Kelly Waggoner is editor-in-chief of Finder US. She's worked with publishers, magazines and nonprofits throughout New York City, including ghostwriting a how-to on copyediting for the Dummies series. Between projects, she toys with words, flips through style guides and fantasizes about the serial comma's world domination.
What is Zelle?
Formerly called ClearXchange, Zelle is a new payment processing network developed with some of the largest American banks — Bank of America, Chase, Capital One and USAA among them. Zelle prides itself on easily completing transfers instantly to other users. If your recipient isn’t yet a Zelle user, you can send money using their email or phone number. Zelle will prompt them to visit their bank’s app or download the Zelle app to receive their money.
Given the imagery on its site (avocado toast, anyone?), Zelle is obviously skewed toward the Venmo crowd. Unlike Venmo, Zelle is integrated into its partners’ websites and mobile banking apps, so you won’t need to download another one to use it — or encounter your money getting held up in a third-party account along the way.
Zelle Vs. Venmo
Both Zelle and Venmo claim to transfer your money to friends and family more easily than through your bank. How they differ comes down to whether you’re talking about Zelle the standalone app or Zelle the built-in bank service.
Let’s start with the latter: Zelle is a free built-in service of a growing number of American banks, promising money in minutes without the hassle of a third-party app. The “in minutes” part is true, but only if both you and your recipient belong to a bank Zelle supports. Otherwise, your only choice is Zelle’s standalone — or third-party — app, which delays your successful delivery for up to three business days.
Venmo can also take up to three days for delivery, depending on how quickly the sending and receiving banks process your payment. However, Venmo recently added “instant” transfers to its services for a small fee, aligning its services more closely with Zelle’s. Venmo also accepts credit card transactions, though at a fee of up to 3% of your transaction. Zelle doesn’t support plastic at all.
At the end of the day, either Zelle service isn’t all that different from Venmo. Rather, our readers might tell you it comes down to how each company steps in when things go wrong. Many of you report problems with Zelle deliveries and — worse — poor to no customer support to sort out the chaos.
You might avoid a potential headache by instead relying on Venmo’s established process and decent customer service.
This is where things get tricky: There’s a lot of confusion (a possible Zelle theme) as to how much you can send with Zelle. In prior PR, it listed up to 10 transfers totaling less than $2,500 every 24 hours and 30 transfers totaling less than $20,000 every month. For small business owners, those limits rose to $25,000 every 24 hours over a maximum of 10 transfers and $100,000 every month over 30 transfers.
Today, Zelle’s site includes a vague note about contacting your bank or credit union to learn about their limits through the service. Otherwise, “your weekly limit is based off usage and experience with the service.” Not sure where that leaves those of us who don’t have experience with Zelle.
We’ve received so many of your updates about banks limiting your transfers to far, far less than any stated maximums, it sounds like there’s a lot more tweaking going on as Zelle rolls out.
TransferWise: A solid alternative to Zelle
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Zelle also lives in your current bank’s app, offering a way to transfer money in four easy steps: 1. Set up your account. Log in to your current bank’s online system and register your email address or phone number to establish a connection with your bank account. 2. Send your payment. Choose your recipient, the amount you’re transferring and your funding account. Review your information and send. 3. Zelle notifies your recipient. Your recipient receives an email or text with instructions on how to receive the transfer. If your recipient is not registered with Zelle, they’ll be prompted with a one-time setup. 4. Zelle deposits your money. Your transfer is deposited into your recipient’s bank account, typically in minutes.
You can also request money from friends or family, just like with Venmo.
How do I receive money with Zelle?
When another Zelle user sends you money, you’re notified at the email address or phone number that your sender used. If this email or number isn’t registered, simply register it to receive your funds.
Aliyyah’s firsthand experience with Zelle
One Wednesday night, I realized I needed to send money to someone quickly. I was looking for a same-day domestic money transfer service, and Kelly recommended Zelle as a bank-to-bank option.
First, I confirmed that my recipient and I both have bank accounts with Zelle’s partner banks. Wells Fargo and Capital One.
Then I sent $5 through my Wells Fargo mobile app to make sure she’d get the money right away. She refreshed her bank account balance summary on her tablet and saw my funds in her account.
I went ahead and transferred the full amount right after. Happy with the convenient service, I’ve used Zelle twice since then, and it’s now my default method for quick transfers.
