How to Cash a Check Without a Traditional Bank Account

Updated on June 11, 2018
Gregory DeVictor profile image

Gregory is a financial consultant and author. He works in the debt relief industry and writes articles on consumer finance.

How to Cash a Check Without a Traditional Bank Account

Millions of Americans are unable to open a traditional checking account because they have poor credit and a negative ChexSystems report. The two problems are generally related because the majority of consumers with credit problems also have banking issues. For example, if you write checks to pay credit card bills and the checks are returned because of insufficient funds, there is a good chance that the bills will be turned over to collection agencies and eventually show up on your credit report. To make matters worse, nearly two-thirds of consumers who enroll in a debt consolidation or debt settlement program drop out because they cannot afford to make the monthly payments to a debt relief company.

Banks can pull your credit report or score when you apply for a checking account because they often have loan features such as overdraft protection. They need to know whether you have any late payments, a charge-off, collection accounts, judgments, or a bankruptcy.

For those who don’t already know, ChexSystems is a consumer credit reporting agency that tracks people who have mishandled any bank accounts over the past five years. ChexSystems reports include unpaid fees from overdrafts, checks bounced at retailers and other companies, and account closures. About 80% of banks and credit unions use ChexSystems to assess the potential risks of having an account applicant as a customer.

If you cannot open a checking account because of poor credit history and a negative ChexSystems report, you might have trouble cashing a payroll, government, or personal check. This article teaches you how to cash a check without a traditional bank account.

For your convenience, I have divided this hub into the following categories:

  • Prepaid Debit Cards
  • Check-Cashing Businesses
  • 33 Retailers That Offer Free or Low-Cost Check Cashing
  • Money Orders
  • Second Chance Bank Accounts

Author’s note: Although I have made every effort to provide you with accurate, timely, and trustworthy information, I cannot guarantee that such information is up-to-date at the time of your access. Further, I do not endorse any of the prepaid debit cards, retailers, or banks mentioned in this article.

Have you ever obtained a copy of your ChexSystems report?

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Prepaid Debit Cards

What is the difference between a bank-account debit card and a prepaid one? A bank-account card is directly linked to a checking account while a prepaid one is not. With a prepaid debit card, you load money in advance on the card to shop, pay bills, or withdraw cash from an ATM. You can also use a prepaid debit card to receive direct deposits of payroll checks, government benefits, and tax refunds.

Prepaid debit cards are a viable alternative if you cannot open a traditional checking account because of poor credit and a negative ChexSystems report. Prepaid cards are available online, at banks, and from retailers like Walmart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Kroger, Safeway, and Giant Eagle.

Nearly all prepaid cards will charge you fees whether or not you use the card. The charges and amounts will vary depending upon the card and how you choose to use it. For example, Bluebird by American Express and the Chase Liquid Card have relatively few fees while the NetSpend Card has approximately 25. As a result, some prepaid cards could cost you hundreds of dollars more annually than others.

What kinds of fees can you expect to pay with a prepaid debit card? Here are 25 common fees for prepaid cards:

  1. Activation fees

  2. Additional card fees

  3. ATM cash withdrawal fees

  4. Balance inquiry fees (ATM)

  5. Balance inquiry fees (telephone automated service)

  6. Balance inquiry fees (telephone customer service agent)

  7. Card cancellation fees

  8. Card purchase fees

  9. Card-to-card transfer fees

  10. Cash reload fees

  11. Customer service fees

  12. Custom fees

  13. Declined transaction fees

  14. Direct deposit fees

  15. Foreign transaction fees

  16. Inactivity fees

  17. International ATM cash withdrawal fee

  18. Monthly maintenance fees

  19. Online bill payment fees

  20. Over-the-counter cash withdrawal fees at a bank or credit union

  21. Overdraft protection fees

  22. Paper statement fees

  23. Point-of-sale fees

  24. Replacement card fees

  25. Stop payment fees

Here are three low-cost prepaid cards:

Bluebird by American Express - There are no monthly maintenance fees, no costs for activation or inactivity, no fees for purchases or customer service calls, and free ATM withdrawals at 32,000 machines in the MoneyPass network. You can even receive a replacement card for free.

