For most American consumers, cashing a check is simple—they simply deposit it at their bank’s ATM or through a teller. But according to the FDIC, 28.3 percent of U.S. households either don’t have bank accounts or rely on alternative channels for financial services, such as check-cashing.
For these consumers, what is the cheapest way to cash a check?
Check-cashing stores. Local mom-and-pop stores often come into mind when you search for checking-cash services. However, they can be costly.
Some check cashers may impose a fee that is equivalent to a percentage of the check value. Others may charge a flat fee in addition to a percentage fee. For large checks, these check-cashing facilities can be rather expensive.
On a $1,000 check, a $5 plus one percent fee means $15 paid for the check-cashing service. Other places are likely to have lower fees.
The check-issuing bank. A bank will only cash a check for a non-customer if that check is issued by that specific bank. Even then, the non-customer is faced with a check-cashing fee, which varies from bank to bank. Capital One doesn’t charge a fee if a non-customer wants to cash a Capital One check. M&T Bank charges $10 per M&T check cashed by a non-customer.
More often than not, a non-customer will be persuaded to open an account with the bank to avoid paying this fee.
Retailers. Major retailers, such as 7-Eleven and Walmart, and some supermarket chains offer check-cashing services, which are likely to cost less than those available at check-cashing stores and banks.
At some 7-Eleven locations, you can find kiosks that let you cash checks for a flat 0.99% convenience fee. Walmart charges $3 for checks of $1,000 or less and $6 for checks greater than $1,000 and no more than $5,000.
Prepaid accounts. As financial institutions and other companies find that a large portion of the American population is unbanked or underbanked, they have offered prepaid card accounts to cater to this consumer segment.
Chase offers a prepaid card that lets you deposit checks at any Chase ATM for free, but the card has a $4.95 monthly fee. A company called PreCash plans to offer a prepaid card account that comes with a mobile app that allows you to deposit checks by taking images of them.
With prepaid accounts, it’s more difficult to calculate the exact costs of check-cashing because they have monthly fees.
Shop around. As with every consumer-spending decision, it is best to shop around for a better price. If you frequently use alternative methods of cashing checks, you should research locations nearby for the cheapest fees, so you’ll know where to go whenever you’re in need of check-cashing.
Simon Zhen is a columnist and staff writer for MyBankTracker.com. His columns cover all aspects of personal finance, with a particular emphasis on bank rates, products, and services.