, max. limit not specified.
22.9% p.a. (variable)
5% after £1 of yearly spend for introductory period of 3 months. 0.5% on £1 to £5000 of yearly spend. 1% after £5001 of yearly spend. Cashback paid Anniversary into Card Account. 5% intro cashback in the first 3 months (max £100). Must spend £3K annually to earn cashback.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 22.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 22.9% APR (variable).
22.9%
Year 1 - £0, Year 2 onwards - £25 per annum
Min. limit £700, max. limit not specified.
28.2% p.a. (variable)
20,000 Nectar points when you spend £2K within 3 months of account opening. Earn 2 Nectar points for virtually every £1 spent at Nectar partners and elsewhere.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 22.9% (variable) p.a. with a fee of Year 1 - £0, Year 2 onwards - £25 per annum, your representative rate is 28.2% APR (variable).
22.9%
£25 per annum
Min. limit £700, max. limit not specified.
28.2% p.a. (variable)
5% on £1 to £2500 of yearly spend for introductory period of 3 months. 1% on £1 to £10000 of yearly spend. 1.25% after £10001 of yearly spend. Cashback paid Anniversary into Card Account. 5% intro cashback (max £125).
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 22.9% (variable) p.a. with a fee of £25 per annum, your representative rate is 28.2% APR (variable).
34.9%
£0
Min. limit £100, max. limit £600.
34.9% p.a. (variable)
Earn Asda vouchers every time you shop - 1% cashback on all Asda spend, 0.2% on all other transactions. Once £2.5 is earnt a voucher can be downloaded to spend in Asda stores.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 34.9% (variable) p.a., your representative rate is 34.9% APR (variable).
22.9%
£75 per annum
Min. limit £700, max. limit not specified.
39.7% p.a. (variable)
Earn 30,000 points when you spend £1K within 3 months of account opening. Earn 3 points for virtually every £1 spent. Earn 6 points for every £1 of eligible purchases at participating SPG & Marriott Rewards hotels, until 31.12.2019.
Representative example: When you spend £1,200 at a purchase rate of 22.9% (variable) p.a. with a fee of £75 per annum, your representative rate is 39.7% APR (variable).