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Money orders provide a secure way of sending and receiving funds. They especially come in handy for sellers when you don’t know or trust the buyer. Anyone can request or choose to pay through a money order. In any case, while it’s a piece of paper, it would be wise to still treat it like a check or cash. To access the promised funds, you can cash or deposit it. But where can you make those transactions?
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What Is a Money Order?
If you don’t quite know what a money order is, allow us bring you up to speed. A money order is a form of payment that provides ease and security. It’s often used as an alternative to mailing cash or using a personal check.
A money order offers security for both the sender and the recipient. For the sender, it’s less risky to send this piece of paper than sending a wad of cash. A money order also contains less personal information than a personal check. The sender pays for money order upfront. So essentially, the money order guarantees that the recipient will receive the funds when they deposit or cash in the money order. Other examples of guaranteed checks include cashier’s checks.
It’s typically best to pay for a money order with cash or a debit card. While you can buy a money order with a credit card, you’d likely face a large fee for doing so.
Where Can I Cash a Money Order?
Usually, it’s best to cash a money order at the location the sender purchased it. It doesn’t need to be the exact physical location. But if the sender purchased it at a Walmart, you may want to go to a Walmart to cash it. The same goes for post offices, banks, credit unions, MoneyGram desks, etc. The money order will typically have a logo or stamp in the corner.
Cashing a money order often comes with a fee of its own, too. Going to the institution that issued the money order can minimize your fees and increase your chances of getting the order’s full amount faster. Even better, if you already have an account with a bank or credit union, they will usually waive the cashing fee. Cashing a USPS money order at a USPS branch also tends to be free.
It’s important to note that sometimes cashing a money order at a bank can only get you a partial amount. This is especially true when you cash the order at a place different where it was purchased. If you need the full amount immediately, you will probably have to go to the issuer. Just be sure to call ahead that your nearest location can cash the entire money order.
How Do I Cash a Money Order?
To cash a money order, you’ll need to first endorse it by signing your name on the back. You will also need to provide identification no matter where you’re cashing your money order. If you don’t have any ID, you can endorse the money order to someone else, like a sibling or friend, who does have an ID. Then they can cash it for you.
Don’t forget that you’ll probably face some service fees to cash the money order. Depending on where you go, places may charge a percentage of the order amount up to several dollars. Banks and credit unions almost always provide the service for free, especially for their customers.
Additionally, before you cash a money order, remember that scammers are always out there, looking to swindle you. Check for red flags like typos and incorrect bank information. Never accept a money order for more than you asked for either. Scammers can sometimes ask you to cash the order and send them the excess.
How Do I Deposit a Money Order?
If you prefer to put your funds directly into your checking account, you can deposit a money order instead of cashing it. Banks usually accept post office money orders like they would a regular check at branches, ATMs or even on a mobile app. Money orders from other sources may need to be deposited at a branch.
Just make sure you have an actual checking account with the bank. Most banks won’t allow you to deposit money orders into the checkless checking accounts they’re beginning to offer these days. You may also run into issues depositing or obtaining a money order through a mobile only bank.
Similarly to cashing a money order or check, you will need to endorse and sign the money order. Funds should be available within a few days from deposit. Once processed, you can spend or withdraw the money as you please. Or you could stash it away into a savings account, to save for a rainy day.
The Bottom Line
Cashing or depositing a money order is similar to buying one. There are a number of convenient places to do so, although it also tends to include a small fee. You can usually avoid that fee by going to your own bank, though. Additionally, your best bet is often cashing the money order at the same place it came from.
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Money Orders: When, Where, and How
When you need to make or accept payment but cash, check, and electronic transfers don’t fit the bill, a money order is a secure and convenient solution. Available at more than , U.S. locations, money orders are also easy to buy or cash.
A money order is essentially a paper check that can’t bounce because it’s prepaid. You can buy one at any U.S. post office, or at a Western Union or MoneyGram outlets such as those found inside supermarkets, pharmacies, and other grocery and convenience chains. Most banks, credit unions, and check-cashing stores offer money orders as well.
- Money orders offer an easy way to exchange funds safely when paying in cash isn’t practical, using a personal check isn’t accepted or desirable, and when a non-digital payment is required.
- You can get money orders at many places like the post office, most banks, and Western Union outlets at CVS, Walmart, and 7-Eleven stores.
- There are pros and cons to using money orders.
