Money orders are printed documents that you can use for payments. They look similar to checks, but they’re different: You buy a money order by prepaying the amount printed on the money order.
Then, all you need to do is fill in a few pieces of information. The process of using a money order is easy after you do it a few times, and we’ll cover the basics below.
Money orders are safer than cash when you pay by mail: You can track them or cancel them, and they’re “made out” to a particular recipient. A lost or stolen money order is less problematic than losing cash.
Sellers (or whoever you’re paying) may also prefer to receive money orders. When they’re not fakes, money orders are a form of “guaranteed” payment.
Plus, they’re less expensive for recipients than credit cards, and they may even be a better option than payment apps in some situations.
When you need to pay someone or get them to pay you, but cash and personal checks aren’t good options — and paying with your smartphone is a total non-starter — a money order might be your ideal solution.
A money order is a paper payment that is more secure than sending or delivering cash because it names a specific recipient, who will have to endorse it and show identification to cash it.
Money orders are especially useful to people who don’t have a checking account or don’t accept checks.
Even if you use checks, you might not want to share the personal information printed on them — such as your address and account number — with certain recipients.
In addition, since money orders are prepaid and eliminate the risk of bouncing, they are widely accepted even by those who don’t trust personal checks.
Provides the security of a check written to an individual or company while being much more widely accepted
Much safer to carry or mail than cash
Easy to buy in hundreds of thousands of locations, at a wide range of hours
Much cheaper and easier to purchase than cashier’s checks
Requires visiting a seller, whether a major retailer, grocer, convenience store, bank, credit union or post office
Almost always incurs a small fee to buy
Can be made out only for $1,000 or less
Certified and cashier’s checks issued by financial institutions offer even more security than money orders. However, they carry much higher fees and require visiting a bank during banking hours. So if a money order works, it’s an easier and less expensive option.
So far, online money orders are rare (and pricey). So buying a money order typically requires you to visit a location that sells them and leave with a paper money order in hand.
Fortunately, more than 200,000 U.S. locations sell money orders, many with evening and weekend hours. You can buy one at any Walmart, CVS, or 7-Eleven, as well as at over 30,000 U.S. post offices.
Banks, credit unions, grocery and convenience store chains, and check-cashing stores sell money orders, too.
Almost all money order purchases involve a fee, so it’s smart to shop around. Walmart charges under $1 per money order, and the USPS less than $2.
Prices at banks, credit unions, and other sellers can be significantly higher. On the other hand, some banks offer them free to certain categories of their customers. So we recommend calling ahead.
What Information Do I Need To Fill Out A Money Order?
You’ll need to know the exact dollar amount you want. This amount will be machine-printed directly on the money order, and you won’t be able to alter it later.
Also be forewarned that the largest money order you can buy is $1,000. So if you’re making a payment larger than that, be prepared to purchase multiple money orders.
It’s also best that you arrive knowing the proper name of the person or company you’ll make out the money order to, and your account number if you’re using it to pay a business.
Though you can fill this out later, a blank money order that’s lost or stolen is as good as cash since anyone who finds it can write their name in.
On the flip side, if you put the wrong name on it, the recipient can have trouble cashing it. So it’s smart to take care in entering the correct name on the money order right at the counter when you buy it.
Also bring a debit card or cash to pay for your money order, or be prepared to make a withdrawal from your account if you’re purchasing at a bank or credit union.
Credit card companies generally charge large fees on money order purchases because they treat them like cash advances.
Safe, cheap, and widely accepted, money orders are easy to buy and redeem, and about as simple to fill out as writing a check.
When deciding where to buy a money order, check fees in advance because they can vary widely.
Gather the information you need before heading out to buy a money order: the exact amount and the recipient’s correct name, so that you can keep your payment secure by completing the form correctly right at the counter.
If you’re paying a bill, include your account and/or invoice number on the money order to make sure your payment is credited.
In what Way Should I Deliver the Money Order?
Once you’ve filled in all the fields you want to complete, be sure to detach the receipt that comes with all brands of money order.
This stub provides the money order’s official identification number, which you can use later to track whether the money order was cashed. It can also aid your record keeping.
Now that you have a completed money order in hand, and a receipt retained for yourself, you can safely hand-deliver the money order or mail it to your recipient, since only that individual or company will be able to cash it.
