How to Cash a Check (as Quickly as Possible)
When you are paid by check, all you have is a piece of paper. You can’t spend it—and you don’t even know if the person who wrote the check has any money.
Cashing a check converts paper into spending money. But how long does that take? Can you cash a check as soon as you receive it or do you need to wait for something else? Sometimes time is of the essence. You might need the money immediately, or you might have doubts about how long the check writer will have funds available to cover the check.
The fastest way to put an end to any uncertainty is to cash the check.
Depositing vs. Cashing a Check
When making the decision to deposit or cash a check, understand exactly what you’re trying to accomplish.
- Cashing a check means you’ll get cash in hand. You can walk away with the full amount of the payment, and you’ll be able to spend that money immediately.
- Depositing a check means adding it to your account at a bank or credit union. You’ll get the check into a safe place, where it can’t get lost or stolen, and the bank might allow you to walk away with some or all of the check amount. However, you might need to wait a few days before the full amount is available for spending or withdrawal.
If you just want to deposit the check so that your bank starts processing the payment as soon as possible, you’re in luck. You don’t need to wait to make the deposit, and most banks and credit unions allow you to deposit checks with your mobile device—anytime, anywhere.
Cashing a check may require more legwork.
Check Writer’s Bank
The safest and fastest way to get cash is to go to the check writer’s bank. That’s the bank or credit union that the funds are coming from, and you can get the money out of the check writer’s account and into your hands instantly at that bank.
If you go anywhere else, you can’t be 100 percent certain that the check is good.
First, figure out where the funds are presently on deposit. Look for the bank name or logo on the front of the check. Note that you don’t necessarily have to go to the same branch that the check writer uses; any branch of the same bank will do. Be sure to bring identification that matches the name written on the check.
If you don’t have an account at that bank, expect to pay a modest fee to get the check cashed. You might even find that the bank refuses to work with you because you’re not a customer. In that case, your options are to go elsewhere or open an account.
Your own bank or credit union might also be a good option, assuming
- You are not concerned about the check bouncing (or being returned because the check writer doesn’t have enough money to cover the check).
- The check is for less than $200 (or it’s a government-issued check).
- You don’t want to pay fees.
Your bank, of course, 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. Your bank might even give you cash—banks generally allow you to take up to $200 immediately or within one day, assuming nothing seems fishy—but you’ll have to repay that money plus fees if it turns out that the check bounced.
If you trust the check writer and you just want to get some cash quickly, you’ll probably save money by going to your own bank.
The type of check you’re trying to cash is important. Again, banks are only required to make the first $200 available to you within one business day if the check is a personal or commercial check. However, government-issued checks are treated differently: You can often get 100 percent in cash immediately. Depending on your bank’s policies, other checks might 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 100 percent of the value, you might have to deposit the check—and the type of deposit matters. Deposits made in-person to bank employees are best if you want the funds quickly.
You could make the deposit at ATMs or use your mobile device, but those methods might result in longer hold times.
Again, you’re responsible if a check bounces, even if the bank lets you walk out with cash or makes funds available in your account. That’s why cashier’s check scams are so dangerous. Everybody assumes cashier’s checks are safe, and scammers take advantage of that mistaken belief.
Retailers and Check Cashing Stores
If things don't work out with your bank—perhaps because it’s after hours, or perhaps your bank won’t pay more than $200—you can try to get cash at a retailer. You’ll have the best luck with government-issued checks and payroll checks, but you might be able to cash small personal checks as well.
Big box stores and convenience stores often cash checks for a modest fee. Kmart is unique, as of fall 2017, because you can cash personal checks up to $500, while most other retailers stick to government checks, payroll checks, and money orders. That said, if you have a small personal check (less than $25, for example), you can always ask somebody at the customer service desk and they may make an exception.
Check cashing outlets are another option, and they might be willing to take a risk, but they charge notoriously high fees. One last reminder: Just like at the bank, you’re on the hook if the check bounces. These retailers might let you walk out with cash, but they will expect repayment if the check is returned, and they will take legal action if you don’t pay.
What if the check is written with next week’s date on it? Then can you cash it right away? In most cases, you can ignore the fact that a check is postdated. However, there’s probably a reason the check writer postdated the check, such as no money in the account. It might be helpful for you to know that reason before you try to deposit or cash the check. If the money is not available, you don’t want to waste a trip to the check writer’s bank, nor do you want to owe fees to your own bank for depositing a bad check.