When you have extra cash, it’s best to deposit that money into a bank account. That way the funds are safe from loss, theft, or damage.
But what’s the best way to deposit cash, and what are your options if you want to use an online bank account or ATM?
Your Local 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 right there. 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 with a teller in person, the funds should be available more or less immediately, so you’ll be able to pay bills, transfer the money to another account, or make purchases with your debit card. However, banks and credit unions have until at least the next business day to make your cash deposit available to withdraw or to use these funds to cover your checks and debits.
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 banker's hours).
How to make ATM deposits
The process for depositing cash at an ATM varies from bank to bank. First, confirm that your ATM accepts deposits. Generally, you'll use your debit card and PIN to access your account, then select which account to deposit to. Some ATMs read and count the bills as you insert them, while others require you to enclose cash in an envelope (a bank employee will count the amount later). The ATM should indicate which method you'll use. If the ATM requires an envelope, they're generally provided next to the machine. Fill out the envelope as indicated, insert your cash, then seal it and feed it into the machine. Before you leave the ATM, confirm that the machine deposited the correct amount to the right account.
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 may be harder—but it’s not impossible. Getting your cash into an online bank lets you take advantage of some of the best savings rates in the nation. There are a few methods that will work:
- ACH transfer: The simplest way is to deposit cash into an account at a brick-and-mortar bank or credit union and then transfer the funds to your online bank account. This technique is 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 (averaging $15.50 to $27.50 for domestic transfers depending on the bank) 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 near you. Your bank’s app 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 "cash load," or make deposits, at retail locations such as Walmart or national pharmacy chains. Another approach is to use a debit card that can be reloaded by buying reload cards. 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; the fees to add money may discourage you from using this option.
- 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 a fee for each money order (often around $1 at grocery and convenience stores; or $1.25 through USPS) plus 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.
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.
Use Cash Alternatives
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 peer-to-peer, or P2P, payments. If you don't already have a PayPal account, you can open one fairly easily.
- 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. To receive money or pay a request at Popmoney, it is free. It costs $.95 to send money.
- Venmo makes it easy to send money online, sometimes for free. When paying by Venmo instead of using cash, remember that Venmo payments often cannot be reversed (similar to cash payments).