Learn How and Where to Deposit Cash

Image by Maritsa Patrinos © The Balance 2019

When you have more cash than you can spend, it’s best to deposit that money into a bank account. The funds are safe, and your cash can’t get lost, stolen, or destroyed in a fire.

But what’s the best way to deposit cash, and what are your options if you use an online bank account?

Take it to the Bank

If you have an account at a brick-and-mortar bank or credit union, you can bring cash to a branch and make a deposit. You’ll start earning interest quickly if you deposit to savings, and you should not pay any fees for making the deposit.

When you make a deposit in person (with a teller), the funds should be available more or less immediately, so you’ll be able to pay bills, transfer the money out, or make purchases with your debit card.

Credit union benefits: Hopefully you’ve got plenty of branches nearby. If you bank at a credit union that’s part of the shared branching network, you can deposit cash at any member branch (not just at your home credit union). That might make life easier if you're traveling or you've moved since opening an account.

ATM Deposits

Nowadays, you can deposit cash at ATMs with a reasonable degree of confidence (which means no more banking hours).

ATM deposits usually work just fine, but there is more risk at the ATM than there is with a teller. Any mechanical failure or network glitch can cause problems—and it may take several days for your bank to resolve the issue.

How to make ATM deposits: The process for depositing cash at an ATM varies from bank to bank. You may need to use your debit card and PIN to access your account before making a deposit. Some ATMs read and count the bills as you insert them, while others require you to enclose cash in an envelope (so a bank employee will count the amount later). 

Funds availability: ATM deposits are convenient, but the funds might not be available in your account immediately after making a deposit—even though you’re depositing cash. Most policies (and federal law) allow banks to hold funds for an extra day, and the hold can last longer, depending on who owns the ATM. If you need money quickly, in-person deposits are best.

Online-Only Banks

If you’re trying to deposit cash to an online bank account, the process may be harder—but it’s not impossible. Get that cash into an online bank, where you can earn some of the best savings rates in the nation.

  • ACH transfer: The simplest method is to deposit cash at a brick-and-mortar bank or credit union and transfer the funds to your online bank account. That’s just one of several reasons why it’s worth keeping a brick-and-mortar account open. Wire transfers are even faster, but you may need to pay a fee to send a wire.
  • ATM deposits: Some online banks accept deposits at ATMs. Check with your bank to see if you can use a particular ATM network, and look for network logos on ATMs located nearby. Your bank’s app most likely has an ATM locator tool as well.
  • Prepaid cards: If your bank doesn’t accept cash at ATMs, a prepaid debit card may offer a workaround. Some prepaid debit cards provide options for cash deposits, and you may be able to link your prepaid account to your online bank account. This allows you to make electronic transfers, just like if you used a brick-and-mortar bank. Look for a prepaid card that allows you to make deposits at retail locations (Walmart, or national pharmacies, for example). Another approach is to use a debit card that can be reloaded when you buy reload cards at popular retailers such as pharmacies and convenience stores (you’ll pay cash for the reload card, and then add those funds to your prepaid account). Before going that route, find out how much it costs to load cash onto your card.
  • Money orders: If your bank accepts deposits by mail, you can buy a money order with cash and send the money order to your bank. That’s a slow and cumbersome process, but it may be your only option. You’ll have to pay for each money order (often around $1 at grocery and convenience stores) and postage, so small deposits might not be worth it.
  • Mobile deposit: Another approach is to deposit a money order with your bank’s mobile deposit app. This saves on mail time, but you’ll still need to physically get the money order, and some banks don’t allow money order deposits.

Money orders can be problematic because some financial institutions don’t accept them, or they don’t allow you to deposit them remotely.

Ask your bank how they handle money orders (or read your deposit agreement) before you go out and buy one.

The Deposit Slip

When you deposit cash at a bank or credit union, you typically need to use a deposit slip. That’s simply a slip of paper that tells the teller where to put the money. Write your name and account number on the deposit slip (deposit slips are usually available at the lobby or drive through). The first line on the right side of the deposit slip is generally labeled “CASH,” and that is where you would write the amount of your deposit.

Don’t Mail Cash

Whatever you do, do not ever mail cash. The U.S. mail system is quite safe, but it’s not worth the risk. If your letter gets lost or stolen, you’re out of luck. Unfortunately, when cash goes missing, there’s no way to track the money or get it back.

If you are unable to deposit cash into a bank account and you’re tempted to use the mail, try using a money order instead.

Unlike cash, a money order can be used only by a specific person or company. Take your cash to any money order issuer and then mail the money order to your bank (along with a deposit slip, or whatever your bank requires for mail deposits). You’ll be able to track the money order and cancel it if the document is lost or stolen. Money orders and stamps can cost a few bucks, but that’s better than losing 100 percent of your cash.

Get Less Cash

If it’s a nuisance to deposit cash, try to use it less often. Ask people to pay you another way: Online payments, checks, or money orders are all common ways of getting paid.

  • PayPal is a well-established service that provides free P2P payments. If somebody doesn’t already have a PayPal account, they may benefit from opening one.
  • Popmoney and Zelle may already be part of your bank account. Zelle transfers may be virtually instant, and both companies might allow you to move money at no cost.
  • Venmo makes it easy to send money online, sometimes for free. If people pay you with a check, you can mail in deposits or even deposit checks remotely from your home or office. When paying by Venmo instead of using cash, remember that Venmo payments often cannot be reversed (similar to cash payments).