Deciding whether to cash or deposit a check can make a difference in how quickly you can get your money.
- Cashing a check means you’ll get cash in hand. You walk away with the full amount of the payment and can spend that money immediately. However, it's not always easy (or free).
- Depositing a check means adding it to your account at a bank or credit union. You’ll be putting the money in a safe place and you won't have to worry about losing it. The bank might allow you to withdraw some (or all) of the check amount, but sometimes you might need to wait a few days before having access to all of it.
If you just want to deposit the check so that your bank starts processing the payment as soon as possible, you don’t need to wait. Most banks and credit unions allow you to deposit checks with your mobile device anytime, so you could deposit your check from your couch in the middle of the night if you wanted.
If you need the funds in hand right away, cash the check, but be aware that it might take a little more work, especially if you don't have a bank account.
The Type of Check Matters
The type of check you’re trying to cash makes a difference. Banks only have a requirement to make the first $200 available to you within one business day for a personal or commercial check. However, banks treat government-issued checks differently—you often get 100% of your cash immediately because banks know the government has the funds.
Depending on your bank’s policies, other checks may also qualify, such as cashier’s checks, payroll checks from local employers, and payments from insurance companies.
If you can't cash a check for all of its value, you may need to deposit it. How fast you can access the cash, in this case, depends on what kind of deposit you make. Deposits made in person to bank employees work best if you need the funds quickly. You can also deposit it at an ATM or use your mobile device, but those methods might have longer bank hold times.
Also, as unfair as it seems, you’re always responsible if a check bounces—even if the bank lets you walk out with cash or makes funds available in your account. It's worth noting that banks may even take legal action if you don’t pay for a bounced check.
Try Visiting the Check-Writer’s Bank
The safest and fastest way to get cash is to take your check to the check writer's bank. That’s the bank or credit union that holds the check writer's funds, and you can get the money out of the check writer’s account and into your hands instantly at that bank. If you go to any other bank, you can’t be completely certain that the check is good and the funds are in the check writer's account.
You can find the bank's name or logo on the front of the check. You don’t have to go to the same branch the check writer uses; you can visit any branch of the same bank. Be sure to bring identification and be sure it matches the name written on the check.
If you don’t have an account at that bank, you may need to pay a modest fee of a few dollars to get the check cashed. You might even find that the bank refuses to cash the check for you because you’re not a customer. Also, depending on the size of the check, you may not be able to cash it because some banks have a limit on how much cash they can dispense. It will help if you go to one of the bank's larger branches, which usually have more funds available.
Try Your Own Bank
Your own bank or credit union may be a good option for cashing a check, assuming that:
- You don't have concerns about the check bouncing or being returned because the check writer doesn’t have enough money to cover the check.
- The check was written for less than $200 or it’s a government-issued check.
- You don’t want to pay fees.
Your bank should cash the check for free because you’re a customer. However, it will take several days for the check to clear, so you won’t know right away if the check is going to bounce. In most cases, banks allow you to take up to $200 immediately or within one business day, assuming nothing seems fishy. However, you’ll have to repay that money plus a fee (which can be $25 or $30) if it turns out that the check has bounced.
Cashing a Check at an ATM
It's a little less straightforward than taking it to a bank, but you can cash a check at an ATM, too. Not every ATM will enable this option, though; some will only allow you to deposit the check and some don't offer check deposits at all.
But if your ATM allows this option, just bring your check, your bank card, and a pen (to endorse the check) to the machine and follow the prompts on the screen. You may have to have the amount of the funds already available in your account before the ATM will dispense your cash.
Retailers and Check-Cashing Stores
If your bank is closed, won't cash the check, or won’t give you more than $200 in cash, you can try to get cash at a retailer. You’ll have the most success with a government-issued or payroll check, but you may be able to cash small personal checks as well.
Big-box stores, grocery stores, and convenience stores often cash checks for a modest fee—usually a couple of dollars. They usually cap the amount of personal checks they'll cash at $50 or $100; Kmart is unique in that it lets you cash personal checks up to $500, and charges no fee at all in some states and only a dollar in others. Most retailers stick to government checks, payroll checks, and money orders.
That said, if you have a small personal check (less than $25), you can always ask someone at the customer service desk if they can make an exception—especially if you're a regular customer. Be prepared to be turned down, though.
Check-cashing outlets are another option for cashing personal checks; these businesses are generally open later than the bank and will cash larger checks than a retailer will. However, check-cashing stores generally charge a high fee on top of a percentage of the amount of the check.
Cashing Postdated Checks
If you receive a check that was written with next week’s date on it, in most cases, you can ignore the fact that the check is postdated. However, there’s a high probability the check writer postdated the check because the funds aren't available yet. You'll have to make a judgment call on when to cash it depending on how well you know the check writer.