Apple Pay vs Zelle: What’s the Difference? Which Is Best?

Apple Pay, Zelle, and other payment apps in a folder on an iPhone.

Apple Pay vs Zelle: What’s the Difference? Which Is Best?

Paying a friend back for dinner? Purchasing an item from a buy, sell OR trade page on Facebook? Using a contactless payment method at the grocery store checkout? Various mobile payment services are handy for the above payments. But which one does the job best? Take Apple Pay vs Zelle, for example. What’s the difference between these two mobile payment services? Let’s review both of these options below.

Apple Pay vs Zelle: Side-by-Side Comparison

Apple PayZelle
Parent companyApple, Inc.Early Warning Services, LLC
Launch dateOctober 20th, 2014June 17th, 2017
Operating systemiOS, watchOS, macOSiOS, Android
User base48.7 million (est. 2023)67.8 million (est. 2023)
Max. stored cards8-16 cards1 bank account
Per transfer limit$10,000Varies, depending on the bank
Weekly transfer limit$20,000Varies, depending on the bank

Apple Pay vs Zelle: What’s the Difference?

Some things set these two apart, not just the types of accepted payment methods or per-transfer limits. This becomes more obvious when you drill down on their fees and users. Let’s break down these key differences below. After closely comparing and contrasting the two, we’ll have a clearer picture of the best.

Payment Methods

A good starting place in our Apple Pay vs Zelle comparison is knowing which payment methods each service supports. Apple Pay supports anywhere from 8 to 16 unique credit and debit cards per user. (This is in addition to a linked bank account or other financial institution.) Comparatively, Zelle only works with a linked bank account from a supported institution. Without this, Zelle only gives you access to limited features and abilities. Looking at the two side by side, Apple Pay has the advantage.

Transfer Limits

Another big difference between the two service is their transfer limits. Apple Pay has a clear-cut limit on daily and weekly transfers. Users can send up to $10,000 in a single transaction and up to $20,000 total per week. Conversely, Zelle has no set limit to daily or weekly transfers. Instead of making the rules, Zelle leaves this responsibility to the banking institutions. For this reason, how much a person can or cannot send with Zelle will depend entirely on their bank of choice. (Confusing, right?)


If you often use mobile payment services, you know fees are part of most transactions. The good news is neither Apple Pay nor Zelle charges users up-front fees. Zelle once again leaves this up to the banking and financial institutions. If a supported institution wants to charge a fee, it can do so. While most have opted out of this optional feature, it remains a possibility for some Zelle users.

Apple pay
Apple Pay does not charge any credit, debit, or bank account transaction fees.

©LightField Studios/Shutterstock.com


Lastly, and perhaps the most significant of all, is the difference in users (and uses) of Apple Pay vs Zelle. Apple Pay and Apple Cash cover all the bases for Apple users. The former works as a payment method at over two million retailers. The latter allows Apple users to send and receive money peer-to-peer. While its user base is limited to Apple users, it has many applications. Zelle, on the other hand, only allows you to make peer-to-peer transfers. Over 100 million customers can use it, but only about two-thirds have signed up.

The History of Apple Pay

Mobile payment services and providers such as Venmo and PayPal paved the way for peer-to-peer transactions and online payments throughout the early 2010s. However, not everyone embraced these burgeoning services with their financial information. The names just weren’t familiar enough to fully trust. As they struggled to get more users on board, Apple toiled away at their own rival mobile payment service. In 2012, Apple began exploring innovative ways to integrate mobile payments into its product line. By 2014, they had perfected Apple Pay.

Apple Pay was instantly appealing for its ability to safely and securely facilitate payments and purchases between Apple devices. Users could also pay online and in person at qualifying retailers and brands with a touch of a button, regardless of their devices. Apple Pay now operates in over 80 different countries and territories globally.

Today, Apple Pay is trusted by more than 50 million users. Next-level security features, such as Touch ID and Face ID, with super-secure tokenization and encryption technology, the mobile payment service provides unmatched payment protection. With the later addition of Apple Cash and the Apple Card credit card, Apple Pay can now compete with Venmo, PayPal, Cash App, Zelle, and Google Pay.

does target take apple pay

Recently, Apple introduced Apple Card: an Apple-branded credit card that works with Apple Pay and Apple Cash.


