What Are P2P Transfers & How to Use Them

By Krystal Etienne · February 23, 2023 · 2 minute read

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What Are P2P Transfers & How to Use Them

P2P payments, aka peer-to-peer transfers, are a great way to use digital technology to send money to other people or receive funds from them. With a money transfer app or perhaps one from your financial institution, you can send a friend your half of the dinner bill, gas money, or other payments, quickly and easily from your mobile device. Chances are, you can also buy items (say, on Instagram or a website) using one of these apps.

To move money via P2P, all you need to do is to download one of the transfer apps, like Venmo or PayPal, and connect your bank account, debit card, or credit card to it. Or your financial institution may offer their own app that you could enable. Either way, once you are set up, you are just a few clicks away from being able to send money.

Here’s a closer look at exactly how these apps work, including:

•   What is a P2P money transfer?

•   How does a P2P payment work?

•   How long does a P2P transfer take?

•   Are P2P payments safe?

•   What are some alternatives to P2P payments?

What Is a P2P Payment?

With a P2P payment, you can send money to a friend with just a few clicks on your mobile device. This replaces the need to get cash at an ATM or write out a personal check, options that aren’t always quick or convenient.

For traditional P2P apps, both parties need to have an account with the transfer service in order to make the transaction. For example, if you want to use Venmo to repay a friend for the salad they bought you at lunchtime, that person would also need to have a Venmo account to receive that payment.

Typically, a P2P account is attached to your bank account online. Some P2P platforms, however, allow customers to link their P2P accounts to a debit card or even a credit card, though it may involve additional fees.

Many commercial banks are also getting in on the online money transfer game, offering services like Zelle to make it easier for customers to transfer money to one another instantaneously.

Recommended: How to Transfer Money From One Bank to Another

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Understanding How P2P Transfers Work

How does a P2P payment work? Here’s a closer look at what goes on when you use a P2P payment app.

Overview of the P2P Transfer Process

Say that you want to send money P2P to your sister for your mother’s birthday present. Depending on the type of P2P service you use, you’ll follow some variation of these basic steps.

•   Creating a P2P Account. You will need to download a P2P app and then sign up for an account. In order to send money to your sister, you’ll both need to have an account with the same money transfer service.

•   Linking your bank account to your P2P account. Some P2P services have the ability to hold funds, but they generally must be linked to a primary bank account, credit card, or debit card in order to be fully operational. This is how the account will pull any funds needed to make a payment.

To link your checking account, you may need your checking and routing number (which appear at the bottom of a check). Some P2P transfer services may only need your bank log-in information. Others may allow you to set up extra verification measures.

•   Searching for a user to transfer funds to. To send money to your sister, you’ll need to find her on the P2P platform. You can typically search by username, email address, or a phone number. In most cases you will be able to add her account as a contact or “friend” in your account.

•   Initiating a transfer. The next step in how a P2P payment works is getting the money moving. Your sister can request a payment from you, or you can initiate the payment yourself. This requires choosing the option to send funds, entering a dollar amount, and then clicking submit. If you’ve enabled additional security measures on your account, you may need to enter a PIN that gets texted to you as well.

You may be prompted to choose whether you are making a purchase or sending money to a friend or family member. This can impact whether fees get assessed and what kind of protection you receive for the transaction.

You may have the option to add a description or “memo” to your transaction. Some P2P services may require this information so that they can charge a fee for business-related transactions. Others offer the option to act as a personal ledger should you need it in the future.

•   Waiting for the transfer to complete. Now the funds are in motion via a P2P bank transfer. When money is sent from one customer to another, it moves in the form of an electronic package safeguarded with multiple layers of data encryption. This makes it hard for hackers to access the data (like your bank account number) within the transfer while it is in motion. Similarly, data encryption keeps your money and account information safe. Once the data set reaches its destination, it is decoded and deposited as currency.

•   Transferring the funds into the payee’s bank account. When a P2P transfer is completed, the funds may be deposited directly into your sister’s bank account. Or they may go into an account created for her by the P2P service. Funds received into P2P user accounts can then be transferred into traditional bank accounts at little to no cost. (You are likely to pay a fee if you want the funds transferred ASAP versus in a couple of days.)

Your sister will likely receive some combination of email, text, and/or in-app notifications that the funds have arrived. If she decides to leave the money in her P2P account, she can use that account balance the next time she needs to pay someone or purchase something from a business that accepts P2P transactions.

How Long Do P2P Transfers Take?

The general rule of thumb for P2P transfer services is to allow one to three business days for a transfer to complete (although some seem instantaneous; timing varies). That’s because standard bank transfers use the ACH (or Automated Clearing House) system, which can take a day or two to complete.

When it comes time to move funds from the app to, say, a checking account, some apps may charge a small fee, often around 1.75% of the overall transfer amount.

Are P2P Money Transfers Safe?

Many people wonder, Are mobile payment apps safe? Any time your bank account, credit, or debit card information is online, there is a chance that someone can get a hold of it, and P2Ps are no different. While all major money transfer companies encrypt your financial information, no P2P system can say it’s totally impervious to hacks and scams.

