Note: This article is part of our Basic Banking series, designed to provide new savers with the key skills to save smarter.
With digital banking and peer-to-peer payment services on the rise, it can come as a surprise that people still pay each other using paper checks. For many, receiving a check may be an unusual experience, leading to the inevitable question: What to do with the thing?
The good news is that in this day and age, there’s no reason to stand in line at the bank to cash a check. You have many options to gain access to that money and cash it without going to the bank.
Use mobile check deposit
This is the best option for those who do most of their banking digitally and tend to stay away from cash. Most banks now have apps that allow you to take a picture of a check and deposit it into your account virtually.
Your bank’s policies and the size of the check will determine how quickly you have access to the money, but for relatively small amounts it may be immediate — the only catch is that you must have a bank account to use this option.
Load it onto a prepaid card
One way to get money from a check is to deposit it onto a prepaid debit card, which you can then use to access the cash at an ATM or to make purchase. Get a prepaid card associated with a mobile app that allows you to deposit a check using your phone so you can capture the check onto the card easily. But be aware that there may well be fees both for initiating the card and for the mobile-deposit service, especially if you want access to the money quickly.
Endorse the check to a friend
A tried-and-true method of getting cash out of a check is to endorse it over to a friend who is willing to deposit it into their bank account. Endorse the check on the back with “pay to the order of [your friend’s name]” and then sign your name underneath. Your friend will be able to sign below to endorse it for deposit, and their bank will treat it as a normal check deposit with no fees; your friend can then pass on the fee-free cash value to you. This is a free and easy way to cash a check, but be aware of how doing business transactions with friends may impact your relationships.
Cash a check at a retailer, but beware of fees
Some major retailers provide check-cashing services to their customers, either for free or for a low fee. For example, Walmart cashes checks up to $5,000 for a fee ranging from $4 to $8, while Kmart cashes checks up to $2,000, with a fee ranging from 50-cent to $1 in certain states.
Retailers that don’t provide the service themselves sometimes partner with third-party providers to offer the service in their stores. For example, a variety of major grocery chains such as Kroger, Ralph’s and QFC provide check cashing to customers via a partner company called Money Services.
Go to a check-cashing store as a last resort
If all else fails, you can find a store that will exchange your check for cash for a very high fee. That fee is likely calculated as a percentage of the check amount — and some may also add a flat fee in addition to that. Check-cashing establishments include Moneytree, ACE Cash Express, Check Cashing USA, United Check Cashing, CFSC, Check Into Cash, The Check Cashing Store and Money Mart, among many others. This is a very expensive way to get access to your money.
There are many options for those who find themselves in possession of a check and want to avoid the bank. While you should be on the lookout for fees, know that you can cash a check with no or low fees in various ways.