Ask Trish: All About Venmo

Trish, can u talk about Venmo and how to use it? Is it safe?

Aug 22, 2023

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By Trisha Prabhu

Trish, can u talk about Venmo and how to use it? Is it safe?

Hi there! Welcome back to another week of Ask Trish. I hope you’re all well.

Thank you so much to this week’s question-er for the fantastic question! We’ve covered a lot on Ask Trish — everything from online diet culture to sextortion — but we haven’t talked much about financial technology, and in particular, digital wallets/digital payment apps. But they’re certainly worth exploring; indeed, apps like Venmo have become extremely popular in recent years. That’s especially true for young people, who often do regularly split costs, e.g., with a roommate. But while you may have heard of Venmo — as it’s clear this week’s question-er, and, I’m sure, all of you, have — as I often say here on Ask Trish, there’s a big difference between using a technology and understanding how to use it safely and responsibly. (Thus why this week’s question is so spot-on!)

In that vein, this week, I’ll offer y’all a brief primer/introduction to Venmo — what it is, how to join, and how to ensure you use it safely/responsibly. As you read this post, please keep in mind that none of the following is intended to be financial advice. And as always, remember that these posts are meant to be a starting point (not the end-all, be-all) as you explore a new topic. Do plenty of research and chat with friends and family before you sign up/as you think about how to use Venmo.

Sound good? Let’s get into it.

So, first and foremost, what is Venmo? Venmo is an app you can use to send and request money to and from folks. It can thus make splitting expenses much easier — if you’re out to dinner with some friends, for instance, you can easily split the check via Venmo: while one person puts their credit card down, everyone else Venmo-s them what they owe. While Venmo is used by folks of all ages, it’s especially popular amongst young people, who more frequently share expenses with friends, e.g., a roommate that they might live with. Using Venmo is pretty easy — after setting up your account (which involves linking the app to a bank account — more on this soon!), you can open up the app and tap the “Pay or Request” button. You can then identify the person you’d like to pay or request money from…and then easily send money or make a request. You can even remind folks that they owe you money through the app (which can help you avoid an otherwise slightly awkward conversation!). So that’s Venmo, in a nutshell! Keep in mind that Venmo is not a debit or credit card — it’s a mobile wallet that links to an existing bank account of yours. (You can, however, sign up for a Venmo debit or credit card — a different endeavor entirely, which is not the subject of this post.) When you send someone money, you’re withdrawing money from your account; when they send you money, you can then deposit that money via Venmo to your account. Bank transfers are generally free, but an instant bank transfer generally comes with a fee.

So how do you join Venmo? First and foremost, confirm that you’re eligible: you have to be physically located in the US (sorry to those folks who are based elsewhere!), you must have a unique US-based phone number, and you must be 18 or older. If you’re younger than 18 but interested in eventually getting on Venmo, keep in mind that Venmo can be a great thing to sign up for before you head off to college. If you’re eager to get on Venmo before that, you might consider asking a parent to help you set up a “teen account,” through which your parent(s) or guardian(s) can transfer money to you and track your transactions. After that, you’ll want to download the Venmo mobile app. (You can also sign up via a computer, but trust me — it’s much easier to do via the app. You’ll thank me later!) Tap it open, and set up an account, creating a secure password. (Given how sensitive financial information is, I strongly recommend something stronger than “yourname123.”) You’ll then have to verify your phone number and email address (which should be pretty quick!). After that, you’ll finally add and verify your bank account. Once that’s set to go, you’re set to go on Venmo! Pretty simple, right?

Okay…so how can you ensure that you’re using Venmo responsibly? What, if anything, should you be wary of? The good news is, generally speaking, Venmo is very safe. With that said, in recent years, experts have been sounding the alarm bells on the extent to which Venmo safeguards your privacy/the privacy of your financial transactions. In past years, Venmo used to have a global “social feed” where the app would publish folks’ financial transactions (including to whom you were sending/receive money and for what purpose) for all to see. (I know…not a great move.) All of this came to a head when reporters were able to find President Joe Biden’s Venmo account — and Venmo transactions — in just 10 minutes #yikes. In response, Venmo has released new privacy controls…though it doesn’t implement those controls by default. You need to be sure, then, that you leverage them to both 1) make your friends list private and 2) make your transaction history private. You can do this by 1) opening the app, 2) tapping on “Me,” 3) tapping on “Settings” (in the upper right-hand corner), 4) tapping on “Privacy,” and 5) making both your “Default Privacy Settings” Private and your “Friends List” Private. It takes just a minute…and ensures that your sensitive, private financial info. stays that way.

I hope that this week’s post was a helpful introduction to a popular app that is only likely to become popular in the years ahead! Remember: should you join, be sure to think carefully about what information you share via Venmo. With a little intentionality, you can approach digital payments with smarts and savvy! Next week, we’ll take on a new topic – and that topic might just be yours! Take a moment now to share your Internet-related questions, concerns, or thoughts – whether similar to this post or completely different – here. Remember, I’m here for absolutely anything on your mind — so don’t worry about whether your question is “relevant”: whatever you’re wondering or worrying about, I want to help you navigate it. Thank you in advance for sharing your insights.

Talk to you all again next week,


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