How to Get Money to Family and Friends in a Crisis

Fast ways to send money include Zelle, e-gift cards, wire transfers and more. Know what works for your recipient.
Spencer TierneyApr 21, 2020

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Getting money to loved ones might be a priority right now, especially for those who are sick, unemployed or unable to venture away from home. You also want to keep yourself and the recipient safe.

Bearing in mind that social distancing guidelines in the coronavirus pandemic recommend maintaining 6 feet from others, you have other options than personally handing over cash, some as fast as a few seconds. Here’s what to know.

To choose which method of sending money works best, consider:

"If you’re going to use a P2P app, you need to make sure that the recipient has the ability to use that app to accept money and that they can use that money to spend online or in stores," says Ben Jackson, chief operating officer at Innovative Payments Association.

And if you consider mailing money, some options are more secure than others.

"It is never safe to send cash through the mail," says Meiko Patton, communications program specialist at the U.S. Postal Service.

Once you have a good idea of how they can receive the money, you can narrow down which option to use.

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This peer-to-peer transfer service partners with over 750 banks and credit unions and is embedded in many financial institutions’ websites and mobile apps. Both sender and recipient must have bank accounts and register with Zelle with an email address or phone number.

Many major merchants offer e-gift cards, which you can find on their websites or on sites like and You can email a gift card and schedule it to arrive the same day or at another time. Some gift cards work at multiple businesses, including Visa gift cards and those for food delivery companies like GrubHub and DoorDash.

"Make sure the e-gift card can be used now. Is that store nearby? Are they open and offering curbside pickup or delivery?" says Shelley Hunter, gift card industry expert at

PayPal, Square Cash, Venmo and Apple Pay Cash may be good options if both you and your recipient have the same app. But they all have the same hurdle: Free delivery to a bank account isn’t instant. The standard time frame tends to be several days. To transfer funds to a debit card within minutes, the recipient must pay a fee, typically about 1%, with a maximum of around $10. You can choose to send more money to cover that fee. Some apps offer debit cards that let recipients use funds right after a transfer.

These work like debit cards for purchases and bills, except you load money onto the card before use. One strategy is to buy two: one to mail to your loved one and the other for you. Then, transfer from your card to the other one. Or use a card such as American Express’s Bluebird, which offers a master account with subaccounts, each with its own card. You can link up your bank account to your card and transfer money for free to and from the subaccount cards. Prepaid cards can have monthly or other usage fees; do some research to find the cheapest options.


Traditional banks have a real-time transfer option, wire transfers, which to send and receive the money. The cost may be worth it in time-sensitive circumstances, especially if you’re sending thousands of dollars. (Alternatively, if you don’t mind a few days’ delay, you can choose the low- to no-cost option of sending an online transfer to a linked account via .)

Like a personal check, this piece of paper requires a sender and recipient, and you have to mail it. Money orders are available at the post office, Walmart and Western Union, and they cost a few dollars. A recipient can cash a money order either by visiting the same type of location where it was purchased, such as the post office, or using their phone’s mobile app to deposit it to a bank account.


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