How to Deposit a Check

Turn that paper into something you can use

Depositing a check turns that piece of paper into money that you can actually spend. The money sits safely in your account, and you can withdraw or spend the funds later (using your debit card, online bill pay, or your own checks).

So how do you deposit a check? It’s not hard – there are old and new ways to do it.

Where to Make Deposits

Depending on the bank or credit union you use, there are several ways to make deposits.

Deposit with your mobile device: the fastest and easiest option is to use your mobile device. Download your bank’s app (be sure it’s legitimate so you don’t give bank information to thieves) and look for the option to deposit checks. You’ll need to endorse the check (see details below), take a picture of both sides of the check. You might also have to punch in the amount of the check and verify that the account and routing numbers on the check are read correctly. For more details, see How to Make Mobile Check Deposits.

Visit a branch: you can also deposit checks in-person at one of your bank’s branches. You’ll bring the check, endorse it, fill out a deposit slip, and hand the check to a teller. This is the old-fashioned way of doing things. One advantage of depositing with a teller is that more of your money might be available quickly because you’ve made the deposit with a bank employee.

Credit union members can often deposit checks at any other credit union that’s part of the shared branching network.

You don’t have to visit your credit union – you can go to (almost) any branch that’s available and open when you need it.

Use an ATM: some banks and credit unions allow you to deposit checks at an ATM, which is convenient if you’re never available to get to the branch during banking hours. Different banks have different requirements (whether you need an envelope and a deposit slip, for example), so read the instructions carefully.

Funds are generally available within a few days. For more details, read about Deposits at ATMs.

Use the mail: you can also mail checks to your bank. You never want to send cash, but sending checks by mail is quite safe. Ask your bank what the requirements are – you’ll usually need to include a deposit slip and endorse the check. This isn’t the fastest way to deposit checks, but you can do everything on your own time.

What you Need to Deposit a Check

Making a deposit is not as simple as handing the check to a teller or snapping a photo – but it’s close.

Endorsing: you usually (but not always) need to endorse a check by signing the back of the check. Technically this gives your bank – or whoever has the endorsed check – the right to collect the funds, so don’t endorse until you’re confident that the check will get to the bank (whether physically or in electronic form). You can also do a “restrictive” endorsement, which says the money can only be deposited to your account – which is a good idea in case the check is lost or stolen. To do so, sign your name, and write “For deposit only to account ###” (use your account number instead of the number signs). For more ways to endorse, see Basics of Endorsing Checks.

Deposit slips: you might also need to fill out a deposit slip when you deposit a check. Deposit slips provide the information a bank employee needs to get the money into your account: your account number, the amount you’re depositing, and more.

Identification: if you’re making a deposit in person, bring valid identification such as a driver’s license, passport, or other government-issued ID. This is generally required even though you’re just adding money to the account – not taking anything. It’s especially important if you’re visiting another credit union’s branch to deposit the check.

Cashing Checks

If you plan to spend all of the money immediately (with cash), you can try cashing the check instead of depositing it.

You can usually get up to $200 immediately on personal checks, and you might be able to get more for official checks like cashier’s checks.

However, it’s risky to take cash and spend it before you know that a check is good – if the check bounces you’ll have to pay that money back. The only way to know for sure that the check is good is to cash it at a branch of the same bank the check is written on (the bank name is shown on the check).

Of course, it’s risky to walk around with large amounts of cash – the funds can be lost or stolen. It’s often just as easy to spend money from your checking account with a debit card or withdraw cash later at an ATM when you actually need it.

Is the Check any Good?

You may want to look into a check before you deposit it. Does the person or company that wrote you the check actually have enough money to cover the payment? If not, your bank might charge you fees – even though it wasn’t your fault – and they might even close your account if you do this often. If you’re concerned about a check, contact the bank the check is written against to verify funds in the account and find out if the check will bounce.

Where Not to Deposit Checks

Depositing the funds into your bank or credit union is the safest and least expensive option. You might be tempted to cash checks at more "convenient" places such as payday loan shops or check cashing stores. If you do so, you’ll pay dearly. Even supermarkets take fees, which can add up on small checks.

If you don’t have an account at a bank or credit union, you really need one – it’ll save you time and money. However, some people can’t or won’t open a bank account. If you’re in that group, a prepaid card might be a good option: some cards allow you to make mobile check deposits to add to your balance, which helps you store the money safely.