How to Deposit a Check

Turn that paper into something you can use

Image by Maddy Price © The Balance 2019

When you receive a check, you need to deposit the funds so you can use the money or keep it safely in your bank account. Until then, it’s just a piece of paper.

Fortunately, depositing a check is easier than ever, and after you make a deposit, you can use your money in several ways: Withdraw cash, pay bills online, shop with your debit card or checkbook, or transfer funds electronically.

How to Deposit Checks

Depending on the bank or credit union you use, you should have several options for deposits.

Deposit with your mobile device: The fastest and most convenient option is probably to use your mobile device.

  1. Download your bank’s app. Verify that you use a legitimate app from your bank so that you avoid giving sensitive information to thieves.
  2. Find the option to deposit checks and begin the process.
  3. Endorse the check (see details below).
  4. Take a picture of both sides of the check.
  5. Provide information from the check. You might need to enter the amount of the payment and verify that the app reads the account and routing numbers on the check correctly.

For complete 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. An advantage of depositing with a teller is that more of your money might be available quickly. Deposits with bank employees sometimes clear faster, which may be important when making significant deposits.

If you use a credit union, you can typically deposit checks at any credit union that’s part of the shared branching network. You’re not limited to using your own credit union—you can go to (almost) any branch that’s available and open when you need it.

  1. Endorse the check when you’re safely inside the branch.
  2. Fill out a deposit slip, and hand the check to a teller.
  3. Verify your new account balance before leaving the counter.

Deposit at an ATM: Some banks and credit unions allow you to deposit checks through an ATM, which is convenient when you’re unable to get to a branch during banking hours. Different banks have different requirements (if you need to use an envelope and a deposit slip or not, for example), so read the on-screen instructions carefully. In most cases, the process is as follows:

  1. Swipe or insert your card.
  2. Enter your PIN.
  3. Choose the option to deposit funds.
  4. Insert checks and cash (either one-by-one or in a bundle).
  5. Verify that the deposit credits your account.

Funds are typically available within a few days. For more detailed instructions, see how to make deposits at ATMs.

Deposit by mail: You may also be able to mail checks to your bank. You never want to send cash, but sending checks by mail is quite safe, especially if you use a restrictive endorsement (see below). Ask your bank what the requirements are. In most cases, you need to include a deposit slip and endorse the check. Mail isn’t your fastest option for depositing 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.

Endorsement: You typically need to endorse a check by signing your name on the back of the check. Technically, doing so 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.

For added security, you can use a “restrictive” endorsement, which says the money can only be deposited to the account you specify. That’s a smart move in case the check gets lost or stolen. To restrict the endorsement, 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 may need to fill out a deposit slip when you deposit a paper 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 typically required even though you’re just adding money to the account—not taking cash. An ID is especially important if you’re visiting another credit union’s branch to deposit a check.

Cashing Checks

If you plan to spend all of the money immediately (with cash), you can try cashing a 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 or tax refunds from the U.S. Treasury.

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 repay your bank for any money you take. 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. In other words, go to the check writer’s bank to cash the check—the bank name appears on the check.

Of course, it’s risky to walk around with large amounts of cash. That money can get lost or stolen. It’s often just as easy to deposit a check, which allows you to spend money from your checking account as needed. You can do so with a debit card or withdraw cash from an ATM later when you actually need it.

Is the Check any Good?

Verify that checks are legitimate, and make an effort to determine whether or not a check will bounce before you deposit it. If the person or company that wrote the check doesn’t have enough money to cover the payment, your bank might charge you fees—even though it wasn’t your fault.

If you continually deposit bad checks, your bank might even close your account. Whenever 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 directly 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. Before doing so, evaluate the fees, as you may pay dearly. Even supermarkets charge fees, which can add up to a significant proportion with 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 alternative: Some cards allow you to make mobile check deposits to add to your balance, which helps you store the money safely. Others have partnerships with retail locations, so you can bring checks to certain stores to add to your account.