Please note that there are two downsides to this card:

  • American Express is not accepted in as many places as Visa and MasterCard.
  • You cannot receive cash back at the point-of-sale.

You can obtain a Bluebird by American Express Card at Walmart or sign up for free at Bluebird.com.

Chase Liquid Card - Although there is a $4.95 monthly maintenance fee, there are no costs for activation or inactivity, no fees for purchases, and free ATM withdrawals at over 16,000 Chase ATMs. The minimum initial load is $25.

You can only obtain a Chase Liquid Card at a Chase bank branch. Here are the states where you will find Chase bank locations: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card - There is a $4 monthly service fee that you don't have to pay if you deposit $500 or more in any calendar month. There are no activation or inactivity fees, no fees on purchases, and free ATM withdrawals at Fifth Third and Allpoint ATMs.

You can only obtain a Fifth Third Card at a Fifth Third Bank branch. Here are the states where you will find Fifth Third locations: Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

Here are five prepaid cards that you should avoid because of excessive fees:

  • AccountNow® Gold Visa® Prepaid Card
  • MyVanilla Prepaid MasterCard
  • MyVanilla Prepaid Visa Card
  • Netspend® Prepaid Mastercard®
  • Netspend® Visa® Prepaid Card

Here are two examples of what I mean by exorbitant fees:

  • A consumer with a NetSpend Card who makes five ATM cash withdrawals a month, ten signature purchases, five balance inquiries using a customer service agent, and two check requests could pay as much as $36.90 in fees. A replacement card costs $9.95. If you want card delivery in 1-2 business days, that will set you back another $25.00.
  • A customer with a MyVanilla Prepaid Visa Card who makes 20 purchases a month, five ATM withdrawals, four cash reloads, and five balance inquiries using an ATM could pay as much as $40.75 in fees. A replacement card costs $6.00. If you want expedited card delivery, that will set you back another $21.00.

Here are two examples of how much you would pay with a low-cost card:

  • A consumer with a Bluebird by American Express Card who makes 20 purchases a month, five ATM withdrawals at machines in the MoneyPass network, and two cash reloads at Walmart would pay no fees at all. (Cash reloads at retailers other than Walmart could cost up to $3.95 per reload.)
  • A customer with a Chase Liquid Card who makes ten signature purchases a month, five cash withdrawals from a Chase ATM, and two reloads at a Chase branch would only pay a $4.95 monthly maintenance fee.

Please note that fees on all prepaid cards are subject to change at any time.

Have you ever used a prepaid debit card?

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Check-Cashing Businesses

You will often find check-cashing businesses in neighborhoods that have no commercial banks or retailers like Walmart or Kroger. They charge a fee of 1–12% to cash a government, payroll, or personal check. Check-cashing stores also sell money orders for as much as $5.00, which is nearly five times what you would pay at a grocery or drug store.

Here are some “permissible” check-cashing fees by state

  • In California, a check casher can charge up to 12% of the face value of a personal check.
  • In Delaware, a check-cashing service can charge up to 2% or $4.00, whichever is greater, to cash a government, payroll, or personal check.
  • In Pennsylvania, check cashers can charge up to 3% for payroll checks, 10% for personal checks, and 2.5% for government checks.
  • Check-cashing businesses in the following states can charge up to 10% or $5.00, whichever is greater, to cash a personal check: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington, DC.
  • The following states have no caps for cashing government, payroll, and personal checks: Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Here are three examples of how much you can pay in fees at a check-cashing business:

Suppose you receive a biweekly payroll check for $1,369 and cash it at a service that charges a 3% fee. For each check, you will pay a service charge of $41.07 (3% of $1,369 = $41.07). If you cash 26 checks a year, you will pay a total of $1,067.82 in fees.

Here’s another example: Suppose you receive a biweekly payroll check for $939 and cash it at a service that charges $10 plus 1% of the check’s face value. For each check, you will pay a service charge of $19.39 ($10 plus 1% of $939 = $19.39). If you cash 26 checks a year, you will pay a total of $504.14 in fees.

Here is a final example: Suppose you receive a government check for $1,521 and cash it at a service that charges a 2.5% fee. You will pay a service charge of $38.03 (2.5% of $1,521 = $38.03). If you cash 12 checks a year, you will pay a total of $456.36 in fees.

