Before the universal use of credit cards, checks were the go-to choice. Although many businesses no longer accept checks, they’re still a fairly common way to send and exchange money. One of the main advantages is that by using checks, you can pay without having to carry exact or large amounts of money. This makes using checks much easier than their using cash.
So what happens when you receive a check? You need to deposit or cash it! Let’s chat about how it works and the best low cost or free check cashing places.
How does check cashing work?
Yes, that little rectangle of signed paper still has value in this day and age. Assuming the issuer filled it out correctly and has sufficient funds in their account it's a simple process. All you need to do is sign it and claim your money at a nearby check cashing place. However, it’s not always quite as simple as that—there may be fees or limitations.
The best check cashing places near me
The whole point of writing or receiving a check is for the convenience of it, right? So you don’t want to mess around with check cashing places that are far away or charge exorbitant fees.
Your local bank
If you have a bank account, definitely visit there first. Most banks allow you to deposit or cash your check for free as a perk of being their customer. They can offer this because they make money from the account you hold with them. Some banks also allow account holders to cash checks via ATM. These ATMs are generally located at one of the bank’s physical locations. Since your bank may offer your fee-free check cashing privileges, you should always check there first.
A local credit union
Credit unions are less driven by profit than banks. As a result, they are less likely to charge a fee to cash your check. If you’re already a member of a credit union, start there. Plus, many credit unions are connected to a wider “shared branching network”. This allows you to cash checks with partner branches, even if you’re not a member of that specific credit union.
The check issuer's bank
If your bank or local credit union doesn’t cash checks, consider contacting the check writer’s bank. The money is being drawn from that bank anyway, so they might be willing to cash it for you.
Imagine you held a garage sale and someone wrote a check for one of your big-ticket items. Their check would say their bank (or credit union) name in the bottom left corner, just above the memo line. If it says “Chase Bank,” you can stop by your nearest Chase branch and get your money. The teller will be able to verify the account balance has enough funds to cover the check’s amount.
Unless you’re a customer with this bank, they may charge you a fee to cash your check. They might have a flat rate per check ($5-10), a percentage based on the check amount (such as 10%), or a fee for higher check values (such as $10 to cash checks valued at more than $50). You can call, check online, or ask the teller in-person before committing to the transaction.
As a non-customer, the bank might only offer you a prepaid debit card in place of cash. This might suit you if you don’t have any other options, but be sure to review the terms and conditions because the cards might come with monthly maintenance fees or expiration dates. If that’s the case, it’s likely worth finding a better check-cashing place.
If banks aren’t an option or you’re going to be out shopping anyway, you might be able to cash your check at a local retailer. Some may do it for free, but most stores will charge some sort of fee. Occasionally they’ll offer store credit, which could be a good option if you already shop there regularly for items you need, like groceries.
The pro for the store: with more cash in the hands of their customers, you might spend more than if you weren’t able to cash your check. The con for the retailer: bad checks and check fraud are a real risk.
Some retailers limit the type of check they’ll cash—such as payroll checks, cashiers’ checks, and money orders—in an attempt to mitigate their risks. Each store has a different cashing policy and a quick trip to the customer service counter should give you the clarity you need to make your decision.
Walmart and Kmart
Walmart can cash larger-value checks than many retailers and accepts a wider variety of check types. The Walmart Check Cashing charges a flat rate of $4 for each check valued up to $1,000 and $8 for each check greater than $1,000.
You can cash up to $5,000 each day. The daily cashing limit increases to $7,500 from January to April to accommodate holiday money and tax refund checks. However, only personal checks up to $200 are accepted at these Walmart money centers.
If there’s a Kmart near you and you’re a member of their “Shop Your Way” rewards program, you can cash your check for less than $1 per check. While they accept fewer check types than Walmart, it’s more affordable. Bring your payroll and government checks of up to $2,000, or personal checks up to $500.
Gas station travel centers
Gas stations have had the same problem of check fraud as many retailers, so fewer are willing to cash checks nowadays. Your local gas station might still be willing to cash your check, but the travel center next to it would be a more likely bet. (FYI: Gas station travel centers are essentially truck stops, most often found along the highway.) Pilot Flying J and TravelCenters of America are the two best-known travel centers, so consider these if you happen to be on the road.
Using an app
The Check 21 Act, passed in 2004, allows banks to take pictures of checks in order to process them electronically. This allowed for big progress in mobile banking apps. While this method won’t give you your money immediately, it’s a lot easier than driving around town looking for a physical location that will cash your check. (If you do want your money more quickly, but don’t need the cash-in-hand, your bank or credit union might have their own app, which you can use to deposit your check. These generally process more quickly than third party apps.)
