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Wearable payments are finally starting to take off in the U.S.

Kelly Dilworth
Personal finance writer
Specializing in new trends in credit

Wearable payments are finally starting to take off in the U.S.

As contactless payments become more widespread, it’s getting easier to pay for goods and services in the U.S. with a swish of your wrist, a tap from your ring finger or a quick nod from your key fob or other payment-enabled wearable. 

A growing number of U.S. brands and financial services companies are embracing payment-enabled wearables that you can tap to pay without fumbling for a physical phone or card. 

Meanwhile, the number of merchants in the U.S. that accept contactless payments is continuing to expand, making it increasingly likely that you’ll be able to find a merchant that accepts payments from your payment-enabled watch, ring or other wearable. 

Target, for example, announced in January it’s getting ready to accept contactless payments. Other retail heavyweights, such as Costco, have also recently embraced contactless. 

See related: No card, no problem: Pay with your ring, watch, bracelet

Wearable options continue to expand

Most of the payment-enabled wearables that are available stateside are wristbands or smartwatches. But as payment rings, key fobs and other wearable devices take off abroad, it may not be long before they become more widespread here, too.  

Already, the U.S. company Motiv is getting ready to enable contactless payments on its titanium smart rings later this year. According to the Verge, Motiv announced at a January tech conference it would use consumers’ heartrates to help authenticate payments.  

Meanwhile, the U.S. startup Token has launched a waitlist for its payment-enabled smart ring. The British tech company NFC Rings ships its payment rings worldwide – including to the U.S. Similarly, the K-Ring – which bills itself as “the world’s first contactless payment ring” – is only available in the UK; but if you can get a hold of one, you can use it anywhere Mastercard contactless payments are accepted. 

Financial services companies are also working on other high-tech payment-enabled wearables, such as stickers you can add to anything, payment-enabled glasses and more. 

In addition, U.S. financial services companies are warming up to wearable payments. Discover, for example, announced at the end of January that its cardholders can now link their cards to Garmin smartwatches and use the watches to pay for goods and services from any retailer that accepts contactless payments. 

“Consumers are constantly on the go and our goal is to make it as simple and seamless as possible for our cardmembers to pay with their Discover card, including on iOT and wearable devices,” said Discover’s Shaida Lynch in a news release. “Now someone can be out on a jog or running errands and the ability to pay with Discover from their Garmin watch is just a quick tap away.”

Other card issuers that have partnered with smart watch manufacturers include Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, PNC and more. 

See related: Contactless cards get crucial boost as Chase embraces tap-and-pay

Wearables are also getting better looking

You don’t have to sacrifice style in favor of function anymore either: Fashion giants such as Kate Spade, Fossil, Diesel and Michael Kors have all begun selling chic, fashion-forward smart watches that you can use to pay for a night out on the town or a quick bite during your lunch hour. 

Until recently, the only payment-enabled wearables that were widely available in the U.S. were clunky looking digital watches, such as the Apple watch, or rubbery wristbands that looked better suited to a workout than a work event. 

Now, consumers have a wide array of choices, including gold and silver smartwatches that resemble analog watches and statement-making pieces encrusted in crystals. 

Contactless still has a ways to go in the U.S. 

It could still be awhile, though, before you can comfortably leave your wallet at home and trust that any merchant you visit will accept wearable payments. Although many merchants now have payment systems that are equipped for contactless transactions, a number of U.S. merchants have yet to turn the feature on. 

Until contactless-enabled payment readers become more widespread, you may need to do a little research before you try to rely solely on your jewelry to make payments.  

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Published: February 4, 2019

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