You should only use check-cashing businesses as a last resort. As a smart-money alternative, use a low-cost prepaid debit card or cash your checks at a retailer such as Walmart or Kroger.

Have you ever used a check-cashing service such as Walmart?

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33 Retailers That Offer Free or Low-Cost Check Cashing

Many retail chains offer free or low-cost check-cashing services. To cash a check, you will need a valid government-issued photo ID and may also need to apply for a check-cashing card.

Here are 33 retailers that offer free or low-cost check cashing:

Albertsons cashes electronically-signed checks at most stores. Fees vary by location.

City Market cashes government, payroll, tax refund, insurance, and business checks. When cashing a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card. Here is the fee structure:

  • $3.50 for checks that are $2,000 or less

  • $5.50 for checks over $2,000 up to a limit of $5,000

  • You receive a $0.50 discount per check if you have a Shopper’s Card.

Country Mart charges 2% of the check amount, but they will return half of the check-cashing fee to you as store credit. To cash a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card.

Dillons cashes government, payroll, tax refund, insurance, and business checks. When cashing a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card. Here are the fees:

  • $3.50 for checks that are $2,000 or less

  • $5.50 for checks over $2,000 up to a limit of $5,000

  • You receive a $0.50 discount per check if you have a Shopper’s Card.

Food City charges $3.00 to cash payroll, U.S. government, and rebate checks up to $1,000. To cash a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card and be on the approved list.

Food Lion cashes personal, government, rebate, tax refund, and U.S. Traveler’s Checks up to $500 and payroll checks up to $1,000. When cashing a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card. Fees vary by state.

Fred Meyer cashes government, payroll, tax refund, insurance, and business checks. To cash a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card. Here is the fee structure:

  • $3.50 for checks that are $2,000 or less

  • $5.50 for checks over $2,000 up to a limit of $5,000

  • You receive a $0.50 discount per check if you have a Shopper’s Card.

Gerbes cashes government, payroll, tax refund, insurance, and business checks. When cashing a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card. Here are the fees:

  • $3.50 for checks that are $2,000 or less

  • $5.50 for checks over $2,000 up to a limit of $5,000

  • You receive a $0.50 discount per check if you have a Shopper’s Card.

Giant Eagle cashes personal, payroll, government, and U.S. Traveler’s Checks. To cash a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card, your Giant Eagle Advantage Card, and endorse the check in front of an authorized team member. Fees vary by location.

Giant Food cashes government and payroll checks. However, you must apply for a check-cashing card. Fees vary by location.

Hannaford cashes payroll, government, and pension checks. When cashing a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card and apply for check-cashing privileges. Fees vary by location.

Hy-Vee charges $2.00 to $6.00 to cash a printed payroll check. Limits vary by location but range from $2,000 to $5,000. To cash a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card. Please note that all Hy-Vee locations do not have check-cashing services.

King Soopers cashes government, payroll, tax refund, insurance, and business checks. When cashing a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card. Here is the fee structure:

  • $3.50 for checks that are $2,000 or less

  • $5.50 for checks over $2,000 up to a limit of $5,000

  • You receive a $0.50 discount per check if you have a Shopper’s Card.

Kmart cashes government and payroll checks up to $2,000 and two-party personal checks up to $500 for $1.00 or less. To cash a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card. To qualify for low-cost checking, you must be a member of the Shop Your Way program.

Kroger cashes government, payroll, tax refund, insurance, and business checks. When cashing a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card. Here are the fees:

  • $3.50 for checks that are $2,000 or less

  • $5.50 for checks over $2,000 up to a limit of $5,000

  • You receive a $0.50 discount per check if you have a Shopper’s Card.

Market Basket charges 1.25% of the check amount to cash payroll checks. To cash a check, you must have two forms of ID.

Meijer cashes personal, payroll, government, tax refund, and Western Union money orders. However, you might need fingerprinting before can cash a check. Fees vary by location.

Owen’s cashes government, payroll, tax refund, insurance, and business checks. When cashing a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card. Here is the fee structure:

  • $3.50 for checks that are $2,000 or less

  • $5.50 for checks over $2,000 up to a limit of $5,000

  • You receive a $0.50 discount per check if you have a Shopper’s Card.

