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PayPal is a pioneer in the digital payments age, started in 1998 as one of the first companies to make it possible to send funds to almost anywhere or anyone on earth, online. It’s become a staple payment method for thousands of eCommerce websites all over the world, catering to over 200 markets and 100 currencies. This arguably is PayPal’s main selling point, since most up-and-coming payments solutions are still often exclusive to countries like USA, UK, and Australia.
The first way you'll use PayPal is often as a way to pay for something online. You find something you want, go to pay for it online, and see a payment screen asking for your credit card info or for you to login with PayPal. If you do the latter, you can pay with money you have in your PayPal account, your bank account, or a linked credit account—all without sharing your actual payment details with the vendor. That's one of PayPal's best advantages. It lets you quickly pay online with a simple account, without putting your credit card info in every website.
If you're starting a store, the same applies there too. You can add PayPal payments to your store for an easy way for anyone to pay with their PayPal account or directly with their credit card, if they want. You can also send an invoice to someone to request payment in PayPal, or can send a friend a gift or your part of the rent there as well. Your money will start filling up your online PayPal account where you can use it to buy other items, or can transfer it to your own bank account. It's not exactly an online bank—but it's the next closest thing.
The PayPal Summary page is the first thing to greet you when you log in. If you’ve been using your account for quite sometime, it displays a full list of completed transactions with their respective dates and amounts. The main menu sits at the top of the page where you can easily access other core features: Activity, Wallet, Send/Request Payments, notifications and account settings. On the left side of the screen is an overview of your PayPal balance, your list of banks and cards, and info links you may be interested in. Overall, the new site design has made everything more visible and accessible, even if you’ve just started using the platform.
Sending and receiving payments with PayPal remains consistent. You can send funds to another PayPal account, request payments from anyone with an email address, and/or withdraw funds to a supported bank account. If you’re a seller using PayPal as a payments platform, you can create and manage your invoices as well. All transactions are covered by the PayPal Buyer and Seller Protection policy, which any user will need to read to get the full scoop on how PayPal operates and, more importantly, how the company settles the score when dealing with buyer/seller disputes.
Need to recheck or retrieve info about a previous transaction? The Activity page has been revamped to make retrieving activity history fast and easy. You can search for transactions dating 30-90 days or specific transactions (e.g. Payments received, refunds) by setting the proper filters. If you need a soft copy, simply click on Statements (underneath Simple and Detailed views) and click on Activity export to download a spreadsheet of transactions.
There's only one catch: Fees. Send a gift to a friend in PayPal, and it's free—everything else comes with a small payment processing fee, much like you'd get from any other credit card transaction. They apply to currency conversions for overseas payments (e.g. USD to AUD) and to sellers’ accounts for every sale made. It helps to have a copy of the fees table on hand, in case you need to know how much PayPal will add on top of your purchase.
PayPal’s long history and global reputation has made it a popular choice for a digital payment solution; whether it’s the right payments platform for you or not depends on your needs. At the very least, it's one of the simplest ways to send money to almost anywhere around the world.
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Originally published March 16, 2016; updated June 18, 2018 with new international fee, screenshot, and details.