With the popularity of digital payment apps and credit cards, checks are being used less than ever. According to a Federal Reserve study , for the first time ever in 2018, check payments fell below the number of total ACH (automated clearing house) transfers.
But, 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.
While they might be less popular now, at the end of the day, they’re still money. Don’t make the mistake of cashing a check just anywhere, read further for a few suggestions for where you could be able to deposit a check, fee-free.
How to Cash a Check
Before running off to the bank or ATM around the corner, a person may want to ensure they have what they need to successfully deposit their check. Generally, in order to cash a check, the following information is required:
• Bank account. You’ll generally 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, a person might also need a form of ID or their debit card to successfully complete the transaction.
• PIN number. Whether banking by ATM or teller, oftentimes a person will be required to enter their 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 be doing so with insufficient funds in the issuer’s account—leading to high fees on both sides from a bounced check .
The only exception to the above rules is US Treasury checks, traveler’s checks, or USPS money orders. US Treasury checks are valid for a year after issuing. Traveler’s checks and money orders never expire.
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 faster 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.
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.
While depositing to a bank branch can be fast, people are limited by the branch’s hours and locality. If a person has an account with an online-only financial institution, visiting a brick and mortar location to deposit a check may not be an option.
Similarly, they might be in an area where there are no nearby retail locations. If that’s the case, there are other methods to cash a check.
Depositing a check via ATM has its advantages and disadvantages. Unlike bank branches, many ATMs are open 24-hours and with smaller square footage, they can be more common than brick and mortar ATMs.
Depositing a check by ATM varies by the technology it uses. Older ATM models may ask a customer to fill out a deposit slip envelope before inserting the check into the machine. Other, more modern 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 before depositing it in an ATM. Using an ATM also typically requires someone to enter their pin number before accessing the account. 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 while people enter the amount they’re depositing, it often needs to be verified in person by a teller at the bank . Customers are also limited to depositing checks in the ATMs of banks that they are a member of.
Additionally, because the extra step of validation is required, there is a possibility of human error incorrectly validating the correct amount or losing the check altogether . Some ATMs now have scanning capabilities, allowing them to instantly read checks which can alleviate some errors. However, an individual might want to keep a close eye on their bank statements in the days following an ATM deposit.
Using mobile deposit to cash a check is as simple as taking a photo. Some financial institutions, including SoFi, allow the mobile deposit of checks through their app. Customers take an image of the front of the check, then the back 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. However, depositors should keep the check on hand for up to two weeks, or until the amount is cleared. Otherwise, they could end up over-drafting in the event that the funds are pulled.
Mobile deposits come with many advantages. As long as a phone has charge, checks can be deposited. Additionally, money is almost immediately available in a checking account. However, most mobile deposits only allow for one deposit at a time, and some accounts may have daily or monthly deposit limits. And if the handwriting on the check is unclear, the app might not recognize it.
Another option a depositor might choose is to mail the check into their bank. This will likely take the most time to become available in a bank account, but most banks will offer this option.
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.
Before sending the check to the approved address, depositors should generally endorse the back of their check with their signature. Some financial institutions also recommend including a note that says “For deposit only” with the endorsement. Depositors may also be required to fill out a deposit slip to include with the check. Confirm the specific requirements with your bank or financial institution.
To be safe, people might want to take a picture of the check or make a photocopy of it for proof in case it goes missing in the mail. It may also be beneficial to use certified mail so tracking the check is an option. Mailing a check is a relatively safe manner to deposit a check, however, it will likely take longer than the above alternatives.
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 every once in a while. While you may not get them frequently, there are numerous ways to deposit them, all with their own unique benefits and drawbacks.
SoFi Money® makes accessing your cash easy with fee-free access to 55,000+ ATMs worldwide and online mobile check depositing. SoFi Money makes it easy to manage your finances with a mobile-first experience where members can access their money anytime, anywhere.
SoFi Money is a cash management account, which is a brokerage product, offered by SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . Neither SoFi nor its affiliates is a bank. SoFi has partnered with Allpoint to provide consumers with ATM access at any of the 55,000+ ATMs within the Allpoint network. Consumers will not be charged a fee when using an in-network ATM, however, third party fees incurred when using out-of-network ATMs are not subject to reimbursement. SoFi’s ATM policies are subject to change at our discretion at any time.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.