Why You Can't Buy Money Orders Online
You might like paying with money orders or you might be required to, but they’re not always convenient. There are numerous places to buy money orders including grocery stores, post offices, and banks, but online money orders haven’t really taken off.
Why can’t you buy money orders online? Because nobody is willing to take the risk of selling them. That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck entirely. There are several alternative ways to pay, and you can even use the same companies that issue money orders (like 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 commonly used to pay bills, and they’re often free or inexpensive
- Pay in person at a physical location that’s associated with your payee (some MoneyGram locations can forward payments to service providers like your electric company, for example)
- Buy a money order in-person and mail the payment (the old-fashioned way)
- Order a cashier's check from your bank (this can sometimes be done online)
- Send funds online to friends and family with P2P payment services
- Make a wire transfer, which is also a form of guaranteed payment (and it’s instant)
Ultimately, it may be best to open an account that allows you to transfer money online quickly, easily, and frequently. Most checking accounts offer online bill payment and P2P payment services, plus you'll get a debit card that can be used just like a credit card. A bank account that eliminates the need to use money orders can end up saving you a lot of time and money.
Having trouble finding an affordable account? Try a credit union or a small local bank.
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 will lead you to services that provide money “transfers,” which send money to your recipient electronically (some of those options are listed above).
In most cases, that 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 the search engines seem to get mixed up on the differences. 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 hope you can’t tell the difference between a money order and a money transfer.
Risk for Vendors
Why would the existing money order issuers (who already know how to earn a profit selling money orders) stay away from selling online?
Fraud. Unlike an in-person transaction with cash or the ability to verify your identity, online transactions are risky. 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 tens of thousands of dollars on investigations and legal action).
A few companies have tried offering money orders online, but they did not last long. Others will certainly 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 very 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 US, and overseas financial transactions are always risky.