Banking » Guides » What Is a Wire Transfer? How Does It Work?
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What Is a Wire Transfer? How Does It Work?

Wire transfer represents a method of transferring funds between banks. Is it a good method? What information is needed and what are the fees?
Author: Baruch Mann (Silvermann)
Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Writer, Contributor

Experience

Baruch Silvermann is a financial expert, experienced analyst, and founder of The Smart Investor.  Silvermann has contributed to Yahoo Finance and cited as an authoritative source in financial outlets like Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, CNET, Bankrate, Fox Business, The Street, and more.
Interest Rates Last Update: April 15, 2024
The banking product interest rates, including savings, CDs, and money market, are accurate as of this date.
Author: Baruch Mann (Silvermann)
Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Writer, Contributor

Experience

Baruch Silvermann is a financial expert, experienced analyst, and founder of The Smart Investor.  Silvermann has contributed to Yahoo Finance and cited as an authoritative source in financial outlets like Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, CNET, Bankrate, Fox Business, The Street, and more.
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Table Of Content

What Is a Wire Transfer?

The wire transfer represents a method of electronic transfer of funds from one bank account to another. Unlike ACH transfer, the wire transfer can be used to transfer banks within the US and internationally.

As the Wells Fargo website explains, in the case of wire transfers, there is no exchange of physical currency. Instead, during the transfer, the transferred amount, plus any fees, is debited from the sender’s account, and eventually, the transferred funds will appear in the receiver’s account.

How Does Wire Transfer Work?

Before initiating the wire transfer process, you need to make sure that you have sufficient funds available on the account to cover the value of the transfer, plus all of the fees banks will charge on this transaction.

Once this is taken care of, you have several options to initiate a wire transfer:

  • You can visit the branch in person and provide the required information to the bank employee.
  • You can do this by online banking
  • You can also use a mobile banking application

Regardless of your choice, you will need to provide several details so that the bank can execute the transfer correctly without unnecessary delays or complications. This is something we will discuss in greater detail below.

Don't Forget to Review The Details

One thing to keep in mind here is that it is important to check that all of the details are correct. This is because once you confirm the transfer, you cannot cancel it or modify the details of its destination.

Regarding wire transfer fees, there is no one standard rate that all banks use. Instead, every financial institution has its rates. So there is always a space to shop around and choose the bank, which could provide a cost-effective way to transfer funds.

Wire Transfer Fees

When it comes to wire transfer fees, every bank has its commission structure. However, some general tendencies prevail in the US banking industry.

Firstly, it is helpful to keep in mind that many financial institutions, especially online banks, do not charge any fees for inbound transfers. However, this is not necessarily the case for traditional banks, where a $15 fee for inbound transfers is more common.

When it comes to outbound domestic wire transfers, fees are higher. The median wire transfer fee here is $25. This is the amount most online banks charge for the transfer. When it comes to traditional bank fees, the commission here is even higher, at $30.

These are wire transfer fees for 11 major financial institutions in the U.S.

Financial Institution
Incoming Domestic Wire Transfer Fee
Outgoing Domestic Wire Transfer Fee
Chase Bank
$0 – $15
$25 – $35
Citi
Up to $15
Up to $25
Capital One
Up to $15
Up to $30
Synchrony Bank
$0
$25
Discover Bank
$0
$30
Wells Fargo
$15
$30
Ally Bank
$0
$20
Bank Of America
$15
$30
PNC Bank
$15
$25 – $30
U.S. Bank
$20
$30
TD Bank
$15
$30

Domestic vs. International Transfers Fees

It is worth keeping in mind that all of those above rates deal with domestic transfers. The fact of the matter is that international transfers are usually more costly. Wire transfers can cost as much as $50 or even higher, depending on the destination country.

So, generally speaking, it might be more cost-efficient to make fewer large payments compared to many small payments. However, combining several small payments into one large transfer is not always possible or practical.

To save money on bank fees, some people use AHC transfer, which generally has lower fees. This is something that will discuss below in more detail.