If you’re familiar with writing a check, filling out a money order is similar. You just need to purchase the money order first. If this is all new to you, we’ll break it down step by step. Finally, we’ll cover how to deposit or cash a money order you receive.
1. Buy the Money Order
Payment: The first step is to buy a money order for the amount you need. For example, if you need to pay somebody $100, you need to buy a money order issued for $100.
You typically need to pay for money orders with cash, a debit card, or a credit card cash advance. Be prepared to cover your payment amount plus fees.
Where to Purchase: You have several options. Convenience and cost may dictate where you buy. Banks and credit unions often charge $5 or more per money order, but other vendors usually charge around $1. The United States Postal Service charged up to $1.70 in late 2019.
Places to buy include:
Grocery stores (the Customer Service desk)
US Post Offices
Check cashing and money transfer stores
Banks and credit unions
Fees: Except for banks, most places charge $1 to $2 for money orders up to $1,000. Money orders have maximum limits (typically $1,000), so you need to buy multiple money orders if you’re paying more than $1,000. For large purchases, a cashier’s check might be a better option.
Keep your receipt: Hold on to any confirmation materials you get with your money order. If the payment goes missing, you can track it to find out if anybody cashed or deposited the money order. 4
When problems arise, it’s easier to cancel and get another one reissued if you have your receipt handy.
2. Fill it Out
The amount of your money order will be printed on the document when you buy. However, you need to provide additional information and sign the money order before you’re finished.
Payee information: Write the name of the person or business you’re paying in the area that says “Pay to the order of” (or something similar). Ask the recipient if you’re not sure what name to write here.
Addresses: Some money orders ask for the address of the recipient (and they might ask for your address as well). This information helps ensure that the money order gets to the recipient and makes tracking easier.
However, this is not the most important part of a money order, and your recipient might not care if you use actual addresses.
Memo: Money orders may provide an area labeled “Memo” or “Re:” for additional details about your payment (your account number or order confirmation, for example).
If you can’t find that area, you can write anything needed in any blank section on the front of the money order. A sticky note on the money order might also do the trick.
Signature: Your signature is required at the bottom of the money order. Simply sign your name on the front (not the back) of the document. This area might be labeled “Signature,” “Purchaser,” or “Drawer.”.
3. Make your Payment
Once you fill out your money order, it’s time to pay. Unlike cash, it’s safe to mail money orders — just be sure to keep a copy of your receipt. Money orders are also useful for in-person payments.
Cashing or Depositing a Money Order
If you receive a money order, you can deposit or cash it like a check. The easiest thing to do is probably to deposit the payment in your bank.
Make a deposit: Endorse the back and take the money order to a branch or ATM. Mobile deposit might also be an option, but some banks prohibit mobile deposits of money orders.
Funds should be available within a few days, and you can spend the money out of your checking account.
Get cash: You can also cash money orders if you want the funds immediately. However, your bank (or any bank) might not give you the full amount immediately.
If you need the entire amount, you’ll need to go to the money order issuer (a Western Union desk, MoneyGram location, or a US Post Office, for example).
Even if you visit an office of the money order issuer, that particular location might not be willing or able to cash your money order — so call ahead and ask.
If somebody pays you with a money order, don’t send money or provide goods until you’re certain that the payment is legitimate. Money orders are a favorite tool for con artists who use them with strategies similar to cashier’s check scams.
Money orders have their benefits, but other options may be better.
Instead of traveling to a money order issuer, waiting in line, and paying a fee for every money order you need, you might be better off paying from a bank account. Ask the seller what forms of payment are acceptable.
Personal checks are a valid form of payment in many places.
Automatic electronic payments are even easier for recurring bills.
For one time purchases, your debit card may be an option. But for more security, use a credit card online — especially if you’re not familiar with the retailer.
Payment apps may work for person-to-person payments, but be careful of scams.
Money orders are about as simple to fill out as a personal check. Different outlets use different formats, but they all need the same basic information.
Some people find the simple act of walking into a bank a little intimidating, and filling out multi-page forms they don’t quite understand is the last thing they want to do.
Others, for various reasons, have trouble getting a bank account. Still, others prefer to deal in cash but don’t want to take the risk of it getting lost or stolen in the mail. For many online shoppers and sellers, reasonably secure alternatives are just too expensive.
Anyone who finds themselves in one of these situations can benefit from learning how to use a money order.
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