We all know of PayPal—it’s one of the OG online payment processors. But you might not know that they can cash your check for you. (With help from their partners, First Century Bank, and Ingo Money.)
All you do is upload a picture of the front and back of the endorsed check. You pay a fee—1% for government and payroll checks that have a pre-printed signature, or 5% for any other checks (with a minimum fee of $5 per check). You’ll find the money in your PayPal account within three business days. If you’re really not in a rush and hate the idea of paying to get your money, you can wait 10 days to receive the funds and they’ll waive the transaction fee.
You can cash multiple checks totaling up to $5,000 per day and up to $15,000 per month. Your money will live in your PayPal account until you transfer it to your bank account, a debit card, or a prepaid card.
PayPal entrusts their check cashing tech to IngoMoney. If you’re willing to download an extra app, or just don’t like PayPal, IngoMoney could be a good route to take. It has a few more options for redeeming your money, including direct deposit, PayPal account, prepaid debit card, Amazon gift card, online bill pay with retail credit cards. You can even choose cash pickup at participating MoneyGram locations or split the balance between multiple redemption options. The deposits are nearly immediate and the bill pay goes through the next day.
Using the same upload process like PayPal, you’ll pay slightly different fees. Be prepared to pay $5 for handwritten personal checks valued at less than $100, or 5% for balances higher than $100. It’s $5 for pre-printed payroll and government checks valued at less than $250, or 2% for balances higher than $250. As with PayPal, you can avoid processing fees for both check types if you’re willing to wait 10 days to receive the balance. Just note, if you choose this delayed method, you can only redeem the balance with a single account.
Transact by 7-Eleven
7-Eleven has a special app, Transact by 7-Eleven that offers all kinds of functionalities, including cashing checks. (They also use the same First Century Bank and Ingo Money technology.) If you shop at 7-Eleven often, this could be a good option. Upload a photo (you know the drill by now) and the balance from your check goes directly onto your reloadable prepaid 7-Eleven card. You can use this card in-store, on gas, or anywhere that accepts Debit Mastercard.
If you need the cash once the check clears, you can visit any Allpoint Network ATM or an ATM with a Trans@ct logo to withdraw cash without any fees. It’s a little unclear on their website what fees are included for recharging the card or to process checks, so call customer service or proceed with caution when using the app.
What you need to know about cashing a check
Despite so many options, both in-person and on your smartphone, not much has changed over the years when it comes to cashing your check. Above all else, you need to sign the back (aka endorse it) to receive your payment. It’s important to note that only the person whose name is on the check can cash it. (If you want your spouse to be able to cash your check, you need a joint bank account.)
You should also verify a few areas on the front of the check front before heading to the bank or your check cashing venue of choice. Be warned: If any of the information is incorrect, you won’t be able to cash your check and claim your money.
The check’s dollar amount fields—the long-form and numeric—should also match. The check writer also needs to sign the check on the bottom right corner, which essentially activates the check.
If you’re able to, cash the check sooner than later. You might have issues getting the check cashed if it’s older than 180 days. That said, if you get a check that’s future-dated (for your birthday or payday), you can’t cash it until the date on the check arrives.
Do your research
Call ahead. Especially if it’s a smaller venue, you should be able to catch a real person on the phone (as opposed to an automated system with endless key-in options). Ask about their fees, what’s needed in order to cash the check and any other information they can give you. It’s better to have the conversation from the comfort of your home than to drive all the way there only to find out it’s not the right fit.
Have the right identification
Pretty much anywhere you go in-person, you’ll need to show I.D. Your driver’s license is the standard, but any legal I.D. should work. If it’s a government check, you might need proof of your Social Security Number or Taxpayer Identification Number. One advantage of cashing with apps is that your identity is “pre-approved,” so you don’t have to worry about remembering identification each time.
Know the daily redemption limit
As mentioned above, each method of check cashing and each of the check cashing places have their own limits depending on check type and dollar amount. Call ahead or look online if it’s a special case and take note of the regular transactions you make. You don’t want to commit to a provider only to discover you’re over their limit.
Know what types of checks the establishment will cash
Government checks are viewed as “safe” (or unlikely to bounce), so you should have fewer issues as long as the name written on the check matches your legal I.D. These checks include tax refunds, Social Security benefits, stimulus payouts, and other checks from the U.S. Treasury or your local government.
Handwritten (vs computer-printed) personal checks are seen as risky. The processor has no way of knowing whether the person who wrote that check actually has the money listed. Sometimes an extra window of verification is needed, so plan accordingly if you urgently need your money.
Start cashing your checks
Checks are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. Armed with this new knowledge, do a quick search for all the “check cashing near me”. Based on this you can decide which is the cheapest, most convenient option for you and your check cashing needs.