Western Union vs. MoneyGram: Which Is Cheaper for Wire Transfers?

When you're sending money to family or friends via a wire transfer, you want to pick the least expensive option.

Western Union and MoneyGram are the two largest money transfer services in the world and they offer multiple methods to transfer funds.

Is one generally better priced than the other?

Or are there other services that may be even less expensive.

Let’s investigate both services, as well as some alternatives.

This may be a classic example of “one size doesn’t fit all”.

Western Union

Western Union is the world’s largest provider of money transfers.

The company has more than 500,000 agent locations worldwide, including more than 44,000 in the U.S. alone. It operates in more than 200 countries and in 130 currencies.

Western Union offers many different transfer options. Each involves a trade off of speed vs. the fee you will pay.

For example, below is the transfer of $1,000 within the U.S. by credit card to a cash pickup location.

It’s nearly $100, but the transfer is instant. It may be necessary if funds are needed as soon as possible.

The list of potential transfer options includes:

  • Credit/debit card to cash pickup with immediate transfer - $99.99 (shown above).
  • Pay in-store to cash pickup with immediate transfer - $10.00.
  • From bank account to cash pickup with 4 business days transfer - $21.00.
  • Credit/debit card to bank account with 2 business days transfer - $45.00.
  • Bank account to bank account with 6 business days transfer - $0.99
  • Pay in-store to bank account is not available.

As you can see, the most cost-effective and fast transfer method (at least within the U.S.) is pay in-store to cash pickup. The transfer is immediate, and the fee is just $10.00.

You’re generally limited to transfers of not more than $5,000, but exactly how much you can send depends on several factors, including your transfer history, payment method, and destination, as well as other factors.

Exactly how much you’ll pay for a transfer will depend on the destination, amount and transfer method used.

Fees can, therefore, vary significantly for the transfer of the same amount of money, based on the details.

This applies to both Western Union and MoneyGram.

MoneyGram

MoneyGram operates in 200 countries and has a network of 347,000 agent offices, including more than 30,000 in the U.S. alone.

MoneyGram is the world’s second largest provider of money transfers, after Western Union.

For most countries, you can send up to $6,000 per online transfer, and up to $6,000 every 30 calendar days.

If necessary, you may send additional funds from a MoneyGram agent location.

MoneyGram also offers different sending and receiving methods.

For a transfer from a bank account or a credit or debit card to a cash pickup location within the U.S. the fee is $49.99 for $1,000.

But when you send the same amount of money from a MoneyGram location to a cash pickup by the recipient, the fee is just $20 for $1,000.

Both methods allow the money to transfer in a matter of minutes, so it will really come down to the inconvenience of driving to a MoneyGram location to save $29.99 with a transfer from a bank account or credit card.

MoneyGram offers several different ways to send and receive money, though in most cases they don’t provide details on either the cost or the time frame of the method:

  • Credit/debit card to direct cash pickup.
  • From location to cash pickup - $20 (screenshot above).
  • Bank account to bank account available same or next business day.
  • From bank account to direct cash pickup.
  • Credit/debit card to bank account.
  • From location to bank account.
  • Credit/debit card to mobile wallet.
  • From location to mobile wallet.

Comparing Costs Between Western Union and MoneyGram

Based on the transfer of $100 and $1,000 sent online from a checking account to a cash pickup location (payment by debit/credit cards have higher fees), the fees for both transfer companies are in the table below.

We’ve used bank transfers (checking accounts) to cash pickup since online transfers have become the most common and convenient methods for transferring funds and making payments.

Western Union vs. MoneyGram Money Transfers

Destination/Service Western Union $100 Western Union $1,000 MoneyGram $100 MoneyGram $1,000
United States (New York or California) $9 $21 $7.99 $49.99***
Australia $11 $26 $10 $25
Brazil (Sao Paulo) $6 $6 $5 $5
Canada (Toronto) $7.99 $19.99 $7.99 $19.99
China $11 $26 $10.99 $25.99
France $11 $26 $10.99 $25.99
Germany $11 $26 $10 $25
Mexico (Mexico City) $5 $5 $4 $4
Russia $12 $36 $11 $35
United Kingdom $11 $26 $10.99 $25.99

***Sent by cash at location or credit/debit card - no bank account option offered.

Don’t Forget Credit Card Fees and Exchange Rates

The least expensive funding source with a money transfer service will be your bank account or debit card. If you use a credit card there are two fees you must be aware of:

  1. Cash advance fee - generally 3% or 5% of the amount transferred, and
  2. Foreign transaction fee - typically 3% of the amount transferred to a foreign recipient.

Both fees are over and above what you’ll pay to either Western Union or MoneyGram.

And of course, if the amount transferred via credit card remains outstanding, it will also be subject to interest charges, which are often higher than the rate charged on purchases.

Exchange rate spreads

You will generally expect transfer services to reflect the currency exchange rates shown on popular websites and news publications. But transfer services also make money on these fees.

It works like this...the rate you see quoted on news sources is the “mid-market rate”.

