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Best Ways to Send Money

May 18, 2018
Banking, Money Transfer
Best Ways to Send Money
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Knowing how to send money to someone depends a lot on how and where you want to send it. Person-to-person, or P2P, apps such as Venmo and Zelle let you electronically pay friends within the country. Other companies, including Western Union, let you send money abroad that can be delivered to foreign bank accounts or picked up as cash.

We compared fees, speed and other features to find the best providers for domestic and international money transfers.

How to send money online, on mobile or in person

How to Send Money: Domestic

How to Send Money: Domestic

Domestic transfers
Venmo

at Venmo


Zelle

at Zelle


Google Wallet

at Google Wallet

PayPal

at PayPal

Walmart

at Walmart

How to Send Money: International

How to Send Money: International

International transfers
TransferWise

at TransferWise

MoneyGram

at MoneyGram


Western Union

at Western Union

Domestic transfersInternational transfers
Venmo

at Venmo


TransferWise

at TransferWise

Zelle

at Zelle


Google Wallet

at Google Wallet

PayPal

at PayPal

MoneyGram

at MoneyGram


Walmart

at Walmart

Western Union

at Western Union

» More interested in transferring money between credit cards? See our list of best balance transfer credit cards.

Domestic transfers

Check out these options when sending less than $10,000 within the United States, plus information about bank wire transfers for sending more.

Venmo: Best rated for mobile

Venmo

at Venmo

Why it’s our pick:

  • Highly rated app for iOS and Android phones
  • Free, easy, socially engaging money transfers
Venmo, owned by PayPal, boasts stellar ratings: a 4.7-star rating on the Google Play store and a 4.9-star rating on the iTunes App Store. That combination is higher than all other domestic providers considered.

It’s free to send and receive money when you link a bank account, debit card or prepaid debit card. Using a credit card costs 3% of the transaction. With a few taps on Venmo, you can send or request up to $2,999 per transfer, per week. When joining Venmo, you have a transfer maximum of $299, but you can raise it by verifying more of your identity.

There’s also a fun element. You can see friends’ transactions, except the amounts, on a Facebook-like news feed.

Although Venmo encrypts its data like other providers, a Venmo balance doesn’t insure your money like a bank account does. In addition, Venmo has been known to freeze accounts for violating terms and conditions, such as when its app gets used for selling or buying, even between friends.

Money you receive shows up instantly on your Venmo balance. But when you cash out to a bank account, the free transfer takes one to three business days. (For more details, read our Venmo review.)

 

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Zelle: Fastest (TIE with Google wallet)

Zelle

at Zelle

Why it’s our pick:

  • Delivery tends to be within minutes
  • Already integrated with 50 banks, connecting over 86 million people
Unlike other P2P apps listed, Zelle’s service might already be on your smartphone. This past summer many banks launched a new P2P feature on their websites and mobile apps by partnering with the Zelle digital payment network, a service provided by the bank-owned consumer reporting agency Early Warning Services.

Zelle can send and deliver money within minutes between bank accounts at different financial institutions. About 50 banks and credit unions are on board, which means that all their 86 million or more customers combined can use Zelle within their current bank’s mobile app. If your bank isn’t part of the network, Zelle is also available as a standalone app.

Bank accounts are required to fund and receive payments, and Zelle doesn’t charge any fees, though any of its partner banks can decide to. Although limits vary by bank, some of the largest banks set a daily transfer maximum of $2,000 or $2,500.

Like Venmo, Zelle is not made for buying or selling things, and you’re not protected for those transfers. In addition, if you send money to the wrong person or transfer the wrong amount, you might be out of luck. Protections are limited to when someone steals your Zelle account or password and uses it to send money.

 

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Google Wallet: Fastest (TIE with zelle)

Google Wallet

at Google Wallet

Why it’s our pick:

  • Smooth integration of money transfer service in email
  • Instant transfer of funds to debit cards
  • Funds are held in FDIC-insured banks
Google Wallet’s digital wallet lets you transfer money to friends for free via the web using a phone number or email address, which is similar to other providers mentioned. There’s a free option to cash out quickly from the in-app wallet to a debit card. Delivery can occur within minutes, making it competitive with Zelle for the fastest cash out among P2P apps. The maximum is $9,999 per transfer. Bank accounts and debit cards can fund transfers, but credit cards cannot.
Google Wallet insures its in-app balance, so if the company ever fails, you’d still recover any money you leave in the digital wallet, unlike Venmo and PayPal. Google Wallet also covers 100% of all verified unauthorized transactions.

