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What is a Wire Transfer?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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A wire transfer is an electronic transfer of money. In the case of a bank-to-bank transfer, no actual cash is exchanged, but electronic balances in the respective accounts are adjusted accordingly. This is a very secure way to transfer funds, as positive identification of both account holders is required, and there is no chance of a charge back, unlike with a personal check.

Wire transfer has become a very popular method of payment for banking transactions such as credit card balance transfers, personal account management — e.g. transferring funds from a savings account into a checking account — and ATM-card purchases at point of sale. Every time you swipe your ATM card at a retailer, you are authorizing a wire transfer from the bank account associated with that card to the retailer’s bank account. Although these transfers are generally free to the customer, a fee often accompanies other ones. Sometimes this is a flat fee, and in other cases it is based on a percentage of the total funds being transferred. This is often true when credit card balances are transferred.

Companies such as Western Union offer an alternate, anonymous method of wire transfer. Therefore, you can walk into a Western Union in Arizona, for example, and send 100 US dollars (USD) to the Western Union in the Bahamas simply by paying the Arizona office the cash plus any fees. Your friend in the Bahamas can go to the Western Union to receive the 100 USD in cash within minutes. The money is transferred electronically.

A cash wire transfer is handy when someone does not have access to a bank account, but it also has drawbacks. If this type of transfer is used to purchase something from a private party, the seller can provide false information to the sender. Cash can be collected at the receiving end under the false ID, and the party can disappear without ever providing the promised goods. Law enforcement is also concerned about subversive organizations using such transfers to fund illegal activities.

A bank-to-bank wire transfer has the advantage of being much more secure and desirable than other forms of payment. These transfers even save paper by reducing the need for checks and deposit slips, making them more environmentally friendly than standard forms of banking.

SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By poochie116 — On Mar 15, 2011

If one makes a purchase via wire transfer, is it possible for the federal government or any entity to trace that purchase through your bank to determine who the seller was and what the product purchased was?

By anon148834 — On Feb 02, 2011

can you give me a little advice please? i want to know if i make a bank/post office transfer in uk, how does it work? how long does this take? it seems to go to be true to me?

By anon142892 — On Jan 14, 2011

anon62540: Anyone asking you to receive a wire transfer and pass the money on to someone else (or return it to them) is either scamming you, or using you to launder money. Do not do this under any circumstance.

By anon125904 — On Nov 10, 2010

How much charge should one pay for receive the wire payment? What information is needed for this type of Business activity?

By anon122188 — On Oct 27, 2010

I am Tarun from India. I consulted with career consultancy three months ago for studying in Canada, but they told me some official changes occurred in wire transfer so my fees did not arrived yet. I want to know is it true or not true. Does a wire transfer take such time?

By anon99281 — On Jul 25, 2010

This post is for anon62540 regarding the 10 percent bank transfer: I nearly did that and it was a scam. Someone mailed me a check that was in texas from california nad hacked someones fedex account to do it. Do not trust them especially, if it is from creative designs.

By anon69074 — On Mar 06, 2010

How can i open an account in wire transfer. If i open account in wire transfer then how can i receive payment in my standard chartered bank in pakistan karachi.

By anon62540 — On Jan 27, 2010

a company has asked me to receive payments in to my bank account from their customer then forward these payments on to themselves and I can deduct 10 percent of the funds for doing this, does this sound OK?

By anon61727 — On Jan 21, 2010

Western Union is not anonymous. You need ID to send and receive. There is no way to send money anonymously other than physically taking the cash there, or setting up some Panamanian company not in your name and doing it through that.

By anon34504 — On Jun 23, 2009

If you are planning to receive a wire transfer, what info should you provide to the sender and to your own bank?

By anon34502 — On Jun 23, 2009

Do most banks/credit unions allow for this to be done completely online? What info needs to be provided to the bank, to the third party sending money, etc, to perform one?

By anon16399 — On Aug 05, 2008

how long does it usually take to receive the money into my bank account?

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