If you shop heavily with a credit card, you're probably used to doing a cursory check for the stickers in a store's window that advertise the ways you can pay. While Visa and Mastercard have been the mainstays for decades, you may have noticed newer stickers advertising Google Pay (or Apple Pay).

While you might not want to mess with an app to buy something at a physical store, these new services offer several perks for better security, convenience and adaptability. Let's explain the perks first.

Better security and privacy with Google Pay and Apple Pay

When you set up one of your credit or debit cards in an app like Google Pay (sometimes stylized as "G Pay"), each transaction is assigned a "virtual" number that's deliberately different from the one that appears on the card itself. That way, if your payment details are intercepted by a middleman, the bad guys only get the temporary virtual number, which can easily be discarded.

SEE: Best alternatives to PayPal to make payments in 2019

Some websites also let you use Google Pay or Apple Pay to buy things, in which case they -- and anyone trying to snoop on your internet connection -- will only see your temporary virtual credit card number too.

As a result, the more you can use an app like Google Pay, the less you have to worry about a bad actor stealing your card info and ringing up a bunch of fraudulent purchases that force you to go through the process of getting a totally new card. And it has both an iOS and an Android version.

More convenience and adaptability

Google Pay not only is more secure but also faster to process a transaction than the chip card readers common in the US. There's no awkward pause while everyone waits for the reader to have a chat with your bank or card issuer.

If everyone uses this sort of app, we can all get through the line quicker -- and the store can handle more customers. Everybody wins, and it's a small but welcome tweak to your quality of life.

These mobile payment apps can also handle more than credit and debit cards. You can use them to store and manage gift cards, loyalty cards and even boarding passes and event tickets. Just want to send someone money? They'll do that too.

As long as you have your phone, using a mobile payment app means that you also have most of your wallet. If you want to pack light, or if you've just misplaced one of your cards, apps like Google Play can be real clutch players. If you need to replace a physical card altogether, the app can also sometimes switch to the new card without needing you to do anything.

In some cases, you may also be able to use your spouse's or partner's card as well. This varies from one issuer to another, and you may need to explicitly authorize that capability by contacting the issuer yourself. But if it works, you can access the perks on their cards that may not be available on yours.

Last but not least, the app keeps track of all of your purchases, so you can review them in reverse chronological order (though, perhaps ironically, you can't search the Google Pay app for specific transactions).

When you tap a specific purchase, you get a load of supplementary info, such as the location of the store in Google Maps; its street address, phone number and website; and a link to download the store's Android app, if available. You can even use this purchase detail page to split a payment after the fact.

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How to set up the Google Pay app

(Credit: Screenshots: Tom McNamara/Download.com)

This app may already be pre-installed on your phone, depending on who makes it. In that case, the easiest way to find it is to just ask the Google Assistant to open it for you. If you don't have it, you can download it for iOS or Android in just a few taps. It's free, in exchange for Google being able to charge a small fee to merchants for managing the transaction.

Once you've opened the app, tap the Payment button at the bottom and then the blue Payment Method button to add your card. Choose the "Credit or Debit card" option to get started. This will activate the viewfinder for your phone's camera. (The app uses this method to quickly grab your card details instead of making you enter everything manually -- though you have that option too.)

Just lay your credit or debit card down on a flat surface that's reasonably well-lighted, and line up the app's viewfinder so that the card is fully in view: The app will grab the card number and name printed on the front.

Next, you'll be asked to confirm the expiration date and PIN code. Enter that info, then tap the blue Save button at the bottom of the screen, and Google will have a quick digital chat with your card issuer to complete the process.

Not every card issuer has made arrangements to cooperate with Google's and Apple's payment apps, but the app will at least let you know within seconds if the card isn't on the approved list. In some cases, a bank may prefer to push its own payment app, which was the case with Chase for a few years. If your issuer isn't on board with this tech, it may be a good time to consider alternatives.

A note on Samsung Pay

If you have a Samsung phone with the Samsung Pay app , then things can get even smoother. That's because many Samsung phones have what's called a Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) coil. This special physical component allows Samsung's app to trick a card reader into thinking that you're paying with a physical card.

That means that Samsung Pay can be used even when a card reader isn't set up to work with mobile payment apps, which in turn greatly increases the number of stores you can shop at without ever opening your wallet.

Older Samsung Gear smartwatches also have an MST coil, but this payment capability requires a Samsung phone with the Samsung Pay app. Newer Samsung smartwatches no longer have this coil.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.