Money orders can be an inconvenient way to pay, but they are necessary in certain transactions. There are numerous places to buy money orders, including grocery stores, post offices, and banks, but online money orders have never gained traction.
Why can’t you buy money orders online? Vendors simply aren't willing to take the risk. A money order is guaranteed payment, but it’s hard for issuers to verify your identity and payment method online. However, that doesn’t mean you’re entirely out of luck.
There are several alternative ways to pay, and you can even use the same companies that issue money orders (such as Western Union and MoneyGram) to get the job done.
Alternative Ways to Pay
If you can’t find a money order online, your next best option might be one of the approaches below:
- Online money transfers (via ACH) are popular for everything from bills to paying employees, and they’re often free or inexpensive.
- Pay in person at a physical location that’s associated with your payee. For example, some MoneyGram locations can forward payments to service providers like your electric company.
- Purchase a money order in-person and mail the payment (the old-fashioned way).
- Order a cashier's check from your bank, which you might be able to accomplish online.
- Send funds online to friends and family with P2P payment services. Pay your share of rent or dinner electronically.
- Make a wire transfer, which is another form of guaranteed payment, and is arguably safer for recipients (but potentially risky if you don’t know the person you’re paying). Plus, transfers often take place in one day. They do usually come with a fee, however.
Ultimately, it may be best to open an account that allows you to transfer money online quickly, easily, and frequently. Most checking accounts provide online bill payment and P2P payment services, plus you receive a debit card that you can use just like a credit card.
A bank account that eliminates the need to use money orders can save you a lot of time and money. You won’t need to pay for individual money orders or wait in line to purchase them.
Use Caution Searching for Online Money Orders
You can certainly try to buy a money order online, but you’re not likely to succeed. Most searches lead you to services that provide money “transfers,” which send money to your recipient electronically, and some of those options are listed above.
If you truly need a money order, online transfers won’t solve your problem, although it’s always possible that whoever is receiving the funds will accept an electronic transfer.
Some of the confusion that arises when searching online is innocent, and some of it is a result of deception. Legitimate companies such as Western Union offer both money orders and online money transfers, and search engines may not differentiate between those services. Other companies know that you’re looking for an online money order, and they hope to helpfully offer the next best thing: online money transfers. Finally, some advertisers don’t know the difference between a money order and a money transfer.
Risk for Vendors
Why do existing money order issuers (who already know how to earn a profit selling money orders) stay away from selling online? They’re afraid of losing money to fraud.
Online transactions are risky, unlike in-person purchases with cash and a representative who verifies your identity. Vendors can’t be sure where the money is coming from, so they’re not going to print an instrument that is as good as cash. There’s no way for them to get the money back in cases of fraud unless they spend a substantial amount of money on investigations and legal action.
Several companies have tried offering money orders online, but they did not last long. Others will undoubtedly come along, but you should be cautious about using them. If you buy a money order online, you’re either dealing with a company that has “figured out the secret” or one that is willing to take huge risks for a small fee—or it’s a scam.
Outside of the United States, there are a few companies that advertise money orders online, but their services are generally unavailable in the U.S., and overseas financial transactions are always risky.