Wire transfer vs electronic payment: what's the difference?

Gabriela Peratello

If you need to send money to an individual or organization, you may be debating whether to choose a wire or an electronic payment like an ACH. But what’s the difference really between electronic payments (also called electronic funds transfers or EFTs), and a bank wire?

This guide covers what you need to know about electronic payment vs wire transfer — and we’ll also introduce Wise as a smart way to send money overseas with low fees and a fair exchange rate.

What's a wire transfer?

A wire transfer is a payment made electronically — usually through your bank or credit union. In many cases you can send a wire using your online or mobile banking service — although some banks do still require you to visit a branch in person to set up payments.

Once your wire is arranged the money will be deducted from your account and automatically deposited in the recipient’s bank for convenience.

Wire transfers can be sent domestically and internationally and are supported by most US banks and credit unions.

✅ Pros❌ Cons
  • Reliable and safe way to send money

  • Can be used for both domestic and international payments

  • Wires are often processed as soon as you arrange them

  • Domestic wires can arrive quickly

  • Can be expensive — particularly for international transfers

  • Cross border payments can take several days to arrive

What's an electronic payment?

Electronic payments — also called EFTs — cover a broad range of payment types from ACH transfers to spending using your debit or credit card in a store.

The key factor is that all electronic payments are processed digitally — there’s no need to handle or hand over cash or a check for example.

Wire transfers are technically also EFTs — but EFTs cover many different payments types, which can include:

✅ Pros❌ Cons
  • Broad range of payment types

  • Very widely used and accepted

  • More secure and convenient than using cash and checks

  • Some local EFTs and card payments can be almost instant

  • Not all services are available internationally

  • Some fees may apply, depending on the service and provider you use

What are the differences between a wire transfer and an electronic funds transfer?

As we’ve seen, electronic fund transfers can cover a pretty broad range of payment types. However if you need to pay a bill or send money to a friend, charity or organization, the chances are that the electronic funds transfer type recommended for you will be an ACH.

To help you decide if a wire or an electronic funds transfer will work best for you, here’s a quick comparison of wires and ACH payments across some key features.

Wire transferElectronic transfer (ACH)

Domestic payments can arrive on the same day

International payments may take 3 - 5 days depending on destination

Speed depends on the payment type selected
CostOften one of the most expensive ways to send moneyUsually cheap or even free, depending on your bank
ReliabilityVery reliableVery reliable
Transfer processingPayments which hit cut off times are processed immediately when they’re initiatedPayments are processed in batches according to a preset schedule

Send money abroad the hassle free way with Wise


Looking for a better way to send an international payment? Meet Wise.

Wise is a specialist in low cost international transfers which use the mid-market exchange rate.

Set up your Wise payment online or in the Wise app, and choose to pay with the digital payment method of your choice — usually including local ACH, credit or debit card, as well as Apple Pay.

You can send to 80+ countries, and you’ll see an estimated delivery time before you confirm. 50% of Wise payments are instant¹ — and you’ll always see exactly what your recipient will receive, with no hidden charges or surprise fees².

Get started with Wise 🚀

EFT vs wire: what's the best option for you?

Whether a wire or an EFT is better for you will depend on the specific transaction you need to make. EFTs like domestic ACH payments are often cheap or free — but may take a day or two to arrive. Local wires can be fast, but may have relatively high fees.

When it comes to sending money internationally the chances are your bank will suggest you make a wire transfer. That’s often convenient and reliable — but it can be pretty slow and expensive, too.

Compare the options your bank offers for your specific payment type — and don’t forget to look at specialist services like Wise, too. If you’re sending money overseas, Wise could help you cut costs and get your payment where it needs to be faster compared to a wire.

Please note:

  1. The speed of Wise transfers depends on funds availability, approval by Wise's proprietary verification system and systems availability of our partners' banking system, and may not be available for all transactions

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

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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