3 Big Differences (and Best Alternatives)
If you’re in the US, moving money between bank accounts usually comes down to ACH or wire transfers.
But what exactly is the difference between these 2 methods?
In this article, we’ll be uncovering the 3 big differences in terms of speed, cost, and safety.
But here’s a question: Did you know there are may be better options for moving money?
We’ll also be uncovering some of the cheapest and most flexible alternatives.
This way, you can find the best way of sending and receiving money from the US or abroad for your needs.
Let’s get started
Disclosure: This post may contain offers and affiliate links to save you money and it also helps us to keep providing the best information. For more information, see our disclosures here.
Quick Overview: ACH vs Wire Transfer
Since ACH transfers are processed in groups or batches, they take about 2-3 days to be completed.
Receiving ACH transfers into your own account is mostly free, while sending attracts a small fee.
Transfer limits applicable (from $10,000 USD to $25,000 USD per day) depending on the bank.
Very safe as the ACH network follows government banking regulations.
Funds are available either immediately or within a day (even for international transfers).
Wire transfers are more expensive — between $10-$35 USD for domestic US payments and more for international payments. (See “Costs” below)
Transfer limits are pretty high (from $100,000 USD to $250,000 per day), but it depends on the bank.
Very safe as wire transfers are also regulated by government banking regulations.
But be sure that your transfer details are correct as it’s processed immediately and can’t be reversed.
What is ACH payment?
An ACH (stands for Automated Clearing House) lets you transfer money from one bank account to the other without using cash, check, credit or debit cards, or wire transfers.
In this system, payments are electronically processed by clearinghouses (which are intermediaries between two banks).
ACH transfers only work in the US. So if you’re looking to transfer money abroad, you need to look at other options (See “Alternatives” below).
What is a Wire Transfer?
Wire transfers are processed by a different network from ACHs.
If you’re processing domestic bank-to-bank transfers in the US, your payment will be processed by the Federal Reserve’s Fedwire.
Wire transfers work internationally, and they’re processed by the SWIFT network (a network of international banks and financial institutions). But sending money overseas through wire transfers is usually more expensive (jump to “Alternatives” to see cheaper options).
2-3 days (Reversible)
The ACH is a national network of banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions that batch payments together for processing.
As your money moves through the network, the batched payments are then processed by an intermediary or “clearinghouse.”
This entire process of transferring the money from your bank account to the network, batching with other payments, and releasing payment takes 2-3 days to be completed.
However, there’s an upside to the slower speed – if you realize you’ve sent the wrong dollar amount or sent money to an incorrect account number, you have the option to withdraw your payment request.
Immediate (Not reversible)
While wire transfers are also processed through a network, they’re not batched and then processed by clearinghouses or intermediaries.
Because of this, wire transfers are immediate and the funds are available for use within a few hours to a day.
However, because it’s immediate, you can’t reverse a wire transfer. So make sure you double-check the amount and your recipient details.
Essentially, wire transfers are a great option for transferring money during an emergency.
Bottom line: Both ways are relatively fast (maximum 3 days). But if you need an immediate option, a wire transfer is the better option.
Cheaper (Mostly Free)
ACH transfers between accounts held at the same bank are typically free and receiving money into your account is also free.
Out-of-network transfers attract a small fee as do some P2P domestic payment apps that use the ACH network (See “Apps” below).
Banks and credit unions typically charge between $10 USD to $35 USD to send and receive wire transfers within the US, and international transfers cost more (starting from $45 USD).
For example, Bank of America charges $15 USD for an incoming domestic wire and $30 USD for an outgoing domestic wire.
You may also end up paying more if you fund your wire transfer with a credit card since you’ll need to factor in the convenience fee and the cash advance fee charged by your card issuer.
Bottom line: ACH is the winner in terms of cost as it’s mostly free. The problem is that it’s not for international transfers. So if you’re looking to send money overseas, you can jump to the “Alternatives” section for our most cost-effective options.
3. Safety and Reliability
Both ACH transfers and wire transfers are absolutely safe methods to move money between bank accounts and financial institutions. However, there are a few good-to-knows to make the transfer process smoother for you.
The presence of intermediaries or “clearinghouses” in the ACH network makes sure each payment is subject to more scrutiny in terms of adherence to service agreements, banking policies, and regulations.
Also, an additional layer of security in ACH transfers is the ability to recall your transfer if you accidentally send the wrong amount or enter the wrong recipient details.
Wire transfers are also subject to a high level of scrutiny and safety, especially for domestic transfers.
