If you need to get a money order for the first time — or if you’ve gotten one before but can’t quite recall how you did it — you may have a lot of questions about where to start. Obtaining a money order is not something most of us do in our everyday lives, but the process really isn’t that complicated.
A money order is simply a form of payment. It comes in the form of a paper document and is prepaid. This means if you want to get a money order, you have to buy it first using cash or another form of payment, like credit cards.
Each money order will include a few important things: the name of the recipient (or payee) who obtained the money order, the name of the financial institution that issued the money order and the name of the person or organization to whom the money order will be paid.
Money orders tend to be a safe form of payment because if they get lost or stolen, they can be canceled and reissued (unlike cash) — just make sure you keep your money order receipt because you’ll need it if you find yourself in a situation where you need to cancel a money order.
Similarly, money orders are also an effective way to send money, in that there’s less risk if they’re intercepted (of course, there are also digital money transfer services, like Venmo, to help you avoid that now) Unlike a personal check, money orders don’t disclose sensitive information like your address and bank account number. Some people like money orders for this reason; if they’re not particularly close with the person or organization they’re paying, they don’t risk offering up your personal address and account information that a personal check would.
It depends on your motives and how much you’re willing to pay in fees, but in most areas, there are several locations you can visit if you need to buy a money order, and it won’t cost you too much. You can visit:
• A post office
• A financial institution (such as your credit union or bank),
• Retail stores (such as convenience stores, grocery stores, or pharmacies.)
Some popular stores where you can purchase one by paying a small customer service fee (approximately one dollar) include CVS, 7-Eleven and K-Mart. At similar convenience stores or a grocery store, you can buy a money order by paying with cash or by using your debit card (or a cash advance on your credit card — but this option is more expensive). You can’t write a check or use your credit card, so be prepared to have cash or your debit card on hand when you set out to get a money order.
If you’re willing to pay a bit more for your money order fee, you can go to your bank or credit union and get a money order for approximately $5 or $10. If you’re getting a money order at a financial institution, you can simply do a money transfer from your savings or check account to go toward the money order, and the fees shouldn’t be too high in this case.
If you obtain a money order through a bank, the bank or issuer will likely provide you with information so you can track the money order. Be aware that some banks only offer cashier’s checks and not money orders, and these are not the same thing (though they’re similar). You can get a cashier’s check for a much higher amount than you can get a money order; while the maximum money order you can get might be around $1,000, cashier’s checks are often used for much larger sums and payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The post office is an easy and affordable place to get a postal money order, but not every single post office will issue them, so it’s wise to call ahead if you select this option. The post office also used to be a great way of getting an international money order — but that’s not necessarily the case anymore. In July 2016, the U.S. Postal Service issued an official recommendation that international money orders on paper be discontinued. In their place, wire transfers are increasingly being used.
Some saw this as a shame — after all, you don’t need a bank account or credit history to buy a money order, and as they’re pre-paid, it’s an extremely safe option of sending money overseas. Plus, international postal money orders from the U.S. are also accepted in 27 countries around the world, where they can be automatically converted to local currency. Can your Venmo account do that?
Cashing a money order is simple. Most of the places where one can buy a money order are the same places you can cash them — banks, post offices, convenience stores, your local Western Union. Just be sure to bring your identification with you so that you can prove you are the authorized recipient, and be prepared to pay a small fee before walking back out the door, cash in hand.
Sometimes, scams occur, more often when someone pays you with a money order than when purchasing one. Here are some tips for avoiding them.
• Verify funds with the money order issuer.
• Wait for the funds to clear with your bank before spending any portion of the money.
• Look for security features, such as watermarks, and signs of tampering.
• Keep records of the transactions you make with money orders.
• Spot red flags, including urgency from the other party and requests for needless details like your bank.
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