With the popularity of digital payment apps and credit cards, paper checks are being used less than ever. According to a recent Federal Reserve study , for the last three years reviewed, the value of checks used fell each year, while that of ACH (automated clearing house) transfers and card payments grew.
No doubt, checks may be declining in popularity. But don’t count them out yet: Whether it’s a birthday gift from a grandparent or a medical reimbursement, checks are still kicking around. Checks are often considered a secure form of payment, and they might be the only form of payment some people (like your landlord) accept.
Remember, they’re still money. Don’t make the mistake of cashing a check just anywhere. Read further for a few suggestions and surprises, including:
• How to cash a check
• Where to cash a check without a fee
• Ways to deposit a check if you don’t have a bank account.
How to Cash a Check
Before running off to the bank or ATM around the corner, you may want to ensure that you have what you need to successfully deposit your check. Generally, in order to cash a check, the following information is required:
• Bank account You typically need an account to deposit a check. Most banks will allow you to cash a check, but if you don’t have an account with them, they may charge a fee.
• ID or debit card Depending on the means used to deposit the check, you might also need a form of ID or your debit card to successfully complete the transaction.
• PIN number Whether banking by ATM or teller, you will probably be required to enter your PIN number to confirm the transaction.
• Completed deposit slip Each bank has a variation in the deposit slip, but most ask for a person’s name, account numbers, and the amount of cash and check the customer is depositing. This typically needs to be completed for the transaction to go through.
Another thing to keep in mind is the timing of the deposit. Personal checks are valid up to six months after they’ve been issued, but it’s generally agreed that they should be deposited as quickly as possible. Otherwise, the issuer might forget about the check, and the person depositing the check could wind up learning that there are insufficient funds in the issuer’s account. This can lead to high fees on both sides from a bounced check. Whether you are hit with non sufficient funds (NSF) vs. overdraft fees will depend on your specific situation.
The only exception to the above timing rules is U.S. Treasury checks, traveler’s checks, or USPS money orders. U.S. Treasury checks are valid for a year after issuing. Traveler’s checks and money orders never expire.
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Where can I Cash a Check?
Branch Bank or Credit Union
Perhaps the most old-school way to cash a check is going into a bank branch or credit union and depositing the check with a teller in-person. This can be a fast solution because the amount being deposited is confirmed on-site — there’s less likely to be a delay in the funds hitting a person’s account. What’s more, it can be the easiest option when you are looking for where to cash a check for free.
To deposit a check at a bank branch, a person will need to complete a deposit slip, and endorse their check. To endorse a check for a teller, a person needs to sign the back of the check, where indicated.
With a deposit slip and endorsed check in hand, customer’s might also be asked for their bank’s corresponding debit card or a photo ID for verification. From there, the check is validated and funds will be available in the account once the check clears, which can take up to two days.
Credit unions can be very convenient as well. If you bank at a shared branch credit union, that means you are part of a larger network of allied credit unions. You might be able to walk into any of these credit unions and cash your check.
While depositing to a bank or credit union branch can be fast, you may be limited by the branch’s hours and locality. If you have an account with an online-only financial institution, visiting a brick-and-mortar location to deposit a check may not be an option.
Fortunately, there are other methods to cash a check.
Check Writer’s Bank
You may be able to cash a check by going to a branch of the bank where the check writer holds an account. For instance, let’s say you want to cash a check without a bank account. You are unbanked but now have received a check you want to cash. You could go to a branch of the bank it was drawn upon to get funds. So if the check says Citigroup on it, you could see if a location near you might cash it. Because the bank holds the check writer’s account, they will likely be able to see that the check is good and pay you.
This tactic can also work with government-issued checks at any large bank. You may be able to have it cashed almost anywhere because government checks are typically so reliable.
Recommended: What Is a Cashier’s Check?
Depositing a check via ATM has its advantages and disadvantages. Unlike bank branches, many ATMs are accessible 24 hours a day. Thanks to their smaller square footage, they can be more common than ATMs inside bricks-and-mortar banks.
How to deposit a check by ATM can vary somewhat. Older ATM models may still ask a customer to fill out a deposit slip envelope before inserting the check into the machine. Other newer models simply use on-screen prompts and scanning to verify the deposit amount.
Regardless, customers are generally required to endorse the check with their signature and enter their PIN when making an ATM deposit. Reading the on-screen prompts can help clarify the steps at the specific ATM you are using.
On the downside, checks deposited via ATM may take longer to be available in the bank account. This is because ATMs are only serviced at specific times, and deposits often then need to be verified in person by a teller at the bank. Customers are also usually limited to depositing checks in the ATMs of financial institutions where they are an account holder.
