Zelle vs. Venmo: How they compare and which to use

Young woman using smart phone at a cafe tableImage: Young woman using smart phone at a cafe table

In a Nutshell

The differences between Zelle vs. Venmo aren’t huge. If you only want a free, fast way to send cash to family and friends, Zelle could be right for you. If you want more features and options, Venmo’s probably worth a look.
Editorial Note: Intuit Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our third-party advertisers don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. Information about financial products not offered on Credit Karma is collected independently. Our content is accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.

Gone are the days of needing to visit the bank in person and withdraw cash to pay someone.

Thanks to the ever-growing digital world, we now have easier options. There are so many ways to send money that it’s tough to sort out your options. Two of the most popular money-transfer apps are Zelle and Venmo, but which should you choose?

In general, Zelle is better if the only thing you’re looking for is a fast, free way to send money. Venmo can do the same thing, but it takes slightly longer to move money into your bank account unless you pay a fee to speed things up. But Venmo offers additional features and can even double-up as a substitute for a bank account if needed.

Which is better: Zelle or Venmo?

There isn’t one cash transfer app that is universally better than the others in all cases. It just depends on what you’re looking for and which features pique your interest.

In general, Zelle is better if the only thing you want to do is transfer smaller amounts of money between your family and friends and your checking account is based in the United States. It excels at this — you can see the money pop up in your account almost instantly, something that usually costs around $30 and takes up to a day with a wire transfer.

Zelle doesn’t do much else though. If you want to send money using your credit card, manage a separate balance from your bank account, or use your in-app balance to pay for things with many retailers, Venmo might be a better option for you.

How Venmo works

If you’re familiar with PayPal, you’ll notice that Venmo looks fairly similar, and there’s a good reason for that — PayPal owns Venmo. Similarly to PayPal, while Venmo can link up with your bank account, it’s not required. You can keep a separate balance right there in the app, which is handy if you don’t have or don’t want a traditional bank account.

You can use Venmo to instantly send money to people. You can also transfer money from your Venmo balance to your bank account, although it’ll take up to a few days to process (unless you pay an extra fee for an instant transfer). When you send money to someone, Venmo draws first from your in-app balance if it’s enough to cover the charge. If not, it’ll instead pull the full amount from your bank or credit card account. You can also use it to pay at certain shops, accept business payments, or even use it at small vendors like roadside farm stands or art market booths (look for a QR code to pay, if they accept it).

One of the reasons why Venmo may be so popular is its social aspect. It’s easy to split the cost of things among friends, whether that’s for dinner, vacations, movies, etc. You can even chat in-app and liven things up with emojis and stickers. But note that unless you make your transactions private or friends-only, everyone on the Internet can see the details of your transfer.

Here are some other things to know about Venmo.

  • Fees — 1.75% to instantly transfer money to your bank account instead of waiting 1–3 days. 3% to send money using your credit card. 1% to deposit a paycheck or government check to your Venmo balance. 5% to deposit other types of checks.  
  • How you pay — Use a QR code or get your friend’s username, name or email address to transfer money from your Venmo balance, your bank account or your credit card. You can also use a QR code to pay at certain merchants and shops. 
  • FDIC insured — Yes, but only if you add money via direct deposit or the cash a check feature, or you buy cryptocurrency. Otherwise no, the money in your Venmo account is not federally insured.
  • Security settings — Control who views your transactions, add a PIN code to your app or set up multifactor authentication.
  • Transfer limits — U.S. only. Up to $60,000 per week if you’ve verified your account ($299.99 if you haven’t).
  • Other features — ATM withdrawals, Venmo debit card linked to your Venmo balance, Venmo credit card with cash back rewards, ability to buy cryptocurrency, direct deposit for your paychecks and ability to cash other checks.

How Zelle works

Compared to Venmo, Zelle is relatively simple. Most people come across it by happenstance: Zelle partners directly with over 1,700 different banks to offer free person-to-person, (almost) instantaneous transfers. You can send money to anyone in the U.S. through Zelle, although they’ll need to sign up for the service too and link a bank account. As long as their bank is within the U.S. and they’re handy with Android or iOS apps, they can link up their own bank account through the app, even if their bank itself doesn’t offer it yet.

When you use Zelle to send and receive money, it gets taken right from your bank account. There’s no separate in-app balance, no linking up of credit cards and no check-cashing services. It’s a direct A-to-B pipeline with no frills.

