For many people, it can be difficult to imagine living without a checking account. But it’s the reality for the roughly 8% of Americans who are living “unbanked,” meaning they have no bank account whatsoever. In addition, a total of 28.3% of Americans are either unbanked or underbanked, which means they rely on alternatives to banks for financial services like check cashing.
Unfortunately, living without a checking account is costly. Nearly every available service for cashing checks will impose a fee — and many service providers won’t cash personal checks.
So what are the check-cashing alternatives for an individual without a checking account? Here are five options and their accompanying costs:
1. Visit the Issuing Bank
Most banks will be willing to cash checks that have been issued from their accounts, which means you can visit a local branch of the issuing bank to get your check cashed. The big benefit of this is that you’ll often be able to cash both personal and payroll checks.
However, you’ll likely have to pay a fee for the service. With the exception of Capital One, which has no check-cashing fee, pretty much every bank charges a fee of anywhere from $4 to $10 to cash their own checks for a non-account holder. (It’s important to note that, at some banks, check cashing is free for checks smaller than a certain amount, or for personal checks.) These fees are in place to cover the cost of processing the check — and you may field an offer to open an account in order to avoid the fee.
2. Go to Walmart
The retail giant Walmart offers check-cashing services for customers. They’ll cash payroll checks, government checks, tax checks, and MoneyGram money orders, but not personal checks. The fee is $3 for any check up to $1,000, and $6 for any check between $1,000 and $5,000, which is the check-cashing limit.
3. Endorse the Check Over to a Friend
If you have a friend or family member whom you trust, and who has a checking account, you can cash your check fee-free by endorsing the check over to them to cash. When you endorse the check, you’ll sign your name and underneath write “Pay to the order of [friend’s name],” under which they’ll endorse the check. Their bank will then cash the check with no penalties.
Obviously, this only works if you completely trust your friend. It’s also not a favor you’ll want to get in the habit of asking, as it could be a major inconvenience for them.
4. Use a Check-Cashing Store
This should be a last resort, as these sorts of establishments generally charge high rates for check cashing. In general, you can expect check-cashing stores to charge you a percentage of your check’s total, although some will also charge a flat fee on top of that.
5. Try Pre-paid Cards
Some banks will allow you to cash a check for “free” if you load the money into a prepaid card or prepaid account. The problem with these services is that the cards and accounts often have hefty monthly maintenance fees, as well as other hidden charges and fees.
The Bottom Line
Living without a checking account can put you at an economic disadvantage. But if you’re willing to do a little leg work, you can make sure you pay as little as possible in fees to access your checks.
What are your favorite bank alternatives for cashing checks?