Thursday, January 25, 2007

Do you Paypal?

Does small cash pass back and forth often or occasionally between your friends and you? Is this cash in any of these currencies? Do you live in any one of these countries and operate a bank account there? If you answered yes to all these questions, you should immediately sign up for Paypal.com. Go ahead and just do it. Seriously. And, get your friends to sign up also.

Warning: This is an unabashed and unpaid advertisement for Paypal.com.

Paypal is such an incredibly convenient free service, I don't know why more people don't use it. Suppose you go out for lunch with a friend and s/he pays the bill at the restaurant. Your share of the tab is $7.17 and you need to give this money to your friend. Now imagine that you have a personal secretary who will go out to the bank, withdraw the exact $7.17 from your checking account and pays it to your friend, without you writing a cheque or handling cash or dealing with the hassles of finding the exact change, without even your leaving the seat! In a similar vein, suppose your friend pays you a certain amount of cash and you want to deposit the money in your bank account. Imagine having a secretary who will get this money from your friend, then go out and deposit it into your bank account, without your having to fill out a deposit slip or leave the comfort of your home or office. To add more more fun to these imaginary scenarios, suppose that your friend is in another state or country, and you need to send money to her or get money from him. Imagine that this secretary's services include giving money to or getting it from this distant friend of yours, instantly, without any money orders or mailing of cheques or waiting periods involved. And best of all, imagine that the services of this secretary are absolutely free! Sounds too good to be true, eh? Yet, this is exactly what Paypal does for you.

Paypal is an online service to which anybody with an email address (and lives in these countries and does transactions in these currencies) can sign up. Then, you register your bank account information with Paypal. Soon after your bank account is registered and confirmed, you are in business. All you have to do is logon to Paypal.com to initiate withdrawals and deposits into your bank account, to and from anybody else who uses the Paypal service. And as long as the transactions are all personal (meaning, no buying and selling from or to the other party of the transaction) and the total amount of your transactions is within a certain limit, it's all free.

So, if I have to pay $7.17 to that friend who paid for my lunch, all I have to do is log on to Paypal.com and initiate a 'Send Money' transaction to my friend. The amount will be withdrawn from my bank account and sent to my friend's Paypal account. My friend can then have the money transferred from her Paypal account to her bank. Everything done online. Nobody handles cash or cheques, nor deals with trips to the bank or ATMs. It is as simple as that. Now you can even use the sms service of your cell phone to do Paypal transactions.

A sole bank-only transaction on Paypal takes about 2-3 business days, which is the same as depositing a cheque and waiting for it to cash. If the bank account registered with Paypal has a backup funding source such as my debit card, the transfer of funds is instant. As soon as I hit the send money button on Paypal.com, the money is transfered to my friend's Paypal account that very instant.

I have a bunch of friends with whom there is always some monetary transactions going on: somebody picked up the tab during a group lunch, somebody bought movie tickets to the whole group, somebody bought a group gift for someone's birthday. We need to pay money to all these different people. When there are anywhere from 5 to 20 people in the group, all those transactions can become a hassle when dealing with cash and small change. Getting so many cheques and depositing them is also a chore in itself. This is where Paypal is such a big convenience.

Whether you do small cash exchanges frequently or occasionally, give Paypal a try. You will definitely thank me for it.

Note: When I recommended Paypal to friends in the past, some of them expressed concerns about Paypal's security. All I can tell such people is that I have been using Paypal regularly for almost five years now, and I have never had any problems with their services or security. I have read about some phishing emails which were sent to Paypal customers. These emails looked like official emails sent from Paypal, but they were actually sent by some scammers who invited gullible people to click on a link and enter their Paypal login and password. The scammers were going to use this information to steal money from people's Paypal account. But then such emails have been targetted at Citibank, Wells Fargo (I personally received such a phishing email targetting Wells Fargo customers) and other banks' customers. The bottomline is that, signing up for Paypal's service does not make you any more vulnerable than doing online banking transactions with your traditional banks. As long as you are careful about what you do online, using Paypal is as safe as using your bank's website for online transactions. Probably, safer!

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