For most people, cashing a check means simply depositing it into a checking account. But about 7.1 million American households don’t have a bank account, according to a recent study from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Instead, they often rely on alternative types of financial services. For them, cashing a check can require some workarounds.
Where Can You Go to Cash a Check?
Fortunately, there are several other ways to cash a check if you don’t have a banking account. Some of these alternatives may come with fees or extra legwork. And some may have restrictions on the dollar amount they will cash. Let’s take a closer look at the different ways you can cash a check without a bank account.
Cash at the Bank Issuing the Check
Look on the check to see which bank issued it and if there is a bricks and mortar branch near you. Sometimes that bank will allow a non-customer to cash the check in person because the teller can determine whether funds are available. Not all banks will do this, however, and those that do often charge a flat fee (say, $8) or percentage of the check amount. (Worth noting: A bank may try to persuade the non-customer to open an account to avoid the fee.) Some large banks will cash a check under a certain amount, $5,000 for example, without a fee.
Cash at a Retailer
Several retailers such as Walmart and some grocery-store chains offer check-cashing services through their customer-service departments, usually for a flat fee based on the size of the check. The amount charged and restrictions on the types of checks cashed will vary, however. For this reason, it’s important to check with each retailer in your area that offers this service to find one that works for your situation.
Payday Lending Store
Stand-alone check-cashing and payday-lending stores will cash many types of checks of varying amounts. However, these services are often the most expensive, charging a percentage of the check amount as well as a flat fee.
Prepaid Debit Card and Phone Apps
Some banks and financial institutions allow unbanked consumers to deposit checks directly to a prepaid debit card. Big banks, such as Chase, allow you to use their ATM system to deposit checks onto the card for a monthly service fee.
In other cases, using an app, you can use your smartphone to take pictures of your checks and deposit them into any type of account, including a prepaid card. This is often free, but you may have to wait up to 10 days before the funds from the check are available. In some cases, you can pay a relatively large fee, usually about 5% of the check value, for quicker access to the funds.
Employer-Sponsored Payroll Debit Card
Some large employers have programs that allow you to deposit your paycheck directly onto a reusable debit card. Be sure to look at the various types of fees associated with these cards. You may wind up paying overdraft, ATM, transfer, and inactivity fees in addition to general service fees.
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What to Consider Before Cashing a Check
To help determine which check-cashing option is best for you, keep the following in mind.
In general, larger checks are harder and more expensive to cash without a bank account than smaller sums. Walmart, for instance, will only cash checks up to $5,000. Check-cashing stores may have similar limits, or higher fees for larger checks. For large checks, depositing into a prepaid debit card may be the best option.
As we’ve seen above, almost every non-bank checking service entails fees when cashing your check. They can vary widely, with check-cashing and payday-lending stores usually being the most expensive. It pays to look for the least expensive alternative in your area, especially if you are able to access the bank that issued the check.
To show that the check rightfully belongs to you, you’ll need to show at least one form of government-issued identification, such as a license or passport. With large checks, you may be required to show two forms of ID.
Personal checks can be more difficult to cash without a bank account than government-issued or payroll checks. Many check-cashing stores won’t accept any personal checks, and retailers may have lower limits on how much they’ll cash, usually a couple hundred dollars.
Here’s one workaround: Ask the person writing you the personal check to send a money order or cashier’s check instead.
Opening a Bank Account
Cashing a check without a bank account can often be costly and inconvenient. After exploring the options above, you may find that your best option for the long term involves opening a bank account. A bank account makes saving and spending easy, safe and flexible.
To open a checking account, you’ll need to make sure you qualify for an account, have an ID, and be willing to share basic personal information such as your birthdate, address, phone, social security number, etc. You’ll also need an initial deposit, which can often be as little as $25.
💡 Recommended: What Do You Need to Open a Bank Account?
With a checking account, you’ll be able to deposit your checks directly online as well as through an ATM or in person at the branch. Many banks offer apps and other digital tools that help keep track of your checking-account balance, allow you to make deposits, transfer funds, automatically pay bills, and learn general budgeting and cash management information.
Keep in mind, most banks have a minimum age to open a bank account; they won’t allow those under 18 to have an account without a parent or guardian as the joint owner.
And if you have a history of banking issues, such as unpaid overdraft fees, you may not qualify for a traditional checking account. Instead, you may want to consider what’s known as a second-chance account, offered by many lenders. These accounts often charge a monthly fee and come with more restrictions than a traditional checking account. That said, many allow solid customers the opportunity to convert to a regular checking account in six months to a year. Even with monthly fees, second-chance checking is often less expensive than paying the transaction fees each time you cash a check without a bank account, especially if you can convert within a year.
Banking With SoFi: Fee-free!
Thinking about opening a bank account? Take a closer look at opening a new bank account with SoFi. We are proudly fee-free. That’s right, no monthly fees, no overdraft fees, no minimum balance fees.
3 Great Benefits of Direct Deposit
- It’s Faster
- It’s Like Clockwork
- It’s Secure
As opposed to a physical check that can take time to clear, you don’t have to wait days to access a direct deposit. Usually, you can use the money the day it is sent. What’s more, you don’t have to remember to go to the bank or use your app to deposit your check.
Whether your check comes the first Wednesday of the month or every other Friday, if you sign up for direct deposit, you know when the money will hit your account. This is especially helpful for scheduling the payment of regular bills. No more guessing when you’ll have sufficient funds.
While checks can get lost in the mail — or even stolen, there is no chance of that happening with a direct deposit. Also, if it’s your paycheck, you won’t have to worry about your or your employer’s info ending up in the wrong hands.
Photo credit: iStock/AndreyPopov
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