Google Wallet has just received a pretty major update, bumping it up to version 1.5 and allowing users to add any major credit or debit card issued by American Express, Discover, MasterCard, or Visa. Previously, users were restricted to using only Citi MasterCards or the official Google prepaid debit card, which had to be manually topped up whenever funds were running low. To make things even easier to get started, any credit card that was previously associated with your Google account should show up in Google Wallet now.
In addition to allowing Google Wallet users to pay with virtually any credit card they may already have, the app now allows users to customize how payment cards appears in the list; you can change the name and even the color of the card, making it much easier to quickly differentiate between multiple cards and pick the correct one.
As of now, we’re also getting reports that Verizon users are able to install the app, so it’s possible that Google Wallet is finally officially supported on more carriers than just Sprint. On the other hand, this could just be a temporary fluke that will be fixed soon.
So how did Google get around various restrictions that the card companies had in place, which previously didn’t allow them to work with Google Wallet? Most cards are now connected to a virtual MasterCard, which will facilitate the transaction when you make a purchase using Google Wallet. That virtual MasterCard will then charge your own credit card, so that transactions will appear on your credit statement like this: “Google *merchant name.” If prompted by the cashier, Google recommends telling them that you are “paying with credit via MasterCard,” regardless of what credit card you are actually using.
This seems like a pretty ingenious workaround, to me.
In case you are worried about credit card rewards, Google states: “You may earn reward points for purchases through your card issuer’s credit or debit card rewards program (such as gas, grocery, and restaurants purchases, overall spending, and purchase protection or insurance), if applicable.” This sounds like Google will duplicate the correct merchant codes when charging your own credit card through the virtual MasterCard; therefore, if you earn more points in certain categories such as move theaters or drugstores, you should still earn those points when using Google Wallet.
However, Google also warns: “If you receive additional rewards when shopping at a specific merchant, these benefits may not be applied when using Google Wallet.” In other words, if you have a BP rewards card, you won’t get your extra points if you use Google Wallet at BP. However, if you have a card that rewards extra points for all gas purchases regardless of the station, you should still get those points.
At least that’s how I interpret it. It will take some time for me to test my cards out at various places before I’ll be able to tell you for sure, though.
In any case, this is one of the best app updates I’ve seen in a while for any app, and I can’t wait to use the credit cards I want on my HTC EVO 4G LTE, instead of just the prepaid card. In all honesty, this is what Google Wallet should have been from the very beginning, and I think it’s finally got a real shot at being successful. So if you’ve got a compatible phone, check out the update below, and happy shopping!
Download: Play Store
Update: After playing around with this some more, I’ve discovered another feature that makes this even more secure: Google now allows users to disable Google Wallet on their devices from the web. This gives users three layers of security: the password or PIN that you use to protect your phone, the PIN that you use in the Google Wallet app, and the ability to deactivate Google Wallet remotely if you lose your phone.