Google Wallet also synchronizes with other Google accounts, including Gmail. This lets you send or request money by clicking a dollar sign at the bottom of an email.

 

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PayPal: Most popular online

PayPal

at PayPal

Why it’s our pick:

  • High transfer maximum
  • Over 200 million active accounts worldwide, more than other P2P services
PayPal, begun in 1999, offers free transfers in the U.S. when you use a bank account or PayPal balance. Paying with a debit or credit card carries a fee: 2.9% of the sending amount plus 30 cents. This is the only listed provider that charges for a domestic transfer funded with a debit card. You can still send money for free using a bank account, and this app is popular worldwide.
The maximum amount per transfer, $10,000, surpasses Venmo’s weekly maximum. Like Venmo, transferring money to bank accounts for free takes one to three business days, depending on the time and day of the week you send money. You can use its website or mobile app on iOS, Android and Windows phones, and receive money from friends the same way or at PayPal.Me, where you create your own link that family and friends can use to pay you. (Read our PayPal review.)

 

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Walmart-2-Walmart: Best for nonbank transfers

Walmart

at Walmart

Why it’s our pick:

  • Beats traditional money transfer companies for cheap cash transfers
If you want to transfer straight cash, Walmart has a service that’s cheaper than traditional money transfer companies such as Western Union and MoneyGram. You can send to one of the thousands of U.S. Walmart stores, where a recipient can pick up the money within minutes.
The maximum you can send is $2,500, and costs can reach up to $18. (For more about Walmart financial services, read our Walmart Money Center post.)

 

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Bank wire transfer: Best for sending $10,000 or more within U.S.

Sending a wire transfer through your bank might be a better bet to send a large amount quickly. As convenient as P2P apps are, they limit how much you can send per transfer, generally $2,000 to $10,000. To send the maximum, you have to verify your identity, and those transfers can take multiple days for delivery.
There’s a steep fee for transfers. The average domestic wire has a $25 fee to send and a $9 fee to receive money, based on an analysis of big banks (see what most banks charge). If you need to send a lot of money within minutes, though, the cost might be less important.

 

» Need a place to stash your savings? Check out our best high-yield online savings accounts

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International transfers

When you make a transfer abroad, you generally encounter two costs: the upfront fee and the foreign exchange margin. The second one refers to the difference between the exchange rate used by financial institutions transferring money among themselves, called the “midmarket rate,” and the exchange rate that’s generally marked up and given to you. Banks and other transfer providers differ in how much they mark up exchange rates. Both fees and margins are considered in our recommendations below.

TransferWise: Cheap (Tie with OFX)

TransferWise

at TransferWise

Why it’s our pick:

  • No foreign exchange rate markups
  • Consumer-friendly web experience from signup to delivery
TransferWise balances convenience and low costs on its online and mobile money transfer platform. You can sign up or log in through your Google or Facebook account, or with an email address, instead of needing a site-specific password. Your exchange rate is guaranteed for a day. Other perks: Save previous recipients’ details, cancel a transfer with a couple of clicks, and get questions answered via live chat with customer service or by checking the extensive FAQs.

TransferWise sends money from the U.S. to over 50 countries more cheaply than most providers. It prides itself on keeping foreign exchange rates at the midmarket rate, saving customers from higher rates that banks generally charge.

There’s a flat fee as low as $3 for smaller transfers; or for larger transfers, a fee as a percentage of the transaction, such as 1%. From the U.S., you can transfer only between bank accounts, and delivery generally takes several business days. (Read our TransferWise review).

 

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OFX: Cheap (TIE with TransferWise)

Why it’s our pick:

  • No fees
  • Setting target rates leads to cheaper transfers
OFX, an online currency exchange platform formerly called USForex, charges no fees, regardless of the amount you send. In addition, its online service lets you make a transfer at current exchange rates or target future rates at any hour of the day — meaning your transfer will send once your exchange rate is reached.
OFX has a minimum amount per transfer of $150. In contrast, most international providers considered have minimums below $50. If you’re sending a lot of money, then you can take advantage of OFX’s cheap transfers. Its rates tend to be better than through other providers because of low markups. Delivery typically takes several business days. (Read our OFX review for more details.)

