What's the Best Way to Send Money Online?

There are several ways to send money online, either through your bank account or with third-party web and phone apps. But so far, no single service addresses all consumer needs for money transfers. Finding the best method for you depends on your preferences and whether you want to send money instantly, for free, securely or internationally.

What's the Best Way to Send Money Online?

The best way to send money online depends on where most of your money transfers are going and whether you prefer the money is sent quickly, without cost, securely or overseas. You can use multiple services to accomplish different types of transfers. For example, you can use a domestic service, like Venmo, to send money to your friends and an international service, like TransferWise, to send money to your family overseas. To help find the service that fits your preferences, we compiled a list of the best ways to send money online based on consumers' top priorities.

Instant TransfersZelle
  • Funds transferred within minutes.
  • Supported by more than 50 banks and credit unions.
Google Pay Send
  • Instantly cash out funds to debit card.
  • Linked to bank account, debit card or credit card.
Free TransfersMost domestic online money transfer services offer free transfer options if you link your bank account or debit card.
Secure TransfersWire transfer
  • Directly from your bank.
  • No sign-up for third-party services.
International TransfersTransferWise
  • Best exchange rate.
  • Serves nearly 50 countries.
Western Union
  • Extensive worldwide network.
  • Serves more than 200 countries and territories.

Send Money Online Instantly

Google Pay Send and Zelle offer money-transfer services that can take minutes to complete, providing a convenient and fast way to send and receive money. In contrast, sending money online using services like Venmo and PayPal can take a few days to be deposited into the receiver's account. The money that is sent stays on the app, and if the receiver chooses to transfer the money to a bank account, it takes between one and three business days.

Zelle: Instant Transfers

  • Bank-to-bank transfers within minutes.
  • Linked directly to your bank account.

Zelle is a service connected to most major banks that lets you send up to $2,500 within minutes to accounts at different financial institutions in the U.S. The biggest benefit of Zelle is that it's compatible with about 50 banks and credit unions, allowing money to flow to different institutions quickly and easily. Having said that, not all banks are partnered with Zelle, so be sure to check if your bank uses the service.

In order to send money through Zelle, you must sign up for an account. However, you don't have to download an extra app, like you would with Venmo or Cash App. Instead, Zelle is included as an option on participating bank apps, making the process more seamless. If your bank isn't included in Zelle's coverage, you'll still have access to the stand-alone app.

Google Pay Send: Instant Transfers

  • Fast cash-out transfer to debit card.
  • Linked to bank account or debit card.

Google Pay Send, previously called Google Wallet, allows you to transfer money using a phone number or email address and cash out within minutes to your debit card. When receiving money, you can choose whether to leave the amount in your Google Wallet or transfer the funds to your debit card.

Venmo works similarly, but cashing out with Venmo takes between one and three business days. If you need to get money to someone quickly, Google Pay Send would be the better option if the receiver has their debit card linked to the account. However, if the receiver's account is linked to their bank account, cashing out using Google Pay Send will take up to three business days.

Send Money Online for Free

Almost all domestic online money-transferring services offer free options to send money through linking either your bank account or debit card. Zelle, Google Pay Send and Venmo all allow you to use your bank account for free. However, not all companies allow both of these transactions without a fee. Some services, like PayPal, only let you use your bank account for free while others allow you to link both your debit card and bank account. And if a service allows you to use your credit card, there is almost always a fee of around 3%. The major difference between these methods is that when linked to your debit card or credit card, funds can generally be cashed out immediately, while using your bank account may take one to three business days.

Send Money Online Securely

Safety is a huge concern with transferring money. You'll want to be sure your money ends up where you wanted to send it and that your account won't get hacked. Most apps and web services are relatively secure with two-factor verification and personal data encryption, but the safest method would be to make a wire transfer through your bank account.

When you allow third-party services to access your bank account, the potential risks include identity theft, stolen money, fraudulent transactions and hacking. Some services don't insure the money kept in their accounts, and most banks won't reimburse you if you use a third-party service and your money is stolen.

Wire Transfer: Secure Transfers

  • Direct bank-to-bank transfers.
  • No sign-ups for third-party services.

Wire transfers are the most secure way to send money because funds are transferred directly from one bank to another. There is no third-party service that handles your information. You are only allowed to send money to recipients with a bank account, which ensures that the other person's identity has been verified.

