"Money, money, money makes the world go 'round, world go 'round ... "

lyrics from "Cabaret"

No one would dispute that notion, but how do you send money around the world? And at what price fast cash? If you're on the other side of the world, how do you have funds sent to you? If you're rescuing the near and dear who are far away and in dire straits, how does the jet stream for cash flow?

Wire Transfers

Western Union quickly comes to mind. Founded in 1851, this company promotes itself with catchy ads: A police trooper glowers over an errant motorist with a speeding ticket to be paid pronto; the student squirms in the dean's office; the elderly couple quavers in the flooded basement. Western Union says it'll save you, but how fast and at what price?

Back in the old days, Western Union had an office at nearly every milk stop on the rail lines. No longer. "We phased out the public offices and set up phone bureaus with the local agents on a contractual agreement handling Western Union money orders and messages," says Donn Dutcher, news bureau manager at Western Union. "The three phone bureaus allow the public access to Western Union's services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."

But you have to have the right credit card to send money over the phone: Visa or MasterCard. It works like this: Call Western Union's 800 number listed in the local phone directory. Tell the service representative the details of the transaction (name, credit card number, destination of funds). To guard against theft, a family name or some other personal information must be supplied for verification by the credit card company. Although a recipient may have to wait until the Western Union agent's office opens for business, "Normally -- within 15 minutes -- they will have the money," Dutcher says. A driver's license or other picture identification is required to claim the funds.

Western Union also accepts cash for a funds transfer at their eight remaining public offices staffed by WU personnel or 10,500 affiliated agents throughout the country. Paying cash requires a trip to the nearest agent's office, and in areas where the company may not have an agent, "near" may be farther than you can get to. Without a Visa or MasterCard, you may be out of luck.

Western Union's regular domestic service includes Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Canada. Even if you're on another continent, Western Union can wire funds charged to Visa or MasterCard with the transfer handled by banks in the countries it serves. (Not every country has a wire transfer agreement with Western Union.) The service charge for international wire transfer is the same as the domestic rate, but additional fees will be charged by the foreign bank or agent. To make an international wire transfer through Western Union, check the local phone book for the 800 number; the phone number changes from state to state.

Launching money to the antipodes by credit card through the Western Union affiliates may be just a shout away, but you pay for the convenience. Sending $100 costs $13; $500 costs $35. And there may be a hidden cost: With a current unpaid balance on the credit card, interest on the wired funds will accrue at the credit card company's usual rates.

U.S. Postal Service

Don't overlook the U.S. Postal Service as a method to funnel cash fast. Redeemed for cash at any post office, postal money orders in the United States are rock-bottom cheap: 75 cents for amounts up to $25; $1 for $25.01 to $700, the maximum amount allowed per money order.

The sender buys a money order at the local post office and uses the USPS Express Mail delivery system to send it to an individual address or from post office to post office. Sender calls the recipient and advises to expect delivery the next day. Recipient collects the Express Mail packet at the destination post office and cashes the money order on the spot, or receives the Express Mail letter at a specific address and makes the trek to the local post office. Express Mail is delivered daily and some post offices have extended hours, including Saturday and Sunday.

Money orders destined for Canada are issued in equivalent U.S. dollars with the Canadian dollar amount noted on the form. The Canadian postal service cashes the money order in Canadian dollars. Express Mail from the United States to Canada costs $13 for items up to one-half pound and takes 1-3 days. This service will be available in early December.

For a domestic transfer of funds through the mail the cost is minimal: $1 for the money order, $8.60 for post office to post office Express Mail or $10.75 for Express Mail to an address. Time: overnight for nearly all U.S. destinations. International Express Mail costs $18 and takes 1-3 days. Special-delivery mail costs $2.95 plus air mail postage and takes around 4 days.

Foreign Exchange Dealers

Foreign exchange dealers sell bank drafts payable in foreign money. Deak International, 1800 K St. NW (872-1427) and in Georgetown Park at 3222 M St. NW. (338-3325) charges $5 for a draft of any amount. Purchase a check drawn in the foreign currency, which is then sent to the person or company overseas via overnight international courier (e.g., $22 to London). The draft is paid to the recipient in the local currency when presented at one of Deak's network of banks in 26 countries.

Deak can wire funds to foreign companies, but they can't help you in South America, Africa or Antarctica. Corporations may establish accounts for wire transfers with telephone access. There is a $15 charge for wire service transfers and it should take 24 hours, subject to the efficiency of the local banking system. For remote areas, it may be easier to send a bank draft than a wire to avoid the funds transferring through several banks.

"Do not send travelers checks through the mail double-signed," cautions Barney Zeng, vice president at Deak. "A double-signed travelers check is like any other third-party check and not immediately cashable." Only the original purchaser can use travelers checks as cash. "The best way is to send a foreign draft in the local currency. With a U.S. dollar check you can't tell if it is the right amount, because rates change."

Indeed rates are changing. "With the dollar falling against major world currencies, it costs more to send money overseas, so if you are planning a Christmas gift of money, send it now," says David Montgomery, assistant manager at Deak's 18th Street office.

