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.

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:

  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, which might use somebody’s bank account

The exact process will depend on which type of transfer you use. In many cases, you’ll need the same information, such as bank account numbers, to complete the transfer. Some money transfer services (like Western Union) operate independently—you can bring cash for an in-person transfer and the recipient will walk out with cash. They also let you identify the recipient with a phone number or email address. After a 2017 settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, Western Union agreed to implement better fraud protection for consumers.

Wire Transfer Instructions

© The Balance, 2018

To send funds using a traditional bank wire you’ll need the following information, which you can request from the recipient:

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 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 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. 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.

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 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 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.

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 they have everything they need.

Unlike some electronic payments (such as many 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. Depending on whether it's outgoing or incoming, international or domestic, wire transfers can cost up to $50.

If you use a credit card, your card issuer may charge additional fees, since they treat the wire transfer it like a cash advance.

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, 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.

Alternative Ways to Move Money

Sometimes a wire transfer is your only option. But there are other ways to send or receive funds.

Cashier's Checks

If you need funds to clear quickly, cashier's checks are wise options. 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. They're considered to be as secure as bank wires. Cashier's checks typically cost less than wire transfers.

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, and post offices. They are also relatively inexpensive, but they're not suitable for large purchases because most have maximum limits that vary by the issuer. This means you may inconveniently need to use multiple money orders.

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. With many services, it's 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.

Article Sources

  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Can I Cancel a Money Transfer?" Accessed Feb. 7, 2020.

  2. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). "Western Union Admits Anti-Money Laundering Violations and Settles Consumer Fraud Charges, Forfeits $586 Million in Settlement With FTC and Justice Department." Accessed Feb. 7, 2020.

  3. American Bankers Association (ABA). "ABA Routing Number." Accessed Feb. 7, 2020.

  4. Wells Fargo. "The Ins and Outs of Wire Transfers." Accessed Feb. 7, 2020.

  5. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). "International Business E-Mail Compromise Takedown." Accessed Feb. 6, 2020.

  6. Indiana University Office of Treasurer. "Banking." Accessed Feb. 6, 2020.

  7. American Express. "7 Answers About Wire Transfers Every CFO Should Know." Accessed Feb. 6, 2020.

  8. Santander Bank. "What Is a Cashier's Check?" Accessed Feb. 7, 2020.

  9. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Helpful Tips for Using Mobile Payment Services and Avoiding Risky Mistakes." Accessed Feb. 7, 2020.