How to Cash a Check in a Hurry

Close-up image of a woman getting a cash from a bank teller
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When deciding to deposit or cash a check, here's what you need to know.

  • 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 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. However, you might need to wait a few days before having access to the full amount.

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 to make the deposit, and most banks and credit unions allow you to deposit checks with your mobile device, anytime, anywhere.

If you choose to cash a check because you need the funds right away, or perhaps don't use a bank account, you may need to do a bit more legwork.

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 (or check-cashing facility) you can’t be 100 percent certain that the check is good. Meaning, the funds are actually there.

Start by looking for the bank's name or logo on the front of the check. You don’t necessarily have to go to the same branch that the check writer uses, it can be any branch of the same bank. Be sure to bring identification that 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 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 the check 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, 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 fees (usually about $15) if it turns out that the check has 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 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—meaning, you often get 100 percent 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 the check and—in that case—the type of deposit matters. Deposits made in person to bank employees work the best if you need the funds quickly. You could make the deposit at an ATM or use your mobile device, but those methods might result in 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.

Retailers and Check-Cashing Stores

If your bank won't cash the check, if your bank is closed, or your bank 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 and convenience stores often cash checks for a modest fee. Kmart is unique in that it lets you 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), you can always ask somebody at the customer service desk if they can make an exception—especially if you're a regular customer. Check-cashing outlets are another option and may be willing to take a risk, but they charge notoriously high fees.

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 a check is postdated. However, there’s a high probability the check-writer postdated the check because the funds aren't available yet. This comes down to making a judgment call depending on well you know the check-writer.