 

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Xoom: Fast (Tie with MoneyGram)

Why it’s our pick:

  • Transfers to bank accounts abroad within one or two days
Xoom, a PayPal company, specializes in fast transfers to over 60 countries. You can send up to $10,000 to most places. Whether you pay by bank account, debit card or credit card, transfers can arrive within minutes to many destinations. Xoom partners with major banks abroad, allowing users to have money delivered to bank accounts or, in some countries, for cash pickup or as mobile phone reloads.
Cost is where Xoom lags behind competitors. Although transfers from one bank account to another are free for sending the maximum amount in over 60% of countries served, fees can be high if you use a debit or credit card. Sending money to Germany using a debit or credit card, for instance, costs a fee that ranges between about $5 and $301. Like some providers, Xoom makes money off exchange rates and gives better rates for sending higher amounts to some countries. (For more information, see our Xoom review.)

 

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MoneyGram: Fast (Tie with Xoom)

MoneyGram

at MoneyGram

Why it’s our pick:

  • Fast transfers to bank accounts or as cash for pickup worldwide
MoneyGram commands a big network of 350,000 locations in over 200 countries and territories. Transfers between locations take minutes for delivery as cash pickup, which is similar to MoneyGram’s main competitor, Western Union. Transfers sent online or by mobile phone to bank accounts in various countries take hours or a single business day; other providers often take several business days for transferring to bank accounts.
Costs aren’t cheap. Average fees for sending $200 to $1,000 range from $10 to $25. Exchange rates also aren’t that favorable, with average markups of 1% to 6% above the midmarket rate. (See our MoneyGram review.)

 

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Western Union: Best transfer options

Western Union

at Western Union

Why it’s our pick:

  • Extensive worldwide network of locations
  • Many ways to send and deliver money
The biggest money transfer company worldwide, Western Union also has a sizable range of transfer options. On the provider’s price estimator tool online, you’ll see just short of a dozen combinations of sending channels, payment methods and delivery options. You can send money from the Western Union website or its mobile app, and you can use a bank account, debit card or credit card — or send from a nearby agent location using cash.

The transfer giant’s physical network covers over 200 countries and territories with half a million locations globally.

Downsides? Transfers aren’t the cheapest overall, and only some options include same-day or next-day delivery. Some online transfer options, generally the cheaper ones, can take several business days for delivery. In addition, the company has had a crackdown on fraud in its system; it agreed to pay federal government agencies $586 million as part of a settlement for not taking action against wire fraud. (Read our Western Union review.)

 

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» Looking for something more permanent? NerdWallet’s best banks for international travel

Spencer Tierney is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: spencer@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @SpencerNerd.


METHODOLOGY FOR DOMESTIC TRANSFERS

To determine the best domestic transfer services, we examined the following features for 11 providers: fees, delivery speed of cash or money to recipient’s bank account, user reach (where transaction data were available), sending amount limit and security measures. Priority went to those that offer no-cost transfers, have established histories and maintain high security standards. We excluded single-bank P2P services since they usually limit users to a given bank.

Note: All transfer amount limits given assume users have verified their identity as each app requires. There are also initial amount limits when first using the app.

Money transfer providers surveyed: Apple Pay Cash, Circle, Dwolla, Facebook Messenger, Google Wallet, MoneyGram, PayPal, PopMoney, Ria, Square Cash, Venmo, Walmart, Western Union and Zelle.


METHODOLOGY FOR INTERNATIONAL TRANSFERS

We analyzed 11 top money transfer providers that operate in the U.S., including major players and smaller, innovative companies in the international money transfer industry, based on market research, experts, cost analysis and U.S. internet traffic.

Providers considered: MoneyGram, OFX, Placid Express, Remitly, Ria, Transfast, TransferWise, Western Union, World First, WorldRemit and Xoom.

Fees and exchange rate markups mentioned are based on the analysis linked below.

How we rate money transfer providers