If you need to cash a check and you have a bank account, you likely don’t give it a second thought – you just head to a branch or ATM. But though most of America uses a bank or credit union, the most recent survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., in 2021, found that 4.5% of U.S. households – about 5.9 million – are “unbanked,” meaning no one in the home has a checking or savings account.
That’s a lot of people who may need an affordable option when it comes to check cashing. Maybe they got a check from a job or for selling something. In any case, no one wants to hand over a chunk of your money just to get at funds that belong to you.
Here are some reasonable options for cashing a check if you don’t have a bank account:
- Go to the check-issuing bank.
- Visit a retailer.
- Consider a prepaid card account.
- Look at a check-cashing store.
- Sign over the check.
1. Go to the Check-Issuing Bank
Though some banks may cash checks for noncustomers, others will not do so. However, if you go to the bank that issued the check, you likely just need valid ID to cash the check. After all, that’s its own check. Still, you may have to pay for the privilege because you’re not a customer.
Here are some examples: If you don’t have an account, Bank of America will charge an $8 fee to cash its own checks. Wells Fargo charges $7.50. At Citibank, there is no charge.
2. Visit a Retailer
You probably don’t live far from a Walmart, and the big retailer cashes checks relatively cheaply – certainly for less than some major banks.
“My advice for cashing a check when you don’t have a bank is to go to Walmart. Their system is simple. You’ll pay up to $4 for all printed checks up to $1,000 and up to $8 for all printed checks” of more than $1,000, says J.R. Duren, terms editor at The Balance. “The fees are very reasonable for any check amount and much better than check-cashers who may charge a percentage plus a fee.” Walmart also will cash two-party personal checks up to $200 for a maximum fee of $6.
Some supermarket chains will cash payroll checks and government checks but not personal checks.
3. Consider a Prepaid Debit Card
With this option, you can get a debit card that enables you to deposit your check directly – likely by mobile check deposit – onto the card without needing to open an account with a bank. Then you should be able to get cash from an ATM by using the card. But be mindful of potential drawbacks that include not having immediate access to the funds and possible fees.
Bluebird by American Express is one of the better options. Bluebird doesn’t charge many fees. You use mobile check deposit to put the funds onto your card. However, the money from your check isn’t available for 10 days; if you want the cash right away, Bluebird charges 1% (for payroll or government checks) or 5% (all other checks).
On the other hand, Netspend may charge a monthly fee, such as $5.95 or $9.95, and will hit you with an ATM fee, usually $2.50 per withdrawal. Netspend doesn’t charge for mobile check deposit. As with Bluebird, you must wait 10 days for funds availability, and you will pay extra to get expedited access to your check funds – 2% or 5%.
4. Look at Check-Cashing Stores
Check-cashing stores can get you your cash right away, but be wary of their fees. Some of them may charge no more than the other options listed above, but they might charge fees of up to 10%. One issue is that stores generally don’t list fees on their websites and may not reveal them to you until you show up with your check.
5. Sign Over the Check
If you have a friend or relative you trust and who is willing to help you out – and, of course, that person has a bank account – you can sign over your check. Where you endorse the check, also write, “Pay to the order of” with the person’s name. This is known as a “third-party check,” and bank rules on accepting such a check may vary, including possible fees. But if your friend or relative’s bank will take the check, then he or she could cash it and give you the money. It could be helpful for you to accompany the person to the bank in case the teller wants to see your ID since you’re the one to whom the check was made out.
The Bottom Line
Whatever you decide, as with every consumer spending decision, it is best to shop around to find the best price. If you frequently use alternative methods of cashing checks, you should research locations nearby for the cheapest fees, so you’ll know where to go whenever you’re in need of check cashing.
Adam Marlowe, chief information officer at Powerco Federal Credit Union in Georgia, suggests inquiring about options available with a local credit union. “Many offer free accounts as well as second-chance accounts for consumers with challenging credit histories,” he says.