ACH vs Wire vs EFT: full comparative guide

Gabriela Peratello

If you need to make a payment to someone the most convenient way is usually to do it electronically, rather than sending a check or passing on cash.

However when it comes to moving money from one bank or credit union account to another, you may come across terms like EFT, ACH and wire. The options can be a bit confusing — but we have you covered.

Read on for our full ACH vs EFT vs wire transfer guide. We’ll also briefly touch on Wise as a smart option for fast, secure and low cost payments overseas.

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What are EFT, ACH and wire payments?

So what is the difference between ACH vs EFT vs wire transfer? To get started, let’s look at each in turn with a quick definition.

EFT payments

EFT stands for electronic funds transfer. EFT payments cover many different payment types — the key is that for an EFT money must move from one account to another electronically.

ACH payments and wire transfers are actually both EFTs. However, there are also other EFT payments you’ll use often, including many card payments online and in stores, and echecks.

ACH payments

As we covered, ACH payments are actually also EFT payments. In fact, ACH payments are a specific payment type governed by an organization called Nacha¹. ACH payments are usually made within the US and using USD only. Global ACH payments are possible, but not supported by many banks.

ACH payments include direct deposits — like when you get paid by your employer directly to your bank account — and bill payments, including many electronic payment options for utilities and mortgage installments. Although ACH payments can be fairly fast, they’re not instant.

That makes this a popular option for transfers when speed isn’t so much of an issue, and you’re looking for a lower cost way to send USD to someone within the US.

Wire payments

While ACH payments are processed within fixed payment windows, Wire payments are usually processed instantly when you set them up with your bank. That doesn’t mean the money will get where it needs to be right away — delivery times will depend on the recipient’s bank too.

However, it can mean that a local wire is faster than an ACH, which makes this popular for higher value transfers where speed is of the essence.

Wire payments are commonly offered by banks for international transfers, as they can be deposited in a broad range of currencies. International wires are usually processed through the SWIFT system, which can mean overseas wires are quite expensive, and can take up to 5 days to arrive, depending on the destination.

What's the difference between EFT, ACH and wire payments?

EFT is a broad umbrella term that covers lots of different types of payments made electronically. ACH and wire payments are both EFTs, but there are also plenty of other types of EFT you probably use quite regularly.

When it comes to ACH vs wire transfer, there are some pros and cons to each. ACH payments are cheap and easy to arrange — but they can often only be made in the US, and may take a day or two to settle.

Wires on the other hand can be pretty costly — but they’re often offered internationally, and they’ll start to be processed instantly in many cases.

If you’re looking to send money internationally, it’s good to know that your bank isn’t the only option. Specialist providers like Wise can often give you the best of both worlds, with transfers funded by a local ACH, which can be received in bank accounts internationally.

By using local networks, alternative providers can potentially help you save money, but we'll cover that in more detail later.

Learn more about Wise

ACH, EFT and wire: comparison guide

Let’s take a quick look at some of the features of ACH vs EFT vs Wire transfers to help you compare.

ACHEFTWire
Processing timeProcessed within set payment windows onlyVaries by payment type — can be instantProcessed instantly by your bank
Transfer speedSame day, next day or 2 day payments availableVaries by payment type — can be instantLocal wires can arrive within hours — international wires may take several days
LimitsLimits vary, some banks may only offer ACH payments for relatively low amountsOften set by the bank or card networks involvedLimits vary, some banks prefer higher value payments to be sent via wire
SafetyACH payments are safe as long as you’re sending to someone you trustEFTs are usually safer than carrying cash or sending checksWires are safe, but can not be reversed once initiated
CostUsually cheap or freeVaries widelyCan be on the expensive side
International paymentsNot frequently offeredVaries widely — international EFTs may have higher fees than local onesOften available
Payment methodsArrange through your online bankingACH, wire, some card payments, echecksArrange through your online banking, or in a branch

What's the best option for you?

In the end the ACH vs wire vs EFT debate might come down to where you’re sending money to, the payment value and type.

If you’re expecting to send or receive USD payments, such as getting your salary or paying a mortgage bill, and the processing time doesn’t need to be instant, an ACH will probably work best. If your payment is higher value, or needs to be processed instantly, a wire might get your money where it’s going faster.

If you’re sending money overseas, your bank will probably offer you a wire payment — but you can also look at specialist providers like Wise which may offer cheap payment options².

Finally, don’t forget other types of P2P payments which may be handy — particularly for local transfers to friends in the US.

Make international payments with Wise

wise-ach-wire

If you’re looking to make an international payment, check out the low cost transfers available to 80+ countries from Wise.

Wise is a specialist in international transfers, which lets you set up your payment online or in the Wise app, and pay using a local US dollar ACH.

Wise will then pass on your money in the currency you need, depositing it right into your recipient’s local bank account wherever they are.

This process cuts out intermediaries which are usually relied on by banks, and could help you save time and money when sending funds across borders.

Get started with Wise
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Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing for the most up-to-date pricing and fee information.

There are lots of different payment methods offered by banks, credit unions, and specialist services.

Each has its own merits, so which works best for you may well change based on the specifics of the transfer you need to make. Use this guide to get started, and remember — if you’re sending money overseas, choosing a specialist provider like Wise may help you save.


Source:

  1. Nacha
  2. Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing: only pay for what you use for the most up to date pricing and fee information

Sourced checked on 10.12.2022


Please see terms of use and product availability for your region or visit Wise fees and pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

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