What Information is Needed for a Wire Transfer?

To initiate a wire transfer, you need the following information:

  • Full name of the recipient
  • Recipient’s address and zip code
  • Recipient’s bank account number
  • Routing number of recipient’s bank
  • Reason for transfer

Here it is worth mentioning that if you are sending money internationally, besides the recipient’s address and full name, you will find the following pieces of information:

  • Recipient’s bank’s Swift Code
  • BIC bank account number

Pros and Cons Of Wire Transfer

There are several advantages and disadvantages of using wire transfer as a money transfer method; Here are the main benefits and drawbacks to consider:

Pros
Cons
Security
Fees
Cost Efficiency
Currency Conversion Expenses
Speed of Execution
Limitations
Wire transfers can’t bounce
Convenience

If a large payment is involved, withdrawing all of the money from the account and moving around a large amount of cash can be expensive and unsafe. 

The risks associated with moving vast piles of cash are pretty obvious. On the other hand, wire transfer makes the process much safer and more convenient.

Banks do charge fees for wire transfers. However, it is still relatively cheaper than other options, like cash pickup through Western Union or MoneyGram.

Wire transfers offer a more affordable alternative to withdrawing funds and making payments in cash. Cost efficiency is significant for those who have to make payments regularly.

Wire transfers are not only cheaper, but they also offer faster transfers compared to some other methods. 

Domestic wire transfers typically take just one business day, and international payments are also settled within several days, depending on the country in question.

Checks are indeed a common way of payment. However, unless it is a cashier’s check, there is always a risk of the check bouncing due to insufficient funds on the account. 

With wire transfers, you are not exposed to that risk. This is because the wire transfer simply will not be initiated if there are no sufficient funds on the account.

You do not have to visit the bank branch to initiate the wire transfer. You can fill out all the necessary details using online banking or mobile banking application. 

Most of those applications even allow you to save wire transfer details, so it will take even less effort to initiate a wire transfer next time.

Clients must pay a fee to initiate a wire transfer. 

According to Forbes, the median wire transfer fee with traditional banks range from $15 to $30. This means that transferring small amounts via wire transfer makes very little sense. 

For example, paying $30 to transfer $50 to someone’s account is very cost inefficient.

Most international wire money transfers involve currency exchange. Banks do not do this for free. The currency conversion fee can range from 0.5% to 3%, depending on the financial institution. 

This might be insignificant for small amounts; however, when large sums are transferred, this can add up to a considerable number.

Most banks limit the maximum amount of money that can be transferred during each wire transfer.

One way to deal with this problem is to make several wire transfers until the money is paid in full. This is a viable solution.

However, the downside of this approach is that you have to pay a wire transfer fee in each case, which can add up to a noticeable amount.

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Is Wire Transfer Safe?

Wire transfer is a safer option to send money compared to sending money by check or paying in cash. However, this does not mean there is no risk in sending money by wire transfer.

Here are some of the safety issues to consider:

  • Email Scams – You might receive an e-mail, which might be designed as an official email from a bank, government, or some other reputable organization. They might require that you fill in the details of your bank account or credit card account. They can then use this information to steal money from you. So it is very important to verify the sender's identity before giving them any information about your bank accounts.
  • Money Transfer Scams – Some scammers will ask you to assist them in transferring money from abroad by wiring them some money for ‘processing fees, or ‘notary fees. They promise to give you some portion of the millions they want to transfer. It is important not to fall for those scams and not wire them any money since they will disappear and leave you with some losses.
  • Other Types of Scams – Email scams are not the only threats people have to deal with. Some people promise online jobs or business partnerships and ask you to wire them some money. It is important to verify that you are dealing with reputable businesses since if you wire them money, you will likely lose your funds without any tangible benefit.

Wire Transfer vs. ACH Transfer

Wire transfer is not the only common way to transfer money between banks. Some people prefer transferring money using ACH, which stands for Automated Clearing House. Both methods are similar and represent a method of electronic transfer of funds.

