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Updated on Thursday, January 24, 2019
Sending money online is no longer exotic. It’s actually a simple and hassle-free way to send dollars to that friend who bought you lunch yesterday, pay a freelance artist for designing your small business logo or purchase that robot-themed necklace on Etsy. And today, consumers have more options when they want to send money online, from well-known services, such as a PayPal and Google Pay Send, to newer options, such as Venmo and Zelle.
These services let you send money to friends, family members, businesses, contractors and freelancers — basically anyone who’s waiting for a payment from you. By sending money online, you eliminate the need to provide recipients with your credit card information, you don’t have to worry about writing checks and you won’t have to scramble to find an ATM to withdraw cash.
The big question: Which service should you use to send money online?
Not surprisingly, the answer varies depending on whom you are paying and what you are buying. Here’s a quick look at some of the more popular ways to send money online and the pros of each service.
Best to send money online to friends and family
You can use Venmo on your mobile device to pay for items on your own, or split up payments among your friends and family members. You can also use Venmo to deposit money in your bank account, make purchases through several apps and pay for items in physical stores.
To use the service, you’ll need to create an account with Venmo first, either through the Venmo’s app or on its website. You can then link your Venmo account with your bank account, and debit or credit cards. This way, you won’t have to add any money to your Venmo account to make purchases.
Features: Venmo’s biggest advantage is its flexibility. You can send money to people through Venmo by using the recipient’s email address or phone number. If these people already have Venmo accounts, the money will be transferred automatically. If a recipient does not have an account, they’ll first need to create a Venmo account to accept your payment.
Downside: It’s usually free to send money through Venmo. But if you use your credit card to send money to a recipient, you will pay a fee equal to 3% of the amount you send.
There are limits to how much money you can send through the service, too. Before Venmo verifies your identity, you can spend and send as much as $299.99 per week. Once Venmo verifies your identity, you can send a maximum of $2,999.99 each week in payments to recipients.
Zelle works much like Venmo, allowing you to send money to anyone whose email or phone number you know. However, you don’t have to download a separate app to use Zelle. Instead, many of the biggest banks across the country embed Zelle within their online banking platforms as a service to their consumers.
Some of the banks that already use Zelle include Associated Bank, Chase, Citi, Fifth Third Bank, Bank of America and SunTrust. If you bank with Chase, for example, then you simply send money through your Chase app. But if your bank does not offer Zelle, you still can use the service by downloading the Zelle app.
Features: If your bank or credit union offers Zelle, you can use the service to send money to anyone who has a bank account in the United States. If your bank does not offer Zelle, and you are using the Zelle app on your own, then the people you send money to must have Zelle through their bank or credit union.
Fees are a positive feature. Zelle does not charge consumers anything to send money. Zelle, though, does recommend that users check with their personal bank or credit union to make sure that these institutions don’t charge any fees.
Zelle is fast, too. If you send money to someone who already has access to Zelle, the money should show up in that person’s bank account in minutes. If you send money to someone who is not yet enrolled in Zelle, it will take from one to three business days for the money to show up.
Downside: You might be limited with Zelle according to your bank’s policies. As Zelle says, to determine how much money you can send each week through the service, you’ll need to check with your bank or credit union. If your financial institution doesn’t offer Zelle, you can send a maximum of just $500 a week with the service.
Zelle also doesn’t let you use a credit card to send money. You will need to connect the service with a bank account or debit card.
Google Pay Send
Like its competitors, Google Pay lets you send money to people by using their name, email address or phone number. You might remember this service as Google Pay. Last year, though, Google added the “Send” part of the name to signify that the service now combines the features of Google Wallet and Android Pay.
To send money online, you’ll need to link Google Pay Send to your bank account or debit card. Then, when you make a payment, the money is taken from these linked accounts. To get started with the service, you can sign in to pay.google.com on your computer or you can download the mobile app.
Features: Google Pay Send is completely free to use. The service is fast, too. Google says that linking Google Pay to a debit card results in the fastest transactions, usually within minutes. However, linking to a bank account can result in slower transactions. Google says it can take as long as five business days for the funds to be withdrawn from your account.
Downside: You are somewhat limited in how you can send money with Google Pay Send. You can use your debit card and bank account to send money through the service. You cannot, however, use credit cards or PayPal to send money through Google Pay Send.
There are limits, too, on how much you can send with Google Pay Send. You can send a maximum of only $10,000 in a single transaction, and as much as $10,000 altogether in a seven-day period. In addition, if you want to send someone more than $2,500 in a single transaction, then the recipient must add a bank account in order to receive the funds.
The Cash App is offered through Square. To use it, download the app onto your phone. To send money through the service, you’ll have to link it to either a debit card, credit card or the funds already available in your Cash App.
When you send the money, you’ll enter the recipient’s name or mobile phone number. The recipients receive an email or text telling them that they’ve received cash.
Features: It’s easy to send money through this app at no charge. You just can’t use a credit card. Sending money with your debit card or Cash App balance is always free. Sending money through a credit card, though, costs 3% of the amount of money you are sending.
