Approximately 7.1 million Americans were “unbanked” in 2019, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). “Unbanked” refers to people who don’t have a savings or checking account at a bank, credit union or other financial institution.
Depending on your needs and eligibility, there are plenty of free checking accounts available if you’re looking to get established with a financial institution.. However, if you’re looking to take advantage of certain tasks — like cashing a check — without one, you have options there, too.
When cashing checks without a bank account, you may face increased fees and certain restrictions, like not being able to cash a check above a particular amount of money. You might also need additional forms of ID and experience a waiting period before you can access the money.
Still, this service is available to you if you don’t have a bank account. Here are your options if you want to cash a check.
How to Cash a Check Without a Bank Account
Here are several ways you can cash a check — bank account optional.
1. Select Grocery Stores and Convenience Stores
Large grocery chains, such as Food Lion and Publix, offer check cashing. At H-E-B, you can cash your government check for as little as $3 or have the money loaded onto a prepaid debit card (more on these cards in a bit).
Some grocery stores have bank branches within them, too. For instance, certain ACME Markets have Citizens Bank branches within their shops that offer a small-scale variety of services (but call ahead to make sure that check cashing is one of those offerings). Many stores under the Kroger umbrella have check cashing as well.
Select convenience stores and corner shops also offer these services. 7-Eleven sort of has check cashing. You won’t be able to cash a check at a counter, but with Trans@ct by 7-11 — a prepaid Mastercard where users can have their direct deposit check added to the card — you can upload checks via a mobile app to load your funds onto it and access the money via an ATM. If you’re looking to avoid cards altogether, check with smaller independent shops near you to see if they offer this service.
2. Major Retailers
Superstores like Walmart offer check cashing. You need to bring your check and a valid ID to the retailer, and go to the customer service desk or Money Services center. There are restrictions surrounding the types of checks you can cash, although they’re pretty broad — everything from payroll checks to government checks and lots more in between are eligible. Walmart charges a maximum fee of $4 for checks under $1,000; the check cashing limit may vary by state.
Kmart is another big retailer that lets consumers cash checks. The company accepts payroll, tax refund and government checks under $2K and two-party personal checks under $500 — for the price of $1 or less. Check the Kmart website for more information on your particular state.
Note: Double check whether your retailer of choice offers check cashing before you head to the store. For instance, Target accepts personal checks for payment, but does not cash them.
3. Banks and Credit Unions
The check-issuing bank — look at the institution name printed on your check — provides check cashing services. Many brick-and-mortar banks and credit unions, in general, provide this service. In some cases, you won’t necessarily need to be a member of a particular bank to get a check cashed. However, you’re likely to pay fees or have to abide by other guidelines to get your money.
With that said, some banks don’t charge a fee if a check is under a certain amount. Especially if it’s one of the bigger, national branches. For instance, PNC Bank doesn’t charge a flat fee for check amounts that are $25 or less for non-clients. (The price goes up from there, costing you 2% of the check amount, or $2 minimum). Other banks charge a flat fee, no matter the amount.
When in doubt, check with a particular bank beforehand about their check cashing policy if you’re not a customer. There’s a possibility you could open an account for free and then be able to waive any fees, too.
So you know, a bank or credit union is not required to cash your check if you’re not a member, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
4. Check Cashing Stores
A check cashing store is a place where people can cash their checks for a fee. Also known as a check cashing outlet or organization, or check cashing service, these stores usually charge higher fees for this service.
We searched online to get an idea of pricing: One major provider cashes a variety of government, payroll and personal checks, but you’ll pay a percentage of the amount (up to 9.9%) to get your money. A smaller check cashing store company charged less, providing this service for between 2 and 2.5% of the total amount.
Check cashing stores typically have late-night and weekend hours and, in some cases, can get you your cash immediately without a holding period. But again, because of the higher fees typically associated with these stores, you probably wouldn’t want to make this a regular practice.
Certain ATMs allow you to cash checks, regardless of whether or not you have an account. However, there may be restrictions on the types of checks you can cash. And, you might need a bank card whether or not you have an actual account with said bank.
For example, Regions lets people cash a variety of checks — insurance, payroll and two-party personal checks, and more — without a Regions account for a check cashing fee. However, you will need to apply for a Regions Now Card first. From there, you can go to an ATM, select “cash check” and insert the check (approval may take up to an hour, and you could be instructed to finish the transaction at a branch). You can do mobile check deposit via the Regions app with a Now Card, too.
