Money orders are a fairly budget-friendly and safe way to send money — better than handing off wads of cash. You don’t need to share personal details (except your name) and the funds are guaranteed, so there’s no worrying about whether the recipient will face a bounced check.
Keep in mind that money orders aren’t the best choice if you need to send a large amount—most places only allow you to purchase one for $1,000. It is, however, a fine option if you want to send a cash equivalent and to be able to track the payment and don’t want to do it via your bank account.
If you choose to go this route, we outline some places where you can buy them, and how to do so correctly.
Where You Can Buy Money Orders
The best place for you to buy a money order most likely comes down to a combination of service, fees, convenience and location. No one place will be the right fit for everyone.
Banks and Credit Unions
Most banks and credit unions will offer the purchase of money orders for their customers or credit union members.
If you’re not a customer, some major banks may allow you to purchase one, but you could be charged a higher fee. For those who have an ongoing relationship with the bank or you’re a premium customer (such as if you have premium accounts or a certain amount on deposit with them), you may have those fees waived.
Typically, banks may be a convenient way to purchase a money order since you can simply pay using your information and account details on file. However, some banks offer cashier’s checks instead — check with the recipient if they care whether you pay them using this option or money order. In either case, the money is available whenever the recipient wants to make a deposit, and it offers a paper trail.
Though not always the case, purchasing a money order at a bank or credit union could be slightly more compared to other options below. It might not be a big deal if you’re getting money orders every once in a while.
US Postal Service (USPS)
The USPS offers many locations in which you can purchase a money order and tends to be a budget-friendly option.
The downside though, is that not all U.S. post offices issue money orders, so you’ll need to look on individual websites or call the location to confirm. If you do, aim to head there early as post offices tend to have longer lines later in the day.
If you’re looking to purchase a money order to send to Canada, you’re out of luck with the USPS. They no longer issue money orders intended for Canada.
Lots of money order issuers have partnered up with many retailers, including major retailers, convenience stores, pharmacies and grocery stores. It can be a convenient way to buy a money order since you may have multiple location options and tack it onto your to-do list while running errands.
More specifically, some of these retailers include:
The fees for each location will vary, and can depend on the amount of your money order. You can usually purchase money orders at these locations by their customer service counters.
Money or Payday Services
Major money transfer companies like Western Union and Moneygram have their own physical store locations, or you can find them at pawn shops and even payday loan retailers. Locations will vary and the fees may depend on where you go.
You won’t be able to buy money orders online, though you can make online transfers via payment apps or your bank (more on this later). If a website claims it can help you purchase a money order online, be wary because it could not be from a legitimate source.
How to Buy a Money Order
Buying a money order is a fairly simple process, and it starts by knowing how much money you need to pay and the recipient’s information. You can choose any one of the locations above — before going, check to see what fees you may be paying and other limitations so you understand what you’re getting into.
You’ll also need to keep in mind payment methods and filling out a money order correctly when buying one.
Most places tend to limit the type of payment you can use when purchasing a money order. As in, you can only pay with a debit card or cash. Credit cards and personal checks are usually not accepted because there is a chance the payment won’t go through.
Think about it: a personal check has a chance of being returned because of insufficient funds, and a credit card could deny the transaction, especially if you decide to dispute it. For these reasons, financial institutions and retailers prefer that they receive guaranteed funds before issuing a money order.
Some places may say they’ll allow you to pay for a money order with your credit card. However, you will likely pay a higher fee, or it’s simply a cash advance.
If it’s the latter, then you’re essentially borrowing cash from your credit card issuer. Besides, cash advances have no grace period and tend to have higher interest rates, so you’re paying on that balance as soon as you get that so-called money order.
Fill Out a Money Order Correctly
Before you finish purchasing your money order, you’ll need to have the relevant information to fill out the form. That means you’ll need to know the amount you need, the payee or recipient’s name (or company if you’re paying a bill, for instance) and their address.
The form itself looks similar to what you’d find for a personal check. If you’re unsure of how to fill one out, you can ask. Before completing the purchase, double check to make sure all of the information is correct, especially the spelling of the recipient’s name.
