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 mobile app. So, how does Zelle work?
What is Zelle?
Zelle is based in Scottsdale, Arizona, and is a peer-to-peer mobile payment service that has been facilitating payments between users since it was founded in 2016. It is owned by Early Warning Services, a private financial services company. 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, which is available for both Android and iOS devices.
Zelle continues to grow in popularity. According to Zelle, small businesses and consumers sent out $120 billion in payments in just the second quarter of 2021.
How does Zelle work?
You can use Zelle to send, receive, or request money. Users typically link their checking account to their Zelle account.
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 money transfer 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. There are hundreds of banks that 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 standalone app.
How to send money with Zelle
- Log into your bank's mobile app with your username and password. You may also be able to set up Zelle through your bank's website portal. If you don’t have an account at a participating bank, you can create a new account with Zelle.
- 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.
- 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 number.
- Choose the amount to send.
- Click “Send.”
- Your recipient will receive a message with instructions on how to access their money, even if they’re not yet enrolled.
Which banks use Zelle?
Zelle is used by banks and credit unions from coast to coast. Over a thousand banks have incorporated Zelle into their banking apps. Big bank names you might recognize include Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Chase. But there are also many smaller financial institutions that use Zelle. You can see the list of participating banks on Zelle.com.
What Zelle does well
Zelle is different than other money transfer services, 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 people 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
- Offers a standalone Zelle app available in the app stores for both Android and Apple devices
- Only requires the phone number or email address of your recipient
- Easy to use
- Safe and secure; your money stays insured
Zelle also supports small businesses. You can send money to a small business as a consumer, or accept Zelle payments for products and services if you are a business owner. Zelle also supports business-to-business transfers if both businesses are enrolled and have a linked business bank account.
What Zelle could 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 fall victim to a scam through Zelle, you’ll have no recourse.
- Some banks have mobile apps that are easier to navigate than others, so sending and receiving money is not always a seamless experience for Zelle users. 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.
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 pay a friend with a credit card, debit card, or from your bank account. All you need is their phone number or email address. Standard transfers take 1-3 days and fees apply for instant transfers and credit card payments.
- Cash App - 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. Learn more by checking out our Cash App review.
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 or fraud protection if you get scammed by a stranger. So use caution when sending money with Zelle.
What banks use Zelle?
Hundreds of banks and credit unions use Zelle. Here are some of the most widely used institutions:
- Bank of America
- BMO Harris Bank
- Capital One
- Citizens Bank
- Fifth Third Bank
- 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.
How do I contact Zelle customer support?
Zelle's customer support can be contacted via their online form or by phone. The number for Zelle support is 1-844-428-8542. They operate from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Eastern time, seven days a week except for some holidays.
Bottom line 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.
And if you're looking to open a new bank account, make sure to check out our list of the best banks and pick one that supports Zelle.