These days if you’re looking to transfer money and have no time constraints there are actually a lot of different cost effective options available to you. In fact, the majority of the most popular options here in the United States (Zelle, Venmo, PayPal, Cash App) won’t cost you anything in most cases. However, these types of transfers are generally smaller and are almost always going to be domestic transfers. If you’re looking for a fast and secure way to transfer larger amounts of money then usually a wire transfer would be your best bet. Just as there are many instances where vendors will reject regular counter checks and request cashier’s checks, often for large transactions vendors will request a wire transfer. In addition, wire transfers are very popular for sending money internationally which is something millions of Americans do on a weekly or monthly basis. This can be done through most banks and credit unions and also through intermediaries such as Western Union and Wise.
This article is going to dive into what wire transfers are, how they work and what they cost. They play an important role in how money is moved around globally, so understanding all of these elements will at a minimum help you determine if and when its a good option for you.
Table of Contents
What Are Wire Transfers?
Wire transfers are a method of transferring funds electronically. There were $840 trillion of wire transfers originated in 2020. This represented growth of over 20% compared to 2019. However, this figure is inflated by the fact that banks also use wire transfers for their corporate purposes. For the purposes of this article we’re interested in how wire transfers work between people and also in facilitating payments for goods and services. Wire transfers were originally launched by Western Union in 1872 and initially were facilitated using telephone networks which were built with wires. This is where the name “wire” comes from.
Different Types of Wire Transfers
The two main types of wire transfers are domestic and international but there are also intra-bank and interbank transactions:
- Domestic wire transfers – these include moving money from one person or entity’s bank account to another account within the same country. Banks will usually process these transfers within 24 hours. However, they can sometimes take a few business days to clear, depending on when the transfer was initiated. For example, if the transfer was initiated on a Friday, then the transfer might not be completed until Monday because of the weekend. The same applies for national holidays.
- International wire transfers – these also known as remittance transfers and involve sending money to an account at an international bank. The recipient’s account can be at another bank or the same bank’s foreign location. These transfers will often take longer than domestic wires even if it’s within the same bank. Typically, an international wire transfer will take 3-5 business days to complete, but it’s not uncommon to wait a week or longer for the funds to clear. Cross-border transfers can be delayed due to local bank holidays, bank specific cut-offs, or if you’re wiring money to a slow-to-pay country, among other reasons. Some receiving banks deduct an incoming transfer fee from the transferred amount and may impose various other costs.
- Intra-bank transfers – involve transferring funds from one bank account to another within the same bank or other financial institution (e.g., credit unions and loan associations).
- Interbank transfers – these include wiring money from an account at one bank to an account at another domestic or foreign bank.
- Non-bank wire transfers – these transfers don’t require a bank account. If you’re unbanked, you can transfer funds through a non-bank provider. For instance, Western Union allows you to wire money to anyone online, in person, by phone, or with a mobile app. However, transfer fees can be hefty.
How Do Wire Transfers Work?
To initiate a wire transfer with your bank or credit union, you generally will need to fill out an authorization form online or at your bank’s physical branch and provide the following information:
- Name and address of the recipient (the person receiving the wire)
- Name of the recipient’s bank
- Account Number of the recipient
- Routing Number of the recipient’s bank (or SWIFT/BIC code if its an international bank)
- Information identifying yourself including your name, contact information and bank details
Once the funds are clear, the instructing bank (the one initiating the transfer) will send the payment instructions to the beneficiary bank (the receiving bank). This is sent through a secure network (Fedwire for domestic and SWIFT for overseas transfers). The beneficiary bank will then deposit the money into the recipient’s account from its reserve funds before settling the payment with the instructing bank after the recipient gets the funds.
How Much Wire Transfers Cost
Two big variables when it comes to how much wire transfers costs are the direction of the wire and the origin or destination of the wire. It is more expensive to send and receive wire transfers that have an international destination or origin, respectively. Currently the going rates to receive and send a domestic wire transfer are $15 and $30, respectively, while for international wire transfers it is $16 and $50. Here’s a full breakdown of what it costs at 20 banks:
There are a lot of ways wire transfers can end up being more expensive. For example, Chase Bank will charge you $10 if you get the help of one of their bankers to send your write transfer, and Citibank will also charge you $10 more if you don’t send the wire online. Further, for international wire transfers that are in a currency other than the U.S. Dollar the bank will most likely charge you an embedded fee when it converts the funds from the currency it is in, to U.S. Dollars. Wells Fargo is pretty explicit about this: “we make money when we convert one currency to another currency for you. The exchange rate used when we convert one currency to another is set at our sole discretion, and it includes a markup“. In addition, as we discussed in our article on unnecessary bank fees, if you make a mistake on a wire and need to modify the instructions, it can be very expensive to do so. That being said, you usually can cancel a wire if you do it within a pre-specified period of time, which is usually less than an hour after authorizing it.
