MoneyGram vs. Western Union: An Overview

In this world of ubiquitous ATMs, tap-to-pay checkout, and automated bank deposits, there are still times when it is necessary to hand over or collect actual cash. That is why money-transfer services like MoneyGram and Western Union have tens of thousands of agents in cities and towns around the world. 

Money-sending services can be a lifesaver. You may feel it is unlikely you will ever be broke and stranded in a bus station in Bengaluru, needing your spouse to send cash, but stranger things have happened—and not just when you are traveling abroad. How about when your child who is studying at a Canadian university needs you to send the rent deposit—pronto? More routinely, money-transfer companies provide banking services like money transfers, money orders, and bill payments to people who do not have bank accounts. In the United States and Canada, many customers are new immigrants who send money regularly to family members in their home countries. Outside the United States, it is even easier to find a nearby agent for MoneyGram (MGI) or Western Union (WU) or both. Cash is still king in many countries, and, in developing nations, many people do not have bank accounts.

Key Takeaways

  • Moneygram and Western Union are both popular services for wiring money around the globe.
  • The many pricing variables make it impossible to state whether Western Union or MoneyGram is the best, or even cheapest, service available. 
  • Check fee calculators available on both company's websites to determine the exact cost based on where you are sending the money to and from, using what medium, and if exchange rate fees apply.

Western Union

Western Union is the larger of the two companies and has instant name recognition around the world, thanks to its one-time monopoly of the telegraph business. Sending telegrams was officially discontinued only in 2006, but by then Western Union had moved on to new ventures. It has about 500,000 locations in over 200 countries around the world. Customers can send money by phone, through the Western Union website, or in person.

Fees can be steep or cheap, depending on a long list of factors, including the form of payment used, how fast the money is delivered, whether it is paid in cash or wired to a bank, where it is sent from, and where it is delivered. For international transfers, the exchange rate adds another element of uncertainty to the cost. 

For domestic transfers, if you pay cash at a Western Union agent and the recipient picks it up in cash, the cost is typically around $10.00. If you have the funds withdrawn from your online bank account, it costs $11.00 to send cash in March 2020. Bank-to-bank transfers are only $0.99. Using a credit card or debit card to send cash costs more and depends upon the amount being sent.

Western Union's international transfer fees can vary widely. For example, you are in the United States and want to deliver $500 to someone in Mexico in March 2020. If you have the funds withdrawn from your online bank account, and the recipient picks it up in cash, it costs $5.00. (It costs $9.00 for a cash-to-cash transfer.) If using a debit, the same transaction costs $7.00. Credit card fees are higher. The same transaction is free for a bank-to-bank transfer or $2.99 for using a debit card or $17.49 for using a credit card to pay money into a bank account. However, charges for this same transaction to Ireland range from $5.00 to $21.50, and, to China, charges range from $7.00 to $102.00.

MoneyGram

MoneyGram is Western Union’s biggest rival, and its domestic transfer fees closely match its competitors. It charges around $5.99 in March 2020 if paying from an online bank account and $14.99 if paying with a debit or credit card for transferring $50 to $900 within the United States. Rates climb for amounts over $900.

MoneyGram built its reputation on international money transfers. It has more than 25,000 payment locations in Africa alone. 

Special Considerations

One drawback of sending cash through these services is that they open or close with the stores’ business hours. You may have to stick it out at the bus station until the next morning before your family can send you that emergency cash.

The biggest drawback of any money-transfer service is the vulnerability of its customers to fraud.

A request from a stranger for payment via cash transfer is usually a fraud. Since the recipient is untraceable, it is the modern equivalent of stuffing a wad of unmarked bills into an envelope and leaving it in a public place on instructions from a stranger.