When you get paid with a check, you can cash the check or deposit it to get access to the funds. Whichever way you go, it’s important to keep fees to a minimum and avoid expensive mistakes. This article explains what to expect when you have a check that you need to cash.
How to Cash a Check
The simplest way to cash a check is to go to a bank or credit union that you have an account with. If you don’t have a bank account, there are several alternatives described below. Once you’re at a bank, follow the steps below:
- Ask about any fees for cashing the check and less expensive options for getting your money.
- Endorse the back of the check by signing your name in the endorsement area.
- Fill out a deposit slip (if necessary) and sign the slip.
- Show valid identification to the teller.
- Get your cash, and put it in a safe place before leaving the bank.
Where to Cash Checks
The best places to cash a check are either your bank or the bank for which the check is drawn on (that’s the bank listed on the face of the check—or the financial institution that the money will come from).
Your bank probably won’t charge any fees to deposit a check, but you may have to pay a predetermined amount if you go to the check writer's bank.
When Will You Get the Full Amount?
Each bank or credit union has its own rules for when you can receive funds after depositing a check. Generally, though, if you deposit a check for $200 or less in person at a bank, you can access the full amount the next business day.
When you deposit a check at an ATM at your bank, the funds can be used or withdrawn on the second business day.
You might not be able to cash a check for the entire payment amount, especially when payments exceed $200. The advantage of going to the check writer's bank is there’s a better chance of getting 100% of the check amount immediately. That’s because that bank has real-time access to the checking account in question, so it can verify that funds are available in the check-writer’s account. If the check exceeds $200, you often have to wait to use the funds until the second business day.
Funds Availability Policies
When cashing a check, your bank might only allow you to take the first $200 in cash, and you'll have to wait a few days before the rest of the money becomes available. It’s certainly possible that your bank will let you take more cash immediately (or spend the money using your debit card). But until the check actually clears, there’s a risk that the check will bounce, and you’ll have to replace that money.
Any bank can refuse to cash a check—even if that bank’s customer wrote the check and has sufficient funds. The bank may decide not to cash checks if something is suspicious, or if it chooses not to serve non-customers.
Other Places to Cash Checks
Check-cashing stores, cash advance, and payday loan shops can also cash checks for you. However, they typically charge high fees, so it’s best to avoid those places. Over time, the fees add up, and you end up with less money to spend.
You can probably do better (or avoid fees altogether) by opening an account at a bank or credit union. If you receive more than a few checks each year, open a bank account. In addition to saving money on fees, you’ll most likely save a lot of time if you have a bank account. For example, you can use a bank or credit union’s mobile deposit feature to deposit checks with your mobile device instead of making a trip to a check-cashing store.
Many grocery stores and supermarkets enable you to cash a check, and they are typically less expensive than check-cashing stores. Prices might range from one to three dollars (or less). Ask about money services at the customer service desk in the front of the store.
If opening a bank account isn't possible, consider using a prepaid card account instead. Some prepaid cards even allow you to deposit checks with your mobile phone, and they might not charge any monthly fees. You can then use the card to withdraw cash or make purchases, although you might have to wait for the check to clear before you can spend all of the money.
Take the time to learn about all of the branches available to you, including ATMs that accept deposits. Credit union members may have additional options: If your credit union is part of a shared branching network, you can use thousands of branches nationwide to cash checks.
Deposit Funds or Get Cash?
You might not need to cash a check. You can also deposit the money without taking cash. With that option, the bank adds funds to your account, and you can use the money later. Only get cash if you plan to spend the money soon. The money is safe in the bank, and you won't be tempted to spend more than you need to.
It might even be more convenient to deposit the check. For example, you can make deposits from virtually anywhere with a mobile device, or you might swing by an ATM to deposit checks during non-banking hours.
Before Cashing a Check
Before you try to get cash, verify that the check is legitimate. If you try to cash a fake or stolen check, you can get into legal trouble, get ripped off, or end up owing fees to the bank.
Some common scams involve paying you with a fake check and then asking you to do something—like wire money out or give cash back to the check writer. For the scam to work, there’s typically a time crunch, which demands action quickly before the check bounces.
If you're not sure if a check is legitimate, either take it directly to the check writer's bank or discuss your concerns with your bank. If you decide to deposit the check, plan to wait a while before you spend the money. It can take several weeks for your bank to discover a bad check.
It’s also problematic to cash a check for somebody else or sign a check over to somebody so they can cash it for you. Banks might not honor those instructions, and you can unwittingly get involved with bad check issues.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can I cash a check without an ID?
Many banks and check-cashing services require a valid photo ID to cash a check, but there are still ways to cash checks if you lost your identification. For instance, you can use online mobile depositing or deposit the check at an ATM. Typically, you will need an account in order to do this, as you'll most likely have to deposit the check rather than cash it. If these aren't options for you, you can sign the check over to a friend or relative and have them cash it for you.
How do I cash a check for a minor?
A parent can cash or deposit a check for their minor child with just a few steps. You'll just need to print your child's name on the check and write "Minor" underneath after their name. Then print your name and relationship to the child, and endorse the check as you normally would.
How long does it take to cash a check?
Cashing a check is a quick process that only takes a few minutes at the bank. However, your funds may not be fully available for up to a week.