How to Cash a Check If You Don’t Have a Checking Account

by Emily Guy Birken · 3 comments

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? 

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Levi Blackman October 12, 2013 at 10:27 am

All these are great options except the last two. Check cashing stores are really expensive and if for some reason the check you cash bounces they will harass you to know end even if it isn’t your fault. And loading on to a prepaid card is generally a bad idea for any kind of money. They charge you a fee for having the card, and many even charge $1 every time you use it!

I have used the WalMart option before and I find it the best alternative to a bank. Of course, with a little hard work you should be able to find a bank that will set you up with an account, unless you are illegal or have committed serious bank fraud in the past.

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Property Marbella October 17, 2013 at 1:42 am

I thought that checking is not used anymore because they are easy to forge and copy. In Sweden and Spain is blocked we check property sales and they can only be redeemed at the issuing bank.

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Bert October 17, 2013 at 8:31 am

Western Union offers the best pre-paid debit card I have discovered. It is an actual account with MetaBank, which means one can get direct deposits for no fee. This covers paychecks, government checks, etc. To get cash for no fee, just make a purchase from any retailer providing cash back. There are no monthly usage fees, but ATM withdrawals are costly. To load cash directly, any Western Union will do it for $4.95, which is how I send cash to my grandchildren, who live away from me.. It is far speedier to do that this way, than wiring the money, and also precludes a necessary trip for them to the WU agent. To get a card, there is a shortcut page to go directly to the debit cards (www.wuprepaid.com).

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