What to look out for
Zelle is currently limited to bank transfers in US dollars within the United States. Like other payment processing services, it imposes some restrictions on the size and frequency of the transfers you can make.
Zelle won’t be as helpful if your bank doesn’t yet work with it. If your friends or family use these remaining holdout banks, you’ll need to manually enter their banking information or use Zelle’s standalone app. Transfers to banks outside of Zelle’s network can take one to three days, rather than a few minutes.
We’re also hearing firsthand accounts about low maximums that aren’t always advertised and other blips that could be a result of a quick rollout — or worse. We’ll continue to update our review as we hear more.
Benefits and drawbacks
Backed by 30+ banks. Because it’s integrated into your bank’s app, you won’t need to download another one.
Instant transfers. When you use Zelle’s bank-integrated service, it processes direct bank-to-bank transfers in minutes.
No fees. Send money to other Zelle users for free.
Requires a bank account with Zelle-supported banks. The fastest transfers are between Zelle-supported banks. Otherwise, you must use Zelle’s third-party app — and wait up to three days.
Murky maximums. Despite initial PR announcements of high $2,500 maximums, readers don’t seem to be able to send this much. You’ll need to confirm with your bank how much — and how little — you’re able to send with Zelle.
US only. Zelle sends transfers in US dollars to US bank accounts only.
How safe is Zelle?
Because Zelle’s integrated into your existing bank’s website or app, if you’re satisfied with your current bank’s security and encryption, that same protection is extended to cover Zelle transactions. Zelle’s standalone app is backed by Early Warning Systems, a risk-management company that uses mobile identity authentication and advanced monitoring to ensure that your money is secure.
What does the Internet say about this brand?
Zelle’s still fairly new, but you’ll find customers who say they’ve seen unauthorized withdrawals from their accounts with Zelle. The service is backed by Early Warning Systems, which claims that it doesn’t have visibility into its consumer accounts. For that, it says customers need to return to their own banks to handle any questions about transactions. Still, many users report that their banks themselves aren’t sure how to handle potential fraud.
As for the media, in June 2017 Bloomberg Technology called Zelle the “Venmo killer,” announcing Capital One as the first of 30 banks to offer Zelle within its own app. There’s no question that Zelle is gunning straight for Venmo — prompting Venmo to add instant bank transfers to its own app in 2017.
What do our readers say?
We’ve received reports from finder.com readers that it’s not always clear Zelle works best and fastest when both parties to a transaction are members of a Zelle-supported bank. Also unclear? How much your bank allows you to send through Zelle.
Capital One 360, the online brand of Capital One, limits its Zelle transfers to well below a stated $2,500. We combed through Capital One’s sites to confirm specific limits but found only this buried in its FAQ: “There are limits to and from your account and it will be up to the discretion of Capital One.” For at least one reader, the result of this discretion was a limit of $300 — though Capital One admitted that it’s updating its system to accommodate larger transfers.
We’ve also heard from a reader who found their Wells Fargo account locked through Zelle. They’ve spoken with developers through both the bank and the app. But without the ability to delete an account from Zelle, it’s simply stuck with no resolution. “When you’re dealing with your money, you expect apps to work,” our reader wrote. We agree.
Other readers have brought to light that the limits may be based on a rolling month instead of a calendar month. One reader let us know that their “monthly limit in the amount that can be transferred is not based on a calendar month but, rather, on a rolling 30-day period.” Unfortunately, we cannot confirm or deny this based on the information provided by Zelle on their website.
If you’re experiencing problems with the app — or your bank’s integration with it — call your bank first. And then let us know about your experience in the comments.
Zelle’s taking off with transfers among users who expect funds within minutes. But not without snags that include hung-up transfers and customer reps who appear unwilling to untangle the problem.
No, Zelle does not currently support scheduled payments.
Simply enroll or register through your participating bank’s website or mobile app.
No. For now, Zelle supports transfers in the United States in US dollars only.
As of July 2017, ClearXchange has become Zelle. If you’re a member of ClearXchange, you’ll soon be invited to enroll and send money using Zelle’s app. After, you’ll begin using Zelle as ClearXchange is phased out.
No. Zelle does not currently work with credit cards, so cash advances are not possible.
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