If you need to pay a bill or an individual but don't want to carry cash or use a bank check or credit card, a money order is your best bet. This paper document instructs a bank to pay a specific amount of money. Learning how to fill out a money order can help you send or receive payments relatively quickly.
What You Need to Fill out a Money Order
Each issuer has slightly different requirements for filling out a money order. United States Postal Service (USPS) and Western Union money orders, for example, have different formats.
But whether you buy a money order from a post office or a financial institution, the process is similar to writing a check. You'll generally need to know the payee's name, the payment amount, the payee's address, and any other relevant details, such as an account number.
You'll also need to bring a valid form of payment to buy the money order—cash, traveler's checks, and debit cards are all generally accepted by most issuers.
Filling out a Money Order
When you purchase a money order, you will provide the amount to the issuer. The paper document you receive will include that amount, so you won’t need to fill it in.
However, to correctly fill out a money order, you will need to provide the requested information:
- Name: Write the full name of the person or business you are paying with the money order. This field might be labeled "Pay to the order of," "Pay to," or "Payee." Avoid leaving this field blank or making the money order payable to cash, or else anyone can cash it, and you risk losing the funds if the money order gets lost or stolen. Some issuers also require the purchaser's name in a field labeled "From."
- Address: Some money orders contain a field for you to provide your current mailing address in case the recipient needs to contact you about the payment. However, if you’re worried about your privacy, you might be able to omit this information. Ask the money order issuer and the recipient what is required. USPS money orders include an address field on the left for the recipient’s address and another one on the right for the purchaser's address, such that both the recipient's address and your address appear.
- Additional details: You may need to include additional information on the money order so that the payment is handled correctly. This may include your account number, transaction or order details, or any other notes that will help the recipient recognize the reason for the payment. This field may be labeled "Re:" or "Memo." If there’s no field for additional information, write it on the front of the document.
- Signature: Some money orders require a signature. Look for a field marked "Signature," "Purchaser," or "Drawer" on the front of the document. Do not sign the back of the document because this is where the recipient signs to endorse the money order.
After filling out your money order, keep any receipts, carbon copies, and other documents you receive upon purchase in case there’s a problem with your payment. You may need these documents to cancel the money order, and they can be helpful when tracking or confirming a payment.
A single money order is usually limited to an amount of $1,000.
Benefits of Money Orders
For buyers, money orders are a safe way to make a payment. You can mail a document that you can track and that can be cashed only by the intended recipient. Compared to checks, money orders help you keep certain information private, such as your bank account number. They're also useful for transactions that don't permit payment via check.
If you need to buy and fill out a money order, you can get one at various places, including the post office, financial services companies like Western Union, retail stores like Walmart, or a regular bank. They typically cost under a few dollars at most retailers, but you'll pay slightly more at your bank or a credit union.
For sellers, money orders usually are a safe form of payment. Buyers must use cash or a cash equivalent to buy a money order, so it can't bounce like a personal check.
Some issuers allow you to pay for a money order with a credit card but may characterize the transaction as a cash advance and charge you cash-advance fees and high interest.
Drawbacks of Money Orders
Until recent years, money orders have been a popular, inexpensive payment method. However, new fintech payment solutions, such as Zelle and Venmo, have emerged. These solutions are less expensive, easier, and faster than money orders. So, you might want to research other forms of payment. Large purchases may require the use of several money orders because of amount limitations and issuing fees. In this case, a cashier's check might be a more suitable form of payment.
Similarly, money orders aren't a substitute for a regular bank account, which allows you to write your own checks or use a debit card. Unlike check or debit card payments, money orders require you to pay a fee every time you make a payment, which makes them less affordable for frequent transactions.
Likewise, money orders are sometimes faked and used in common online scams, so ensure that you fill them out as directed and that any funds you receive clear your bank before you spend them.