A bank account can be an important component of your financial toolkit, but there are ways to work around not having one for certain tasks. If you don't have a bank account and need to cash a check, here are some options and considerations for how to go about it.
Where to cash a check without a bank account
The bank where the check was issued. The bank listed on the check you received should be able to cash the check for you for either a flat fee or a percentage of the check. Be aware, however, that a bank isn't obligated to cash checks for noncustomers.
A major retailer. Some retailers, like Walmart, Kmart, 7-Eleven or grocery stores, allow consumers to cash a check for a relatively small fee.
Deposit onto a prepaid debit card. Some prepaid card services, like Transact by 7-Eleven or Netspend by Visa, allow customers to load checks to fund their cards via their mobile devices.
A payday or title lender. If you go with this option for cashing a check, keep in mind that even though it’s a convenient service, you will likely end up forking over a significant percentage of the check in exchange for cash at a payday or title lender.
How to cash a large check without a bank account
Depending on where you go, you may be able to get relatively large checks cashed without any concern. Walmart, for example, allows you to cash up to $5,000 for nonpersonal checks (and the limit is increased to $7,500 for January through April). Two-party personal checks, however, have a limit of $200.
If you want to cash a larger personal check than that, you may have to speak to the bank that issued the check to see what’s possible. Keep in mind that you may be charged a fee to cash the check.
You will likely need a form of official identification. If you want to cash your check at a retailer, payday lender or the bank that issued the check, you will probably need to bring some form of government-issued ID, such as a passport, driver’s license, green card, military ID, state-issued ID or tribal ID.
Two-party personal checks may be more difficult to cash. If you’re looking to cash a check that you received from another individual — as opposed to a government check, cashier’s check or payroll check — you may face limits on the amount you can cash.
How to open a bank account
Using your own bank is usually the easiest, cheapest way of cashing a check or depositing a check into your own account. Here’s what to do if you want to open a bank account.
If you’re new to banking: Generally speaking, opening a bank account is a straightforward process. You typically just need some form of government-issued identification and your basic personal information such as your birthdate, Social Security number and contact information. If you’re younger than 18, you'll need a parent or legal guardian to co-own the account. If you want to open a joint account, you will need the other applicant’s information as well.
» Compare options: NerdWallet's picks for best free checking accounts
If you have a ChexSystems record: ChexSystems tracks blemishes on your banking history, such as overdraft fees that haven’t been paid, and alerts other banks if you try to open a new account. If you’re having trouble opening a bank account because you’ve been reported on ChexSystems, there are steps you can take to improve your record. While you’re working on clearing your ChexSystems report, consider opening a second-chance checking account, which some banks offer as a way for customers to rebuild their banking.