Traditionally, transferring money to someone involved handing them cash or mailing a paper check. But that's not the case anymore. In fact, a growing number of transactions are handled digitally, whether they involve paying your bills or transferring money to a friend.
If you're interested in paying someone from the comfort of your computer without having to mail anything or leave home, it's worth exploring how to wire money online.
You have different options, ranging from a wire transfer to a money transfer service to payment processing systems such as Cash App, PayPal, Venmo, or Zelle. Here's what you need to know about each of these different solutions.
How wire transfers work
The term wire transfer is often used to refer to any method of sending money online, but it actually has a pretty technical meaning. An official wire transfer happens when you send money directly from one bank to another. Money is transferred instantly out of your bank account when you send a wire, and it's transferred directly to the recipient's bank.
You can complete a wire transfer online from most of the best banks simply by signing into your account and specifying that you need to send one. Most banks allow you to send wire transfers both domestically and internationally, though payments sent outside the U.S. are typically referred to as remittance transfers.
This type of wire transfer isn't the only way to transfer money from your bank through. You can also wire money by doing an automated clearing house transfer, which uses the ACH network to facilitate the movement of money instead of directly transferring it from one bank to another. You can also work with a wire transfer service or a third-party online payment platform, which will facilitate the transaction.
These other options can often move money pretty quickly and may cost less than an official wire transfer. In fact, in many cases, they're free. Consider exploring them when figuring out how to transfer money from your bank to another person or business.
How to wire money online: 3 options
Online bank wires
Most banks provide you with the option to wire money, both domestically and internationally. However, not all banks do. Some smaller or online-only banks may not offer this option, and some savings accounts may not offer it.
Depending on your bank, you should be able to choose whether to send money in U.S. dollars or a foreign currency. The money you send will be withdrawn directly from your savings or checking account and typically delivered either the same business day or the following one, depending on your bank and the time of day you make the transfer. Wire transfers typically cannot be reversed, and the recipient can usually withdraw the money immediately.
Many banks limit the amount you can send via wire transfer for security purposes, though the limits are often higher than with other online money transfer methods. And there are typically fees associated with a wire transfer, which might be quite substantial. For example, Wells Fargo charges $30 per outgoing domestic wire transfer, whereas fees for international transfers are disclosed at the time of the transaction.
When you send money via online bank wire, you'll need to provide some basic information that may include:
- The name and address of the person you're sending money to
- The name of the bank you're wiring the money to
- A secure I.D. or U.S. mobile device with a telephone number
- An ABA routing number for transfers within the United States or a SWIFT code or BIC for international wires. This enables your bank to correctly identify the bank or credit union that will receive the incoming wire transfer.
- An account number for domestic transfers or an International Bank Account Number (IBAN) if you're transferring money out of the country. This ensures the money moves into the correct account.
In some cases, such as when buying a house, you may have to use an online bank wire transfer, as this is the only accepted method due to the instant transfer of currency.
Wire transfer companies
Wire transfer services such as Western Union and MoneyGram also facilitate the transfer of funds both domestically and internationally.
You can visit a Western Union with cash or have money withdrawn from your bank account to send to your chosen recipient. You also have the option to transfer money via the Western Union app. There are more than 500,000 Western Unions worldwide, and recipients even have the option to pick up the transferred funds in cash after you've sent them.
As with an online wire transfer, the money is transmitted quickly, and you can't recover the funds once the money has been sent. You can, however, track the movement of your funds so you'll be able to see exactly when the money has been transferred.
MoneyGram works similarly and is Western Union's biggest competitor.
Fees for these wire transfer services can vary, but they sometimes cost less than bank wire transfer fees. For example, if you transfer $400 in cash to someone in Mexico, you'd pay a $19 transfer fee for the money to be delivered to them instantly via Western Union (as of Feb. 23, 2020). You're also limited in the amount you can send for security. For example, you can't send more than $5,000 U.S. dollars to Mexico via an online transfer from your debit card.