There are also additional measures you can take to make sure that your account remains secure. For example, you may be able to set up two-factor authentication, which might involve typing in a unique pin number that is texted to your phone for each transaction. Or you might elect to receive notifications each time there’s a transaction posted on your account, enabling you to spot financial fraud right away if it were to happen.

You may also want to take care when you type in a recipient’s email address, phone number, or name. A typo could lead to the money going to the wrong person.

How Do Peer-to-Peer Transfer Companies Make Money?

P2P transactions are largely offered for free to consumers, which may beg the question of how the companies that offer these services stay in business. Here are two major ways that P2P money transfer apps may generate income.

Account Fees

Typically, you can make P2P payments from a linked bank account or straight from the P2P account for free. If you want an instant transfer or you are transferring money using a credit card or from depositing checks into your P2P account, there may be a fee involved.

Business Fees

P2P platforms aren’t just for consumers — they are used by businesses as well. Compared to the free transactions that standard user profiles offer, business profiles are generally subject to a seller transaction fee for each customer purchase made with a P2P money transfer app. Venmo, for instance, charges a fee of 1.9%, plus 10 cents for each transaction.

What Are the Benefits of P2P Money Transfers?

There are three main benefits to using online money transfer services.

•   They’re fast. Depending on the service, P2P money transfers can happen very quickly. They can take anywhere from just a few seconds to a couple of business days.

•   They’re cheap. When exchanging money between friends and family, P2P money transfers are often free. There may be a small fee, however, if you want an instant bank transfer, are using a credit card instead of a bank account, are making a transfer above a certain dollar amount, are conducting a high volume of transfers, or are using the service for a business transaction.

•   They’re easy. P2P transfers eliminate the need to make trips to the ATM or a local bank branch to get cash. They also eliminate the need to get out your checkbook, write a check, and then mail it to someone. For a P2P transfer, all you likely need is a mobile device, the app, and cell service or WiFi.

Alternatives to P2P Money Transfers

What if a P2P money transfer isn’t available or doesn’t suit your needs? Try these options instead to move money.

Sending a Check

You can go old-school and write a paper check. You fill out the necessary details and hand or mail the check to the person you are paying. Typically, no fee is involved, although you may have to pay for a new checkbook when you run low and order more checks.

Money Orders

Money orders are in some ways similar to a check, but you don’t write them from a bank account. Instead, you purchase them (essentially pre-paying for the amount you are sending) at the post office, businesses like Western Union or Moneygram, or from certain retailers.

Typically, you will pay a small fee. For example, the United States Post Office will issue money orders up to and including $1,000. Those that are for amounts up to $500 will be assessed a $1.75 fee; for ones that are $500.01 to $1,000, $2.40 will be charged. Once you have a money order, you can either give it to the recipient in person or mail it. You can also typically track a money order to see when it’s cashed.

Using Online Bill Payment Services

Many financial institutions offer ways for their customers to pay bills electronically. A key feature of mobile banking, this service can be a simple way to send funds from your checking account, regardless of where you are or what time it is. You may be able to set up recurring payments as well for bills you receive regularly.

Wire Transfers

Wire transfers are another way to send funds electronically using a network of financial institutions and transfer agencies that operate globally. Typically, you will access a wire transfer via your bank, its website, or its app. You’ll need to have your payee’s banking details and will likely pay a fee to wire money.

For instance, domestic wire transfers can charge a fee of anywhere from $15 to $50, and they can be processed in a few hours or within a day. International wire transfers can cost more (with both the sender and recipient possibly paying fees) and can take longer, typically two days.

Recommended: What Is an E-Check (Electronic Check)?

The Takeaway

Peer-to-Peer (or P2P) payment apps facilitate mobile money transactions. You can use them in place of cash or writing a check when you want to give friends or family money, whether it’s to cover your portion of a dinner bill or split the cost of a vacation rental. Some businesses also accept this form of payment.

All you need to make a P2P transfer is a mobile device, an internet connection, and your P2P app, which you must link to your bank account or credit card.

Customers with a SoFi online bank account can send money to any person, anywhere, even if that person doesn’t have a SoFi Checking and Savings account. If the person does happen to be a member of SoFi, the transfer will happen instantaneously. That’s not the only reason to open an online bank account with SoFi, though: You’ll also earn a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay no account fees, and, for qualifying accounts, get paycheck access up to two days early.

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How much time does a P2P transfer take?

P2P accounts can take just a few seconds or a couple of days to move funds. Then, if the person who has money in the P2P app wants to transfer their cash to a bank account, that can also take between hours and a few days. Often, you may be charged a fee if you want the money moved ASAP.

Is P2P digital money?

P2P, or peer-to-peer-payments, are a digital way of moving funds from one person to another. Once the transfer is complete, the recipient has money they can use to pay for purchases or transfer into a bank account.

What’s an example of a P2P payment?

An example of a P2P payment would be to use a P2P app such as PayPal or Venmo to send funds to a friend you owe money. Or you might send a payment to a service provider or retailer using P2P apps as well.

Do banks use P2P?

Many banks offer their own version of P2P apps. For example, you might be able to almost instantly send funds from your account to a friend, a retailer, or a service provider via Zelle, which partners with 100-plus financial institutions to offer free P2P payments.

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