Note: This article is part of our Basic Banking series, designed to provide new savers with the key skills to save smarter.
Wire transfers can be a fast, easy and convenient way to send money to friends, loved ones and creditors, whether they’re located across town or around the world. They got their name — “wire” transfers — from the Western Union Company, which pioneered the concept of electronic money transfers in 1871 when it began moving money via telegraph wires.
Instead of telegraphs, wire transfers today utilize secure electronic systems like SWIFT, Fedwire and the Clearing House Interbank Payments System, which support the transfer of money from one institution to another using either proprietary networks or the internet. Institutions can include banks and credit unions, and nonbank money transfer providers like Western Union and MoneyGram, among others.
If you need to send money, however, you probably don’t care how wire transfers work exactly. Instead, what likely matters most to you is what’s required in order to execute them. Fortunately, there are only a handful of steps that are quick and easy — just like the transfers themselves.
How to wire money: Bank transfer or nonbank transfer?
Your choice of wire service provider for sending money depends on several factors. The first consideration is whether you and the recipient have bank accounts. If you both have bank accounts, a bank transfer — where your financial institution sends money to the recipient’s financial institution — might be the easiest choice, since you can typically initiate it in person at a bank branch or remotely using your bank’s online portal. If either you or the recipient lack a bank account, however, using a nonbank wire transfer service is a better option for you.
You also must consider your transfer destination. Even if both you and your intended recipient have bank accounts, not all financial institutions support international transfers. If your bank is among those that don’t, a nonbank provider might be your only option.
Transfer amount might come into play as well, as some institutions place limits on how much money you can transfer. If a nonbank provider will only allow you to send $5,000, for example, you’ll need to go through your bank or credit union to send more than that if they allow it.
Speed can be a factor, too. An international bank transfer might take several days, for example, and could be further delayed by local bank holidays or other circumstances. If time is of the essence, a nonbank transfer — which, in some cases, can deliver cash for pickup in a matter of minutes — might be more expedient.
How to wire money: Compare fees
The next consideration is cost, as fees can vary dramatically based on the wire transfer provider, the destination of your transfer, the amount you’d like to send and the payment method.
Cost of a $100 Domestic Wire Transfer
|Ria||$9 – $15||$109 – $115|
|Western Union||$0.99 – $19.49||$100.99 – $119.49|
Cost of a $100 International Wire Transfer
|Ria||$3 – $9||$103 – $109|
|Western Union||$0 – $9.73||$100 – $109.73|
|Xoom||$4.99 – $5.99||$104.99 – $105.99|
Fees charged by nonbank wire service providers can vary according to transfer type (ban account transfer or cash pickup) and payment method (online checking, debit card, credit card).
Cost of Domestic and International Wire Transfers at Banks
|Institution||Incoming Domestic||Outgoing Domestic||Incoming International||Outgoing International|
|Bank of America||$15||$30||$16||$45|
|Capital One||$0||Up to $40||N/A||N/A|
|Chase||$0 – $15||$35||$0 – $15||$0 – $50|
|Citi||$0 – $15||$17.50 – $25||$0 – $15||$10 – $35|
|Wells Fargo||$15||$30||$16||Not disclosed|
Banks may charge separate fees for receiving and sending wire transfers, and fees are typically fixed, irrespective of transfer amount. For international wire transfers at banks, fees vary according to country. The figures shown above are for transfers from the United States to Australia.
How to wire money: Prepare your information
In order to execute a wire transfer, you’ll need some basic information, and it helps to assemble ahead of time:
- To send a domestic bank wire you must have the recipient’s name and address, as well as the name and address of their bank, their bank account number and their bank’s ABA number (i.e., routing number).
- To send an international bank wire ,you need everything that’s required for a domestic bank wire, plus the SWIFT or IBAN number of the recipient’s bank. The latter is the international equivalent of bank routing numbers, and can be obtained from the recipient’s bank.
- To send a nonbank wire transfer, you need to first decide whether you’re transferring money to the recipient’s bank or to a retail location for cash pickup. Bank transfers will require all the aforementioned information about the recipient and their bank. Although you don’t need to know banking information for cash pickups, you’ll need to find out the address of the retail location where your recipient plans to pick up transferred money.
How to wire money: Fill out the required forms
You may be in a hurry to transfer money. Even if your wire is urgent, however, it’s important to take your time when filling out the requisite forms, as inaccurate or incomplete information could create processing delays that slow down your transfer. Or, even worse, they could cause your transfer to end up with the wrong recipient. Because wire transfers typically are irrevocable, even very small errors can become very expensive mistakes.
How to wire money: Retain records
When you submit your transfer request, most providers will give you an estimate as to when the funds will arrive. It's good to hold on to your receipt in case your wire is delayed — or doesn’t arrive at all. That way, you can easily inquire with the sending institution and address any concerns.
How to wire money: Consider alternatives
Wire transfers may be fast, easy and efficient, but in some cases, they also can be extremely expensive. It’s therefore wise to keep in mind alternative means for transferring money.
For domestic transfers, for example, options include cashier’s checks and money orders, which act like personal checks but are more secure for the recipient since funds are certified. You can obtain cashier’s checks from your bank and money orders from places as diverse as grocery stores, pharmacies and post offices. Although they’re slower than wire transfers, fees are typically lower.
Mobile money transfer apps — PayPal, Venmo and Zelle, just to name a few — also can be attractive, although transaction limits mean they’re typically ideal for small instead of large transfers.