Price Chopper cashes payroll checks for free. However, you must sign up for an AdvantEdge Card and apply for check-cashing privileges.

Publix charges between $3.00 and $6.00 to cash payroll and personal checks. To cash a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card.

QFC (Quality Food Centers) cashes government, payroll, tax refund, insurance, and business checks. When cashing a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card. Here are the fees:

  • $3.50 for checks that are $2,000 or less

  • $5.50 for checks over $2,000 up to a limit of $5,000

  • You receive a $0.50 discount per check if you have a Shopper’s Card.

Ralphs cashes government, payroll, tax refund, insurance, and business checks. To cash a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card. Here is the fee structure:

  • $3.50 for checks that are $2,000 or less

  • $5.50 for checks over $2,000 up to a limit of $5,000

  • You receive a $0.50 discount per check if you have a Shopper’s Card.

Safeway cashes payroll, Social Security, unemployment, tax refund, and disability checks that are $1,499 or less. They charge $2.25 for every $200 cashed. When cashing a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card.

Schnucks cashes personal checks up to $100 for $1.50 per check. To cash a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card and apply for check-cashing privileges.

Shaw’s cashes government and payroll checks up to $1,500. When cashing a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card. Fees vary by location.

ShopRite cashes government and payroll checks up to $500 for free. However, you must get a ShopRite Price Plus Card.

Stop & Shop cashes government and payroll checks. To cash a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card and apply for a check-cashing card. Fees vary by location.

Tops Friendly Markets cashes government and payroll checks up to $500 for $1.00 per check. When cashing a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card. Please note that check cashing is not available at all locations.

Walmart charges $3.00 for checks up to $1,000 and $6.00 for checks over $1,000. There is a $7,500 cashing limit from January-April and $5,000 for the rest of the year. You also have the option of having your money loaded on a Walmart MoneyCard for added convenience. To cash a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card.

Walmart cashes government and payroll checks, tax refunds, cashier’s checks, and MoneyGram money orders that were purchased at Walmart. (To clarify, you cannot cash Western Union or Amscot money orders at Walmart.)

Wegmans - Shoppers Club cardholders can cash personal and traveler’s checks up to $500 for free. When cashing a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card and have a Shoppers Club Card.

Winco Foods cashes payroll checks up to $500 for $5 and checks up to $1,000 for $10. To cash a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card and verify your employment.

Winn-Dixie charges $3.50 to cash electronically-signed checks up to $500 at most locations. When cashing a check, you must show a valid and current government-issued ID card.

Have you ever purchased a money order?

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Money Orders

If you’re cashing checks at retailers like Walmart or a check-cashing store, you’re probably going to need money orders to pay some of your bills. Money order prices range from $0.59 to $6.00. You can purchase a money order at Walmart or Kroger for $0.70 or pay as much as $6.00 at a bank, credit union, or check-cashing business.

Here's a list of money order prices at supermarkets, superstores, discount stores, gas stations, convenience stores, pharmacies, and the USPS.

 
 
 
Store
Cost
Limit
Albertsons
$0.89
$500
CVS
$0.99
$500
Circle K
$1.00
$500
Dillons
$0.69 with a Shopper's Card
$1,000
Family Fare
$0.70
$500
Food City
$1.00
$500
Food Lion
$1.00
$500
Fred Meyer
$0.79
$1,000
Fry’s Foods
$0.69 with a Shopper's Card
$1,000
Giant Eagle
$0.99
$500
H-E-B
$0.69
$500
Harris Teeter
$0.99
$500
Jewel-Osco
$0.69
$500
King Soopers
$0.69 with a Shopper's Card
$1,000
Kroger
$0.69 with a Shopper's Card
$1,000
Meijer
$0.65
$1,000
Publix
$0.85
$500
Quik Trip
$1.50
$300
RiteAid
$0.99
$500
Safeway
$0.59
$500
Schnucks
$4.00-$5.00
$1,000
ShopRite
$0.99
$500
Smith's
$0.69 with a Shopper's Card
$1,000
Speedway
$1.59
$500
Stop & Shop
$1.00
$1,000
USPS
$1.20
$500
USPS
$1.60
$1,000
Vons
$0.89
$500
Walgreens
$0.60-$1.00
$500
Winn-Dixie
$0.79
$500

Second Chance Bank Accounts

What are second chance bank accounts? MagnifyMoney.com tells us that second chance accounts “do not use ChexSystems to screen applicants, and are specifically for people who need a second chance to prove that they can use their bank account responsibly. You can use a second chance bank account to get back into good standing with banks, and eventually ‘graduate’ your way back to a regular checking or savings account.” NerdWallet.com adds that "Second chance checking is a way to rebuild your banking history, although it doesn’t have all the services that come with regular checking."

