A 2019 study by the FDIC found that 5.4 million American households qualified as fully unbanked that year. Although that’s the lowest figure in more than a decade, it still represents more than 7 million individuals.
Moreover, a much larger share of Americans qualifies as “underbanked,” according to a more comprehensive FDIC study released in 2018. That study found nearly 20 percent of American households representing nearly 50 million adults and children fit the “underbanked” definition: consumers who have one or more FDIC-insured bank accounts but also use nonbank money services such as payday loans, auto title loans, tax refund anticipation loans, money orders, and check cashing services.
Of these money services, check cashing is particularly important for Americans who get by without direct deposit — whose income comes in whole or part by paper check. These folks need to access funds tied up not just in payroll checks but in personal checks, government checks, tax refund checks, insurance settlement checks, and other types of checks or deposit instruments such as cashier’s checks and money orders. And, without reliable access to traditional deposit accounts, they can’t simply transform those funds into numbers on an account statement.
If you’re among this group, you need to know where and how to cash checks reliably while avoiding predatory payday lenders and independent check cashing operations that charge an arm and a leg for convenience.
Where to Cash Checks If You Don’t Have a Bank Account
Fortunately, avoiding excessive cashing fees — and outright check cashing scams — is easier than ever these days, even without a traditional bank account.
Your options include reputable check cashing stores, department and grocery stores that provide check cashing services, and smaller retail stores — including convenience stores — that provide basic financial services.
Bear in mind that check cashing policies vary widely by retailer, tend to be much more restrictive for personal checks, and are subject to change without notice. Before cashing a check at any retailer for the first time, call the location you plan to visit to confirm your transaction is permitted.
Walmart, Kmart, and Other Big-Box Stores
This first crop of check cashing options includes major big-box retailers that offer basic financial services through their customer service departments or money services stores-within-stores (typically MoneyGram- or Western Union-branded outlets). Many big-box retailers also have in-store bank branches with their own check cashing policies and fee schedules.
- Walmart. Walmart offers an array of money services through MoneyGram. Its check cashing limit for nonpersonal checks is $5,000 per check from May through December and $7,500 from January through May. The check cashing fee is a flat fee of $4 for checks up to $1,000 and $8 for checks between $1,001 and $5,000. The cashing limit for personal checks is $200 with a maximum fee of $6.
- Kmart. Kmart’s MoneyHub cashes nonpersonal checks up to $2,000 and two-party personal checks up to $500. Fees vary by state but never exceed $5 per check. The service is entirely fee-free in Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, and Washington state.
- H-E-B. Texas-based big-box retailer H-E-B offers money services, including check cashing, through in-store Western Union hubs. Upper check amount limits and fees vary by store, but you should expect to pay at least $3 per check.
- Meijer. Michigan-based Meijer offers traditional banking services through Meijer Credit Union locations housed within its stores. Check cashing costs nothing for credit union members and $5 for nonmembers. Meijer Credit Union membership is limited to people who live, work, or worship in Michigan — a disadvantage for Meijer customers in Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Wisconsin, and other states with Meijer supermarket locations.
Your Local Supermarket
This crop of check cashing outlets includes national and regional supermarket and grocery store chains. Hundreds of grocery store chains operate throughout the United States, and many offer check cashing services, so this is by no means a comprehensive list — merely a geographically representative sampling of the most popular.
- Kroger and Kroger-Owned Brands. Operating out of thousands of individual locations across approximately 20 Kroger-owned supermarket brands, Kroger Money Services cashes nonpersonal checks for customers with free shopper loyalty accounts. Fees start at $3 for checks up to $2,000 and rise to $7.50 for checks up to $5,000, although pricing and availability may vary by brand and location.
- Albertsons and Albertsons-Owned Brands. Albertsons’ and the approximately 20 supermarket brands under its corporate umbrella offer a variety of money services through Western Union, including check and money order cashing at participating locations. Check cashing availability and fees vary by location and brand, so call ahead to confirm. Familiar Albertsons brands include Albertsons, Safeway, Shaw’s, Jewel-Osco, and Vons.
- Food Lion. Food Lion cashes payroll and government checks up to $1,000 per check, and cashes personal checks up to the greater of $50 or $50 over the purchase amount if the check is being cashed with a grocery order. Fees vary by store.
- Food Giant. Not to be confused with the similarly named but wholly separate chains GIANT Food Stores and Giant Food, employee-owned Food Giant offers check cashing services as part of a broader array of money services at dozens of locations in the southeastern United States. Fees and availability vary by location.
- Publix. Publix cashes payroll and personal checks, subject to variable limits and fees.
If you don’t see your preferred supermarket listed here, don’t assume it doesn’t offer check cashing services, as many grocery stores don’t advertise check cashing online. Check cashing isn’t especially profitable, for one, and management might not want to imply that its stores have lots of cash on hand. If your supermarket’s website doesn’t explicitly ward off would-be check cashers, a la Wegmans, your best bet is to call the specific location you’re planning to visit and inquire.
Your Neighborhood Convenience Store
Tens of thousands of convenience stores owned by dozens of regional and national brands offer check cashing services in the United States. Two particularly popular convenience store brands are worth noting here.
