When you write a check, you don't always have to name the recipient. For example, you can write a check that says "Pay to the Order Of: Cash.” While this can be convenient, it also means the check can be cashed or deposited by anybody.
Learn the benefits of writing a check payable to cash, as well as the potential risks involved.
What Is a Check to Cash?
A check payable to cash has the word "Cash" on the line where you normally write the payee’s name. Because, in this instance, the check is not payable to a particular person or organization, anybody who has possession of the check can cash or deposit the check.
Part of the process of writing a check is listing who should receive the funds, and most checks go to a specific payee. That step makes checks safer than cash because the named payee is the only person allowed to deposit or handle the check (although it can be signed over to somebody else, which we’ll discuss below).
A check payable to “Bearer” works the same way as making a check payable to cash: Anybody bearing (or carrying) the document can cash it.
Just Like Cash
A check payable to cash is (more or less) similar to cash—anybody can use it, assuming the check doesn’t bounce. If the check gets lost, though, whoever finds it can cash it or deposit it unless you stop payment on the check first. Likewise, the recipient can give the check to somebody else.
Why Write a Check to Cash?
There are a few reasons why an individual may choose to write a check to cash. Let’s break them down, below.
Writing a check payable to cash is a simple solution if you don't know who to make a check payable to. For example, you might know that you need to write a check for a certain amount, but you don’t know the payee's exact (or legal) name. In that case, you can write a check to cash, slip it in your pocket, and leave your checkbook at home.
Or, for example, if you are a tenant sending a check to a new landlord for the first time, you may leave the check blank or write “cash” when sending the check in. This enables the landlord to write their own name upon receiving the check. However, if for some reason the check gets intercepted by another individual, that person can then cash the check.
You might also use “cash” if you want to write a check to yourself and take out cash. But it's probably easier to just withdraw cash from an ATM because it avoids the process of using a check, and you won’t have to wait for a teller or deposit your check electronically. Likewise, when moving money from one bank account to another, it’s often easiest to transfer funds electronically instead of dealing with checks.
Why Not Write a Cash to Check?
While writing a check payable to cash may seem convenient, it has more risks involved that rewards.
Risk of Loss
It’s typically best to avoid writing a check to cash because you don’t have any control over who deposits or cashes the check. If the check gets lost or stolen, you and your bank will have to monitor the account for a fraudulent transaction. If you’re unable to catch it in time, you have to take legal action against whoever deposits the check to recover your money.
If you’re sending a check through the mail (or having your bank print and mail checks via online bill pay), there’s a significant opportunity for loss or theft.
Some banks don't like checks that are payable to cash, which is another reason to avoid using them. Citizens Bank, for example, requires the payee to show a valid photo ID in person at a local branch if they received a check payable to cash.
Banks may also refuse to honor these checks or place a longer hold on the funds. Banks can also refuse to provide official checks payable to cash. For example, if you’re buying a used car from someone you don’t know, banks are not eager to give you a cashier’s check until you have a specific name for the payee.
A check without a payee makes it harder to keep records and document transactions. It’s still possible to keep notes and track your expenses, but a payee’s name on the face of a check makes things easier and official. By writing a payee’s name, you won’t need to decipher anybody’s signature or wonder where the money went.
Instead of writing a check that anybody can cash, consider leaving the payee line blank temporarily. Once you know how to fill it out properly, you can fill in the payee. A check made out to cash is about as secure as a check with the payee’s name blank—either way, it’s negotiable by anybody (but at least it won’t be your handwriting if somebody steals the check and fills in a name).
Another option is to make checks payable to yourself and sign the check over to whoever you want once you identify the right payee. That method might be more secure, but banks can refuse to accept checks that have been signed over. If that happens, you’ll need to start the process over.
How to Deposit a Check Made Out to Cash
If you receive a check payable to cash, deposit it like you would any other check. Endorse by signing the back with your account number, and deposit the check with your bank or credit union. If you prefer to cash the check instead of depositing it to your account, you may have to go in person to the bank that the funds are drawn on. Find the bank's name on the front of the check, and contact the nearest branch to see if they will cash the check.
Remember that banks may refuse checks payable to cash or require extra hold times. Whenever possible, request that any checks you receive include your name or business name, and make it easy for people to pay you properly. Provide simple instructions to anybody who’s writing checks to you so they’re not tempted to take shortcuts.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
When writing a credit card check, do you make it out to “cash” or yourself?
Writing a convenience check to cash may work, but writing it out to yourself provides an extra layer of security.
Can you cash a check without an ID?
In most cases, you can cash a check without an ID, but your options may be limited. Certain ATMs allow for check deposits with a debit card. If you cash the check at a grocery store, you may not have to show an ID, but you might also face check-cashing fees.