When you need to get money to another person or to a company, you’ve got options. You could send a wire transfer, use a digital payment app, write (and mail) a personal check, and more. Each of these options has its own benefits.
Here, we’ll look at wire transfers and money orders to understand the differences between these two.
What Is a Wire Transfer?
A wire transfer is a type of electronic payment that is processed individually from a sending to a receiving financial institution. It is typically processed with specific instructions that include:
- The recipient’s name and address
- Their bank account info (including account number, account type, etc.)
- IBAN number if the transaction is international
- The bank’s SWIFT code
Wire transfers are often used to transfer large sums of money when speed is important. There are more affordable forms of electronic transfers. However, this type can be a helpful option when other options don’t work because of speed or the size of the transaction.
A wire transfer is just one example of what’s called an EFT—electronic funds transfer. A wire transfer is a specific type of EFT or money transfer. There are other types of EFT’s that exist that do not get processed in the same way.
Related Reading: How to Wire Money Online
What Is a Money Order?
A money order is issued as a paper check, but unlike a personal check, the funds are guaranteed. The money order is purchased and created at an issuing institution, such as a bank, but also at places like post offices, retail stores, convenience stores, payday loan locations, supermarkets, or pharmacies.
Money orders are often used in lieu of using a personal check when the payee wants to eliminate the risk of the nonpayment. Some payees that do not take personal checks will often take a money order since it’s guaranteed.
There may also be individuals who do not have a bank account. In this situation, they can convert cash into a check to make payments.
Money orders may also be used by those who do not want to send their personal info through the mail.
Wire Transfers vs. Money Orders
Wire transfers and money orders each have their pros and cons. By examining the differences and similarities, you can decide which makes sense for your situation.
Here are a few to consider:
With a wire transfer, there may be fees on both ends of the transaction; sometimes, both the sender and the receiver may have to pay, or the sender may have to pay fees to both.
For international wire transfers, there will also be exchange rates—which may or may not be at the prevailing market rate, depending on whether the banks (or other institutions) involved have opted to mark up the rate. (Not all wire transfer intermediaries do this, but it’s important to understand that it can happen.)
The total fees can be tens of dollars—more than other forms of electronic money transfers.
Money orders also have fees, but they’re often less than wire transfers. Most money order providers charge a nominal fee—ranging from less than a dollar to around $10.
Occasionally, the recipient may have to pay a small fee to cash the money order as well, especially if cashing it at a different institution than it was issued from.
Read more: ACH vs. Money Order: What Is the Difference?
Speed of Receipt
When sending a money order, it usually needs to be initiated in person because it must be paid for (along with any associated fees) to be guaranteed. Then it either needs to be delivered in person or mailed, which means it will vary in terms of how long it takes to get to the recipient. If you’re personally delivering the money order to someone nearby, this may not be a concern.
If it is being mailed, it could mean an increase in the time it takes for the money to be received. Once received, the recipient still must cash or deposit the check to have the funds in hand.
Wire transfers are sent electronically and have a set timeframe for delivery. These can be delivered quickly.
Money orders are used for smaller transactions. They can vary by the institution creating the money order, in the U.S., there is usually a limit of $1,000.
A wire transfer’s send limit varies based on each bank. For example, in the U.S., some banks can be used for transactions up to $100,000–and even that could be increased with a request to the issuing institution or for business accounts.
Both types of transactions are generally considered to be safe, but money orders have fewer security features. One concern is the risk of interception, though the person or company being paid is listed on the money order, so this risk is limited and would require the payee information to be fraudulently altered.
There’s also a risk for the recipient because a money order may be canceled before it is cashed in some cases. This makes it slightly less secure than a wire transfer, which is much tougher to cancel or alter once initiated.
A money order is typically a safer alternative than a personal check because it does not include banking information.
Wire transfers are not without risk. Wire transfer fraud happens—especially when scammers find ways to insert themselves into the transaction process.
That said, it’s not usually the wire transfer itself that is the risk here, it’s the risk of being fooled into sending it to a scammer.
Related Reading: Money Transfer Scams
Availability Can Vary
One more difference to note is where you can get a wire transfer versus a money order. You can typically get either one at a bank, but money orders can be created at many other locations.
A money order may be purchased at post offices, retail stores, convenience stores (including some gas stations), payday loan locations, supermarkets, or pharmacies. This may make it easier to create a money order on short notice or after banking hours.
Remitly makes international money transfers faster, easier, more transparent, and more affordable. Since 2011, over 5 million people have used our secure mobile app to send money with peace of mind.