- Although money orders are generally inexpensive, they almost always involve a purchase fee, and sometimes a redemption fee for the recipient.
- Money orders are an attractive tool for fraudsters, so it’s important to check the visual security features on any money order you receive.
When Should I Use a Money Order?
In situations where paying with cash, check, or a digital app isn't ideal—or even viable—a money order might be the best answer. Like a check, money orders are written directly to individuals or companies by name, requiring endorsement and identification to cash them. This makes money orders much more secure than cash, protecting the funds in case of loss or theft.
Money orders played a key role in U.S. history. During the Civil War, thieves would rob post offices and delivery runs to grab cash being sent all over the country. Abraham Lincoln’s postmaster general at the time came up with a solution: money orders.
Although personal checks offer similar security benefits, money orders have the advantage of being prepaid. Assuming you have a legitimate money order, accepting it as a form of payment is free of risk because the sender has already provided the funds.
By contrast, a personal check is accepted on the good faith that the sender’s bank account has sufficient funds or overdraft protection to cover the check. If not, the payment bounces, and the recipient is left short—and often pays a bank fee on top of that.
Safer than cash from theft or loss
Can’t bounce like a check for insufficient funds since the amount has been prepaid
Cheaper than a bank's certified or cashier’s check
Requires an in-person visit to a money order dealer
Requires you pay a purchase fee, unlike personal checks
Not allowed for mobile deposit by all banks
The advantages of money orders over cash and check make them preferred or even required in many situations, such as when:
- The recipient isn’t comfortable trusting a personal check, due either to a lack of familiarity with the sender or bad past experience with previous payments.
- The sender doesn’t want to reveal their address or checking account number.
- It’s crucial to make the payment without any risk of being rejected for insufficient funds.
- The payer doesn’t have a checking account, and cash isn’t practical.
Certified and cashier’s checks are potential alternatives. But banks generally charge higher fees for the added security. And you have to go to a bank during banking hours to obtain them, offering fewer time and location options. So if a money order can handle the job, it can be a more flexible and economical choice.
Where You Can Buy Money Orders
Once you’ve decided on a money order, the next decision is where to pick one up. Though online providers are emerging, money order purchases are still mostly a paper and in-person industry. But it probably won't be difficult to find a money order location near you.
Money orders can be bought or redeemed at more than , locations in the United States, including 31, post offices, almost 10, CVS stores, and Walmart locations, as well as Western Union and MoneyGram outlets inside tens of thousands of 7-Eleven, Publix, Kroger, K-Mart, Meijer, and other retail locations. Most of the nation's approximately , bank and credit union branches also offer money orders.
Every money order comes with a detachable stub or receipt that allows you to track it after it's delivered or sent.
As with any other consumer purchase, you’ll be wise to pay attention to pricing because not all money order sellers charge similar fees. Walmart is one of the cheapest options, charging a maximum of $1 per money order. The U.S. Postal Service charges either $ or $ per money order, depending on whether the amount is above or below $
Pricing at other locations can vary greatly, so it’s best to check in advance. For instance, going to a bank or credit union where you are a customer could mean you’re able to buy money orders for free, or you may instead find the cost is $5 or $10 unless you’re in the highest checking account tier.
Another consideration is how many money orders you will need because the value of each one is typically capped. For example, USPS caps the maximum value of a money order at $1, So if, for instance, you need to pay $2,, you’ll need three money orders. Here again, knowing the fees in advance is useful.
The maximum amount in which a single money order can typically be issued.
Be aware that buying a money order with a credit card is treated as a cash advance. So even if a money order seller offers to purchase by credit card, we recommend paying with a debit card, cash, or a bank account withdrawal to avoid finance charges on your next credit card statement.
Beware of Money Order Scams
One downside of money orders is that they are susceptible to fraud, and have become a common deception vehicle for thieves. In response, money order design has evolved to include a multitude of security and anti-counterfeiting features. From watermarks and security strips to rainbow ink patterns and UV-light features, look for the multiple indicators that can tell you whether a money order is legitimate or not.
If someone pays you with a money order for more than the requested amount and asks you to pay them back the difference, beware! This is a common scam of money order fraudsters.
If ever in doubt about a money order, note the issuer (the U.S. Postal Service, Western Union, and MoneyGram are the three biggest) and research the specific security features it should include. You can also call the issuer to help determine if the money order is authentic.