That said, you can still use Zelle for many of the same things that Venmo is popular for. You can use it to split expenses between friends and roommates, for example, so long as everyone is already enrolled in Zelle. You’ll get the convenience of no extra fees and fast service.

  • Fees — $0, however Zelle recommends double-checking with your bank to see if there are any fees for transfers on its end.
  • How you pay — Add your friend’s email address, cellphone number or scan their in-app QR code. To send a split request with friends using a cellphone number, everyone must already be signed up for Zelle and link their mobile number to their account.
  • FDIC insured — No, FDIC protections stop as soon as you authorize a transfer and the funds leave your bank account.
  • Security settings — Multifactor authentication available.
  • Transfer limits — Varies depending on your bank’s policies. If you sign up on your own, you can send up to $500 per week.
  • Other features — None

What are the pros and cons of Venmo?

Zelle and Venmo can both do essentially the same thing — send people money — but each has different ways of doing it. Venmo has its own suite of features, which may be good or bad depending on what you’re looking for.


  • Higher transfer limits — If you verify your account, you can transfer far more with Venmo (up to $60,000 per week) than with Zelle ($500 per week unless your bank states otherwise).
  • Fees for certain services — The base service is free, but Venmo charges you fees to speed up transfers to your bank account, to send money from your linked credit card and to cash checks.
  • Social aspect to spending — You can chat with friends, add emojis and stickers, and even let the world see your transactions if you want.
  • Can be used as a bank substitute — You don’t necessarily need a bank account to use Venmo because it allows you to keep a separate in-app balance. That means it’s essentially banking accessible to anyone with a smartphone.
  • Venmo credit and debit cards available — You can apply for a Venmo debit card that lets you spend money from your Venmo balance, similar to a bank account debit card. Venmo also offers a cash back rewards credit card.
  • Check-cashing service and crypto options available — You can use your Venmo account to cash checks and to purchase cryptocurrency right in the app — for another fee, of course.


  • Can be confusing — With all the options available, Venmo may not be the easiest to navigate for everyone — especially if you aren’t savvy with smartphone apps.
  • Transfers take a little while — Money that you receive or send to someone in the app shows up instantly. But to transfer that money to your own bank account takes 1–3 business days — unless you pay a rush fee.
  • No interest on your Venmo balance — You can keep money in your Venmo account separate from your bank account. But you won’t earn any interest on that money, whereas Venmo might earn interest off your balance.
  • Can’t send money to international accounts — You won’t be able to use Venmo to send money internationally.

What are the pros and cons of Zelle?

Here’s how to quickly scope out whether Zelle might be better for you.


  • Free — There are no fees to use Zelle, for anything.
  • Fast — You can transfer money between accounts in just a few minutes, rather than waiting a few days.
  • Simple — Zelle does one thing and does it well. It doesn’t confuse and clutter your financial life with lots of extra things to think about and manage.


  • Not all banks offer it — You can still download the app and do the same thing on your own even if it’s not directly available through your bank account, but it is an extra step to go through, which may be a hassle. 
  • No other services available — There’s no separate in-app balance, you can’t use it to pay for things at stores, there’s no credit card integration, etc.
  • You need a bank account to use it — One out of every 20 people in the U.S. don’t have a bank account, according to 2020 data from the Federal Reserve. That’s a lot of people who simply won’t be able to use Zelle at all.
  • Split requests may require prior enrollment — You can use Zelle to split payments, but if you send the split request using a friend’s mobile phone number, they’ll need to already have it registered to their Zelle profile.
  • Can’t send money to international bank accounts — Like Venmo, if you’re looking for a way to send remittances to your family back home or receive payment from a customer abroad, Zelle won’t be able to help.

What’s next?

If your group of friends already has a preferred money transfer app, your choice is easy. But if you’re still trying to decide between Zelle vs. Venmo, it also makes sense to broaden your net and consider other money transfer apps too.

Depending on what you’re looking for, you may find that other services, like PayPal, Cash App, Western Union, Google Pay, Apple Pay or something else entirely, works better for you.

Another thing you’ll want to consider when using money transfer apps is security when you’re both sending and receiving funds. More and more, scams involve digital payment methods. It’s important to know who you’re sending money to (or receiving money from) and consider confirming the recipient’s information outside of the app before you hit send.

About the author: Lindsay VanSomeren is a freelance writer living in Kirkland, Washington. She has been a professional dogsled racer, a wildlife researcher, and a participant in the National Spelling Bee. She writes for websites such a… Read more.