Or, if you don’t fill out those details right then and there, do so as soon as possible. If your money order is lost or stolen and someone writes their name and cashes it before you find out, it’ll be too late.
How Much Do Money Orders Cost?
Money orders usually average anywhere from $1 to $5 depending on where you purchase them. In general, money orders from banks cost more than ones from major retailers. If you’re sending an international money order (such as through the USPS), it will cost you more.
Money Order Costs at a Glance
|Bank of America||$5|
|Fifth Third Bank||Starting at $1|
|CVS||Starting at 70 cents|
|Kroger||Starting at 84 cents|
|Walmart||Starting at 84 cents|
|USPS||Starting at $1.45/domestic; $17.10/international|
Remember, the above fees are to purchase a money order only. There may be additional fees depending on the location. For instance, some places may charge you more if you want to find out exactly when the money order was cashed, including who endorsed it.
Or, if you want to cancel the money order or purchase a replacement, you could pay extra. For instance, USPS charges a $9 processing fee to replace a money order.
If you’re someone who received a money order and wants to cash it, it’s typically free if you deposit it at your bank or credit union.
However, if you want access to the funds the right way, you could be paying for it. Most banks will give you access to the cash as soon as you make the deposit, or it’ll hold onto some of the funds depending on your bank’s policies.
Otherwise, you can cash a money order at a retailer, such as at a money order issuer or check cashing stores, though you’ll have to pay a fee. For USPS money orders, you may not have to pay anything if you’re cashing it at a post office, but they don’t always have the cash available.
Money Order Alternatives
Yes, money orders can be a great way to send money, especially if you want a secure way to do so. Whether it’s because you’re not interested in paying fees, or you’d rather find a way to send money online, you can choose from any of the following alternatives to money orders.
One note though: each of these options comes with its own pros and cons (including potential fees) so think through what works best for you.
Writing a personal check is a free and simple solution if you have a checking account and your recipient has a way to deposit the check. All you need to do is to fill out the check much like you would a money order. It’s worth checking all the information before sending the check off to ensure you’re sending the correct amount and that the recipient can actually cash it.
One of the risks of using a personal check is if you don’t have enough money in your account when it comes time for the recipient to withdraw the cash. In this case, the check will be returned, and you could have a non-sufficient funds, or NSF fee. You’ll also have to rearrange payment again.
Certified or Cashier’s Check
Both certified or cashier’s checks guarantee there are enough funds at the time of payment and are available at your bank or credit union—there may be a small fee, similar to what you’d typically pay for a money order.
There are slight differences between the two. Both verify that there is enough money available in your bank account. However, a certified check means the money will be withdrawn from your account into the bank’s account until the check is cashed. A cashier’s check is where the money is on hold in your account until the recipient cashes the check.
This way to transfer money is done electronically between financial institutions and can be done via your bank’s online account or their mobile app. It’s usually free—or at least included in the monthly maintenance fee for your account—and all you need is the recipient’s name and account details.
This form of payment is secure, and payments can be completed within a few days, depending on when the recipient’s bank processes the transaction.
A wire transfer is similar to an ACH transfer in that it’s done through a different network. You can also typically transfer funds overseas. Most banks and credit unions charge for outgoing wire transfers—ones for international destinations can cost more.
Apps like PayPal, Venmo and CashApp are all options to send money—recipients typically need an account through these apps to receive funds, unless you can send it to their bank account. In most cases you won’t need to pay a fee, though it’s best to check the terms and conditions before making a transfer.
Prepaid Debit Card
If you don’t have a bank account or don’t want to make a transfer through your account, you can consider using a prepaid debit card. Think of it like a gift card, except the card can be used anywhere debit cards are accepted.
You can usually purchase a prepaid debit card at any major retailer. As for fees, they’ll differ depending on the issuer —it’s typically an upfront one-time fee for the card. Some have low monthly fees, but they typically offer more features like linking accounts.
Contributor Sarah Li-Cain is a personal finance writer based in Jacksonville, Florida, specializing in real estate, insurance, banking, loans and credit. She is the host of the Buzzsprout and Beyond the Dollar podcasts.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website that empowers millions of readers nationwide to make smart decisions with their money through actionable and inspirational advice, and resources about how to make, save and manage money.