How to Cash a Money Order
If someone pays you with a money order, you have two options for converting it into funds. You can cash it in, literally receiving cash at a location that redeems money orders. Or you can deposit it in your bank account, like a check. Both involve caveats, though.
Converting it to cash offers the quickest access, and if the money order is later determined to be counterfeit or fraudulent, you may personally escape that problem.
However, redeeming money orders isn’t as convenient as buying them. For instance, some convenience stores sell money orders but don’t cash them. And while post office locations will cash money orders in theory, if your money order is large and the post office is in a small market, they might not have enough cash on hand to redeem it.
Cashing it in could also involve a fee. Your best bet is to redeem a money order with the same provider that issued it. So take a postal service money order to a post office, a Walmart money order to Walmart, and so forth. This way, you’ll likely avoid any redemption fees. Just as with buying money orders, though, it will pay to call ahead to first verify that a location can honor your redemption, and ask if any fees will apply.
The alternative is to deposit the money order into your bank account, as you would a check. This offers the advantage of safely adding the payment to your bank balance, rather than walking away with a large sum of cash you may not physically want or need.
Be forewarned, though, that depending on your bank, depositing a money order may not be as easy as depositing a check. Although you may be accustomed to making mobile bank deposits with your smartphone, some banks don’t allow electronic deposits of money orders, instead of requiring you to come into a branch. And if your bank is an online-only institution, it may not accept money order deposits at all.
Whether you decide to turn your money order into cash or take it to your bank, be sure to bring a photo I.D. with you and don’t endorse the money order until you’re at the counter with a clerk or teller who will accept it.
How to Fill out a Money Order, Step by Step
Money orders are about as simple to fill out as a personal check. Different outlets use different formats, but they all need the same basic information. Most money orders are from one of three brand names: Western Union, MoneyGram, or the U.S. Postal Service.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on when to use a money order, where you can get one, and how to fill it out correctly.
- Money orders are easy to buy and cash, and about as simple to fill out as writing a check.
- Fees vary widely, so check in advance. Avoid using a credit card.
- Once you fill in the recipient's name, the money order is safe from misuse.
- If you're paying a bill, include an account or invoice number to ensure the payment is credited correctly.
- It can take up to 30 days or more for a refund if you cancel your money order.
- Money orders are helpful for people without checking accounts.
When You Should Use a Money Order
When you need to pay someone or someone needs to pay you, but cash, a personal check, or a smartphone app aren't good options for whatever reason, a money order might be the solution.
A money order is a piece of paper, but it is more secure than cash because it names a specific recipient, who will have to endorse it and show identification to cash it. Money orders are beneficial for people who don't have a checking account or do not want to accept personal checks. Even if you use checks, you might not want to share the personal information printed on them—such as your address and account number—with specific recipients. Money orders are widely accepted because they are prepaid, eliminating the risk of bouncing.
Certified and cashier's checks issued by financial institutions offer even more security than money orders. However, they carry much higher fees and require visiting a bank during banking hours, and a money order is an easier and less expensive option.
Where You Can Get a Money Order
So far, online money orders are rare and pricey. So buying a money order typically requires you to visit a location that sells them and leave with a paper money order in hand.
Fortunately, thousands of U.S. locations sell money orders, many with evening and weekend hours. You can buy one at any Walmart, CVS, or 7-Eleven, as well as at any of the 31, U.S. Postal Service (USPS) retail offices. Banks, credit unions, grocery store chains, and check-cashing stores sell money orders, too.
The limit on money orders is $1,, but you can order more than one at a time.
What They Cost
Almost all money order purchases involve a fee, so it’s wise to shop around. Walmart charges $ at most locations, and the USPS charges $ to $ depending on the amount. International prices are significantly higher. For example, the USPS charges at least $ plus a fee.
Prices at banks, credit unions, and other sellers can be significantly higher. On the other hand, some banks offer them free to specific categories of customers.
Credit card companies generally charge hefty fees on money order purchases because they treat them like cash advances. You also could be piling up interest charges, so avoid this option if possible.
What Information You Need to Fill Out a Money Order
First, you'll need to know the exact dollar amount you want. This will be machine-printed directly on the money order, and you won't be able to alter it later. You also need to know the proper name of the person or company you'll make out the money order to. Be precise, or the recipient may have trouble cashing it.
