How to use Zelle: 3 easy steps

Young woman sitting on sofa in living room, transferring funds on a tablet using Zelle.Image: Young woman sitting on sofa in living room, transferring funds on a tablet using Zelle.

In a Nutshell

Zelle is a payment service that lets you quickly send money to friends or family, often directly within your mobile banking app. Zelle doesn’t charge for the service — though other fees like your wireless provider’s texting charges or regular banking fees like insufficient funds charges can still apply. All you’ll need to send money on Zelle is the recipient’s email address or cellphone number.
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If you need to quickly split a bill or pay a friend back for dinner, Zelle might be one of the quickest and easiest options.

Zelle is a service that allows you to send, receive or request money — often within your bank’s mobile app. All you need to do to send money is enroll with Zelle, enter the recipient’s email address or mobile number, and hit send. Zelle doesn’t charge for the service, and it monitors transactions and takes other measures in an effort to keep payments secure.

We’ll go over how Zelle works, the pros and cons of using it, and some of the other options you have available.

What is Zelle?

Zelle is an online service for sending and receiving money that you can use with your family and friends. Your bank, credit union, or financial institution may already have Zelle as part of its smartphone app as a way to quickly transfer money. If your bank doesn’t use the service, you can download the Zelle app to access the platform.

With Zelle, you can send, receive or request money with just a cellphone number or email address. Funds come from your personal bank account and go directly into the recipient’s bank account.

How Zelle works

To get started with Zelle, first try your current bank’s mobile app. Hundreds of banks across the country have partnered with the company to offer payments through the platform, linked to your debit card or checking account. Keep in mind: Only U.S. accounts are eligible.

If your bank uses Zelle, look for instructions on its website or mobile app for how to enroll. You may be able to enroll in Zelle using your online banking username and password. If your bank doesn’t use Zelle, you can download the Zelle app on the Apple iOS App Store or the Android Google Play store, and link it to a Visa or Mastercard debit card.

Either way, you’ll use an email address or mobile number to enroll with Zelle. This will be key to sending and receiving money.

How much does Zelle cost?

Zelle doesn’t charge a fee to send money — though other fees like texting charges from your wireless provider could apply. You’ll also want to verify with your bank that it doesn’t charge any fees for using the service. And there may be differences in fees at your bank if you’re using Zelle as a small business versus as an individual.

How to send money with Zelle

Once you’ve signed up with Zelle, all you’ll need is the phone number or email address of the person you want to send money to. Enter the info into Zelle along with the amount you want to send. You can also add an optional note that says why you’re sending money. When the money is sent, the recipient will get an email or text message from Zelle or their bank.

If the person you’re sending money to already uses Zelle, the money should be available to them within minutes, with no further action needed. If they haven’t yet signed up, it could take one to three days for them after signing up to access the money. They’ll get a message letting them know they have money waiting along with instructions for how they can get enrolled with Zelle. If they don’t do so within 14 days, the money you sent is returned to you.

Make sure you have the correct email address or phone number for the person you’re sending money to. Zelle payments can only be canceled if the recipient’s email or phone number isn’t registered with the payment service. If they’re registered, the money will drop into the recipient’s bank account, and cannot be recovered.

Your bank may have a transaction limit on how much you can send with Zelle. These can vary widely and can include limits on how much you can send per transaction, per day and per month. If you’re using the Zelle app without a partner bank, your weekly send limit is $500. Some banks have no limit on how much you can receive via Zelle — check with your bank to find out its policy.

How to receive money with Zelle

While sending money is a multistep process, receiving money with Zelle from an enrolled recipient is just the opposite. You’ll give the email address or mobile phone number associated with your account to the person sending you money. If you already use Zelle, that’s all you need to do.

When you receive money, it’ll be automatically deposited in your bank account within a few minutes. If you don’t have Zelle yet, you’ll get a notification that you have money waiting and instructions for how to enroll.

What are the pros and cons of using Zelle?

Zelle doesn’t charge a fee for the serviceYou can’t use a credit card
Fast transactionsNot all banks are partners
You can send to people not on the platformMust have mobile phone number or email address
Money goes straight to your bank account Must have a U.S. bank account
 No cancellations or chargebacks

Alternatives to Zelle

Zelle might not be right for everyone. If you have a bank account outside of the U.S. or want to use a credit card, you may want to explore other options for fast mobile payments. Here are a few.

  • Venmo: Venmo is an app that lets you quickly send and request money from friends. You can link a credit card, debit card or U.S. bank account to the platform. Money will be available in your Venmo balance within the app within minutes, but getting money to your bank account requires a transfer that can take a business day or longer. Instant transfers to your bank account will cost you a 1% fee.
  • Cash App: Cash App lets you send and receive money via its mobile app, and you can link a credit card, debit card or bank account. Cash App also supports international payments. You’ll face fees for instant transfers to your bank account.
  • PayPal: PayPal allows you to send money to friends and family or shop online with a variety of vendors. You’ll need to pay a fee to make a payment with a debit or credit card. The company also has a service called Xoom for international payments.

About the author: Andrew Dunn is a veteran journalist with more than a decade of experience as a reporter and editor at North Carolina news organizations, including the Charlotte Observer and the StarNews in Wilmington. In those roles,… Read more.