Wire transfers as we understand them began in 1973 with the establishment of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Communications (SWIFT), a messaging network for efficiently transmitting funds between financial institutions.
Still, wire transfers are frequently used today when money needs to reach someone as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that speed comes with a cost in the form of fees. This is what to expect from wire transfer fees and how to choose the best option for sending someone money.
What is a wire transfer?
A wire transfer is simply an individual electronic transfer of funds, but it is not the same as an Automated Clearing House (ACH) transfer or a transfer of funds through a service like PayPal. Wire transfers allow a single individual or business entity to transfer money to another individual or entity through a network of agencies and financial institutions.
You can make a wire transfer electronically by sending money online, or you can go to a bank or cash office to make a wire transfer using cash. Similarly, you can receive a wire transfer as a deposit into a bank account or you can receive it in cash at a bank or cash office.
Also known as bank transfers, wire transfers are still one of the safest and most important tools for delivering funds quickly and electronically. They’re ideal for larger transactions, transactions between businesses, and generally getting money to someone as quickly as possible.
For example, if a loved one is traveling abroad or out of town and has their wallet stolen, they may need you to send funds immediately to rent a room for the night. Often, a wire transfer is the fastest way to send that money.
How much do wire transfers cost?
The fees associated with wire transfers vary based on the bank you use, whether you are transferring money nationally or internationally and whether you are sending or receiving the transfer. Generally, however, most wire transfer fees within the U.S. are around $30 or less.
Here are the wire transfer fees you can expect from some of the most popular banks and financial institutions.
|Bank||Outgoing (within U.S.)||Incoming (within U.S.)||Outgoing International||Incoming International|
|Bank of America||$30||$20||$45||$16|
|BMO Harris Bank||$25||$0||$45||$0|
How do I send or receive a wire transfer?
Sending a wire transfer is relatively easy, but you’ll need specific information to do it. Typically, you’ll need the recipient’s name, account number, mailing address, bank routing number or bank identification code (BIC), the type of currency you’d like to send and the amount of currency you’d like to send.
Then, just contact the bank you want to use for the transfer. Many banks now let you wire money online or by phone, but you may need to fill out a form in person. You can also send a wire transfer using services by companies like Western Union and MoneyGram.
Alternatives to wire transfers
No one enjoys paying fees, but companies have had plenty of time to develop competitive alternatives to traditional wire transfers. Here are some other options.
Internet Payment Systems
Today, many consumers tend to prefer much more accessible digital tools for small person-to-person transactions, such as Venmo and PayPal. These are internet-based payment systems that act as middlemen between people’s bank accounts. Venmo alone has over 40 million users, and it’s a great tool if you need to refund someone for buying you dinner or even pay your babysitter.
In most cases, it takes longer for money to be available to the recipient when you use these types of services if you want to avoid fees. It may take as long as an entire business day or multiple days if you send money over a weekend.
Some companies, like Venmo, have fast transfer options, but this option is usually only available through specific banks or financial institutions. Venmo’s “Instant Transfer” feature can deliver funds in as little as 30 minutes, but it only works with certain bank accounts and some Visa and Mastercard debit cards. It also comes with a fee of up to $10.
Some banks allow you to transfer funds directly to friends and family if they have a bank account with the same bank. For example, many banks now use the Zelle network, which lets you send money directly to other people in the U.S. who have an account with your bank in as little as a few minutes. All you need is their mobile number and there are no fees associated with the service.
If they have an account with a different bank, you may need to resort to a wire transfer if the recipient needs the funds immediately.
Transfers via SMS and Digital Wallets
Digital wallets like Google Pay are relatively new methods of storing funds, and it comes with some useful tools for making payments and sending people money. For example, with some mobile wallets, you can send people money through a text message. Both parties involved in the transaction will need an account with the digital wallet to send and receive funds.
The bottom line
Given the abundance of cheaper alternatives, a wire transfer isn’t worth the fees if you just want to send someone money who doesn’t need it immediately. It’s much easier and less expensive to send money online through an alternative payment service.
If the timing is essential and other choices aren’t available, however, a wire transfer might be your best option. They are especially useful for sending someone emergency funds in a pinch.