If you're paying a business, add the account or invoice number to ensure the payment is appropriately credited to you. You can fill this information out later, but a blank money order (as long as the cash amount is on it) is as good as cash if it's lost or stolen.
Also, bring a debit card or cash to pay for your money order, unless you're at your bank and can withdraw it from your account.
If you forget to fill out the name of the recipient on your money order and then lose it, anyone can cash it, it is basically found money.
How to Fill out a Money Order
The U.S. Postal Service carries its brand and format of money orders, as do some banks and credit unions. Other sellers generally offer one of two brands: MoneyGram is sold at all Walmart and CVS stores, while Western Union is sold at 7-Eleven, some grocery chains, and check-cashing stores. Whichever type you get, the seller will imprint the date and the amount and then give you the incomplete money order to finalize by hand.
There are just three pieces of information you'll be asked to provide to complete any money order: the recipient's proper name, your address, and your name or signature. Money orders ask for your address so that the recipient can contact you if a problem occurs. If you're not comfortable sharing this information, there's nothing to stop you from leaving this field blank or entering your email address or cell phone number instead.
One required field on any money order is an indication of the sender. On most money orders, it's your signature that's requested, just as you sign a check. But on USPS money orders, the blank is only labeled "From." Whether you write or sign your name is up to you. One optional field on most money orders can be quite useful. On Western Union money orders, it is called "Payment for/Acct.#." On USPS money orders, it's labeled "memo." This is where you can write in an account number if your money order pays a bill. Or you can use the space for any other information, just like you would use the memo field on a check.
USPS money orders offer additional space for the address of the recipient. On MoneyGram and Western Union orders, only your address is requested. MoneyGram money orders are confusing. The blank says "Address," with no clues on whether your or the recipient's address is wanted, and it means the sender's address.
You will need to provide valid identification to purchase or cash a money order.
How to Deliver a Money Order
Once you've filled in all the fields, be sure to detach the receipt. This stub provides the money order's official identification number, and you can use it to track whether the money order was cashed, and it's also a record of your payment.
Now that you have a completed money order in hand and a receipt, you can safely hand-deliver the money order or mail it to your recipient. Only the recipient will be able to cash it.
Mistakes to Avoid
While a money order is seemingly straightforward and straightforward to use, there are mistakes to avoid when using a money order. The most important thing is to make sure you spell the recipient and payee's names correctly and fill out all the parts of the order. If you forget to fill something out or misspell a name, it can void out the order. Never leave anything on the order blank, and don't forget to keep your receipt of the transaction.
Don't forget to shop around for the lowest fees for a money order, either.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Money Orders
One obvious advantage of using a money order is its simplicity. You can walk into a big box or even your local grocery and walk out with a money order, You don't need to have a checking account to purchase a money order, either, and they are simple to fill out.
The disadvantages are minimum, but they may be enough to dissuade you from using one. First, you have to pay a fee to purchase a money order, something you don't have to do when using a check. If you lose a money order and it is not filled out correctly, it can be easily stolen. The cap of $1, on money orders means you can't use them for larger purchases or payments. You'll have to purchase more than one, and with each order comes additional fees.
It's easy to find a place to purchase a money order.
You don't need a checking account to purchase or cash a money order.
Only the recipient can cash the money order.
A money order can only be used for up to $1,
If you lose or need to cancel your money order, it can take up to 30 days or longer to be reimbursed.
If forget to put the recipient's name on the order and lose it, anyone can cash it.
How to Cancel or Replace a Money Order
If you need to cancel or replace a money order, immediately contact the entity that issued it to you, and they will ask you to fill out a cancellation request form. Always make sure to save your receipt and be prepared to show it. You will need to pay a fee for a canceled money order, as well. When you fill out a cancellation request, you may ask for a replacement money order or a cash refund.
According to Experian, it can take up to 30 days or more for a refund or replacement, so you will have to be prepared to wait. If the matter is urgent, you will have to purchase another money order.
Alternatives to Money Orders
There are many alternatives to money orders. You can use apps like Venmo and PayPal to send money with one swipe, and many banks, like Chase, use Zelle to transfer money directly from your checking account. You can write a personal check, too, for zero fees and more protection, should the check get lost or stolen.