Downside: There are limits to how much you can send through Cash App. If you send more than $250 in one week, Cash App will ask you to verify your name, date of birth and Social Security number. If you provide this information, you can then send as much as $2,500 in a week.
Best for business transactions or purchasing items online
PayPal might be the best known of all the platforms to send money online. And it’s easy to use via your computer or phone. You create a free account and then link it to your bank account, credit card or debit card. To send money online, you enter your recipient’s email address or mobile phone number.
PayPal then notifies recipients that they have received money. This money is directly deposited into their own PayPal accounts. If recipients don’t have an account, they are prompted to open one.
Features: You won’t have to pay to send money with PayPal as long the money is coming from your PayPal balance or bank account. However, you will be charged if your payment is funded by a credit card or debit card. PayPal has a particularly far reach, too. You can use PayPal to send money to recipients across the globe.
Downside: The biggest downside to using PayPal to send money online? It comes down to fees. If you fund your payment with a debit card or credit card, you’ll be charged a fee equal to 2.9% of the amount you are sending. You might also be charged a separate fixed fee depending on the currency of the transaction. If you are sending U.S. dollars, you’ll be charged an additional fee of $0.30.
The recipients of your funds also might need to pay fees. But, recipients won’t pay any fees when you send them money through PayPal’s friends or family option. However, if you send someone money for goods or services provided — which PayPal considers a commercial transaction — then that person must pay 3.4% plus $0.30 if you are making a domestic payment with PayPal’s standard rates. If you are sending an international payment, recipients from most countries must pay 3.9% plus $0.30 to receive the funds if you are sending in U.S. dollars.
Best for sending money abroad
TransferWise allows you to send international payments online, after you set up an account. To do this, you must first set up an actual payment through your account. When you do this, you enter how much you want to send and the recipient’s bank details. When it’s time to send your payment, you have the option of specifying how you want to pay.
Features: TransferWise allows you to pay in several ways. You can pay directly from your bank account, with a debit card or a credit card, or through an Automated Clearing House (ACH) service. Sending money internationally can get complicated when it comes to fees and exchange rates. But TransferWise will tell you the fees upfront when you set up your payment.
When it comes to exchange rates, TransferWise always charges the mid-market rate. It will also tell you the exchange rate it is charging when you set up your payment.
Downside: It’s not especially cheap to send money through TransferWise. TransferWise charges a fee of 0.6% of the amount you send plus $1.
Western Union allows you to send money to more than 200 countries and territories. You can send this money online or by visiting a physical Western Union location. You can send money to recipients’ bank accounts directly online by using your credit card or debit card. You can also do this by transferring money from your bank account.
How long it takes for your money to arrive will vary according to your destination. Western Union says that you’ll be able to see these various arrival times as you enter your payment details.
Features: Western Union does make it easy to pay. You may download the Western Union app to start the payment process, or visit the company online to send payments. However, if you would like an agent to handle the transaction for you, then you can send money from more than 500,000 Western Union locations across the globe, and 43,000 in the U.S. alone.
Downside: You will have to pay to send money through Western Union. For instance, Western Union says it costs $5 to send a maximum of $500. You will, though, have to check what the fees might be for sending specific amounts to specific locations.
There are also limits on how much you can send through Western Union. When sending online, you can send a maximum of $2,999 per money transfer. If you are sending a transfer through Western Union’s mobile app, you can send as much as $500 per transfer.
MoneyGram is another big player in the transfer business. This service also allows you to send money to overseas recipients either online or by visiting a MoneyGram location. With MoneyGram, you can send money directly to a recipient’s bank account or mobile wallet.
To send money online, you may pay with a credit card, debit card or directly from your bank account. You will need to tell MoneyGram to whom you are sending money and how this person wants to receive the funds.
Features: The biggest plus of MoneyGram is its flexibility. You can find in-person locations if you prefer to speak with a representative by visiting this page. MoneyGram offers you as many options to send money internationally as it does domestically.
Downside: You will have to pay fees to send funds through MoneyGram. How much depends on the amount you send and where you are sending it. For instance, if you want to send $1,000 to a recipient in Australia, it will cost you $32. If you want to send $500 directly to the bank account of someone in Great Britain, it will cost you $7.
You can estimate your fees before you send money here.
As with some of the other services, there are limits as to how much you can send online. MoneyGram says that you can send a maximum of $6,000 in most countries for every single online transfer. You can also send a maximum of $6,000 in most countries every 30 days.
How to send money online safely
Sending money online is convenient. But you do have to be careful. There are opportunities for scammers. The most common scams are when criminals try to trick you into sending them money online. Be sure to carefully read the fraud protection programs offered by these services. They do vary by provider.
MoneyGram provides a useful list of some of the most common scams criminals use to trick people into sending them money online. For example, scammers might call you, saying that they are from the Internal Revenue Service, and asking that you send them money to pay taxes that you owe. Others might say that they are from the Federal Trade Commission and they need you to send a payment so that they can refund you money from a legal settlement.
The bottom line? Don’t ever send money online to someone who calls you. And never send money online to someone you don’t know or trust adequately.