Wire transfers offer a way to send money electronically from one person or entity to another. It’s possible to wire money between banks in the U.S. as well as international financial institutions and non-bank money transfer providers.

A wire transfer may be preferable for situations in which you need to move larger amounts of money or are on the receiving end of a large payment. You may pay a fee to send or receive a wire transfer, and the amount of time it takes for a money wire to process can vary. 

Key Takeaways

  • Wire transfers can be performed through banks or non-bank money transfer providers.
  • You can use wire transfers to send or receive money between people or organizations. 
  • Fees may apply when sending or receiving domestic or international wire transfers. 
  • Wire transfers can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to process and complete. 

What Is a Money Wire Transfer?

A wire transfer is an electronic transaction that you can initiate through your bank or a non-bank transfer provider, such as Western Union. When you wire money, you're authorizing the bank or transfer provider to move funds from your account to someone else’s using an electronic payment network.

No physical currency changes hands when wiring money to an individual or a business. A wire transfer can be a fast and convenient way to move money or receive it. Depending on the financial institution, wire transfers may be completed in a matter of hours, though it can sometimes take a few days for them to process.

Wire transfers are often used for situations in which large amounts of money need to be moved. For example, if you’re buying a home, your closing attorney may ask you to wire your down payment and closing cost funds to their account. If you’re selling a home, the proceeds of the sale may be released to you through a wire transfer. You can also use wire transfers to move smaller amounts of money if needed.

A wire transfer is different from an Automated Clearing House (ACH) transfer, which you can use to move money between accounts at different banks that have been linked or to pay bills. 

How to Wire Money

The process for wiring money is fairly straightforward. The most important things to consider when transferring money by wire are:

  • Limits on how much money you can transfer, if any
  • Transaction limits on the number of transfers you can send per day
  • Wire transfer processing times
  • Wire transfer fees

Banks and non-bank money wire providers can charge fees to send and receive wire transfers. Typically, international wire transfer fees are higher than domestic wire transfers. Additionally, banks may limit the number of wire transfers you can make in a certain time frame or the amount of money you can send per transfer.

Here are the four main steps of a wire transfer.

1. Choose a Wire Transfer Provider

The first step in how to wire money is deciding which service you want to use for this process. Your bank might be an obvious choice if you already have a checking account, savings account, or other accounts at a specific financial institution. Depending on the bank’s policies for wire transfers, you may be able to initiate a transfer online, or you could do so in person by visiting a branch. 

The other option is to use a non-bank transfer provider, such as Western Union or MoneyGram. These companies allow you to send money via wire transfer to a bank account, but the person you’re sending money to may also have the option of picking it up as cash or having it sent to a mobile payment app.

With a non-bank wire transfer provider, you may be able to wire money using your debit card, bank account, or credit card. 

2. Provide the Transfer Details

When transferring money, there is certain information the bank or transfer provider will need to complete the transaction. These include:

  • A copy of your government-issued ID
  • Your funding source (i.e., debit card, credit card, or bank account—or cash if you’re transferring money in person at a non-bank provider)
  • Transfer recipient’s name and address
  • Transfer recipient’s bank name and address (if transferring money to a bank account)
  • Bank account number and routing number for the recipient (again, if transferring money to a bank account)
  • Recipient’s mobile number if you’re wiring money to a mobile wallet app

If you’re wiring money to another bank, you may also need to provide a Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) code. This is a unique code number that’s assigned to banks, and it may be required to complete bank-to-bank domestic and/or international wire transfers.

Take time to double-check wire transfer information carefully before sending the money to make sure it’s going to the right place. 

3. Review Terms and Conditions and Pay the Wire Transfer Fee

As mentioned previously, you’ll most likely pay a fee to wire money, regardless of whether you’re doing it through a bank or a non-bank provider. 

When transferring money from a bank account, the fee is automatically deducted from your balance, along with the funds that are being transferred. If you’re using a non-bank transfer service, this fee may be charged to your bank account, debit card, or credit card, depending on how you pay. 

If you’re unsure of what a wire transfer will cost, ask for a schedule of fees up front. You may want to compare fees between your bank and a non-bank transfer provider to see which one costs less. You should also review any other fine print regarding the transfer before signing off on it to make sure you fully understand the agreement. 

4. Wait for the Transfer to Process

When you’ve submitted a wire transfer, you may have to wait a few hours or days for it to process and send the funds to the recipient. The timing can depend on where you’re sending the money and in what amount. 

It’s a good idea to get a confirmation number from your bank or the company with which you’re transferring money. That way if you have a problem, you have a way to reference the transaction later. 

Can a Wire Transfer Be Canceled? 

Generally, when you initiate a wire transfer, the process of moving the money from your account to the recipient’s begins immediately. That’s assuming the transfer takes place during normal business hours. 

If the transfer is still showing in the bank’s processing system as “scheduled,” however, it may be possible to cancel the transaction. You may be able to do this through your online banking access or by calling a branch.

With international wire transfers, you might have a slightly longer time frame for canceling. For instance, you could have up to 30 minutes after initiating the transfer to ask your bank to cancel it. However, this policy can vary from bank to bank, so it’s important to check with your financial institution to see how cancellations are handled.