Earlier this year, Google blew up the existing Google Pay and started over with a new codebase that had more restrictions and fewer features. Now, the company is finally starting to add features on top of this stripped-down service, starting with the return of a debit card. According to a new report from 9to5Google (Google does not seem to have a blog post about this yet), starting this week, US Android users can request a “Google Pay Balance Card” that will allow them to spend their Google Pay balance directly on purchases.
Besides the NFC tap-and-pay functionality, Google Pay also has a P2P payment that lets you exchange money with other people. The pool for sending and receiving this money is your Google Pay balance, and previously, the main way to spend this balance was to transfer it out of Google Pay and into a bank account (though it’s also a payment method on the Play Store and Google hardware store). This worked fine, and if it was deposited directly to a bank account, there weren’t any fees. It was just a few extra taps and took several days to transfer. The new Google Pay card is a virtual Visa debit card that you can set as an NFC card, so now spending that money a friend sent you is as easy (and presumably quick) as setting your Google Pay balance as your NFC card and tapping your phone against a store payment terminal.
During Google’s turbulent NFC payment history—spanning 2011’s Google Wallet, 2015’s Android Pay, 2018’s Google Pay, and 2021’s big revamp—almost everything has been done before. This Google Pay Balance Card feels a lot like the Google Wallet Card (2013-2016), which also let you spend your P2P balance in stores. That was a physical piece of plastic, though, and it didn’t work over NFC. The Google Pay Balance Card is NFC-only and, despite the name, is not a physical card.
At least, it’s not a physical card yet. Part of the new Google Pay initiative includes plans for a Google Bank Account that is supposed to launch sometime this year. The accounts, called “Google Plex” (not to be confused with the Googleplex or this Plex), will be full-blown “digital bank accounts” made in partnership with a variety of banks and credit unions. If people are actually supposed to use these as their primary accounts, it’s hard to imagine some kind of physical Google Card not making an eventual comeback.
If you’re interested in a Google Pay Balance Card, apparently there will be some way to request it through the app soon.