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How to Use Zelle: A Beginner’s Guide to Digital Payments

If you are looking for an easy way to send money to friends and family – paying a friend for coffee or giving a loved one some money – then Zelle is worth considering.

Zelle is a kind of peer-to-peer (P2P) payment service, similar to other applications such as Venmo and Cash App. Unlike many other apps, there is a good chance Zelle comes with your bank account rather than having to download a third party app.

Additionally, Zelle payments are much faster than sending through other P2P applications, instantly appearing in the recipient’s bank account at no additional charge. In most cases, once payment is sent, it cannot be canceled.

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

Zelle is a P2P payment service that allows users to send money digitally. More than 1,000 banks and credit unions have partnered with Zelle, and the service is automatically integrated with the firm’s app.

Zelle operates by linking to a US checking or savings account and transferring funds to another US bank account. Payers and payers do not need to have accounts in the same financial institution, but both need to register with Zelle. Users send money via their bank app or Zelle app and they are automatically deposited to the recipient’s bank account linked to their Zelle account.

Payment transfers with Zelle usually take place within minutes and are free of charge. 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 trading account, which can be used for merchant transactions. However, the bank may charge a small fee for transactions using Zelle, and customers must enroll in the service to make payments.

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

FinTech is owned by the seven largest US banks:

Only banks that own Zelle don’t use it. More than 1,000 banks and credit unions have partnered with Zelle to provide payment services to their customers. If your bank is one of them, Zelle is already included with the bank’s app.

Some popular banks that use Zelle are:

Some popular credit unions with Zelle:

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

Zelle is considered the safest option to send and receive money. You don’t have to worry about losing money or stealing mail by bypassing the risk that comes with sending cash or checks.

Zelle transfers, like other P2P payment services, are protected from data encryption. If the service is used through a bank application, there is additional protection of multi-factor authentication and alerts on suspicious activity that the bank application may provide.

There is always a small risk when supplementing fintech applications with your personal information. Zelle acknowledges that it collects and shares personal information with third parties for research and analytical purposes. Consumer Action, a nonprofit organization that advocates for consumer rights, recommends some additional steps you can take to reduce the risk that this information may end up in the wrong hands:

  • Select for security notifications from the bank or Zelle.
  • Monitor your accounts for any suspicious activity.
  • Only send money to people you know and trust.

Scammers can sometimes call customers who pretend to be their bank and then use customer bank information to transfer Zelle from their account. It is unlikely that a real financial institution will call you and ask for personal information. Only share personal information if you verify that the financial institution is legitimate by calling it on its website or by calling the official number on the back of your debit card.

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

Follow these steps to send money through Zelle.

1. Check whether your bank or credit union offers Zelle

Here are a couple ways to find out if your financial institution offers Zelle. If you download a bank or credit union’s mobile app, those who come with a payment service should have a designated Zelle tab on the app. Zelle may also be under the “Transfers” section of the banking application.

Another way to find out if your financial institution is offering Zelle is to look for those who partner with Zelle’s online database. You can contact the financial institution directly to ask if it offers Zelle.

How do I get Zelle?

Zelle is available as a standalone app, but users will not be able to use the standalone app if they offer Zelle through their financial institution.

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

2. Register your email or phone number

When you first use Zelle through a banking app or standalone Zelle app, you will be required to register an email address or phone number (or both). That way, other users can check who they are sending money to.

If you have previously registered with Zelle at a different bank or credit union, you will need to remove your email or phone number from that account before using it to re-register with the new organization.

Users of the standalone app who do not have access to Zelle through their financial institution will need to enter their debit card information for the card they want to make payments to. It should be a debit card issued by the US and not a business card.

3. Select whom and how much money to send

Once you have registered, you have the option to send or request money from another Zelle user. After selecting Send or Request, add the recipient’s contact information to create a new contact, including first name, last name and email or phone number.

Getting the recipient’s email or phone number is essential, as each Zelle user must register with one of these to verify their identity. This will help ensure that your money has been sent to the right person.

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

When you check in and select a contact, enter the dollar amount of the payment or request.

4. Send money

The app asks you to check the details of the transaction before sending the money or request. Double-check the transaction amount, the recipient’s contact information, and your cash withdrawal account.

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

If all the information is correct, press Send. Money sent through Zelle is usually available within a few minutes in the recipient’s account, although if the recipient has not yet registered with Zelle, it may take a couple of days. Recipients must first register to receive payment.

Bottom line

Zelle is a good option to send money to another person’s bank account, even if you have an account at a different financial institution. It is offered through many banks and credit unions and comes at no charge.

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

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

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