Can I Cash a Check at Any Bank or Credit Union?

Nicolas Cesare
Person cashes a check at a bank.

If you have a check that you’d like to cash, you can’t do it at just any bank or any credit union. Instead, you can only cash a check at a bank that services the check writer, or a bank where you have an account in good standing.

Checks are becoming less common, as the future of personal finance involves more and more cards and technology. However, they are still being used, even as knowledge checking accounts becomes more and more obscure. If you’re not used to receiving checks as payment and you don’t know much about how to cash them or even where you can cash a check, then it’s important to lean more. Unlike direct deposit or PayPal, cashing a check does require some legwork on your part, so mistakes will just get in the way of your and your money.

Table of Contents

Why Can’t I Cash My Check at Any Bank or Credit Union?

Why Can’t I Cash a Check at Any Bank?

It’s important to remember that banks are businesses. They don’t exist solely to receive your money and keep it safe, like an old piggy bank might. Instead, they exist to make a profit. Banks make money in a variety of ways, but one of the biggest money-makers for banks is lending, whether it comes in the form of home mortgages, car loans, or even private student loans.

However, in order to continue lending on a regular basis, banks need to have enough money on hand that they can comfortably give out large sums of it to potential borrowers with high enough credit scores. Deposits from account holders are a reliable source of funds for many banks, but any time that a bank cashes a check, that’s money going out. For that reason, banks are eager to limit the amount of checks that they cash and the best way for them to do that without upsetting their customers is to limit themselves to cashing checks either brought in by or written by account holders.

In short, you can’t cash a check at just any bank because banks need to be careful about keeping their cash reserves high. If a bank where neither you nor the check writer was an account holder cashed your check, they would be giving out money with no corresponding source of regular income or deposits.

Why Can’t I Cash a Check at Any Credit Union?

Unlike banks, credit unions do not operate for profit. However, credit unions are still not likely to cash a check if neither you nor the check writer are a member of that credit union.

In spite of being nonprofit organizations, credit unions do still acquire income in similar ways to banks: by lending money and collecting payments with interest. However, unlike banks, credit unions won’t lend to just anyone. Instead, they are more focused on keeping the money deposited by their members within the community. For this reason, credit unions will usually only lend to members, and typically at lower interest rates than banks.

Credit unions operate on a membership model, and that model ensures that money stays within the their community. If a credit union cashed a check written by a person outside their community for another non-member, that would defeat the purpose of the nonprofit membership model.

When Can I Cash My Check Without a Bank Account?

If you don’t have a bank account of your own, cashing a check can be more difficult than usual. When you have a bank account, you can take checks written to you to your bank and either deposit them into your account or put the money straight into your pocket. However, if you don’t have a bank account, then your options are more limited. If you want to cash a check without a bank account of your own, here are some things you can do:

  • Cash the check at the bank of the check writer. Banks will typically cash checks for you as long as someone involved with the check (either the payer or the payee) is a customer of that bank. So even if you don’t have an account with a particular bank, you can still go there to cash your check if the check writer has an account there.
  • Cash the check using mobile deposit onto a prepaid debit card. Even if you don’t have an account with a bank, it’s still possible to get a prepaid debit card from them. Using a mobile deposit app, you can have the funds from a check added to the funds for that prepaid card.
  • Find someone who will cash the check as a third party. If you don’t want to or can’t cash a check yourself, you can sign it over to a third party. This third party will then be able to take the check to a bank where they are a member and cash it there. Be sure to select a trustworthy person as your third party so that you can be sure they will give the funds to you after cashing the check.
  • Cash the check at a retail store. Some retailers will exchange a check for cash at their stores. However, you may be expected to pay a fee for this service. Depending on the retailer, this service may only be available for shoppers who are part of a membership program.

Whenever possible, try to cash a check at a bank or credit union where you or the check writer have an account. Banks that are non affiliated with the check payer or payee are not likely to cash checks, but options like prepaid debit cards, third party check cashing, and retailers are available if you want to cash a check, but you have no account of your own with a bank or credit union.

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