For example, if the US dollar/euro exchange rate is 1.15, the spread may be 1.10 to 1.20.

The transfer agent will pay 1.10, but will charge the customer 1.20. That will give the transfer agent an extra .10 on the transaction, and .05 over the published rate.

It isn’t illegal - it’s within the exchange rate range, which changes every day.

This fee won’t be as obvious to you as other fees, but it will be charged just out of sight.

The only way to know for certain what you’re paying for the fee is for the recipient to look at the final amount received.

There’s usually no way to determine this in advance.

Other Wire Transfer Options to Consider

There are two transfer sources to investigate before using a transfer service.

Your own financial institution

Banks typically charge a flat fee for outgoing wire transfers, regardless of the international destination.

For example, J.P. Morgan Chase charges $25 for online domestic outgoing wires ($35 if you need bank assistance) and $40 for online foreign outgoing wires ($50 if you need bank assistance).

This may or may not be less expensive than a transfer service.

And like the money transfer services, banks also tweak exchange rates in their favor as a source of additional revenue.

Destination will also be a factor in using banks for wire transfers. 

Wire Transfer Fees at Top Banks

Banks Domestic Incoming Domestic Outgoing Foreign Incoming Foreign Outgoing*
Bank of America $15 (fee waived for Interest Checking and Advantage Plus Preferred Rewards accounts) $30 $16 (fee waived for Preferred Rewards Platinum and Platinum Honor Tiers accounts) $45 for USD and $35 for foreign currency
Chase $15 $35 ($25 for wires initiated online) $15 $50 ($40 for wires initiated online)
Wells Fargo $15 (fee waived for Portfolio by Wells Fargo Plus w/ qualifying balances of $250,000 or more) $30 $16 $40
Citibank $15 (fee waived for Citigold and Citi Priority accounts) $35 ($25 for wires initiated online, $17.50 for Citigold and Citi Priority accounts) $15 (fee waived for Citigold and Citi Priority accounts) $45 ($35 for wires initiated online, $25 for Citigold and Citi Priority accounts)
U.S. Bank $20 $30 $25 $50
Capital One $15 (fee waived for 360 Checking accounts) $25 (could be up to $40 for 360 Checking accounts) $15 $50 for USD and $40 for foreign currency
PNC Bank $15 ($15 additional fee for wires initiated over the phone) $30 ($15 additional fee for wires initiated over the phone) $15 $45
TD Bank $15 $25 $15 $40
BB&T $15 (additional $3 fund transfer fee) $25 (additional $3 fund transfer fee) $18 $65
SunTrust Bank $15 $25 $30 $50
Citizens Bank $18 if initiated by mail, $28 if initiated by phone, $26 if initiated by fax, and $30 if initiated online $30 $12 for USD and $10 for foreign currency** $35 for USD and $10 for foreign currency
Fifth Third Bank $15 $30 $15 $50 for foreign currency and $85 for USD
Regions Bank $15 $25 $18 $45
M&T Bank $16 $32 $16 $75
BBVA Compass $15 $30 $15 $45
Santander $13 (fee waived for Student Value Checking accounts and Premier Plus Checking accounts) $25 $13 $40
BMO Harris Bank $0 $25 $0 $45
Discover Bank $0 $30 $0 (if received in foreign currency, an intermediary bank may charge fee of $20) $30
AVERAGE $13 $29 $16 $49
*Foreign outgoing fee is in USD, unless otherwise stated.

PayPal

PayPal charges no fees when you transfer money to family or friends in the US who also have a PayPal account. If the transfer is funded from a credit card, debit card or PayPal Credit there is a fee of 2.9% of the amount funded, plus a fixed fee of $0.30.

For PayPal fees on transfers sent to parties in foreign countries, the fee schedule is as follows:

Paypal Fees to Send Money to Other Countries

Payment method Country of recipient's account Fees
Funded by your PayPal balance or a bank account linked to your PayPal account. Canada & Europe $2.99 USD
#rowspan# any other country $4.99 USD
Funded by a credit card, debit card or PayPal Credit. Canada & Europe $2.99 USD† + 2.9% of the transaction amount funded this way plus a fixed fee based on currency.
#rowspan# any other country $4.99 USD† + 2.9% of the transaction amount funded this way plus a fixed fee based on currency

Note: The fixed fee includes various small exchange rate additions from dozens of countries too numerous to list, but common examples include .20 pounds to the UK and .35 euros to EU countries.

Final Thoughts

Which is the more cost-effective service, MoneyGram or Western Union?

MoneyGram tends to be slightly cheaper, almost across the board. But it’s never an exact comparison. It may be that a Western Union is quicker than MoneyGram to a certain destination, or with a certain transfer method.

Before deciding which to use - or to use your bank or PayPal - it’s best to use the estimator tools for each to help you choose.

Seemingly small differences, like transfer method, destination, and even amount, can make a difference.

As well, since financial institutions use flat fee pricing, you may be better going with your bank or credit union if the fee by the transfer service is particularly high.

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