How To Cash A Paycheck Without A Bank Account?

By Kristin Kizer - Nov. 13, 2020
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You just got your first payroll check, but you don’t have a bank account. You need the money, but where do you take your check to cash it? It’s a conundrum, and it’s one first-time employees often face.

Getting a bank account should probably go on your to-do list, but you need a way to get that cash until then. The good news is there are several different places you can go to cash your paychecks. Some will be more convenient than others, and some will even charge you for it.

Before we tell you where to go, let’s look at what you need to cash a check. You don’t want to show up and find out you drove across town without the correct identification.

What You Need to Cash a Check

No matter where you go to cash a check, you’re probably going to have to present photo identification. Your driver’s license is usually the most hand form of photo ID that people have, but a state-issued identification and sometimes even a school ID can work. Other acceptable forms of ID could include:

  • Military ID

  • U.S. passport

  • Tribal ID

  • Green card

  • Resident alien ID

In addition to having your ID, you’re also going to need to bring the check with you, obviously.

Where to Cash a Payroll Check

So now you have your first paycheck in one hand and your driver’s license in the other. You’re ready to put some cold, hard cash in your pocket. Where should you go?

  • Check-issuing bank. If you look at the check, you’ll see a bank listed on it. This is the check-issuing bank, or the place where the person (or company) who gave you the check has an account. They will honor any checks written from account holders at their institutions. Let’s say it was a Wells Fargo bank; you can go to any Wells Fargo and cash that check.

  • Some retailers. If you have a big box store near you, many of them offer check-cashing services in their customer service departments. Walmart is well known for its check-cashing services, and it’s a popular place for many to cash their payroll checks. Just make sure you check Walmart’s check-cashing rules to make sure they will cash your check before you head to the store. Also, each state has different rules, so you might want to look into what those are.

  • Check-cashing store. Check-cashing stores have become very popular in the last couple of decades, out of necessity. You might feel like you’re the only one who doesn’t have a bank account. It’s true that 95% of households in the United States, but that means that 5% don’t. While that’s a small percentage, it’s a lot of people. Roughly 7.1 million households are “unbanked,” according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

    So, a check-cashing store is in the business of doing just that, giving you cash for a check. They can do a few other, limited things, but this is their business, and because it’s a business, they’re going to charge you – more on that later.

  • Check-cashing kiosk. Don’t want to go to a store, how about a kiosk? Just like a check-cashing store, these little kiosks are cropping up in gas stations, grocery stores, big boxes, etc. They function almost exactly like a check-cashing store, but it might be more convenient for you to use them.

  • Onto a prepaid card. One interesting way you can get your check cashed but not have to handle actual money is to get a prepaid credit card or debit card. You can load these cards up with money from checks, gifts, returns – anywhere you’d get money and then use them just like you would a credit card or a debit card. It’s a convenient way to pay for things, and you don’t have to carry cash around with you.

    An interesting thing about these cards is you can find store specific ones from the same big box stores you use to cash your check. These grocery and convenience stores often then waive the fees for cashing your check because they know you’re going to put all of the money right back into their store. This can be a win/win situation. Just make sure you’re going to use all of the money on the card, or you’re basically throwing money away.

    If you don’t want to go the specific store route, you can typically use an ATM to deposit the check and reload your prepaid card. You might also be able to find a mobile app that will do this for you – how convenient is that? These cards don’t have to be store specific, and you can use them anywhere they accept debit or credit cards.

  • Sign it over to someone else. One way to cash a check that typically won’t involve a fee is by signing it over to someone else. In this example, let’s say you’ve got your first job and your first paycheck, you don’t have a bank account yet, but your mom does. Since your mom knows and, hopefully, trusts you, she’s willing to have you endorse the check over to her, and she’ll give you cash for it. Then she can take the check to her bank and deposit it, and she’ll get reimbursed.

    If you’re wondering how to endorse a check to someone else, there are a couple of steps involved, but it’s straightforward. First of all, you need to endorse it yourself. This means you sign the back in the area reserved for your signature.

    Make sure you sign it in the same way the check was written out to you. Normally, this isn’t a big deal, but it can be brought into question. So, if the check is made out to James Smith, sign it that way even though you usually go by Jimmy Smith.

    Beneath your signature, there is sometimes a line for notes. Even if the line isn’t there, pretend it is. This is where you can make a note that you’re signing it over to someone else. In this case, James Smith would sign his name, and then, below it, he’d write “Pay to the order of” followed by his mom’s name – so, Shirley Smith.

    In our example, Shirley Smith has a bank account. The bank knows her, she knows her son, Jimmy, has a job, and this is his paycheck. There’s nothing suspicious going on. The bank will most likely honor that endorsement. But it’s up to them if they will or not. They might think it seems suspicious and not accept the check.

Where to Cash a Check Without a Bank Account

If you have a check you want to cash that isn’t a payroll check, your options are the same. Let’s say grandma sent you a $50 check for your birthday. You could take this check to an issuing bank, a retailer, a check-cashing store, or deposit it onto your prepaid debit card. You could also sign it over to one of your parents or a friend, and they can put it into their checking account and give you the cash.

One thing to note, just because a place cashes your payroll or a government-issued check, it doesn’t mean they’ll cash personal checks. They might feel there’s too much risk to them, so they simply refuse to honor this type of check.

Cheapest to Most Expensive Check-Cashing Options

While going to a check-cashing store might be the easiest way to cash out, it’s not necessarily the best idea. Hey, you worked hard for that money, and now the check-cashing store wants you to give a percent to them just so they can cash the check. That seems crazy – but it’s actually not. It’s done to protect the store.

These stores take on a lot of risk by cashing checks for people they don’t know and people who don’t have bank accounts. As an example, Jim stole Sarah’s checks and started writing them out to himself? He pops in at the check-cashing store, and they give him $500 for the bogus check. Sarah realizes her checks have been stolen, and the bank puts a halt on her account. The check-cashing store then hears from the issuing bank that they’re not honoring those checks because they were part of an identity theft situation. Now, the check-cashing store is out $500.

While most people who cash checks without a bank account are on the up-and-up and not committing identity fraud, there are those nefarious individuals who do. By collecting a small fee or percentage from each customer, these stores can recover their losses and pay their employees.

While a fee now seems more reasonable, you still don’t want to pay it. We totally understand. Here is a list of ways you can cash a check without a bank account, from the cheapest to most expensive. Keep in mind; this is a general list. Individual establishments may have a different pay structure, so if you want to find a cheap solution, it’s best to shop around.

  • Endorse the check to someone else. This will cost you nothing, as long as the person you endorse the check to doesn’t charge you.

  • Issuing bank. Some of these institutions don’t charge anything, some charge a percentage of the check, and some have a flat fee. It pays to check with the specific bank to see what their policy is.

  • Prepaid credit/debit card. If you’re going with a store-specific card, then there might not be a fee at all, but you have to spend it all in one place. A prepaid card sponsored by a major credit card doesn’t need to be spent in one place, but there might be a small fee involved – usually, just a few dollars.

  • Retailers. If the retailer is putting the check amount on one of their store cards, there probably won’t be a fee. But if you’re looking for cash, they’re going to charge. Some stores charge a percent of the check; others have a fixed dollar amount based on the check’s size.

  • Check-cashing store or kiosk. These are the most expensive ways to cash a check, and, as we explained above, they have their reasons. These are businesses looking to protect themselves from loss, pay their bills and employees, and make a profit, and you’re going to pay for the service they provide.

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Kristin Kizer

Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.

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