How Money Orders Work: What You Should Know

A money order is a guaranteed payment you can buy at places like Walmart and the post office.

Margarette BurnetteApril 30, 2019

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How money orders work

A money order is a piece of paper that’s a safe alternative to cash or personal checks. You specify who will receive the money order, and both you and that person must sign it for it to be valid — which cuts down on theft. You also prepay for a money order, at a location such as the post office, Walmart or Western Union. Keep in mind that many have a $1,000 limit.

How to buy a money order

  • Have everything you need: Be prepared with cash or a debit card, the name of the payee and the amount you want to send. Paying with a credit card might be possible, but will usually cost extra.

  • Fill it out: On top of the payee's name, you'll need to add your address and sign the money order. (For step-by-step instructions, check out NerdWallet's guide on how to fill out a money order.)

  • Keep the receipt: The receipt will be a carbon copy of the money order or a paper slip recording the information entered on the money order.

  • Track your money order: Your receipt will also have a tracking number that you can use to verify that the money order got to the intended recipient. If any problems arise, contact the place where you bought the money order to get help.

How much does a money order cost? Where can I get a money order?




Up to 88 cents

Money transfer agents (convenience stores, supermarkets, etc.)

Depends on the provider. For example, San Francisco-area Western Union providers often charge around $1.

U.S. Postal Service

Up to $500: $1.25 $501-$1000: $1.70 Military money orders: 45 cents International (up to $700): $9.50

Banks and credit unions

Depends on the financial institution. Often around $5.

In the market for a provider? Here are our best ways to send money.




Money orders not offered.

$5 for up to $1,000; free for premium accounts. Must be purchased in a branch.

$5 for up to $1,000. Must be purchased in a branch.

Note that many banks will only sell money orders to accountholders.

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When should I use a money order?

There are times when using cash or personal checks can put you at risk, or they aren’t accepted for payment. Here are five examples where money orders are the best payment method:

  • You need to send a payment more securely. Unlike checks, money orders don’t include your bank account number.

  • You don’t have a checking account and need to pay bills. Since money orders require you to pay in advance, the money isn’t tied to any bank account and can be sent to other people. Another option: One of NerdWallet's best prepaid debit cards for regular purchases.

  • You’re worried about bouncing a check. Because money orders are prepaid, they can’t be rejected for insufficient funds. Another option:A certified check or a cashier's check, both of which guarantee payment and don't necessarily have a $1,000 limit, unlike many money orders. (Read up on certified checks and find out more about cashier’s checks.)

  • You’re mailing money. A money order helps ensure that only the recipient can use it, unlike mailing cash.

  • You’re sending money internationally. Not all money orders work abroad, but U.S. Postal Service money orders can be sent to about 30 countries. Another option:A wire transfer, if you need the money there faster and are willing to pay more. Check out our best ways to wire money internationally.

Where can I cash a money order?

Your best bet is to cash a money order at the same entity that issued it, whether that’s a bank branch, post office or other location. Check-cashing locations, convenience stores and grocery stores can be alternatives, but watch out for fees. Wherever you go, you’ll probably need to show identification.

Your best bet is to cash a money order at the same entity that issued it, whether that’s a bank, post office or other location.

If you don’t need the money right away and you have a bank account, consider depositing it. Banks accept U.S. Postal Service money orders as they would regular checks at branches, ATMs or even on a banking app with a mobile check deposit function. Don’t forget to sign the back of the money order before depositing.

What to do if you lost a money order

If you no longer have the money order or you made a mistake on it, you may be able to cancel it and get a replacement or refund — as long as the money order hasn't been cashed.

As long as your money order hasn't been cashed, you can likely get a replacement or a refund — but it could take a month or longer.

You’ll need to bring your receipt and the money order itself, if you have it, to the place where it was purchased. The issuer will probably have you fill out some paperwork, using information from your receipt, and you'll likely pay a fee. For example, Western Union charges $15 to replace a money order. And it can take a month or longer for the issuer to process your claim.

If the money order was cashed, you may still be able to get your money back, but you'll generally have to involve the police.

» If you've lost a money order, find out how to claim your cash

Are money orders safe?

Money orders are typically a safe payment method, but they can also be used fraudulently. To protect yourself:

  • Try not to exchange money orders with strangers. This isn't always possible, but if you can, ask to be paid electronically or via another means.

  • Watch for red flags. These might include sending extra money back to someone who claims they've paid too much, or visual cues, such as missing watermarks or amounts more than $1,000.

  • Verify the funds. If you can't cash the money order at the place that issued it, call the issuer from a publicly available phone number to find out if it's legitimate.

Recap: How to buy a money order

  1. Be prepared with cash or a debit card, the name of the payee and the amount you want to send.

  2. Fill out the fields provided.

  3. Keep the receipt.

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