What Is A Wire Transfer

Have you ever needed to send money to someone abroad, complete a property purchase, or ensure a key supplier was paid on time? If so, you know how important it is to have a fast, easy way to transfer funds.

Wire transfers allow you to move money quickly across borders, connect with businesses worldwide, and ensure financial obligations are met promptly.

As with any financial tool, it's essential to understand wire transfers before deciding to use them. The following guide provides an overview of wire transfers, including details about how they work, when to use them, and pros and cons to consider.

Wire Transfers Explained

Before we dive into the details, let's start with the basics - what is a wire transfer, anyway? 

Wire transfers, also known as wire payments, are a fast way to transfer funds to trusted individuals or businesses without the need to exchange cash.

A wire transfer moves funds electronically from one account to another, offering a way for parties in separate geographic locations to exchange funds.

This makes wire transfers a popular option for sending large sums of money, for example, when closing on real estate transactions, paying legal fees, or purchasing a vehicle. Since wire transfers remove geographic boundaries, they are also a way to send money internationally. Wire transfers should only be sent to those you know and trust.

Wire Transfers vs. Bank Transfers 

While the terms wire transfer and bank transfer are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not the same. When conducting a wire transfer, the bank, financial institution, or transfer firm works as an intermediary. The sending institution confirms the funds are available, then sends instructions provided by the sender to the receiving institution, which deposits funds into the recipient's account. This allows for the transfer of funds without linking the sending and receiving accounts. 

Bank transfers, such as Automated Clearing House (ACH) transfers, involve sending money directly from one bank or credit union account to another.

How Does A Wire Transfer Work?

A wire transfer is initiated when the sending party instructs their bank, credit union, or a non-bank wire transfer company to transfer funds to a recipient. The sender must pay for the transaction in full upfront; therefore, the funds must be available in the sender’s account.

The sender provides the recipient’s name, contact information, and banking information. This includes the wire transfer routing number and the customer’s bank account number. Then, the sender’s bank sends the payment instructions to the recipient’s institution. Once the instructions are received, the recipient’s institution deposits the funds into the recipient’s account. 

Domestic Wire Transfers Vs. International Wire Transfers

There are two primary types of wire transfers, domestic and international. Domestic wire transfers occur between two institutions within the United States. Generally, they’re processed within 24 hours and sometimes occur within a few hours[1]

International wire transfers are initiated in one country and settled in another. A wire transfer between two accounts at the same bank could still be categorized as international if the sending and receiving accounts are in different countries. International wire transfers generally take longer to process may come with higher fees when compared to a domestic wire. 

Pros and Cons Of Wire Transfers

Before deciding to send money using a wire transfer, it’s helpful to understand a few key benefits and potential drawbacks associated with this method.

Wire transfers offer a fast, convenient way to move money, making them popular for large transactions and for sending money overseas. While checks can be lost in the mail or returned due to insufficient funds, wire transfers are tracked electronically and cannot be initiated until the funds are available. Wire transfers also settle quickly, sometimes immediately, even across borders. 

However, there is a cost associated with wire transfers. Banks and institutions typically charge a flat fee for each transaction. It’s also common for institutions to limit the amount that can be wired daily.

Since wire transfers typically cannot be reversed, it’s critical to exercise caution when initiating a wire transfer request. Always carefully review the recipient’s information before signing off on a wire transfer. While they are rare, it's also crucial to be on the lookout for wire transfer scams, commonly resulting from compromised emails or fraudsters posing as trusted associates. 

When To Consider A Wire Transfer

When transferring funds, you may consider other options such as writing a check, initiating an ACH transfer, or using a money-transferring app or platform with people you know and trust, such as Zelle®. While each of these options can be advantageous in certain situations, a wire transfer may be preferred if:

  • You need to transfer funds quickly.
  • You need to move large sums of money.
  • Your recipient is in another country.

Some recipients may indicate that a wire transfer is the only acceptable form of payment. This is common, for example, when closing on a real estate transaction or purchasing a vehicle in a private transaction. In this situation, ensure you know and trust the recipient and remember that wire transactions are final.

Final Thoughts

Wire transfers can offer an effective solution for those looking for a fast way to move large sums of money or transfer funds abroad. While it’s crucial to understand the costs and risks involved and use extra caution to avoid scams, the benefits of a wire transfer can help to make it a useful tool in certain situations.

Ready to leverage the advantages of wire transfers? Get started with PNC Bank’s wire transfer services.