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Roughly 7.1 million American households are without a bank account, according to the FDIC, and you may have had trouble cashing a check if you belong to one of them. Cashing a check without a bank account is possible, but you may have to pay a fee to do it. In some cases, you may even have to do some extra legwork to make it happen.
Where to Cash a Check Without a Bank Account
If you're looking to cash a check but don't have a checking or savings account of your own, here are your top options.
Cashing at the Check-Issuing Bank
If you take the check to a branch of the bank that issued the check, the bank teller can check the account it's drawn from to ensure the funds are available. The name of the bank should be listed on the check.
It's important to note that not all banks do this, and some may charge a fee. Also, if the check is issued by a bank with no branches in your area, you'll need to pursue other avenues. If there are branches of the bank near you and they provide this service free of charge, this is your best option.
Cashing at a Retailer
Several retailers offer check-cashing services through their customer service departments. It's important to shop around, though, since cashing a check this way will cost you a fee that can vary by retailer.
This can be a convenient option, especially if the issuing bank doesn't have a physical branch nearby. But you might not be able to find a retailer that will help you if it's a larger check.
A check-cashing store is another convenient way to get access to your funds, but it can also be the most expensive one. Many of these stores charge a percentage of the check, which can range from 1% to 4%. Some may even charge a flat fee on top of that rate. As a result, consider these stores as a last resort.
Check-cashing stores may also provide other services, including payday loans, title loans and more.
Deposit to a Prepaid Debit Card
Prepaid debit cards typically allow you to load funds via mobile check deposit. Prepaid debit cards are relatively easy to get approved for, even if you can't open a checking account.
That said, many prepaid cards have up to a 10-day waiting period before you can access your check funds. If you want the money faster, you may have to pay a fee of up to 5%, which can be expensive.
Cash With Select Apps
Apps like Ingo Money allow you to deposit your check into an account of your choosing, which can be a prepaid debit card, PayPal account or bank account. However, the same drawback applies as with prepaid cards. You have to wait 10 days to get access to your funds unless you pay a fee of up to 5% of the check amount for rapid access.
How to Cash a Large Check Without a Bank Account
For most checks, you shouldn't have any problems using one of the options mentioned above. With large checks, however, the process can be a little more complicated.
For example, Kmart only cashes payroll and government checks up to $2,000, and Walmart will go as high as $5,000—though it does increase that limit to $7,500 from January through April, likely to accommodate tax refunds. Personal checks can be cashed up to $500 at Kmart and $200 at Walmart.
If you have a check that's larger than that, work with the issuing bank or deposit it into your prepaid card account, or even your PayPal account via an app like Ingo Money.
What to Consider Before Cashing a Check Without a Bank Account
Getting a bank account of your own is one of the best things you can do to help with cashing checks. But if you're having a hard time qualifying for one, here are some things to think about when deciding where to go.
You May Be on the Hook for a Fee
In most cases, cashing a check using a retailer or check-cashing store will result in a fee, and some issuing banks may charge something as well. To limit how much you spend on check-cashing fees, research your options to find the one that charges the least.
You'll Need Some Form of ID
Any institution that offers check-cashing services will require at least one form of identification. They do this to ensure that you are the person who should rightfully receive the check's funds.
In some cases, you may be required to provide two forms of identification—especially if you're trying to cash a large check.
Personal Checks Are Harder to Cash
If you're looking to cash a personal check, you'll have fewer options than with a payroll, government or other form of preprinted check. Many check-cashing stores, for instance, won't cash personal checks at all, and retailers tend to have low limits of just a few hundred dollars.
Start with the issuing bank, if possible. Another option is to ask the person who gave the check to instead give you cash, a money order or a cashier's check.
Seek the Lowest-Cost Option
It can be convenient to cash checks with retailers and check-cashing stores, but whether or not you do it regularly, it's worth taking a little extra time to find the lowest-cost option. In most cases, that's going to be getting a bank account of your own.
If you're having trouble getting approved for a bank account because of some poor marks on your ChexSystems report, which tracks your history of usage with past bank accounts, some banks and credit unions offer what's called second-chance banking. These accounts can come with some limitations but can help you get the services you need while you rebuild your banking history.