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ACH transfer vs. wire transfer: The payment choice is clear

ACH transfer vs. wire transfer: The payment choice is clear

ACH and wire transfers are both ways to move money from one bank account to another. Your business might use either one to pay a supplier, an employee, or anyone else you owe money to. Vendors might also issue payment for goods or services through one of these two methods.

In some ways, they both provide a similar service, but each payment method has different advantages when it comes to the way they operate, the speed of payment, fees for the transaction, potential risks, and how businesses can best use them. 

This article covers what business owners need to know about the differences between ACH transfers and wire transfers.

What is an ACH transfer, and what does it stand for?

ACH stands for Automated Clearing House, which is an electronic funds transfer system for processing domestic US financial transactions. An ACH transfer is a way to move funds from one bank account to another within the United States.

Once initial approval for an ACH transfer is received, the funds move from the original bank to a central clearing house called the Automated Clearing House network, or ACH network. If the clearing house approves the transaction, the cleared money is then posted to the recipient's bank account and deposited for the individual recipient to use.

The ACH banking network includes the Federal Reserve and is managed by the National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA). You can think of the ACH network as the postal service for ACH transactions; both banks and credit unions participate.

Examples of ACH Transfer

  • Direct Deposit
  • Automatic Bill Pay
  • Bank-to-Bank transfers
  • Debit card transactions
  • Paypal, Venmo, Zelle, and other P2P (peer-to-peer) platforms

When to use ACH transfers

With so many new forms of electronic payment options, from traditional money transfer methods like checks to digital e-wallets like PayPal, it can be hard to figure out what's best to use when. At a high level, there are a few guidelines that apply when considering ACH vs. wire transfers:

  • ACH transfers usually cost a lot less.
  • ACH transfers can be used either to send (ACH credit) or "pull" funds (ACH debit), meaning you can use them to pay vendors or merchants, to deposit corporate paychecks directly into a checking account, or to receive funds from customers and clients (with their authorization).
  • If you're concerned with transfer speed, ACH transfers sometimes have a longer processing window than wire transfers, but not always.

What is a wire transfer?

A wire transfer also moves funds from one bank to another, domestically or internationally. It's similar to an ACH transfer, but it doesn't involve a clearing house. Instead, other banks act as intermediaries to the transaction.

When to use wire transfers

Wire transfers are dispatched individually, whereas ACH transfers are handled in groups. 

Wire transfers should be used when money needs to be sent quickly and securely. Lenders might ask for a wire transfer for your down payment or closing cost. 

ACH transfers are usually free or inexpensive, whereas wire transfers can incur fees ranging from $25 to $50.

A wire transfer has advantages over an ACH transaction in certain situations:

  • International wire transfers are common for cross-border payments.
  • Wire transfers can be used for large one-time payments that are required to process and clear on a specific day—like real estate down payments or estate settlements—to ensure the transfer of funds in something approximating real-time payment.

What are the differences between an ACH transfer vs wire transfer?

Compiled below is a brief overview of the key differences between ACH transfers and wire transfers.

ACH transfer Wire transfer
Processing time Funds enter the destination account in 2-3 business days Funds enter the destination account in as little as 1 day
Costs and fees Median of $0.29, only applies to the sender $25 - $50, possibly applies to both sender and receiver
Transfer limits Daily transfer limits and monthly transfer limits apply (e.g. $3,500 daily and $10,000 monthly at Bank of America) Daily transfer limits apply but are typically higher (e.g. $250,000 at Fidelity)
Verification of info Accounts are verified before the funds are transferred Transfer happens immediately without verifying the destination account
Reversibility Transfers can be canceled or reversed after initiated The funds cannot be recovered after a transfer is initiated
Reach Limited to domestic banks on the ACH network Can send funds globally

If you want to dig deeper, here are the details on how they differ:

1. Processing times

ACH transfers can take 2 to 3 business days to complete. It takes this long because banks and clearing houses usually handle these transfers in batches, waiting until enough of them are received before processing them.

In addition, banks sometimes delay the availability of electronic fund transfers (EFTs) since ACH transfers can be initiated even when an account doesn't have sufficient funds for the transaction.

But the ACH payment system is working toward making funds available more quickly. Some money transfer services already offer same-day ACH transfers.

Wire transfers usually take a day or less. Often the money can be debited, credited, and released for use almost immediately.

This quick availability is one of the major benefits associated with a wire transfer.

Takeaway: Wire transfers typically have quicker processing, although some financial institutions offer same-day ACH transfers.

2. Costs and fees

Of all the payment processing options, ACH is one of the cheapest ways to pay a vendor invoice, an employee paycheck, or anything else.

ACH transfers are typically free for the recipient (or payee). Payers are usually charged less than a dollar, which means bank transfers work out to less than the cost of printing and mailing a check.

The terms of a wire transfer are a lot more expensive for both parties. Both the senders and receivers of wire transfers are usually charged a fee.

It's not uncommon for financial institutions to charge between $10 and $35 to wire money.** In addition to the sender fee, some receiving banks—especially smaller ones—charge a small fee to receive wired money.

In some cases, international wires may cost more than domestic wires for both the originator and receiver. This can include increased wire transfer fees as well as currency conversion costs.

Takeaway: ACH transfers are one of the cheapest ways to send payments while wire transfers have costs for both the sender and receiver upwards of $35.