6. Prepaid Debit Cards
A prepaid debit card has bank-account-like capabilities without the bank account. If you prefer to go bankless, you can use a prepaid debit card to store money and even have your paycheck deposited onto it. These cards often come with regular fees, such as transaction, cash reload, balance inquiry and monthly fees — if you’re not careful, these costs can add up quickly. But, you can seek out cards with fewer fees and guidelines. (The Penny Hoarder Community members have discussed the topic of reloadable prepaid debit cards.)
The American Express Serve card is a prepaid debit account that doesn’t charge reload fees, unlike other cards on the market. Cardholders also benefit from perks such as Purchase Protection and Amex offers (like unlimited 1% cash back).
Can You Cash a Check With an Online Cash Management Account?
An online cash management account is typically held through a brokerage firm, and is a place where clients can store their money and grow it though low-risk investing. Current, Aspiration and Betterment are examples of companies with such cash management accounts.
They’re not technically banks and don’t have physical locations. However, these firms have accounts that can offer debit cards and checks, and services like mobile check depositing. The Fidelity Cash Management account offers a host of these services, and enables users to deposit checks via its mobile app and access the funds via an ATM. So, someone with an online cash management account can still cash a physical check without a traditional bank account as long as they have access to these services.
How to Open a Bank Account
Now, we’d be remiss if we made it through this article without telling you how to open a bank account. Opening an account at a bank, credit union or financial institution — whatever your preference — is a key move to keep your money secure and open you up to other helpful financial products and services.
Depending on what you prioritize, there’s an account for you. Some accounts charge no or few fees to manage it, offer you a free debit card, have member-only perks and other benefits. You can open an online-only account, or choose an institution that offers hybrid services, such as a mixture of mobile banking and in-person assistance at a branch.
Opening a bank account doesn’t have to be an overwhelming experience. And while every institution operates a little differently or has certain restrictions (for example, residency requirements for a regional credit union), it’s an important step for your overall finances.
What You Need to Open an Account
To open an account, you usually need to be at least 18 years old (or, if you’re younger, have a parent or guardian on your account). You’ll also need the following:
A valid government ID, such as a driver’s license or passport (if you bring the former, you may need your social security card as well)
Proof of address (like a utility bill)
You might need to open an account with a certain amount of money for an initial deposit, too. However, not every bank requires an upfront deposit (or a large amount at that — the requirement could be as low as $5 to get started). If you’re approved for the account, you’ll be able to start using it immediately.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Cashing a Check Without a Bank Account
We’ve answered some of the most commonly asked questions about the ways to cash checks if you don’t have a bank account.
Can You Cash a Check at Walmart Without a Bank Account?
Yes, you can cash a check at Walmart, no bank account needed. For under $4 (if the check is less than $1K, and $8 if the amount is greater than $1K), customers can cash their checks at designated counters within the retailer. Certain limits may apply, so check out the guidelines for your neighborhood Walmart.
What’s a Two-Party Personal Check?
A two-party personal check is a check made out to two people. For example, a personal check that’s made out to a person “and” (or “or”) their spouse. Depending on the bank, credit union and financial institution, both payees might need to be present (with valid ID) to cash a check made out to both people.
How Can I Cash a Check Online Without a Bank Account?
Some banks allow you to cash checks with their services, even if you don’t have an account with them. For example, you don’t need a Regions bank account to cash select checks at its branches or ATMs, but you do need a Regions Now Card — with this card and the Regions mobile app, you can deposit a check and then cash it, sans a formal bank account. If you have a smartphone, you can find workarounds to cash a check without an account.
Can Someone Else Cash My Check for Me?
It depends. Some banks might allow someone else to cash a check on your behalf, if you sign it over to them. Or, you might be allowed to cash a check if that person’s name is on a joint account you share with them. Check with the bank or credit union ahead of time so you’re aware of the policy and can plan accordingly.
Can Someone Else Cash My Check for Me at Walmart?
No. Walmart will only accept a check made out to the person cashing it, and they must have a valid ID.
Contributor Kathleen Garvin (@itskgarvin) is a personal finance writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida, and former editor and marketer at The Penny Hoarder. She owns a content-writing business and her work has appeared in U.S. News, Clark.com and Well Kept Wallet.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.