- 7-Eleven. 7-Eleven is arguably the most popular convenience store for check cashing. That’s due not just to its ubiquity but to its handy, user-friendly prepaid debit card and app, Trans@ct by 7-Eleven. Trans@act’s Mobile Check Load feature enables free mobile check deposit from anywhere with an Internet connection — no trip to the store necessary.
- Circle K. Most Circle K locations sell Green Dot reloadable prepaid debit cards, which can be loaded with funds from payroll checks and certain other types of nonpersonal checks. Load fees vary by product, some of which also carry a monthly fee; see Green Dot’s cardholder agreements for details.
Like brethren in the supermarket industry, many convenience store chains don’t actively advertise check cashing services online. If it’s not clear from the Web that your preferred outpost cashes checks, it never hurts to call ahead.
In-Branch at a Bank or Credit Union
Virtually all member-FDIC or –NCUA banks and credit unions cash payroll, government, and financial institution (including insurance company) checks for customers and noncustomers. Where permitted at all, banks’ and credit unions’ personal check cashing policies tend to be more restrictive.
This isn’t to say that banks and credit unions are always better bets than supermarkets and convenience stores. Noncustomers should expect to encounter check cashing fees on par with — and, in some cases, higher than — nonbank check cashing providers. A Los Angeles Times analysis conducted in 2017 found that Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo all charged around $8 per noncustomer check, albeit with an important fee waiver for payroll checks. Of the major banks investigated by the L.A. Times, only Citibank didn’t charge noncustomers check cashing fees.
Banks and credit unions are less likely to charge fees to cash checks they themselves cut — when they’re the “issuing bank,” in industry parlance. If your employer has an account with a local bank that has branches in your area, call the closest branch to confirm that it won’t take a cut of your payroll check.
PayPal’s check cashing solution, Cash a Check, works a bit differently than some of the brick-and-mortar outlets discussed above. The experience, like PayPal, is entirely remote: You simply use the PayPal mobile app to snap a picture of the check you want to deposit into your PayPal Cash Plus account, send it to PayPal for verification, and decide whether you want to rush the funds to your account for a fee or wait 10 days to receive them and pay nothing for the transaction.
See PayPal’s guide to the Cash a Check service for a step-by-step overview of the process and commonly asked questions.
Opening a Free Bank Account to Avoid Check Cashing Fees
Most nonbank check cashing options charge fees for their service. Banks and credit unions, by contrast, typically cash account holders’ checks for free. If you’d prefer not to lose a sliver of every paycheck to cashing fees, consider opening a bank account — most likely, a checking account — with a reputable bank or credit union.
To reduce the potential costs associated with your new account and set yourself up for a more convenient experience, follow these suggestions. In particular, you’ll want to seek out a free checking account with branches or ATMs in your area or an easy-to-use mobile app.
Limit Your Search to Truly Free Checking Accounts
Plenty of checking accounts are “free” for account holders able to meet monthly maintenance fee waiver requirements, which usually mandate minimum balances, transaction volumes, or both.
But if you live paycheck to paycheck, as many unbanked and underbanked Americans do, meeting those fee waiver requirements might be difficult. The good news is that plenty of banks offer truly free checking accounts without minimum balance requirements or check cashing fees for account holders.
Choose an Institution With Branches or ATMs in Your Area
Online banks and banklike financial apps like Chime are much less likely to nickel-and-dime account holders than big banks like the ones cited by the L.A. Times for high check cashing fees. But not all online banks and banklike financial apps offer free mobile check deposit services — or any mobile check deposit services at all — and thus aren’t acceptable solutions for users who are paid by paper checks.
What’s a would-be check casher to do? More often than not, the answer is clear: Open an account with a smaller local bank or credit union with physical branches or ATMs within easy reach. These consumer-friendly institutions are more likely to offer totally free checking accounts too.
Choose an Institution With Mobile Check Deposit Capabilities
If you’re not sold on banking locally, choose a bank or app with a mobile check deposit solution that doesn’t require you to mail your check to a physical address — a process that can add days to the bank’s hold on your funds. “No-mail” mobile check deposit is increasingly common but not yet guaranteed, so be sure to confirm that the institution you’re eying offers it before opening an account.
Open a High-Yield Savings Account to Earn a Return on Excess Funds
Pair your new checking account with a high-yield savings account that earns an above-average return on deposited funds. Bonus points for a solution that seamlessly blends the two — Simple’s one-two combination of a traditional checking account and high-yield Protected Goals Account is an excellent example.
In case you haven’t noticed, we’re moving inexorably toward a world without wallets — one in which, sooner or later, paper paychecks will join the telegraph and steam locomotive in technological obsolescence.
But we’re not there quite yet. Businesses large and small continue to pay employees the old-fashioned way. Government benefits providers and tax authorities still cut paper refund checks to taxpayers without bank accounts. Many insurance companies, wholesalers that purchase from the general public, and private sellers of all types — whether by preference or inertia —remain on the paper train.
Until this changes, consumers who don’t have the luxury of doing otherwise will continue to depend on reliable, affordable check cashing services to make ends meet. And there’s no shame in that.