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If you are thinking “Where can I cash my check for free?” but don’t want to go to a branch or if you have your account at an online bank, technology can help.
Using mobile deposit to cash a check is as simple as taking a photo with your phone. It’s quick and convenient and allows you to deposit money from almost anywhere. More and more financial institutions allow the mobile deposit of checks through their app.
Customers take an image of both sides of the check so the financial institution can create a “digital copy” of the check. Instead of endorsing the check with only a signature, customers may be required to write “For Mobile Deposit Only” or a similar message on the back of the check.
Once the bank or financial institution accepts the images, the funds can sometimes immediately become available in the customer’s account, which is a benefit of mobile deposit. However, depositors should keep the check on hand for up to two weeks, or until the amount is cleared. Otherwise, they could end up overdrafting in the event that the funds ultimately don’t clear.
Did you know that many retail stores will cash a check for you? For example, national chains like Walmart and Kmart may allow some customers to cash checks for a small fee (say, $4). You’ll endorse the check to them and then get your cash. Some grocery stores may offer this privilege at their customer service counter as well.
Keep in mind that there are usually limits to how much cash you can get (perhaps up to $1,000), you’ll likely pay a fee as mentioned, and you may find that not every location will extend this courtesy. It may be wise to call and find out before you head over to a store for this purpose.
There are a variety of apps that let you deposit a check or convert it to cash on the go. You might use an app like Ingo Money to snap a photo of your paycheck and direct it to a prepaid or debit card or your PayPal account. Fees are involved (say, $5 plus between 2% and 5% of the check’s value), though you may be able to avoid these if you don’t mind waiting 10 days for the funds to arrive.
Another option is to deposit the check to your PayPal Balance account. Again, if you want your money sooner than 10 days, there will be a $5 fee plus between 2% and 5% of the check’s amount. Many other apps are available; shop around for the one that best suits your needs.
While this won’t work if you are in a rush to get your cash, another option is to deposit a check to a prepaid debit card. When the check clears, you’ll be able to swipe away with the debit card.
Depending on the kind of card you select, you may be able to download an app, take a photo of your check with your phone, and then upload it to activate the card. Read the fine print, though; there are often fees involved if you use this check cashing method.
Check-cashing stores are exactly what they sound like: retail locations that offer to give you cash for your check. They are often part of payday loan shops, and — just as with payday loans — they often charge very high fees. You may want to think of them as a last resort. You can likely get your cash for less via another method.
Another option a depositor might choose is to mail the check into their bank and ask them to deposit it. This will likely take the most time to become available in a bank account, but most banks will offer this service. Why might you need to do this? Perhaps you don’t have mobile deposit and are heading out of town on a work assignment or vacation. Sending the check on its way before you leave can be a good bet.
To mail a check in for deposit, first, check with your bank to confirm its mailing address. Depending on the size of the bank, there may be multiple addresses where the check can be sent. You may want to send the check by a trackable method to help ensure that it reaches its destination.
You’ll likely need to endorse the check; it’s probably wise to write “For deposit only” with the endorsement as an additional safety measure. Depositors may also be required to fill out a deposit slip to include with the check. Confirm the specific requirements with your financial institution.
Recommended: What to Do if Your Check Is Lost or Stolen
Fee-Free Deposit With SoFi
Whether it’s a refund, birthday gift or payment for watching the neighbor’s cat, checks still fall into our hands at least once in a while. While you may not get them frequently, there are numerous ways to deposit them, each with its own unique benefits and drawbacks.
SoFi Checking and Savings® makes accessing your cash extra easy with mobile check deposits and fee-free use of 55,000+ Allpoint ATMs worldwide. What’s more, we can help your money grow faster. When you open a SoFi online bank account with direct deposit, you’ll earn a competitive APY and pay no account fees.
Where is the cheapest place to cash a check?
“Where can I cash a check for free?” is a common question. The cheapest place to cash a check is likely the bank or credit union where you have an account. It should be completely free. If you don’t have a bank account, your next best option is likely a major retailer like Kmart or Walmart, which will probably charge a small fee of a few dollars.
Where can I cash a check without having a bank account?
If you don’t have a bank account, you may be able to cash the check for a small fee. You could try the check writer’s bank (that is, the bank that issued the check you receive); a retail store (a grocery store or mass merchant); loading the check onto a prepaid card; or using a check-cashing store, though this should be a last resort as it is likely the most expensive option.
What app will cash a check immediately?
There are a variety of check-cashing apps that will help you cash a check immediately. These include Ingo Money, PayPal, Western Union Netspend, and Brink’s Money. Depending on the app, you can send the funds to a prepaid card or a linked account.
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