ACH and wire transfer are terms used to describe different ways of sending money electronically. Both are widely used, but ACH is more common when individuals are paying bills, receiving paychecks or sending money to other individuals. ACH transfers are less costly, and also easier to reverse in the event of an error. When sending money internationally or transferring large sums, however, wire transfers are often preferred.
Ask a financial advisor how you can move money quickly and safely without incurring excessive fees.
ACH stands for “Automated Clearing House,” which is an electronic network that financial institutions use to move money between their customers’ accounts. Tens of trillions of dollars flow through the ACH network every year, including payroll direct deposits, Social Security benefits, mortgage payments and more. Individuals use ACH to send money to each other as well as make purchases from businesses.
An ACH payment is a form of electronic funds transfer (EFT). Transfers done via payment apps such as Venmo and PayPal, over the phone and through automated teller machines (ATMs) are also EFTs. ACH payments are easy and simple to initiate and have largely come to replace paper checks for paying bills and other uses.
Wire Transfer Basics
A wire transfer, sometimes called a bank wire, is also a kind of electronic fund transfer between banks. Rather than the Automated Clearing House network, banks in the United States usually rout wire transfers through the Federal Reserve Wire Network (Fedwire). This network operated by the 12 Federal Reserve branches handles millions of transactions worth tens of trillions of dollars monthly.
To use a wire transfer requires someone to direct his or her bank to instruct the other party’s bank to post a credit to their account in the amount of the transfer. A wire transfer can’t be used to instruct a bank to debit or withdraw funds from an account, as an ACH transfer can.
ACH and wire transfers have different characteristics that make them useful for specific purposes. Major differences include:
- How to transfer – A sender can initiate an ACH transfer with no more information than the recipient’s phone number or email address. Sending a wire transfer requires giving the bank more information, including the recipient’s name, address and account number as well as the name, address and routing number for their bank.
- Time – Wire transfers are supposed to take no more than two days when the funds are transferring from one U.S. bank to another U.S. bank. In practice, they are usually completed the next day or even the same day. ACH transfers are conducted at the end of each day, rather than in real time, but will still generally be completed within 24 hours and, sometimes, the same day they are initiated.
- Cost – Wire transfers are more expensive, with fees for sending a domestic wire ranging from $10 to $30. International wires may cost $75. Banks may also charge the recipient of a wire transfer. ACH transfers, on the other hand, are usually free for consumers sending or receiving, although business users may pay a small fee.
- Reversible, or not – Once a wire transfer is funded, it is final and the sender cannot retrieve the funds. If an ACH transfer is sent by mistake, however, it may be reversible. This makes wires inherently riskier than ACH transfers.
- International use – Wire transfers are usually used when transferring money to someone in another country. ACH is a U.S. network and, although ACH can be used to sent money internationally using partner networks, international ACH transfers are not available to all countries.
- Limits – Banks may limit the amount an account holder can send daily or monthly using ACH. Wire transfers lack similar limitations and are often specified when transferring large amounts for transactions such as real estate closings.
The Bottom Line
ACH transfers and wire transfers are two common ways to move money by electronic funds transfer. ACH transfers are usually free, easier to initiate and also may be reversible in case of error. Wire transfers cost significantly more and call for giving the bank a lot of information about the recipient. Wire transfers are generally used for international transfers and when sending large sums. ACH transfers are more likely to be used for direct deposits of paychecks, tax refunds, government benefits and for person-to-person payments.
Money Transfer Tips
- A financial advisor can help you with questions about the best way to transfer money and other financial matters. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- Online scams often involve people requesting money via wire transfer. Wiring money is riskier because the transactions can’t be undone. Any time an online contact offers an attractive deal on something that will be paid via wire transfer, it pays to be extra-careful before sending any money.
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