Alternatives to Using a Check-Cashing Store

There are alternatives. While it can seem more convenient and even comfortable to use a check-cashing store, the truth is that there are much better, less expensive options that will perform the same services and leave you with more money in your pocket or to send home.

For example, instead of going to a check-cashing store, consider using:

  • A local bank or a credit union you may have access to in your neighborhood or through work. You can typically find accounts that offer a low required minimum balance and then you can cash as many checks as you would like for free. Even if you don't have an account, most banks, savings and loans, and credit unions will cash government and payroll checks for a lower fee than a check cashing store charges. Many banks and increasingly credit unions also offer less-expensive money wiring and transfer services for you to send money abroad compared to using a check-cashing store for the same service. The monthly fee for opening and maintaining a bank account can be less than cashing just one check at a check-cashing store. Over the long run, opening and maintaining a bank account can save you a significant amount of money compared to using a check-cashing store. For example, a study by the nonprofit “Organization for a New Equality,” a Washington nonprofit group that assists the poor, women and minorities found that:

 

A person who makes $1,050 after taxes each month and uses a typical check-cashing store will pay an average of $219.24 in fees a year, compared with $30 a year for a typical basic checking account.

 

That’s a difference of nearly $200 for the same service! If you are unsure about which bank to use or how to find a bank that you will be comfortable using, ask family and friends if they bank and if so, do they recommend their branch? The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) offers a Credit Union Locator online service for you to find a credit union in your area. Check out the Better Business Bureau for information on local banks in your area. Bankrate.com also offers a Safe & Sound service rating banks, thrifts and credit unions nationwide.

  • A military exchange on base. If you or a member of your family is in the military, the military exchange on base should be able to cash checks and send money abroad either for free or for a small fee.
  • Look into an ETA as an Option for Receiving Federal Benefits. If you receive a federal benefit, wage, salary or retirement benefit, you can open an Electronic Transfer Account (ETA) to get fast, safe access to your money. Designed by the U.S. Treasury, the ETA ensures that your federal payment is automatically, directly deposited in your account and available for you to access on the same day. ETAs are federally insured and cost no more than $3/month to maintain. You’ll get a monthly statement on your account activity and be able to withdraw cash from your account up to 4 times a month. There is no minimum balance required to maintain an ETA.

With an ETA you can have the following types of federal payments directly deposited into your account:

  • Social Security benefits
  • Supplement Security Income (SSI)
  • Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits
  • Railroad Retirement Board payments
  • OPM retirement
  • DOL/Black Lung
  • Military wage salary or retirement benefits
  • Civil Service wage salary or retirement benefits

There are more than 18,000 ETA branch providers nationwide. Check with your local bank to see if it offers this service and to learn what the specific requirements are to open an ETA account. To find an ETA provider in your area, visit the Electronic Transfer Account (ETA) website.

To open an ETA you will need:

  • photo ID such as a driver’s license or state identification card that shows your current name and address
  • Your Social Security number
  • Claim number for veterans affairs (VA) payments if you are receiving them

Your employer. Your employer may agree to cash your paycheck – meaning that you would write the check over to him/her and he/she would give you the entire amount back in cash. There is an encouraging new trend among employers who employ a large number of workers that might not know how to, or are reluctant to, use a bank. Employers are beginning to offer direct deposit of their paychecks through a local bank which then provides employees with a debit card to access/withdraw their money for free. Ask your employer for details.

Matriculas Consulares. If you do not have ID due to legal status, some countries issue Matriculas Consulares. The government consulates of Mexico, for example, issue matriculas consulares, which are consular cards that serve as a form of official personal identification (ID). Your immigration status does not change because you have a card; the card is for identification purposes only. Some banks and financial institutions in some states recognize the card for official purposes. With a matricula consular ID, you can open bank accounts at banks that will accept these cards as valid identification; cash checks in other places; get insurance; and in some cases leverage banking accounts to obtain credit cards or use financial accounts to build a credit history to improve your chances of getting a home mortgage.