How to Cash a Check Without a Bank Account

Cashing a check without a bank account may be costly, but it's possible.

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Cashing a check is often as easy as visiting the nearest bank or ATM associated with your checking or savings account. But the most recent Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation survey estimated that more than 4.5% of US households -- about 5.9 million -- are "unbanked," meaning no one in the home has a checking or savings account. Still, cashing a check without a bank account isn't impossible, and there are a few cost-effective options available. 

Where can you cash a check without a bank account?

There are numerous ways to cash a check without a bank account, including the following: 

Visit the issuing bank

Banks and credit unions aren't obligated to cash checks for noncustomers, but most banks will cash a check payable to a noncustomer if an account holder issues the check. Start by going to the bank that issued the check and ask if they will cash it for you. If the bank agrees, you'll need to show a government-issued photo ID like a driver's license or passport. Remember that you may be charged a flat fee as a noncustomer to cash a check at the issuing bank. 

Use check-cashing services

If you can't cash the check at the issuing bank, try going to a check-cashing store but be wary of fees. A check-cashing store offers financial services to those without bank accounts, allowing you to cash a paycheck or government-issued check for a flat fee ranging from 2% to 10% of the face value of the check. Fees for check cashing vary depending on the company, state, type of check and check amount, but tend to be one of the most costly methods to cash a check. 

Sign over your check to someone else

If a friend or a family member has a bank account, sign the check over to them and ask if they can cash it on your behalf. If they agree to do so, sign the back of the check and then write "Pay to the order of," followed by their full name. You should go with your friend or family member in case the bank teller needs to see your ID or has inquiries about the check.

Use a prepaid debit card

Prepaid debit cards work like standard debit cards, but your spending is limited to how much you load onto the card. Some prepaid cards allow you to load funds using mobile check deposit, and then you should be able to withdraw the cash from an ATM. Note that if you load your prepaid card with a mobile check deposit, your card may have a waiting period before you can access the funds. If you need to access the money faster, you may have to pay a fee, depending on the issuer.

Go to a retail store

You can cash a check at several major retailers and grocery chains like Walmart and Kroger. Sign the back of the check and show a valid ID to the cashier. Cashing a check at a retail store may cost you a fee that varies by retailer. Walmart, for example, charges a maximum fee of $4 to cash checks up to $1,000, as much as $8 for checks greater than $1,000 and a maximum fee of $6 for two-party personal checks up to $200.  

What to consider when cashing a check without a bank account

Whether you're cashing a check for the first time or have trouble getting approved for a bank account, make sure to consider the following:

Fees and restrictions

Some check-cashing stores will charge a flat fee or percentage-based fee to cash a check, while others will only cash checks under a specific dollar amount. Before you choose the check-cashing option that's best for you, research the fees and restrictions to find the one that charges the least.  

Identification

Any time you cash a check, the financial institution or participating retailer will require at least one form of identification to verify that you're the person the check is issued to. Acceptable forms of identification include a driver's license, state-issued ID, military ID or passport.

Second-chance checking accounts

Second-chance checking accounts are structured like traditional checking accounts, but they're geared toward people with flawed banking histories. Second-chance checking accounts typically come with more fees than regular checking accounts, but the convenience of a standard checking account, like debit card use, depositing cash and ATM access. This alternative form of banking can provide someone struggling with conventional banking with a way to get back on track. 

The bottom line

Cashing a check without a bank doesn't have to burn a hole in your pocket, but it's important to research the fees and restrictions associated with each option. Consider cashing the check at the issuing bank for the best rates, or visit a participating retailer for convenience. However, if you have difficulty opening a traditional checking account, look into second-chance checking accounts to help you rebuild your banking history.

Correction, 7:30 a.m. PT Jan. 25: A previous version of this article said that a check-cashing store allows you to cash a paycheck or government-issued check for a flat fee ranging from 1% to 4% of the face value of the check. The range is more like 2% to 10%. The previous version of this article also stated that some prepaid debit cards have a 10-day waiting period before you can access your funds and that if you want to access your money faster, you may have to pay a 5% fee, depending on the issuer. In fact, if you load your prepaid card with a mobile check deposit, your card may have a waiting period before you're able to access the funds. You'll likely have to pay a fee if you need to access the money faster, depending on the issuer. Also in the previous version of this article, it said that Walmart charges a fee of $4 to cash checks up to $1,000, $8 for checks greater than $1,000 and $6 for two-party personal checks up to $200. Those fees are maximum fees, not the standard fees for cashing checks at the store.