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Easier ways to make payments with smartphones

At this point, smartphones are practically permanent attachments to our hands. But that quickly changes the moment you need to pay for something at a store and you take out a credit card.

The idea of using your phone as your wallet — for storing payment methods and even swiping, scanning or tapping it to pay at the checkout register — is a long-promised future that has been surprisingly slow in coming. Multiple technologies exist for mobile payments, but there is no clear winner and a lot of chaos.

“Mobile payments, it’s been the next big thing for three or four rounds of next big thing,” said James Wester, the director of global payments research at IDC Financial Insights. “I would say we’re probably still three to maybe five years away from seeing mobile payments really common, with most of us using it.”

But recently, several new products and services have been released that could make mobile payments more convenient and worth trying. Before you dive in, though, it’s best to have a map of this complicated landscape.

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