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How to use Zelle: A beginner’s guide to digital payments

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If you’ve been looking for an easier way to send money to friends and family — for something like paying a friend back for coffee or gifting some cash to a loved one — then Zelle might be worth considering.

Zelle is a type of peer-to-peer (P2P) payment service, similar to other apps like Venmo and Cash App. Unlike many of these other apps, there’s a good chance Zelle comes with your bank account, rather than requiring a third-party app download.

Additionally, Zelle payments can be much faster than those sent through other P2P apps, appearing in a recipient’s bank account almost instantly with no extra fees. In most cases, once payment is sent, it can’t be canceled.

Here’s what you should know about Zelle and how to use it to send payments.

What is Zelle?

Zelle is a P2P payment service, which allows users to send money to each other digitally. Over 1,000 banks and credit unions are partnered with Zelle, and for those that are, the service is automatically included with the institution’s app.

Zelle works by linking to a U.S. checking or savings account and transferring money to another U.S. bank account. The payer and payee do not need to have accounts at the same financial institution, but they do both need to be enrolled with Zelle. Users send money through their bank’s app or the Zelle app, and that money is automatically deposited into the recipient’s bank account that they have linked to their Zelle account.

Payment transfers with Zelle generally happen within minutes and don’t incur any fees. Note that Zelle does not work with business debit cards, credit cards, international accounts and gift cards.

Some banks may allow businesses to set up a Zelle business account, which can be used for merchant transactions. However, the bank may charge a small fee for businesses using Zelle, and consumers must be enrolled in the service to make payments.

Who owns Zelle?

Zelle is owned by Early Warning Services, a fintech company that develops payment and risk management solutions.

The fintech is in turn owned by seven of the largest U.S. banks:

Which banks use Zelle?

The banks that own Zelle aren’t the only ones that use it, however. There are over 1,000 banks and credit unions partnered with Zelle to provide the payment service to their customers. If your bank is one of them, then Zelle will already be included with the bank’s app.

Some popular banks that use Zelle are:

Some popular credit unions with Zelle are:

Find out if your financial institution uses Zelle by searching its online database. Even if your institution is not on the list, it’s still possible to use Zelle by downloading the Zelle app separately and linking it to a bank account.

Is Zelle safe?

Zelle is considered a safe option for sending and receiving money. You won’t have to worry about money getting lost or stolen in the mail, bypassing the risk that comes with sending cash or checks.

Zelle transfers, like other P2P payment services, are protected by data encryption. If the service is used through a bank app, there’s also the added protection of multi-factor authentication and alerts for suspicious activity that the bank’s app may provide.

There’s always a small risk when supplying fintech apps with your personal information. Zelle acknowledges that it collects and shares personal information with third parties for research and analytic purposes. Consumer Action, a nonprofit organization that advocates for consumer rights, recommends some extra steps you can take to reduce the risk of this information ending up in the wrong hands:

  • Opt in for security notifications from the bank or from Zelle.
  • Monitor your accounts for any suspicious activity.
  • Send money only to people you know and trust.

Scammers may sometimes call consumers pretending to be their bank, and then use the consumer’s bank information to make a Zelle transfer out of the account. It’s unlikely that an actual financial institution will call you and ask for personal information. Only share personal information if you’ve verified the financial institution is legitimate by calling the official number on its website or on the back of your debit card.

How to use Zelle

Zelle is primarily app-based, so you’ll need a smartphone to get started. If it’s offered through your bank, then Zelle may be available to use through the bank’s online portal.

Follow these steps for sending money through Zelle.

1. Check whether your bank or credit union offers Zelle

There are a couple ways to find out if your financial institution offers Zelle. If you’ve downloaded the bank or credit union’s mobile app, there should be a designated Zelle tab in the app for those that come with the payment service. Zelle may also be under the “Transfers” section of the banking app.

Another way to find out if your financial institution offers Zelle is by searching for it in Zelle’s online database of those it partners with. You can also contact the financial institution directly to ask if it offers Zelle.

How do I get Zelle?

Although Zelle is available as a standalone app, users may not be able to use the standalone app if Zelle is offered through their financial institution.

If the financial institution does not automatically come with Zelle in its own app, then you can use the Zelle standalone app by downloading it from the Apple or Google Play store.

2. Enroll your email or phone number

When you first use Zelle, through a banking app or the standalone Zelle app, it’ll require you to enroll either an email address or phone number (or both). That way, other users can verify who they’re sending money to.

If you previously enrolled in Zelle at a different bank or credit union, your email or phone number will need to be removed from that account before it can be used to re-enroll with a new institution.

Users of the standalone app, who don’t have access to Zelle through their financial institution, will also need to enter their debit card information for the card they’d like to make payments from. It must be a U.S.-issued debit card and not a business card.

3. Choose whom to send money to and how much

Once you’ve been enrolled, you’ll have the option to send or request money from another Zelle user. After selecting send or request, add the contact information of the recipient to create a new contact for them, including first name, last name and email or phone number.

It’s necessary to get the recipient’s email or phone number, because each Zelle user must enroll with either one of these to verify their identity. This helps to ensure your money is sent to the right person.

Make sure to double check the recipient’s information, because if you send money to the wrong person, you likely cannot cancel the payment. The only instance in which payments can be canceled is if the recipient has not enrolled yet, so the payment was not transferred from your account.

When you’ve verified and selected a contact, enter the dollar amount of the payment or request.

4. Send the money

The app will ask you to review the transaction details before the money or request is sent. Double check the transaction amount, the recipient’s contact info and the account that your money will be withdrawn from.

There is also an optional memo or “Reason” text box, where users can type in a reason for the payment before sending it.

If all the information is correct, hit send. Money sent through Zelle is typically available in the recipient’s account within minutes, though if the recipient hasn’t enrolled in Zelle yet, it may take a couple of days. The recipient will need to enroll first to receive the payment.

Bottom line

Zelle can be a great option for sending money to another person’s bank account, even if they have an account with a different financial institution. It’s offered through many banks and credit unions and comes with no fees.

As an alternative to sending cash or a check in the mail, Zelle is faster, protected by online encryption and can be done with just a few steps through your phone.

Always make sure you know who you’re sending money to by checking the recipient’s contact information and monitor your account activity for any unauthorized Zelle payments. If you take a few simple precautions, you won’t have to worry about personal information being compromised.

Written by
René Bennett
Banking writer
René Bennett is a writer for Bankrate, reporting on banking products and personal finance.
Edited by
Senior wealth editor