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.
Before you authorize a bank transfer, understand that 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," and you can't cancel the transfer for a refund unless it hasn't been picked up or deposited. If you're not 100% certain who's getting the money, you’re taking a risk.
Types of Wire Transfers
The term wire transfer is often used to describe:
- A transfer from one bank to another using traditional bank networks
- An electronic payment using a money transfer service, such as Western Union, which might use somebody’s bank account
The exact process will depend on which type of transfer you use, but the "wire transfer" process as defined here concerns a bank-to-bank or credit union transfer of money.
Sending a Wire? Contact Your Bank
Banks increasingly accept wire instructions online, but make sure to verify all the details with your bank before you begin. A visit to the branch is often required for large dollar amounts. Check with your service provider for limits. They may have a form you need to fill out, or you might be able to start the process online.
To send funds using a traditional bank wire you’ll probably need the following information, which you can request from the recipient:
- Recipient bank name (the bank that the money is going to)
- Recipient bank's American Bankers Association (ABA) routing number or other code
- Payee’s account number at the bank
- Any additional information you need to provide (such as further delivery instructions)
Contact your bank after you submit your request to confirm they have everything they need.
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. Although wire transfers can cost up to $50, it's best to fund transfers out of a checking account so you don't pay cash advance fees and high-interest rates.
Never wire money based on the information you get in an email. If somebody sends instructions electronically, call the recipient and verify the wiring instructions before moving forward. Hackers can intercept messages and provide information for an account they control. This is especially important if you'll be wiring large sums. If your title company sends wiring instructions for a down payment, for example, make sure you verify where the money is going.
How to Receive Money By Wire
To receive money by wire, you’ll need to provide your bank account information to the person or business sending money. Ask your bank for incoming wire instructions to be sure you use the correct numbers.
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. International wires may require a Swift Code.
To avoid confusion, talk with customer service and verify that you're using the correct set of numbers and instructions.
Fees are often lower to receive a wire transfer ($0–$18) than to send one ($30 and up), and foreign transfers are more costly than domestic ones.
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, so it can take time to 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 verify the transfer was completed, but sometimes it's just a matter of waiting. Depending on when you submit instructions to your bank, they may complete your bank wire on that same day.
If you're the recipient and are concerned or confused about a bank wire, make sure you received a real wire transfer. To do so, speak with somebody at your bank to find out if the funds have “cleared,” and discuss any concerns you have about the transaction.
Alternative Ways to Move Money
Sometimes a wire transfer is your only option. But there are other ways to send or receive funds.
Money Transfer Services
Western Union money transfers and MoneyGram are sometimes called “wires,” and some of those transfers are more or less instant. The sender can walk into a retail location with cash, and the recipient can walk out of another outlet with money in just a few minutes. If funded from your bank account, the transfer process will take at least several days. If you use your credit card for a money transfer, you’ll pay extra fees.
Cashier's Checks and Money Orders
If you need funds to clear quickly, cashier's checks are considered to be as secure as bank wires, and cost less than wire transfers. The bank or credit union takes the money out of the customer’s account at the time the check is printed.
Money orders are similar to cashier's checks, are relatively inexpensive, but not quite as safe. They can be bought at banks, credit unions, convenience stores, and post offices. They're not suitable for large purchases due to maximum limits that vary by the issuer, and which would require the inconvenience of purchasing multiple money orders.
Several online services and apps allow you to send money by tapping into your bank account indirectly. Venmo, PayPal, Cash App, and others complete electronic transfers for you. Be sure to check with those service providers on any risks you might be taking (especially if you pay somebody you don’t know). These numerous ways to send money make the process easy, but it generally takes a few days and requires some trust from both parties involved.