How to Use Zelle for P2P Payments

Pay friends and family, but steer clear of scams

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Need to pay friends and family, but hate dealing with cash and checks? Several P2P services allow you to make personal payments. But—so far—those services require you to set up new accounts and download apps. Zelle is a service that you probably already have access to in your bank’s mobile app, and it excels at moving money quickly.

How Zelle Works

Zelle moves money from one bank account to another.

If your bank has a relationship with Zelle, it’s effortless to register and send or receive funds with your bank’s mobile app. To do so, provide an email address or mobile number to identify your Zelle account. Then, you’re ready to send money.

  1. Where to send: Provide information about the person you’re sending money to. You can use an email address or mobile number.
  2. Recipient notification: Zelle will inform the recipient about your payment.
  3. Registration (if necessary): If the recipient does not have an active Zelle account, they’ll need to register. They can do so using their bank’s app, or they can download the Zelle app.
  4. Funds available: Payments with Zelle are typically available for spending within a few minutes. However, if the recipient does not use a bank account with a Zelle partnership (and the recipient uses the standalone app instead), the first transfer may take a few days.

Highlights

Zelle is unique because major U.S. banks are behind it, so it’s a straightforward way to move money quickly.

Fast transfers: Apps like PayPal and Venmo have a virtual “balance,” but they require an extra step to move that money into your bank account. With Zelle, as long as the recipient is an enrolled or “seasoned” user, incoming transfers appear in your available balance in just a few minutes. Square Cash also moves money instantly but it requires both users to have a Square Cash account and provide debit card information.

No new apps or accounts needed: Over 95 million U.S. consumers already have Zelle in their bank’s mobile app. But you might not know that you have access. To find Zelle in your account, look for options for personal payments or transfers. Some banks use their own branding. For example, Chase bank calls the service “Chase QuickPay with Zelle.”

Free to use: Zelle does not charge any fees for transfers, and most banks provide the service for free as well. Banks benefit by reducing the volume of cash and checks customers use, and they’re undoubtedly trying to gain market share from competitors like Venmo and Popmoney.

Other perks:

  • Request money: In addition to sending money, you can also ask somebody else to pay you through Zelle.
  • Split payments: If you need to share a dinner bill with friends, you can split payments and payment requests in some apps.
  • Types of accounts: Depending on your bank, Zelle may make it easier to use savings accounts and prepaid accounts for payments—not just your checking account.

If Your Bank Doesn’t Have Zelle

Over 60 banks and credit unions work with Zelle, including some of the biggest U.S. banks. But if your bank isn’t one of them, you can use the Zelle app to send and receive funds.

In many cases, you’ll still enjoy quick transfers, as Zelle will zap money to your checking account through your debit card (Visa or Mastercard only, at this time).

Is Zelle Safe?

As with any payment service, it can be risky to send money with Zelle. But only send funds to people you know and trust—for your share of the rent or dinner bill, Zelle is an excellent choice.

Buying online? Zelle is not designed for buying on sites like eBay or craigslist. You typically cannot cancel payments after you send them, so you’re out of luck if you don’t get what you paid for. For unknown websites and sellers, use services like PayPal or ​a credit card instead. As with Venmo, ignore demands from con artists who want you to pay with Zelle.

Account security: Your Zelle account is as safe as your bank account.

Banks and credit unions use robust systems to prevent problems, but anything is possible. That said, using Zelle should not increase the likelihood of hackers getting into your account. Avoid using your bank’s app on public wi-fi—wait until you’re home or use your mobile phone’s data network instead.

Consumer protection: Zelle feels like a “safe” bank product when it’s an automatic account feature. But there is no consumer protection for these transfers. If you send money to somebody, you’re making an “authorized” transfer, similar to handing over cash. Your bank will not help you if you get ripped off or there’s any dispute.

Top Competitors

Zelle is possibly the largest payment service you’ve never heard of. The strategy banks on a simple interface and partnerships with large institutions.

Venmo vs. Zelle: Venmo’s popularity will be hard for Zelle to overcome. Again, the primary difference between the two apps is that Zelle payments move directly between banks. Venmo has a “balance” that lives at Venmo and must be transferred to your bank if you want to use the money elsewhere. Transfers can take at least one day, but Venmo allows you to make instant transfers through your debit card for $0.25 per transfer. Also, Venmo has the social feed, for better or worse.

PayPal vs. Zelle: PayPal is one of the oldest P2P payment services, and is a better fit for online shopping. If you want Buyer Protection in a given situation (and your transaction is eligible), go with PayPal. PayPal also works with users outside of the U.S., so it’s useful for sending money abroad. And PayPal owns Venmo, so the “balance” and instant transfer features are similar.

Square Cash: Square made a splash by providing near-instant transfers through debit cards—for free. But the competition is catching up. Square Cash is still an excellent service for those who have (or want) a Square Cash account, but brand-new users might find it slightly easier to use Zelle.