To process a domestic wire transfer in the US, both you and your recipient need to have bank accounts and must verify your identities when sending and receiving the transfers.
Moreover, large wire transfers ($7000 USD and above) are monitored by the IRS, which means you’re unlikely to lose money due to theft or fraud.
However, there are certain risks involved if you don’t take the right precautions:
There’s a chance that your money may not reach the right recipient if you choose to wire it to a retail “money transfer outlet” where the payout is in cash. In case the retailer doesn’t double-check the recipient’s identity, your money may end up with the wrong person.
Another risk is entering the wrong amount or incorrect recipient details. Since wire transfers are immediate, you don’t get a do-over.
That’s why it’s important to send money to people or businesses you trust and double-check the details before initiating a transfer.
Bottom line: Both are equally safe. But if you worry about entering the wrong bank details, ACH gives you a little bit of extra time to reverse the transaction.
4. ACH Transfer Examples
ACH is used by both individuals and businesses in the US.
As an individual, you can use ACH to:
- Receive your salary safely and on time in your bank account
- Automate your utility payments
- Make online purchases without high credit card fees
- Send money affordably to your friends and family in the US
Businesses can use ACH to:
- Batch their employee salaries and make sure the payments reach on time and without additional costs (such as printing checks)
- Get paid by customers on a schedule
- Pay for business expenses without additional card swipe costs
5. Wire transfer examples
You can use wire transfers in a number of ways as an individual or a business.
Since wire transfers typically have a higher transfer limit, as an individual you may use it to pay for the down payment and mortgage payments for a house overseas.
You can also use wire transfers to help out your family with expenses medium-sized payments like educational fees and rent.
So what happens to those smaller payments like utility bills? We’ll get down to those in a moment in the Alternatives section where we present the more cost-effective options.
As a business, you may use wire transfers to:
- Transfer annual profits from a foreign operating zone to your headquarters
- Pay for equipment, rent, or mortgage
- Pay your suppliers overseas
You might have assumed that costly high street banks are your online option for sending money locally and overseas.
But they’re not! There are cheaper and more convenient options out there, and we’re going to share our top picks.
Here’s a breakdown of your different options depending on whether you’re doing a local or overseas transfer, the amount you’re moving, and whether the money needs to be received in cash:
- For overseas transfers: Money Transfer Services
- Cash Remittance
- Card-to-bank and Bank-to-bank below $7000 USD
- Bank-to-bank above $7000 USD
- For local transfers: Apps
6.1 Money Transfer Services (Overseas Transfers)
Money transfer companies are great alternatives.
They do this by helping you transfer money with far lower fees, faster transfers and through a much better experience.
To give you an idea of the difference in fees, it can be up to 8x cheaper than going through a normal bank.
As licensed financial service providers, the best ones are also highly regulated — making them safe options too.
There are basically 3 types of money transfer services available and it depends on the amount you’re sending and if your receiver needs the money in cash:
a. Cash Remittance
b. Card-to-bank and Bank-to-bank below $7000 USD
c. Bank-to-bank above $7000 USD
They will usually offer better rates or fees if you fall within a certain amount category — so it’s good to do a little shopping around.
a. Cash Remittance
If your recipient doesn’t have a bank account in the receiving country (or in the US for that matter), you can opt for a cash payout with money transfer services like WesternUnion (review), Ria (review), MoneyGram (review), WorldRemit (review), or Remitly (review).
|Funding with Cash
|WesternUnion, MoneyGram, or Ria
Fund your transfer with cash at a physical outlet and have your recipient receive a cash payout wherever they’re located, sometimes in a matter of minutes.
|Funding with bank transfer or Card
|WorldRemit or Remitly
Fund your transfer with a bank transfer, credit card, or debit card (fees are higher for credit cards) and also offer near-instant transfers.
This is usually a cheaper option than funding your transfer with cash.
With any of these services, your recipient can easily collect the money from a local agent after verifying their identity (remind them to carry a national ID and address proof to keep your money safe).
Some of these services give you the option to choose transfer speed, which can impact the fees you pay (faster transfers usually mean higher fees).
Want to learn more? See how Western Union, Ria, and Moneygram stack up against each other.
And if you’re still curious about WorldRemit or Remitly, you can see our in-depth comparison of the 2 services here.
b. Card-to-bank and bank-to-bank below $7000 USD
If your recipient has a bank account in the US or in a receiving country abroad, you can save even more with a money transfer company that offers affordable bank-to-bank and card-to-bank transfers.
