Learn How and Where to Deposit Cash
When you end up with 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 stolen or burn 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, take your cash to the branch and make a deposit. You’ll start earning interest quickly, 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.
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 be several days before the issue is resolved.
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 stuff the cash into an envelope (so it will be counted later by a bank employee).
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.
If you’re trying to deposit cash to an online bank account, the process is more challenging – but it’s not impossible.
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.
ATM deposits: some online banks accept deposits at ATMs. Check with your bank to see if you need to 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.
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 one dollar at grocery and convenience stores) and postage, so small deposits might not be worth it.
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.
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.
Deposit to a prepaid card: some prepaid debit cards have 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, 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).
The Deposit Slip
When you deposit cash at a bank or credit union, you’ll need to use a deposit slip. This is simply a slip of paper that tells the teller where to put the money. Write your name and account number on the deposit slip (these 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 this is where you should write the amount of your deposit.
Don’t Mail Cash
Whatever you do, do not ever mail cash. The mail system is quite safe, but it’s not worth the risk. If your letter is lost or stolen, you’re out of luck; the nature of cash is such that there’s simply 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% of your cash.
Get Less Cash
If it’s a nuisance to deposit cash, try to get less of it. Ask people to pay you another way: online payments, checks, or money orders are all common ways of getting paid. PayPal, Popmoney, and Venmo make 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.