How Zelle Competes

Zelle is strictly reserved for peer-to-peer payments. You won’t be able to use it to check out at the grocery store or the department store like you could with Apple Pay. Some retailers accept Zelle transactions, but they aren’t many. Zelle is almost exclusively used for payments between friends, family, and acquaintances. This fundamental difference is probably the biggest distinction to make between these two.

Zelle launched in 2017. Initially, it was known as clearXchange. At the time, Venmo and Square Cash (now Cash App) were the only legitimate peer-to-peer payment apps. However, neither had the public’s complete trust. Concerns over safety, security, and scammers had many hesitant to send and receive funds with these existing apps. And so, Zelle was born. A group of banks created the peer-to-peer payment service to ensure a safer, more convenient way to send money from bank account to bank account.

A network of banks and credit unions, including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo, own Zelle. This gives it a potential user base of over 100 million people in the U.S. alone. Should Zelle ever open up to the rest of the world, that number would increase exponentially. It effectively replaces the need to pay someone with physical cash or a card, allowing them to make account-to-account transfers. Zelle remains fee-free and has no limits on how much money someone can send or receive.

Apple Pay vs Zelle: 5 Must-Know Facts

  • Apple Pay can seamlessly integrate with many payment terminals because it uses near-field communication (NFC), which many tap-to-pay credit and debit cards use.
  • Zelle is owned by Early Warning Services, LCC, a joint venture between some of the largest banks in America, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and JPMorgan Chase.
  • Apple Pay offers support for a variety of loyalty cards and rewards programs. From Starbucks to Walgreens and many other rewards programs in between, Apple Pay users can earn points for purchases.
  • The Zelle app doesn’t offer support for reversals or disputes. Once a payment is sent, it can’t be unsent or challenged. This has resulted in fraudulent transactions and scams over the years.
  • Apple Pay is built into Apple’s Wallet app and works alongside your digital concert tickets, boarding passes, IDs, and more.

Apple Pay vs Zelle: Pros and Cons

Pros of Apple PayCons of Apple Pay
Seamless integration across Apple devicesFewer users than Zelle
Includes support for Apple CashLimited only to Apple users
Super secure with Face ID or Touch IDOnly compatible with qualifying bank accounts
Accepted as payment by millions of storesReliant on phone battery and service
Pros of ZelleCons of Zelle
More users than Apple PayRequires a qualifying bank account to use
No limits to how much you can receiveLess online or in-store payment options
Transactions are protected by top securityIt only works in the U.S.
Backed and supported by hundreds of banksNo support for credit cards

Apple Pay vs Zelle: Which Is Best?

So, which of these mobile payment services is best for you? Which side should you take in the battle between Apple Pay vs Zelle? Well, naming a winner is not so simple. These two rival services stand alone. Apple Pay is reserved for Apple users, whereas Zelle is designated for qualifying bank or credit union members. Someone who qualifies for one might not be eligible for the other. And, while Zelle has more users, Apple Pay is accepted at more stores. Ultimately, we’ll name Zelle the superior peer-to-peer payment service and Apple Pay the outstanding mobile payment service.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to use Apple Pay?

Yes, Apple Pay is very safe to use. Because of the tokenization and encryption methods used by Apple, the company’s mobile payment service protect your card information at every step of the way throughout the transaction. It also requires biometric methods of two-factor authentication, including Touch ID or Face ID, to further protect your transactions and restrict them to authorized users only.

What devices can use Apple Pay?

Apple Pay is built right into any iPhone model with Face ID or Touch ID (with the exception of the iPhone 5C, which does not have the near-field communication technology required for Apple Pay). Additionally, any iPad model with Touch ID or Face ID can also facilitate Apple Pay. Every Apple Watch from the Series 1 and later can use Apple Pay, and same for any Mac model introduced after 2012. There are no non-Apple devices compatible with Apple Pay.

Does Apple Pay charge fees to use?

Apple Pay doesn’t charge fees for using it online or in-store. Your particular banking institution or financial services provider may opt to charge you fees, but Apple does not and will never do so. It’s a key part of their mission statement for Apple Pay: making contactless mobile payments as quick, easy, and convenient as possible.

How long do Zelle transfers take to go through?

Zelle transfers are available to verified users within minutes. If you haven’t enrolled, transfers may take between 48 to 72 hours or more. Check with your bank or credit union to make sure.

Who can sign up for Zelle?

Anyone with a US bank account, mobile phone number, or email address can sign up for Zelle. Many banking apps have the option to sign up for Zelle right through the app itself. Check with your bank or financial institution to find out more.

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