Budgeting

Money Order vs. Bank Check: Which Is Better?

Banks, checks, and debit cards make it pretty easy to move cash around and pay your bills. But what if you don’t have a bank account? Over 7.1 million households in America are “unbanked.” People with no bank account can’t write a check or swipe a card in many situations. For those times, there are two popular alternatives: money orders and bank checks. But when it comes down to making a sound financial decision, what wins out in the battle between money order vs. bank check? Which is better?

In this blog, we’ll tell you what you need to know about money orders and cashier’s checks. Read on to get the information you need to make the right decision for you and your budget.

What Is a Money Order?

In the battle of money order vs. bank check, money orders are probably the more familiar of the two options.

A money order is a paper document that allows you to send cash to an individual or business securely and inexpensively. Most financial institutions accept money orders. They are used regularly by people who don’t have a standard checking account.

A money order can be purchased for a small fee and are available at many supermarkets, retail stores, and pharmacies. Money orders are also available at the U.S Post Office. 

How Do Money Orders Work? 

Money orders are not only accessible, but they can also be straightforward to use. When you purchase a money order, you’ll fill out the name of the payee and the amount you would like them to receive—If you know how to write a check then this is similar. The buyer pays the money order retailer the desired amount, plus the processing fee. You can then give that money order to the recipient, and they can convert that money order into cash at a financial institution or deposit it into their account. 

Typically, money orders have a maximum limit of $1,000, so if you need to give your payee more, you will need to get multiple money orders. When shopping around for a money order retailer, keep in mind that banks and credit unions usually charge more for this service than a convenience or grocery store.  

Money Order Advantages 

A money order gives anyone the power to move cash around without the use of a bank account. That makes them a useful tool for people who can’t get a bank account. Money orders are arguably safer than checks because they don’t have the payer’s account and routing number printed on the bottom.

Money orders issued by financial institutions (like American Express) can also be issued in one country and cashed in another. When used in this form, they are commonly referred to as traveler’s checks. A money order can give people a secure and direct way to send payments.  

Money Order Disadvantages 

Money orders are easy to come by, but they do come with some less than favorable conditions.

Firstly, tracking a money order can be significantly more complicated than a personal check. When you purchase a money order, it will come with a receipt—usually in the form of a detachable stub on the end of the certificate. If that money order becomes lost or the payee has any conversion issues, your receipt is your only reference or proof of purchase. Secondly, your payee could incur a fee for cashing the money order, which means that you may have to add that processing fee to your purchase. 

What Is a Cashier’s Check?

A bank check is more commonly known as a cashier’s check.  A cashier’s check is a check drawn on funds from a bank. It gets its name from the check signee—typically the cashier or bank teller that creates the check. With a cashier’s check, the bank is writing the check instead of you. 

When one takes a personal check to a bank, they can be a victim of a bad check situation because it doesn’t matter whether the account has enough money for the check to clear.

Cashier’s checks, on the other hand, are created with a balance in the account, which means the bank will not issue a cashier’s check if the account is not currently enough to cover the check.

How Do Cashier’s Checks Work? 

The process of buying a cashier’s check is similar to that of a money order. The buyer gives the desired check amount to a bank teller and the name of the payee or business that is receiving the check. The check will then be printed and given to you to deliver, or the bank will mail the check to the payee (an option for cashier’s check sold over the phone or online).  No matter the process, the buyer will be given a transaction receipt for their tracking purposes. 

Cashier’s Check Advantages 

A cashier’s check is one of the most secure you can send money. When you buy a cashier’s check, your money becomes the bank’s money. That means that it is protected, tracked, and insured just like any other bank account. And since the bank guarantees that deposit, your payee will most likely get the funds released quickly should they deposit the check. 

Cashier’s Check Disadvantages 

The security of a cashier’s check will cost you. On average, cashier’s checks cost nearly ten times more to process than a money order. Cashier’s checks are also less convenient to buy. Since banks issue them, you can only purchase cashier’s checks during banking hours. 

Cashier’s Check vs. Money Order: Which Should I Choose?

So when it comes down to making your decision—cashier’s check vs. money order—which should you choose? 

While cashier’s checks and money orders are excellent alternatives to standard checking practices, cashier’s checks offer slightly more protection than money orders. If a blank money order is lost or stolen before you fill out the payee’s information, it can be cashed by anyone. On the other hand, a cashier’s check is backed by an insured, stable financial institution. For example, if you’re buying a home, the lender may require you to get a cashier’s check to pay what you owe during closing. You can use it to pay the down payment, the appraisal, the closing costs, and any other outstanding debts.

Because of its limits on their amounts and overall safety, it’s best to use a less expensive money order for small payments to friends, family, or single payees.

Other Payment Options

When it comes to money order vs. bank check, you may discover that neither option is good for you. Cashier’s checks and money orders are not the only way to move your money around without a bank account. Here are few options to consider: 

Prepaid Debit Card 

A prepaid debit card is like a gift card—you can load the card up with cash to create a debit account that you can spend on. Banks issue credit cards and major credit card companies brand them. Businesses that accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express will typically accept prepaid debit cards.

With a prepaid debit card, you can make payments with the ease of any credit card or bank account holder. A debit card payment is processed like any other transaction. The card just needs to be loaded with the right amount of money. When your prepaid card runs out, you can get a new one or reload it at a retail store. 

Wire Transfer

An alternative to cashier’s checks is a wire transfer. In a wire transfer, the funds are transferred electronically instead of physically. Wire transfer funds can’t be canceled or misplaced. Additionally, they are only accessible by the payee—just like a cashier’s check. But, a wire transfer comes with extra cost and hassle. As with a cashier’s check, you’ll most likely need to visit a financial institution in person. Additionally, the typical transfer fee is very high—around $30-$40 per transaction. A wire transfer is more inconvenient, but it can’t be faked or canceled.  

Conclusion

When it comes to deciding on money order vs. bank check, there are pros and cons to consider on both sides. It’s the same as any financial decision, like whether to use cash advance loans or installment loans.

Overall, the best move you can make is the one that gets your money to your payee conveniently, securely, and quickly. Fortunately, money orders and cashier’s checks are just a couple of the many ways you can send cash. Cashier’s checks and money orders can be a lifesaver for the unbanked. But, with any financial tool, it’s essential to do what you need to make your budget work even with irregular income.

References:
How America Banks: Household Use of Banking and Financial Services