The Bottom Line
For less than $1,, money orders can be an easy way to purchase something, pay a bill, or pay back personal debt. You can buy a money order for a small fee at convenience stores, money order businesses, big-box stores, and at some credit unions and banks. There are drawbacks to using money orders such as a limited amount of money on each order, fees, and a 30 day or more waiting period for a refund on a canceled money order.
Whose Address Do You Put on a Money Order?
Usually you need to put both your address and the recipient's address on a money order.
Do You Have to Sign a Money Order?
Yes. You do have to write out your signature on a money order.
What Happens If You Fill Out a Money Order Wrong?
Unfortunately, if you make a mistake, it is hard to correct. For example, if you write out the wrong payee name or misspell it, you will have to ask for a refund, which could take 30 days, according to Western Union.
Can a Blank Money Order Be Cashed?
Yes. If someone finds a blank money order with a specified amount on it, in theory, they could fill it out and cash it. If you find a blank money order with no cash value listed, you cannot cash it.
Can Anyone Cash a Money Order?
Anyone can cash a money order, assuming it is made out to them and they have valid identification.
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When sending money by mail, use money orders as a safe alternative to cash and personal checks. U.S. Postal Service® money orders are affordable, widely accepted, and never expire. Your money order receipt will help you track your payment and show proof of value in case the money order gets lost, stolen, or damaged.
You can buy or cash postal money orders at any Post Office™ location.
Send Money Orders Internationally
- Decide on the money order amount. You can send up to $1, in a single order anywhere in the United States.
- Go to any Post Office location.
- Take cash, a debit card, or a traveler’s check. You cannot pay with a credit card.
- Fill out the money order at the counter with a retail associate.
- Pay the dollar value of the money order plus the issuing fee.
- Keep your receipt to track the money order.
Money Order Standards and Guidelines (DMM )
Fees are based on the money order dollar amount.
$ to $
$ to $1,
Postal Military Money Orders (issued by military facilities)
Before accepting a money order, make sure it's real. There are several key things to look at to spot a counterfeit money order.
Real USPS money orders have specific marks and designs to prevent fraud. If you hold the money order up to the light you should see:
- Watermarks of Ben Franklin on the left side repeat top to bottom (circle 1 on image).
- On the right of the Franklin watermark, a vertical, multicolored thread with the letters “USPS” weaves in and out of the paper to (circle 2 on image).
- If the dollar amount is discolored, it may have been erased, indicating fraud (circle 3 on image).
- Make sure the dollar amount is imprinted twice (circle 4 on image).
- See if the dollar value is too large.
- Domestic money orders cannot be more than $1,
- International money orders cannot be more than $ ($ for El Salvador or Guyana).
- If you suspect fraud, call the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at
- If you think you’ve been given a fake money order, call the Money Order Verification System at
Domestic money orders never expire and they do not accrue interest. Money orders are cashed for the exact amount on the order.
You can cash a USPS money order at a Post Office for free. You can also cash them at most banks and some stores. Rural carriers may cash money orders if they have enough money on hand.
- Do not sign the money order.
- Take a primary photo ID with the money order to any Post Office location.
- Sign the money order at the counter in front of a retail associate.
See additional requirements for money orders made out to organizations, more than one person, and minors.
Cashing Money Orders (DMM )
You can check the status of a money order you've purchased from the U.S. Postal Service at any time by visiting the Money Orders Application.
Make sure you have the following information for the postal money order you want to check:
- Serial number
- Post Office number
- Dollar amount
You cannot stop payment on postal money orders, but a lost or stolen money order can be replaced.
- Money order loss or theft may take up to 30 days to confirm.
- Investigating a money order's lost or stolen status may take up to 60 days.
- There is a $ processing fee to replace a lost or stolen money order.
- Take your money order receipt to any Post Office location.
- Talk to a retail associate at the counter to start a Money Order Inquiry.
- After starting the inquiry, you will be able to check the status of your money order and inquiry progress by visiting the Money Orders Application.
- When your money order is confirmed lost or stolen, we’ll issue you a replacement money order.
We'll replace money orders that are defective or damaged. Take the damaged money order and your receipt to your local Post Office location to get a replacement.
As of March , the Postal Service™ no longer sells international postal money orders destined for Japan or cashes international postal money orders issued by Japan Post. If you have not yet cashed a Japan Post-issued money order, please return it to the sender.
On July 10, , Japan Post stopped cashing international postal money orders issued by the Postal Service. (Japan Post stopped selling international postal money orders destined for the U.S. on December 31, )
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