Deak sells 120 foreign currencies in cash, commission-free travelers checks in 10 currencies and will buy foreign paper money in current circulation.

Zeng offers this advice to travelers using credit cards abroad: "It's convenient, but you get the exchange rate on the date that the transaction is processed in the U.S.A., wherever the processing center happens to be."

Reusch International Monetary Services Inc., 1140 19th St. NW (887-0990) also offers a range of foreign exchange services. "We maintain our own foreign bank accounts in 35 countries around the world -- wherever there are no foreign exchange restrictions," says Otto Reusch, president of the company. For $2, Reusch will issue a check in any amount in the foreign currency drawn on those foreign banks. This is useful in paying foreign subscriptions or deposits on hotel reservations, especially for small establishments that don't accept credit cards. It's best to pay in the foreign currency; permitting foreign companies to set the price in U.S. dollars invites overcharging.

"Most transactions are bank account to bank account," says Reusch. "For someone staying a few months abroad, we recommend that they open a bank account in that country." But for the one-time cash care package, creative wire transfer arrangements may have to be made -- wiring the money to a relative's bank account or a hotel bank account. Reusch International charges $10 for a wire transfer regardless of the amount or distance and it takes an average of two days.

Reusch International sells bank notes from 120 countries and makes foreign drafts in 35 currencies. And in these times of confused currency, Otto Reusch advises, "Anybody planning a trip in the foreseeable future, even in 1988, with the expectation of a falling dollar, should hedge by buying Swiss francs or Japanese yen and using the francs or yen to change into other currencies. Using these two currencies you avoid the falling dollar and these currencies appreciate and probably will continue to do so. Currency should be bought in form of travelers checks, easily negotiable and insured against loss or theft." Like Deak, Reusch International sells commission-free travelers checks.

Banks

International transfer of funds works through correspondent banking institutions by wire debiting or crediting accounts. The money never moves, only the numbers. Riggs, for example, makes international wire transfers for a charge of $10 to their account holders and $25 to others. Only certain banks are corresponding institutions, so you have to know where the money can be received. The wire transfers take 24 hours.

Banks have other international services. Big spenders going abroad who have an account at National Bank of Washington, for example, can transfer funds by wire in advance. A correspondent bank credits an equivalent amount in the foreign currency to the traveler's overseas account. Most Americans don't have international bank accounts at their disposal, and in that case the foreign bank will hold the money with a notation of passport number for the claimant. A wire transfer costs $25 and takes about 24 hours. NBW's foreign correspondent bank can also forward the money to another foreign bank if needed.

A foreign draft is a type of cashier's check or money order that is issued in the United States, given to the customer, who presents the draft at a correspondent bank for cash, or deposit to a foreign account. For drafts of more than $3,000 the National Bank of Washington will negotiate a special rate of exchange, decided on the day of transfer. Fees for foreign drafts generally start at $10 and rise according to the amount sent.

American Express

American Express money orders (1-800-525-7629) are perhaps the cheapest way of sending funds abroad, and you don't have to be a card member. In the Washington, D.C., area, People's Drug Stores sell them for $1; Super Fresh grocery stores charge 59 cents. Unless the line at the checkout counter is unusually sluggish, you'll spend only a few minutes buying a money order. Convenience stores, gas stations and pharmacies are other likely places to buy American Express money orders.

Once the money order is in hand, use special delivery mail or an overnight courier service to wing it to the stranded traveler. Overseas, the money order can be cashed for dollars or local currency in the American Express office or foreign bank.

American Express card members have a variety of ways to receive or send cash fast. A network of travel agencies around the globe will cash personal checks for card members. Nearly 24,000 automatic teller machines around the world dispense travelers checks charged against personal checking accounts to those enrolled in the program. Travelers-check dispensing ATMs are found at airports, hotels and foreign banks. The limit is $1,000 a week for basic green card members, higher for the gold and platinum cards.

Emergency funds up to $1,000 may be sent to and from American Express service offices in the United States and abroad. The maximum fee is $30 and payment must be in cash or check. Generally only $200 U.S. funds may be transferred abroad, payable in local currency, with the balance in U.S. dollar traveler's checks. This service is available to card members and not every travel office is equipped to forward the money. A 24-hour hot line will help locate the nearest full-service office: 1-800-528-4800.

Good Old Mom

Perhaps the best way to get money when you're stranded is to call Mom. Mom has contacts and credibility everywhere. Mom is also resourceful and persuasive. Take Jeanne O'Neill: Her son was stranded with a broken car on an Arizona highway. She called Western Union but they wouldn't accept her American Express card and their local office was closed. So she phoned a colleague in the U.S. Postal Service -- the postmaster at the desert crossroads where sonny's transmission died and his radiator fried. Postmaster had never met Mom, but he cheerfully agreed to lend her son the cash to repair the car and get on home.

Maybe the moral of the story is: "Don't leave home without Mom in it."