However, it is important to point out that there are some notable differences between wire transfers and ACH transfers; here are some of those:

  • Fees – ACH transfers are generally cheaper than wire transfers. Some banks make ACH transfers for free, while some traditional banks charge as little as $3. This makes ACH transfers more cost-efficient compared to wire transfers.
  • Speed – Standard ACH transfers typically take up to 3 business days. On the other hand, wire transfers show up at the account on the same day or after one business day. So if speed is your top priority, then wire transfer might be a better option. Alternatively, some banks can make the next-day ACH transfers for an additional fee.
  • International Payments – Despite its cost efficiency, one of the most significant downsides of using ACH transfer is that this method cannot be used for international transfers. So if you want to send money abroad, a wire transfer is one way to go about it.

Wire Transfer Alternatives

There are several alternatives to consider for those who do not like using wire transfers. Here is the list of some of those options:

  • PayPal – You can send money to friends and relatives using PayPal for free. You can also pay for goods and services with no additional charges. However, to transfer funds from PayPal to your bank account, you need to pay a 2.9% fee. You can also use PayPal to send money internationally; however, in this case, there is a variable percentage of fees and currency conversion fees. Generally speaking, PayPal might be a decent option for making small payments.
  • Western Union – Western Union allows people to send money domestically and internationally without using the bank's service. The fees depend on where you are sending money and in what currency. Western Union also has its customer loyalty program called My WU Program. This allows customers to gather points for every qualified money transfer and then redeem those points for rewards.
  • MoneyGram – MoneyGram is yet another company that offers money transfers. Here also, you can send money both domestically and internationally. In addition, MoneyGram allows its US clients to pay bills and send money to the inmates. MoneyGram also allows its users to send money to online wallets as well.

FAQs

The routing number is the number that financial institutions in the US use to identify each other. Unlike the bank account number, which is unique for each customer, the routing number is the same for all the accounts held at the same bank.

You need to provide the bank's routing number where you are sending money to complete the wire transfer. The Routing number of your bank is written at the beginning of the bank statement and the end of a check.

Many people use wire transfers because it is a safe and relatively fast way of sending money to people and businesses.

It is also worth noting that, unlike ACH bank transfers, wire transfers allow people to transfer money internationally.

Generally speaking, the wire transfer is a relatively faster way of transferring funds than some of its alternatives, such as ACH transfers.

With wire transfers, domestic transfers are typically settled within one business day, while international wire transfers might settle within 2 to 5 business days. Some banks also offer same-day transfers for domestic money transfers in exchange for an additional fee. However, there are faster services – for example, transferring money with Zelle takes minutes.

A domestic wire transfer is a money transfer between two different financial institutions within the same country. Alternatively, if the money has to be transferred abroad, then this is called an international wire transfer.

It is worth mentioning that domestic transfers are generally cheaper than international transfers, and they also take fewer working days.

Sometimes, the wire transfer might be rejected because of inaccurate information, an inactive recipient account, or another reason.

If this happens, the money returns to the sender’s bank account. However, it is important to keep in mind that the bank will still deduct wire transfer fees and currency exchange fees if there is a currency conversion involved in the bank transfer.

Fedwire represents an electronic funds transfer system, just like a wire transfer. However, the Fedwire transfer is operated by the US Federal Reserve system banks.

Businesses and individuals do not use this transfer service. Instead, the Fedwire transfer is used by commercial banks, government agencies, credit unions, and US Federal Reserve banks.

According to smartcapitalmind.com, the third-party wire transfer involves depositing money at the account of an individual or organization other than the individual or entity which received the payment.

Picture of Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Baruch Silvermann is a financial expert, experienced analyst, and founder of The Smart Investor.  Silvermann has contributed to Yahoo Finance and cited as an authoritative source in financial outlets like Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, CNET, Bankrate, Fox Business, The Street, and more.
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