Wire transfer vs bank transfer: What’s the difference

United States By Christy Lowry May 2, 2022

Article summary

Wondering how wire transfers work and how they compare to bank transfers? Here we compare wire transfers vs bank transfers to show you how each one works so you can decide which one is the best option for you.

Both options have their pros and cons and will offer a slightly different experience. Knowing the differences between the two can help you decide which one is best for your situation. This may depend on several factors, including:

  • Whether you’re sending as a business or individual
  • How much you’re sending
  • Where you’re sending to
  • How you need the transfer to happen.


In this article


What is a wire transfer?

A wire transfer is a form of electronic payment that sends money directly from one bank account to another bank. With a wire transfer, the bank acts as a middleman for the payment. The sender sends the money to their bank. The bank then sends the money to the recipient’s bank and finally to the recipient.

This works because the sender pays for the transaction, and their bank sends a message through a secure system to the recipient’s bank. The message will contain all the necessary information about the transfer, including the details of the sender, recipient and the transfer amount.

Because the banks act as a go-between for the sender and recipient, the two bank accounts do not need to be linked. Instead, the bank verifies that you have the funds for the transfer. They’ll then use the SWIFT system to send information relating to the transfer to your recipient’s bank, telling them to credit the recipient’s account with the transferred funds.


What is a bank transfer?

A bank account transfer is another form of electronic payment which sends money directly from one bank account to another. ACH (Automated Clearing House) transfers are one of the most recognisable and commonly used forms of domestic bank transfers. They usually work via online or electronic payments and are named after the network they use.

The ACH network is a collection of banks and other financial institutions that transfers funds between banks.

There are two specific types of ACH payments: direct deposit and direct payments.

Direct deposits typically cover payments like:

  • Payments
  • Tax refunds
  • Interest and annuity payments.

Direct deposits are typically made by government entities or businesses rather than individuals.

Meanwhile, direct payments are made between bank accounts using the credit and debit system. The money is withdrawn from the sender’s account and deposited directly into the recipient’s account.


Wire transfers vs ACH: What’s the difference?

Wire transfers and ACH are very different services, despite sounding fairly similar. Here are some of the main differences between the two.


When it comes to money transfers, speed is vital. Recipients need to know that they won’t be left waiting days for their money to clear into their account.

Typically, wire transfer offers the fastest transfer speeds when sending money domestically, with funds generally available the next business day or even the same day in many cases.

Meanwhile, ACH payments can take a little longer, often taking up to three days for the funds to become available. However, most of the time, the transfers are complete within 24 hours.


When it comes to cost, ACH is usually the cheapest option. Business owners using ACH for direct deposit payments will also need to pay a small fee, but this is generally lower than the cost of a wire transfer.

Wire transfers costs can vary, depending on the amount and type of transfer, and international transfers will have a much higher price. While most charges are for the sender, there is also a small fee for recipients to receive the money into their account with wire transfers.

Ability to send internationally

While both wire transfers and ACH transfers send money across the country, only wire transfers can send money internationally. However, ACHS does have a partner network called Global ACH, which does offer international bank-to-bank networks. It is possible to send money abroad with some other forms of bank transfers.


ACH transfers are often considered the more secure payment option for senders as if money is sent in error or by mistake, there are ways to reverse the payment.

Any scams using ACH transfers require a lot of information, making them easier to spot and harder to fall into.

Wire transfers are typically thought of as a less secure system for sending money. Wire transfer payments are relatively instant and therefore impossible to reverse if your cash is transferred in error or as a result of fraud.


Alternative money transfers with Western Union

With Western Union, you can send money three ways:

  • Direct to a bank account via bank transfer
  • Cash to a Western Union pick up location
  • Transfer to another Western Union Wallet app

Plus, you can choose to pay your transfer using your bank account, debit or credit card or in cash, whichever works for you. Our money transfers are encrypted and secured with fraud prevention techniques, so you know your money is safe throughout its journey.


What else do you need to know?

When sending a wire transfer, you’ll need to provide information about your account and the account you want to send the funds to. This information will include:

  • Bank names
  • Account numbers
  • ABA routing numbers
  • Names of each account owner.

Some institutions require additional steps for wire transfers when sending out larger value transfers. You might also need to verify a wire transfer by phone, and you might even have to use electronic or paper forms to complete your request securely.

When sending an ACH transfer, you’ll need to use either a form from the organization you’re paying or the specific service you’re using. You typically won’t need to provide as much information as you would for a wire transfer. For example, you might only need to provide the recipient’s mobile phone number or email address. It’s up to the recipient to provide their bank account information.


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