What Is a Money Order? How a Money Order Works and Where to Buy One
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Key takeaways about money orders
A money order is a safe alternative to cash or a personal check; it works like a check so you can cash it or deposit it into a bank account.
When using cash or personal checks puts you at risk, or they aren’t accepted for payment, you can use a money order instead.
You can use cash or a debit card to buy money orders at the post office, Walmart, Western Union and other places.
How do 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 when you buy it. They’re available at U.S. post offices, Walmart, Western Union and other places. Many have a $1,000 limit, including those that you purchase at banks. Generally, you must pay for money orders with cash or debit card.
A money order is a good option for sending money if you don’t have a bank account or don’t want to share your banking information with the recipient.
Money orders: Pros and cons
There are advantages and disadvantages to using a money order. Consider these pros and cons before you use one.
No bank account required to send or receive a money order.
Money orders are widely available.
Once a money order is cashed (or lost), it can be difficult if not impossible to get your money back, even if it was due to a scam or fraud.
Subject to cash advance fees and interest if purchased with a credit card. (Read about credit card interest, aka APR.)
How can I buy a money order?
Know how and who you’ll pay: 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: In addition to the payee’s name, you’ll need to add your name (and maybe 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.) Be careful to ensure that everything is accurate because you won't be able to change the information afterward.
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. You may need it to track your money order or contact the place where you got it.
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.
Where can I get a money order? How much does a money order cost?
You can get a money order at a post office, Walmart, Western Union and other places. Domestic money orders have a range of costs, from under a dollar up to around $5, depending on where you buy them. You'll get a better deal at Walmart or a convenience store or supermarket, and you'll typically pay more at a bank.
Not all providers offer international money orders; some post offices do, but they cost more than domestic money orders. And no matter where you buy them, it’s safer to buy money orders in person.
Up to $1.
Money transfer agents (convenience stores, supermarkets, etc.)
Depends on the provider. For example, some San Francisco-area Western Union providers charge $1.
U.S. Postal Service
Up to $500: $1.65. $501-$1000: $2.20. Military money orders: 55 cents. International (up to $700): $49.65.
Banks and credit unions
Depends on the financial institution. Often around $5.
» Looking for more options for sending funds? Here are our best ways to send money.
What does a money order cost at some of the biggest U.S. banks?
Below is a table with the money order cost and availability at some popular banks. Note that many banks will only sell money orders to accountholders.
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 four examples of when money orders are the best payment method:
You need to send money securely. Unlike checks, money orders don’t include your bank account number, and they help ensure that only the recipient can use it, unlike mailing cash.
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 sending money internationally. Not all money orders work abroad, but U.S. Postal Service money orders can be sent to about 25 countries. Another option: A wire transfer (see how much banks charge for wire transfers), if you need the money there faster and are willing to pay more. Or check out our best ways to send money internationally.
You don’t have a checking account. Since money orders require you to pay in advance, you don't need a bank account and you can still pay bills safely.
If you don’t have a checking account, another option for paying for regular purchases and bills is to use a prepaid debit card.
Money order tracking
It's relatively simple to find out where a money order is — as long as you've kept your receipt. But the process varies slightly by issuer. The U.S. Postal Service and MoneyGram allow you to track online with information such as the serial number found on your receipt and the purchase amount. Your bank should be able to provide you with the same information.
Without the receipt, you'll likely have to file a research request to find your money order's serial number, and that's expensive and time-consuming. At MoneyGram, for example, it costs $40 and can take 60 days to process.
Just be sure to track the money order with the actual provider — it might be Western Union or MoneyGram even if you purchased it at a convenience store. The money order should clearly show or state who the provider is.