To transfer funds via Western Union, you'll need to provide:
- Your personal information, including your name and address
- Your chosen payment method, including debit card, bank account, credit card, or cash
- Your recipient's information, including their name as seen on their government ID (they will not be able to pick up the funds if you don't provide their name exactly as it appears on their identification).
When you sign up for a Western Union account, the website posts a message warning against fraud as scammers often ask people to send money via wire transfer. The company advises you not to send money if you've been asked to do so for specific reasons such as an unconfirmed emergency, a deposit on a rental property, an employment opportunity, taxes, or lottery winnings. There's also a fraud hotline at 800-448-1492 that you can call for help if you feel you may have been defrauded. However, Western Union warns it cannot refund the money in most circumstances once it's been sent.
Online and mobile payment services
A number of online services also provide the opportunity to send money instantly or quickly directly from your bank account to an individual or business. These include:
- Cash App
Typically, you can send money from your bank account, or use a credit or debit card for an additional fee. Money can be sent in foreign currencies too with some services, though others such as Zelle require both the sender and recipient to have a U.S. bank account.
The exact process by which these services work can vary in important ways. For example, money may be instantly transferred from your bank to the recipient's bank with Zelle. But funds may move from your bank account to your PayPal account to a friend's PayPal account before they can withdraw the funds.
However, to send money via these services, both you and the recipient will generally need to be a member. For example, your friend would need to sign up for Zelle in order for you to transmit a payment to them using this method. The transfer is often free as long as you're sending money directly from a bank account — unlike with other options. However, there may be lower daily limits on the amount you can send compared with a bank wire transfer.
Because these accounts require membership, there's a little more security in terms of whom you're distributing funds to. Depending on the service, the company may sometimes be able to help you get a refund if you end up unhappy with your transaction. This is different from bank transfers or wire transfer services.
In order to send money via an online or mobile payment service, you'll typically need:
- An account with the service. This requires you to provide an email address and personal information
- The recipient’s account information. The recipient generally must also be a member of the same service
- Your payment details, including your bank account information or credit card information
Once you've set up your account, it's easy to send money to other members. It could be as quick as inputting their email address or phone number, which makes these services especially convenient.
How much does it cost to wire money?
The cost to wire money varies depending on what service you use. In some cases, it's free to transfer funds — especially if you use Zelle, Paypal, or Venmo and have the money withdrawn directly from your bank account.
However, money transfer services and bank wire transfers both typically come at a cost. A bank may charge as much as $30 for a wire transfer, whereas services such as Western Union charge varying fees depending on your payment method and whether you're sending money domestically or internationally.
FAQs about wire transfers
Are wire transfers safe?
Wire transfers could be a secure way to send money as long as you know whom you are transferring money to. However, because a wire transfer is an instant transfer of funds, it can be difficult or impossible to recover the money once it's been sent. As a result, many scammers attempt to get victims to wire money. To avoid these scams, never wire money to anyone you don't personally know, and make sure to speak with them first to confirm they’ve requested the transfer.
Can you do a wire transfer online?
You can do a wire transfer online. Many banks allow you to wire money directly from your account, both domestically and internationally. Wire transfer services such as Western Union and MoneyGram also allow online transfers. And online mobile payment services such as Zelle and PayPal allow you to send money online as well.
Is a wire transfer instant?
A wire transfer may be instant but isn't always. Typically, the money is delivered the same business day you send the funds. Although if you initiate a wire transfer later in the day or on a weekend, the money may be sent the next business day. International wire transfers can sometimes take longer to process, and it may take several days for the funds to be delivered.
How are wire transfers different from ACH transfers?
Wire transfers go directly from one bank to another. ACH transfers go from a bank to an ACH network. The ACH network is a network that financial institutions use to move money around. It groups different transactions that come in throughout the day and then transfers money from a bunch of transactions to the appropriate bank several times per day.
The bottom line
You have several options to transfer money via a wire. In some cases, such as if you're closing on a home, a bank wire transfer may be your only choice. But in other circumstances, online mobile payment websites such as Cash App and Paypal may be both faster and cheaper. Consider all the different methods for digitally transferring funds when trying to figure out how to wire money online so you can make the choice that's right for you.