How to Wire Money in Five Steps

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“Wiring money” may sound old-fashioned, like sending a telegram or mailing a letter via the Pony Express, but it’s still one of the fastest ways to send money, whether it’s across the country or outside the United States.

A wire transfer is also harder to undo than writing a check or paying a bill via credit card. So, the first thing you need to know when you’re ready to wire money is that you’re 100% sure you don’t mind the money leaving your account — quickly, and forever. Wiring money takes anywhere from a few minutes to a few days, but once you’ve started the process, you have to assume that the cash is gone.

Once you’re sure you’re ready to go through with it, a wire transfer is a pretty easy process.

Step 1: Decide who you’re going to use to wire the money.

There are two types of institutions that provide wire transfers: traditional banks and credit unions, and nonbank money transfer providers such as Western Union, MoneyGram, and Ria.

Depending on which service you choose, and how much money you wish to send, you might be able to complete your transfer online. Otherwise, you’ll have to go to the provider in person.

Step 2: Calculate the fees.

As of 2015, domestic wire transfers cost an average of $27.50 for the sender and $15.50 for the recipient, according to an analysis of fees at the top 10 banks in the U.S. by MyBankTracker. Fees were higher for international transfers, ranging from $40 to $50.

Wire transfer fees may be cheaper at credit unions, but regardless of which type of provider you use, the most important thing is to ask about all the fees, up front, before sending any money. For one thing, you’ll want to make sure that you have enough to cover the fees, as well as sending the cash. Check with your institution beforehand, so that there won’t be any surprises.

Step 3: Make a list of your information (and check it twice).

To send a wire transfer, you’ll need the following information:

  • Your bank account number.
  • The recipient’s name.
  • The recipient’s bank name and address.
  • The recipient’s bank’s American Bankers Association number, commonly called a routing number (for transfers within the U.S.) or Bank Identifier Code (outside the U.S.).
  • The recipient’s bank account number.
  • Any other information required by your bank or money transfer provider or the recipient’s bank.

Step 4: Fill out the wire transfer form/online submission form.

Follow the provider’s instructions for filling out the form, and be certain that you use the right account numbers. It’s important to make sure you fill out all the information correctly, to ensure that your transfer goes through — and that it goes to the person and bank account you intend.

If you send cash to the wrong account number, it may be difficult to get it back. There’s no automatic process for reversing wire transfers made in error.

Step 5: Keep your receipt and ask about next steps.

If you send the money in person, ask the teller how long the transfer should take, and be sure to hold on to your receipt with the wire transaction number, for your records.

Avoid These Costly Mistakes When Wiring Money

As you can see, making a wire transfer is simple enough. Still, here are three mistakes that could cost you money during the process if you’re not careful:

  • Making typos on account numbers or recipient names. It bears repeating: If your account numbers are off by a single digit, you could wind up with a blocked transfer — or worse, one that goes through, but to the wrong person. You also need the full, correctly spelled name of the recipient, in order to ensure that the money goes through.
  • Forgetting about the exchange rate for foreign transfers. Sending money abroad? How much cash arrives will depend on the exchange rate when you send the money. If the recipient is waiting for a set amount, it pays to know what the exchange rate is when you’re wiring the cash.
  • Sending cash more often or more quickly than necessary. If you know you’ll need to send money on a regular basis — for example, to a student who’s studying abroad — it might make sense to send more money, less often, since those wire transfer fees can start to add up. It’s also smart to plan ahead whenever possible, so that you don’t have to send money in a rush, which might incur additional fees.

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