Money orders are available from post offices, retail stores, and financial institutions such as banks and credit unions. In most cities and towns, you should have multiple sources available nearby. Here’s a quick overview of your options, along with some tips for making payments.
Places to Buy Money Orders
When you're deciding where to get a money order, think about fees, service, and location. Each option will have tradeoffs; your choice will depend on which factors matter most to you.
Grocery stores, big-box stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores often provide money orders. While you’re out running errands, look for a MoneyGram or Western Union logo at stores such as CVS, Kmart, Safeway, Publix, Kroger, Meijer, and 7-Eleven, among others. Your fee to purchase a money order will vary by store; at Walmart, the maximum fee is $1, but costs may vary at different locations. Typically, you can expect to pay $1 to $2 (or even less) per money order when you buy at other retail stores that offer this service.
If convenience or cost matters most to you, it's probably best to get a money order at a retail store.
Banks and Credit Unions
Your bank is also an excellent option for money orders. Banks will generally charge their account holders a fee for each money order, usually about $5 to $10. But if you're a top-tier account holder, they may waive the fee for you.
Buying a money order at a bank may cost a few dollars more than buying at the store, but if you only buy money orders occasionally, the difference won't amount to much. For more frequent purchases, you'll probably want to find an alternative.
The main benefit of a bank or credit union money order is customer service—they can make tracking the money order easier for you.
Some banks may only offer cashier’s checks instead of money orders, but your payee might not care which one you use. Be sure to check with them before you buy them.
U.S. Postal Service
U.S. Postal Service (USPS) money orders are another good option. They have a reputation around the world for being safe. However, getting a USPS money order can be hard—not all post offices issue money orders, so call ahead to confirm. Even if yours does, you might find yourself waiting in line. USPS money orders cost $1.45 for amounts up to $500 and $1.95 for amounts between $500.01 and $1,000.
As of August 30, 2019, USPS no longer issues or accepts money orders between the U.S. and Canada.
Establishments that deal with money (besides banks and credit unions) might also sell money orders. Western Union agents, payday loan shops, and other money transfer services are often conveniently located, too.
Some websites promise that you can get money orders online, but it can be difficult and even risky to do so. It’s important to work with a business that both you and your payee trust—you don’t want to get scammed, pay too much, or have your payee worry about whether or not the money order is legitimate.
How Much Does It Cost?
The price of a money order varies from location to location. Retail stores tend to cost less, and banks typically charge more. Keep in mind that issue limits might mean you have to buy multiple money orders, paying the fee for each one. For example, if you need to send someone $3,000—and the maximum money order issue amount is $1,000—you'll need to pay three fees to get three money orders.
How to Buy
Before you buy, make sure you know whom you'll be paying and how much money you'll need.
To purchase a money order, you typically need to pay with cash or a debit card. You generally can’t just write a personal check or use a credit card to purchase a money order, because issuers can’t be certain whether or not your check will bounce or whether you’ll file a chargeback with your card issuer. As a result, they only issue money orders after you pay with guaranteed funds.
Some issuers claim that you can use a credit card to buy a money order, but you're probably just getting a cash advance from your card. Cash advances are typically an expensive way to borrow because they come with hefty fees, and credit card companies charge high interest rates on those balances.
Filling Out the Form
To complete a money order, you need to know who it’s payable to. Provide a specific name for the person or organization you’re paying, and avoid making money orders payable to cash. The process of filling out the form is similar to writing a check.
There may be better tools than a money order for making payments in your situation. Money orders often do what you need, but they cost money to buy, and it can be a hassle to purchase them in person. If a seller or recipient requires you to use a money order, you don't have any choice, but if you have the option to pay another way, it's worth considering.
If you're using money orders as a substitute for a personal checking account, you may have better alternatives available.
Evaluate whether it's worth opening a checking account. Many banks and credit unions offer free checking, so you won't necessarily have to pay fees. Even if you end up paying modest charges, a bank account can still save you significant time and money if you’re already paying fees (and waiting in line) to buy money orders.
If using a bank isn't an option for you (or if you prefer not to work with banks), prepaid cards offer some of the same features as checking accounts—without the need to pay bank fees or get approved. In particular, you can use these accounts to pay bills, which might mean you need fewer money orders in the future. Some even offer check writing or cash back.
Keep That Receipt
No matter where you purchase a money order, keep your receipt in a safe place until you're certain that you won't need a refund. If the money order goes missing or your plans change, you'll likely need that receipt to have the money order canceled. Without it, you may be out of luck, or you’ll face additional delays and costs to get your money back.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How does a money order work?
A money order is a type of guaranteed payment. You pay a bank or other issuing institution the amount of the money order, plus a fee in order to get a check made out to your recipient, guaranteed by the issuer. That gives the payee more confidence than a personal check does that your payment won't bounce.
How do you track a money order?
To track a money order and see whether has been cashed, you'll need to contact the bank or company that issued it. You may need to visit in person or call over the phone, and you'll need to have the money order number and amount. Be prepared to pay a fee for this service.
How do I cancel a money order?
In some cases, such as when a money order has gone missing, you may need to cancel the payment and get a refund. To cancel a money order, contact the issuer and provide the money order number and amount. You might also need to show a receipt, and the issuer will charge a cancelation fee.