How to Send Money Quickly and Easily with Zelle [2021]

It’s easy to send money to anyone with a U.S. bank account with Zelle. Find out how.
Last updated May 13, 2021 | By Lindsay Frankel
Person holding a bag of money

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Forget to bring cash to the cash-only bar and need to pay back your friends for your drinks? Don’t want to shortchange the babysitter or run to an ATM? Failed to bring a wedding gift and want to send money last minute? It happens. Thankfully, there’s Zelle, a service that allows you to send money to just about anyone you know who has a U.S. bank account. It’s also free, fast, and easy to use with your banking app or the Zelle app. So, how does Zelle work?

In this article

What is Zelle?

Zelle is a Scottsdale-based, peer-to-peer mobile payment service that has been facilitating payments between users since it was founded in 2016. It allows for direct payments between U.S. bank accounts with just the mobile phone number or email of the recipient.

Many banks and credit unions participate in Zelle, which means you can use the service directly from your mobile banking app. But if your bank hasn’t joined yet, you can also send and receive money through the Zelle app.

Zelle continues to grow in popularity. It is so widely used that the payment app processed 196 million transactions in the third quarter of 2019 alone. That’s $49 billion sent safely and securely.

How to send money with Zelle

So, how does Zelle work?

When sending money with Zelle, all you need once you’re enrolled is the recipient’s email address or mobile phone number. Unlike some other apps, the money becomes available to enrolled recipients within minutes.

You can expect a quick and easy process, even if you’ve never used Zelle. Most banks partner with Zelle, so you can send money directly from your mobile banking app. And if your bank doesn’t use Zelle, you can also send money through the Zelle app.

Steps to send money with Zelle

  1. Log into your mobile banking with your username and password. Or, create a new account with Zelle if you don’t have an account at a participating bank.
  2. If you don’t have an account at a participating bank, you’ll need to enter your debit card information on the Zelle app. If you’re enrolling through your mobile banking app, you’ll just need to verify your email address or phone number.
  3. Once you’re enrolled, you can transfer money. You’ll just need to find the “Send Money with Zelle” action in your mobile banking app or on the Zelle app and then enter the recipient’s email address or mobile phone number.
  4. Choose the amount to send.
  5. Click “Send.”
  6. Your recipient will receive a message with instructions on how to access their money, even if they’re not yet enrolled.

What Zelle does well

Zelle is different than other payment apps, and in many ways, it’s better. It allows money to move directly between bank accounts, but it’s faster than using an account transfer. Here are some of the reasons we love using Zelle.

  • Money is available to your recipient in minutes, as long as they are enrolled
  • No fees to send money immediately
  • Accessible through your mobile banking app
  • Only requires the phone number or email address of your recipient
  • Easy to use
  • Safe and secure; your money stays insured

What Zelle can do better

Zelle makes it easy to send money quickly, but this has a few drawbacks.

  • Scammers sometimes use Zelle to target their victims, which is why you should only send money to people you know personally. If you are scammed out of money through Zelle, you’ll have no recourse.
  • Some mobile banking apps are easier to navigate than others, so it’s not always a seamless experience using Zelle. Some other payment apps feel more user-friendly.
  • Zelle doesn’t accept credit cards.
  • You can only cancel a payment if the recipient has not yet enrolled in Zelle.

FAQs about Zelle

Is Zelle safe to use?

Yes. Money sent with Zelle is never held by a third party, which means it is always FDIC-insured. And the Zelle app uses authentication and monitoring features to protect the security of your payments.

That said, you should only use Zelle to send money to people you know and trust, and ensure that their phone number or email address is still accurate. You can’t cancel a payment, and you’ll have no recourse if you get scammed by a stranger. So use caution when sending money with Zelle.

What banks use Zelle?

More than 200 banks and credit unions use Zelle. Here are some of the most widely used institutions:

  • Ally
  • Bank of America
  • BBVA
  • BMO Harris Bank
  • Capital One
  • Chase
  • Citi
  • Citizens Bank
  • Fifth Third Bank
  • FirstBank
  • KeyBank
  • PNC Bank
  • U.S. Bank
  • Wells Fargo

Head to Zelle to see a complete list or search for your bank or credit union.

Is there a fee to use Zelle?

No, there is no fee to use Zelle. While Zelle charges a small fee to the financial institution, you’ll never have to pay Zelle to send or receive money. However, Zelle does recommend checking with your bank or credit union to make sure they don’t charge any additional fees for the service.

Can I use Zelle without a debit card?

If your bank or credit union is linked with Zelle, you’ll just need a bank account to send or receive money. However, if you need to enroll through the Zelle app, you’ll need a debit card. It also must be a ‘fast funds enabled’ card to work with Zelle.

How long does it take to get money from Zelle?

Enrolled recipients will receive their money within minutes. People who aren’t yet enrolled will receive enrollment instructions, and it can take one to three business days for the money to be transferred. If the recipient doesn’t enroll within 14 days, the payment expires.

What are some alternatives to Zelle?

Though Zelle is one of our favorite payment apps because it is quick and safe, it might not be the best bank app for you to use. For example, if you need to make a credit card payment, you’re better off using one of these alternatives:

  • PayPal - Allows you to send money with a credit or debit card to friends, family, and businesses, even internationally (fees apply for credit cards). It takes one business day for a standard transfer to your bank account, and instant transfers are subject to fees.
  • Venmo - Lets you send money to anyone in the U.S. with a phone number or email address from your bank account, debit card, or credit card (fees apply). Standard transfers take 1-3 days and fees apply for instant transfers.
  • CashApp - Allows you to send money to anyone in the U.S. with a phone number or email address. Fees apply for credit card payments and instant transfers.

The final word on Zelle

While other apps might provide additional features, such as credit card payments, there are fees to use these tools. Most other apps also charge a fee for instant transfers, while sending money with Zelle is always fast. And with Zelle, your money remains FDIC-insured, instead of being held by a third party before it goes to your recipient’s bank account.

For these reasons, Zelle is one of the fastest and safest options available for sending money. And since Zelle partners with numerous banks and credit unions, it’s likely you won’t even need to download an app to get started. Just remember to only send money to people you know and trust with Zelle.

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Author Details

Lindsay Frankel Lindsay Frankel is a Denver-based freelance writer who specializes in credit cards, travel, budgeting/saving, and shopping. She has been featured in several finance publications, including LendingTree. When she's not writing, you can find her enjoying the great outdoors, playing music, or cuddling with her rescue pup.