Need to pay friends and family, but hate dealing with cash and checks? Several peer-to-peer (P2P) services allow you to make personal payments, but you may have to set up a new account and download a specialized app to your phone.
Zelle, on the other hand, is a service that you might already have access to through your bank’s mobile app. For those looking for the easiest way to quickly move money between friends and family, Zelle is worth exploring.
How Zelle Works
Put simply, Zelle moves money from one bank account to another. If your bank has a relationship with Zelle, its service will be integrated into your bank’s mobile app. You may have to provide an email address or mobile number to identify your Zelle account, but after that, you’re ready to send money. You can also use Zelle through the company's standalone app, regardless of which bank you use.
The Payment Process
The first step in the process is to provide information about the person you’re sending money to. You can use an email address or mobile number. Zelle will use this information to reach out to the recipient. Include the amount of the payment, along with a memo explaining the payment.
If the recipient does not yet have an active Zelle account, they’ll need to register. Depending on the bank they use, they may be able to do it through their bank's app. Otherwise, they'll have to register directly with Zelle.
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 (so they accept the payment through Zelle's app instead), the first transfer may take a few days.
Zelle is unique because major U.S. banks are behind it, so it’s a straightforward way to move money quickly.
Apps like PayPal and Venmo have a virtual “balance,” which creates an extra step, because payments first land in your virtual balance. Once the funds are there, you must request a transfer of funds from your virtual balance to 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. Cash App also moves money instantly, but it requires both users to have Cash App accounts.
No New Apps or Accounts Needed
As of April 18, 2021, Zelle maintained partnerships with more than 1,100 financial institutions, including major banks such as Bank of America, Chase, and Wells Fargo. That means millions of U.S. consumers already have Zelle in their bank’s mobile app. To find Zelle in your account, look for options under personal payments or transfer tabs.
Some banks use their own branding for this service. 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. This puts Zelle in line with competitors like Venmo and Popmoney, which also offer free money transfer services.
In addition to payments, Zelle offers a few other services that are worth mentioning.
Request money: In addition to sending money, you can 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 send payment requests.
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
While hundreds of financial institutions already have a relationship with Zelle, that doesn't cover all U.S. consumers. If your bank doesn't have a partnership, you can still use Zelle, but you'll need to take the extra step of downloading Zelle's app and setting up an account. In many cases, you’ll still enjoy quick transfers, as Zelle will transfer money to your checking account through your debit card (Visa or Mastercard only).
As with any payment service, it can be risky to send money with Zelle. The service itself uses robust security systems, but Zelle is designed for personal payments between friends and family members—people you know. For splitting the rent or a dinner bill, Zelle is an excellent choice.
Zelle is not designed for online shopping through sites like eBay or Craigslist. The payments are nearly instantaneous, so it may not be possible to cancel a payment after you send it. Zelle transactions are regarded as “authorized” transfers. Your bank will not help you if you get ripped off.
For transactions with people you don't personally know, credit cards and services like PayPal work better, because they offer fraud protection.
Zelle is far from the only P2P payment app. Here are just a few of the rival services.
Venmo vs. Zelle
Venmo’s popularity will be hard for Zelle to overcome. However, Zelle users will find that their payments transfer quicker. That's because Venmo has a “balance” that lives at Venmo. If you want to withdraw a payment as cash or spend it outside of Venmo, you must transfer the funds to your bank. Transfers take at least one day, but you can pay an extra fee to expedite them.
Venmo's most unique feature is its social feed. Some users enjoy the social feed, but it has also raised security concerns. Allegations that Venmo misled users about the security of the feed contributed to a 2018 settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.
PayPal vs. Zelle
PayPal owns Venmo, so the virtual balance and instant transfer fee features are similar. However, PayPal is one of the oldest P2P payment services, so it has some advantages that both Venmo and Zelle don't. Most notably, its Purchase Protection program makes it a better option for online shopping. Another major advantage of PayPal is that it allows users to send money internationally, which Zelle isn't able to do.
Cash App made a splash by providing near-instant transfers through debit cards—for free. The competition has since offered similar services, but Cash App is still an excellent service. The primary disadvantage is that it isn't integrated into major banking apps, as Zelle is.