Checking Accounts That Offer Free Wire Transfers
This is a feature that is often overlooked when consumers are shopping for new checking accounts. In fact, there are several checking account options available today that offer free wire transfers (usually domestic and incoming) and/or rebates for outgoing wire transfers. These are some of the account options with benefits related to wire transfers:
- BMO Harris Bank – the Premier Gold Account offers free domestic and international incoming wire transfers and a $30 rebate per month for outgoing wire transfers.
- M&T Bank – customers of the bank’s MyChoice Premium checking account get free incoming domestic and international wire transfers.
- First National Bank of Omaha – the free checking account from the bank offers free incoming wires for both domestic and international wire transfers. As shown in the prior section, this is a $15-16 savings per transaction. This feature is one of the reasons why we selected the bank as one of the 5 Best Free Checking Accounts available in 2022.
- BOK Financial – the bank’s Premier Checking account offering includes free domestic wire transfers for both incoming and outgoing wires.
- HSBC – customers of HSBC Premier don’t have to pay any incoming or outgoing fees for wire transfers. While this is clearly an attractive feature, qualifying for HSBC Premier isn’t something that’s possible for everyone and if you are unable to meet their requirements you have to pay a $50 monthly maintenance fee.
If you’re someone that sends and receives several wire transfers each year, then it is definitely worth researching which banks have discounts and rebates on wire transfers because as noted above, they are far from cheap.
Typical Cut-Off Times For Wire Transfers
For most of the large banks in the United States it is possible for wire transfers to get transmitted the same day that they are sent. However these banks also have cut-off times after which the wire transfers won’t get sent until the following business day. These are the current cut-off times for several large banks in the country (all in Eastern Standard Time):
- Discover Bank – 3:00pm
- Chase Bank – 4:00pm
- Wells Fargo – 5:00pm
- Bank of America – 5:00pm
- Truist Bank – 6:00pm
- Citibank – 6:00pm
Benefits of Using Wire Transfers
The most significant benefit of wire transfers is speed and size, which is ideal if you need to send large amounts of money urgently. Most domestic transfers are complete within a few minutes or hours, while their overseas counterparts typically take a few days. Another benefit is that there’s minimal waiting on the recipient’s end. Since you pay for the transfer upfront your recipient can access the funds immediately after they’ve cleared. Wire transfers typically have high limits and so they’re great for sending large amounts of money. This is part of why they’re popular options for real estate purchases, business invoice payments, and sending money to family members and relatives abroad. This transfer method is also among the most secure ways to move money since it is not anonymous. Both the initiating and receiving banks verify every sender and recipient’s identity to prevent potential fraud schemes. The Office of Foreign Assets Control monitors every remittance transfer to prevent money laundering or funding terrorists.
Although wire transfers are secure, it is important to take precautions when you’re sending money using this method. There is a significant amount of fraud that occurs with wire transfers every day and it is a frequent target of internet phishing. Transactions in the real estate sector in particular tend to be a popular target for wire fraud – citing data from the FBI the National Association of Realtors disclosed that almost 14,000 people were victims of wire fraud in the real estate and rental sector in 2020, with losses of more than $213 million. There are many scammers out there that may impersonate a lender, real estate agent, escrow officer, technical support agent, retailer, attorney, or someone else. By doing this they can trick you into authorizing a fraudulent transaction. It’s always a good idea to speak with the recipient on the phone to confirm wire details before actually sending the wire.
Wire transfers are some of the best ways to send money quickly and securely. However, they are not inexpensive and do require precautions to avoid potentially expensive mistakes. Therefore, do your due diligence before wiring money to anyone, double-check all the information to ensure the funds are heading to the right recipient. If possible, it’s a good idea to speak with the recipient to re-confirm wire information before sending it.