3. Safety and security

In addition to their convenience, ACH transfers are considered very safe. In fact, businesses often use ACHs to pay one another specifically because of the added security benefits.

Sending money from one financial institution to another through the clearing house network requires a clearing process that verifies the funds through a "middleman bank." This independent verification process is automatic, but it adds an extra layer of security to these digital payments.

There's no chance of money getting intercepted or going to the wrong account as long as you’ve correctly entered the recipient's account information. And if someone did make a data entry error, the check procedures catch the error and stop the transfer far more often than not.

Wire transfers are also generally considered to be secure. 

Both ACH and wire transfer are efficient systems of digital fund transfers that can be used for business-to-business and personal payments. And both are safer than paper checks, which are subject to check fraud.

Assuming those funds are being sent domestically, from one US bank to some other US financial institution, ACH can be somewhat safer vs. wire transfers for a few specific reasons:

Verification of info

ACH is usually set up ahead of time with verification of account and routing numbers. If there’s an error, it’s more likely to get caught before the transfer goes through.

With wire transfers, a simple mistake, such as transposing two numbers in the initiating paperwork, can cause the funds to go to the wrong account. If this happens, it’s extremely difficult if not impossible to get that money back.


There are more initial accuracy checks when you are setting up an ACH payment and they're sometimes reversible in case of an error in either the destination or amounts—or if the clearing process detects a possibility of fraud.

On the other hand, that means a transfer made into your account from another source might also be reversed, leaving you without the cash you thought you had coming in.

Wire transfers work more like email or handing someone cash—once sent, they can't be unsent. 

Once initiated, a wire transfer usually can't be changed and mistakes can't be reversed since the money is immediately available to spend. 

Trust is important here. Receiving money through a wire transfer is practically risk-free since the balance is paid quickly. You can withdraw that income immediately and use it for any purpose without any limitations.

Takeaway: ACH transfers give you an extra sense of security when sending money, including reversing transactions in case of a mistake.

4. Reach

To complete an ACH transfer, both the sender and receiver must have an account with a bank on the ACH network.

Given that the ACH network is a United States institution, ACH transfers are only available for domestic payments. Even if the receiver is physically located in the United States but using an international bank, they aren’t eligible to receive ACH transfers.

Wire transfers don’t face the same limitations. There are both domestic and international wire transfers meaning you can send money practically anywhere in the world.

When sending an international wire transfer, you’ll have the option of either converting the money to the destination currency before the transfer or having the conversion done on the receiving end.

If you’ve agreed to a price in USD, which method you choose doesn’t matter as regardless of how it’s converted, it’s still the same USD amount being transferred.

However, if you’ve agreed to a price in the destination currency, it’s best to have the conversion completed before the transfer. Exchange rates constantly fluctuate, and what might seem like the right amount when you initiate the transfer could be an underpayment by the time it arrives.

In these cases, converting before the transfer protects vendor relationships as you won’t accidentally short someone on a bill.

Takeaway: Wire transfers enable you to send funds globally in USD or foreign currency.

How can my business take advantage of these payment options?

One way to take advantage of ACH is to set up recurring payments as ACH transfers in BILL

For example, if you need to make monthly payments to a supplier or service provider, you might use ACH transfers to keep that flow of payments going automatically. Any series of recurring payments can be scheduled in advance for ACH processing, but BILL makes one-time approvals easy too.

BILL also supports wire transfers when you need speedy delivery of large payments or to transfer money abroad. Unlike banks, BILL has no wire transfer fee* for direct payments to vendors in local currencies.

Are you ready to get started with an easy way for your business to make or collect ACH payments and send wire transfers whenever you need to? Contact BILL for more information on getting the benefits of fast, secure, and reasonably priced payment transfer options.

ACH vs wire transfer FAQ

Is ACH or wire transfer faster?

Wire transfers are faster than ACH transfers–even within hours!

ACH transfers will often appear as "pending" while they're still clearing in the system—this allows time to try to reverse the process before funds are released.

Wire transfer funds are released immediately, in close to real-time payments—funds can be spent right away, and reversals are impossible once the payee accepts the payment.

For either ACH or wire transfers, you might need to provide specific information, including bank names, account numbers, and routing numbers. This information can be used to steal funds from your account, so make sure that you trust the recipient, the system, and the service provided before supplying this information.

Is ACH better than wire transfers?

Both ACH and wire transfers have their pros and cons and which method you choose should be based on what you’re trying to do.

An ACH transfer has lower costs and more safety if you’re going to be sending lower amounts domestically.

But if you need to send money globally with higher transfer amounts, wire transfers will be the better bet.

Is ACH safer than wire transfers?

ACH transfers have more controls in place that protect senders so they can transfer money confidently. Account information is verified and transfers can be easily reversed if there’s an error.

Are there fees for ACH and wire transfers?

Yes, both ACH and wire transfers have fees. However, ACH transfers have considerably lower fees than wire transfers.

Since ACH transfers use a well-established network that connects banks across the United States, the costs of processing a transfer are low and the fees are structured accordingly.

But wire transfers require more work for the financial institutions to process and these costs get passed onto both the sender and receiver.

* Local currency payments only. Subject to restrictions. Other fees may apply.

** Based on the average published outgoing international wire transfer fee charged by the top 10 US banks, according to the FDIC, for payments in local currencies. This fee excludes currency conversion rates.

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