That said, there are still scams involving wire transfers. These occur when someone hacks into your bank account to get cash or send money or when scammers trick you into wiring funds to them. Some of the most common scams include unverified online retailers that ask for money upfront before you've received the merchandise or landlords who ask you to wire the first month's rent before you move in and then they mysteriously disappear. Take precautions to ensure you're sending money to the right person, and get details of the transaction in writing before you send the money.

Send Money Online Internationally

Many consumers choose to send money from the U.S. to an overseas location through banks, but international money-transfer apps are becoming increasingly popular with lower fees, better exchange rates and faster transfers.

TransferWise: International Transfers

  • Lower transfer fees than banks.
  • Sends to nearly 50 countries.

TransferWise is an online money-transfer service that allows individuals and businesses to send funds internationally with lower fees. The system uses the real exchange rate to calculate the conversion. TransferWise then pays out from a local currency account, meaning that the money never actually crosses borders. There are no hidden fees, but there are upfront transfer fees taken out depending on how much money you send. Another similar service is OFX, which charges no transfer fee. But unlike TransferWise, the conversion rate tends to be lower than the real market rate.

Western Union: International Transfers

  • Extensive worldwide network.
  • Serves more than 200 countries and territories.

Western Union is the largest global money-transfer service, enabling users to exchange funds between more than 130 currencies. There are many ways to transfer money through Western Union, either by using its website or downloading the mobile app and linking your bank account, debit card or credit card.

The biggest downside to Western Union is that transfers tend to be expensive and take several business days to clear. If you prefer a cheaper and quicker option, TransferWise or OFX would be better, if the service transfers to the country you need to send money to. But if you need to access countries not included in those services, Western Union may be your only option.

Other Services Used to Send Money Online

Although the companies listed above are the best we found in each category, they aren't necessarily the most popular services for transferring money. PayPal, Venmo and Cash App are among the most frequently used services, with billions of transactions processed each year.

PayPal

  • One of the largest money-transferring services.
  • Allows transfers of up to $60,000.

PayPal is used all over the world by consumers and businesses. You can link your bank account, debit card or credit card, but paying with a debit or credit card carries a fee of 2.9% plus 30 cents. Unlike most services, PayPal lets users send up to $60,000, though it will vary depending on your account. In comparison, verifying your identity with Venmo allows users to send up to $2,999.99 a week, while Cash App only allows $2,500 a week.

The biggest drawback to PayPal is the fees it carries unless you link your bank account. Linking to your debit card makes little sense compared to other services, such as Venmo, due to the extra fee. And although the company is increasingly used more like a bank, it isn't one, which can be worrying when keeping a balance on your account because your funds are not FDIC-insured.

Venmo

  • Social app used to transfer money.
  • Free to send and receive money by linking your bank account, debit card or prepaid debit card.

Venmo, owned by PayPal, is one of the most popular ways among millennials to send money online. It is a social money-transfer app that has helped millions of consumers complete transactions. On Venmo, it's free to send and receive money if you link your bank account, debit card or prepaid debit card. However, if you use a credit card, it will cost 3% of the transaction amount.

Transferring funds on Venmo takes less than a minute, but cashing out those funds into your bank account can take up to three days. You can also choose to transfer your balance to your debit card within 30 minutes for a fee of 25 cents. One drawback of using Venmo is that if you accidentally send someone money or send money to the wrong person, you cannot cancel the transaction. The recipient will have to send the money back to you.

Cash App

  • Send money through "$Cashtag" webpage.
  • Automatic cash-out options.

Cash App, also known as Square Cash, allows you to send and receive money using your "$Cashtag," which is a unique screen name that is accompanied by a personal webpage where anyone can pay you, even if they don't use the app. Cash App started out as a money-transferring service that instantly deposited received funds directly into the receiver's bank account. Now, users must choose between keeping incoming money on the app and cashing out, which is exactly what Venmo, PayPal and Google Pay Send have in place.

The biggest difference is that Cash App allows users to select automatic cash out, which sends the money directly to the receiver's bank account without having to manually select the option. Receivers have the option of cashing out immediately for a 1% fee or waiting up to three business days for funds to arrive in a linked bank account.

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