In that case, Wise (formerly TransferWise), WorldRemit, and Remitly should be at the top of your list.
|Wise is our #1 choice because of its transparent and affordable rates (you can see a complete breakdown of their fees on their homepage widget before you transfer).
|WorldRemit is a great option if you need to send money to many countries as it has a wide global network.
It’s available in 50+ countries for registration and you can send money to 140+ countries.
As a bonus, you may be able to get your first three transfers fee-free (using the code ‘3FREE‘*) when you sign up.
*Offer available in US, UK, Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden, New Zealand, and Norway.
|Remitly is known for its transfer speed with its near-instant transfers.
You can see what you will pay (desktop) or get the App for mobile – iOS or Android.
But only people from 16 developed countries (including the US, UK, Canada, Australia, etc.) can register for an account. It also supports transfers to 50 countries worldwide.
With any of these services, you’ll be paying much less on your transfer than going through a bank.
How exactly do they do this?
For one, they offer a number of ways to fund your transfer other than bank transfers and card transfers: location-specific methods like Poli, Klarna, Apple Pay, iDeal, SoFort, etc.
Wise goes a step further to drive costs even lower by maintaining bank accounts in all the sending and receiving countries it supports.
This also means you’ll never pay unexpected sending and receiving fees when you transfer with them.
While WorldRemit and Remitly don’t have local bank accounts in all areas they service, sometimes they waive a part of their fee for certain popular currency corridors.
c. Bank-to-bank above $7000 USD
If you’re doing larger amount transfers (like making a downpayment on your new house overseas), you’ll need a service that’s safe and has proper customer support.
Expensive wire transfers aren’t your only option for this.
Find out why these are our favourites: OFX money transfer review, XE money transfers review, and Tor FX reviews are great affordable alternatives for bank-to-bank transfers when you’re dealing with large and extra-large amounts.
|OFX is the most affordable option within this category.
For amounts below $7000, they often charge a flat $15 fee + a margin on the exchange rate (but this margin goes down as the amount increases).
You can also waive that flat fee if you click here.
|XE is a top choice in the category if you need to send money to many different countries. They service 130 countries in 98 currencies.
They also have phone support in English, Spanish, and French — which is a bonus for those that need multi-lingual support.
To start with as you can see here – XE charges a small fee on low value transfers (opens tab, so you can keep reading).
|TorFX has one of the best phone support. So this is an ideal choice for those that want more reassurance throughout the whole process as you will be able to speak to an actual representative at any time.
And they’re able to do all of this without costing as much as a bank.
You get a quote for your rate online or by phone:
AUS/NZ and Asia – Get a quote online or by phone
UK and Europe – Get a quote online or by phone
6.2 Apps (Local Transfers)
So you’ve got a hang of why specialized money transfer companies may be better off than your bank for your international transfers.
They also use the ACH system to transfer your money. So why use them instead of your bank’s mobile app?
Well, transfers are free and can be practically instantaneous if you transfer within their network. For example, Venmo to Venmo user.
But if moving money locally is all you want to do, you can stick with your bank’s mobile app and transfer money for free (or pay a small fee of $2-$3 USD, depending on your bank).
With P2P money transfer apps, local transfers are almost always free as long as you’re funding it with your existing balance or a bank account. (Funding transfers with a credit card usually incur a fee).
But where they really stand out are the extra perks.
You can split bills easily, access a mobile wallet for smooth online payments, and send money without revealing your bank account details.
Some even let you buy cryptocurrencies and invest in stock. So they’re quickly evolving into being a one-app solution to managing personal finances.
You might like Cash App Vs. Venmo.
For your domestic transfers over $10,000, the ACH system can be very affordable and reliable. Especially since you have the option to recall a transfer in case you type the incorrect amount or recipient details.
If you’re sending smaller amounts in the US (below $10,000), apps like Venmo, Zelle, and Cash App can be pretty useful. Transfers between apps are usually instant and free (when funded by your app balance or bank account.
(P2P apps are not your best bet for larger amounts because they have a $2,500 USD – $10,000 USD maximum limit on rolling periods and don’t allow you to cancel a transfer once you’ve processed it.)
For your international transfers, both big and small, you can leave wire transfers in the past and roll with specialized money transfer companies like Wise and OFX, depending on your transfer size (see our full explanation of these alternatives). They’re much cheaper and more flexible than using wire transfers.
However, the key here is to choose the right currency transfer company based on several factors.
You need to consider where you’re located, the amount you’re sending, where you’re sending to, transfer speed, and payout method (so don’t forget to see your different options here).