How to Use a Bank Wire

A Fast way to Move Money

When you need to move money quickly and securely, a wire transfer can get the job done. The process is fairly easy, but gathering information and providing it in the right format can be a challenge.

If you're not sure exactly how wire transfers work, read through Bank Wire Transfer Basics before you authorize a transfer out of your account. The money you send will leave more or less immediately, and you won't be able to get it back (you can’t "stop payment" or cancel the transfer). If you're not 100% certain who's getting the money, you’re taking a risk.

Types of wire transfers: the term wire transfer gets used several ways, including

  1. A transfer from one bank to another using traditional bank networks
  2. An electronic payment using a money transfer service (such as Western Union, PayPal, and others), which might use somebody’s bank account

The exact process will depend on which type of transfer you use. But in many cases, you’ll need the same information (such as bank account numbers) to complete the transfer. That said, some money transfer services ( like Western Union) operate entirely independently – you can bring cash, and the recipient can walk out with cash. They also let you identify the recipient with a phone number or email address.

Wire Transfer Instructions

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To send funds using a traditional bank wire you’ll need the following information for the account that will receive the funds.

  • Recipient bank name (the bank that the money is going to)
  • Recipient bank ABA number or other code
  • Payee’s account number at the bank
  • Any additional information you need to provide (further delivery instructions, etc.)

To get this information, just ask the recipient (assuming you're sending money to somebody else – or ask your bank if you’re sending to yourself). Your recipient will probably need to ask their bank for these details – banks typically provide an instruction sheet with all of the necessary details spelled out.

Never wire money based on information you get in an email.

Scam warning: Never wire money based on information you get in an email. If somebody sends instructions electronically, call the recipient and verify the wiring instructions before moving forward. Hackers can easily intercept messages and provide information for an account they control, and it's an increasing problem. For example, if your title company sends wiring instructions for a down payment, make sure you know where the money is really going.

How to have money wired to your account: If you're receiving money, ask your bank for wire transfer instructions – or look for wiring instructions online. Note that the ABA number you normally use (the one you see on your checks or that you use for direct deposit) might not be the best one to use for wire transfers. If you need the money quickly, it's always best to talk with customer service and verify that you're using the correct set of numbers and instructions.

Sending a Wire? Contact Your Bank

To send a wire, gather the information above, contact your bank, and ask how to send a wire transfer from your account. They may have a form that you need to fill out, or you might be able to start the process online.

Banks increasingly accept wire instructions online, but make sure to verify all of the details with your bank before you start typing. You might be able to send small wires online, while a visit to the branch is required for large dollar amounts (for example, banks might allow you to request wires up to $25,000 online, so discuss the specific amount ahead of time).

Depending on when you submit instructions to your bank, they may complete your bank wire on that same day. Contact your bank after you submit your request to confirm that they have everything they need.

Unlike some electronic payments (such as ACH payments) bank wires cost money. You should expect to pay a fee for the service, and you might even have to pay if you receive a bank wire into your account. Wire transfer fees are often between $25 and $40.

If you use a credit card, you'll pay even more.

It's best to fund transfers out of a checking account so you don't pay cash advance fees and high interest rates.

Waiting for Credit

Although bank wires are fast, they don’t always show up in the recipient’s account immediately. The receiving bank often has a queue of incoming bank wires, and it can take time for them to move through them all and credit the ultimate payee. This can be frustrating for large and important transfers, but it is normal. Sometimes a few phone calls will get you in touch with an individual who can at least see that the transfer was completed, but sometimes it's just a matter of waiting.

Alternative ways to Move Money

Sometimes a wire transfer is your only option. But there are other ways to send or receive funds – even “cleared” funds (which don't take multiple business days to become available, and are acceptable for transactions like purchasing a home).

Cashier's checks: if you need cleared funds, the next best option is a cashier's check. Cashier's checks are paid out of the bank's account (because the bank or credit union takes the money out of the customer’s account at the time the check is printed), so they are considered just as good as bank wires. Cashier's checks typically cost less than wire transfers. For more details, read How Cashier's Checks Work.

Money orders: money orders are similar to cashier's checks, but not quite as safe. They can be bought at banks, credit unions, convenience stores, post offices, and elsewhere. They are also relatively inexpensive, but they are not suitable for large purchases because they have maximum limits (requiring multiple money orders). For more details, read How Money Orders Work.

Other options: for more informal transfers – such as a transfer to friends, family, or your own account at a different bank – there are numerous ways to send money. Best of all, it’s usually free to send personal payments. Online services and apps make the process easy, but it generally takes a few days and requires some trust from both parties involved. For more details, read about the Cheapest Ways to Send Money.