Here are 10 second-chance checking accounts worth looking into:

  • BBVA Compass ClearChoice Free Checking and Easy Checking - There is a $25 minimum deposit to open and no monthly maintenance fee.
  • Centennial Bank Opportunity 100 Checking - The opening deposit is between $100 and $250. There is no minimum monthly balance and free basic bill pay. If you maintain your Opportunity 100 Checking account in good standing for 12 months, you may qualify for a different checking account at Centennial Bank.
  • City National Bank Bounce Back Checking - No minimum monthly balance is needed. There is a $6.99 monthly service charge with direct deposit and $8.99 without DD.
  • First National Bank and Trust Company Renew Checking - There is a $25 minimum deposit to open and no monthly minimum balance.
  • Landmark Bank Rebound Checking - There is a monthly service fee of $9.99. If you maintain your Rebound Checking account in good standing for 12 months, you may qualify Better Free Checking with no monthly service fees.
  • PNC Foundation Checking - Before you can open an account, you must go through PNC's "Foundations of Money Management" course. You also need a $25 minimum deposit to open.
  • Premier Bank StartFresh Checking - There is a $50 minimum deposit to open. If you maintain your StartFresh Checking account in good standing for 18 months, you may qualify for a different checking account at Premier Bank.
  • Republic Bank Checking Builder - There is a $50 minimum deposit to open. Your monthly service charge is $12.95 with direct deposit and $7.95 without DD.
  • Wells Fargo Opportunity Checking and Savings Account - There is a $25 minimum deposit to open and a “Spending Report with Budget Watch” if you want to track where your money is going.
  • Woodforest National Second Chance Checking- There is a $25 minimum deposit to open and a one-time "set-up" fee of $9.00.

© 2018 Gregory DeVictor

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    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      2 months ago from UK

      That's very true. Often one problem seems to leads to another and then people get themselves into a spiral of debt.

    • Gregory DeVictor profile imageAUTHOR

      Gregory DeVictor 

      2 months ago from Squirrel Hill, PA

      Liz, thank you for your comment and for reading my article. Thanks for noting that in the UK there is also a “large silent group of people” who are unable to open traditional bank accounts as well. From my professional experience, I have observed that people with personal problems (for example, addictions, strife in their life, or unhealthy relationships) also have financial issues. Everything seems to be related.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      2 months ago from UK

      This is a very helpful article, packed with useful information. In the UK there's also a large silent group of people, who are unable to get traditional bank accounts due to poor credit history. Sadly money-lenders prey on these people.

    • Gregory DeVictor profile imageAUTHOR

      Gregory DeVictor 

      2 months ago from Squirrel Hill, PA

      Readmikenow, thank you for your comment and for reading my article. Professionally, I can honestly tell you that you are the rare exception when it comes to using a check-cashing service. As I mentioned in the article, the majority of consumers with less-than-perfect credit generally have banking issues as well. Keep up the good work.

    • Readmikenow profile image

      Readmikenow 

      2 months ago

      Lots of good information in this article. I enjoyed reading it. I was once in a state that did not have a branch of my bank. I got paid for a job with a check. this was before smart phones. Luckily, a local retailer agreed to cash it for me, but it cost me. Enjoyed reading this.

    • Gregory DeVictor profile imageAUTHOR

      Gregory DeVictor 

      2 months ago from Squirrel Hill, PA

      Mary, thank you for your comment. It’s interesting that poor credit and a negative ChexSystems report are often related.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      2 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      Gregory, this is new information for me. I wish the time will never come when I will need this but I was not aware of these services at all. As usual, you have done your research well.

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