What is a money order?
A money order is a form of prepaid payment that can be used to pay or send money to people as a safe alternative to cash or checks. As with a check, you specify who will receive the money order, and both you and that person must sign it for it to be valid. But unlike with a personal check, the funds are guaranteed by a third party, such as the post office, Wal-Mart or Western Union.
Where do I get one?
You can buy money orders at banks, credit unions, post offices and check-cashing locations like Western Union and MoneyGram, as well as at retail stores like Wal-Mart and CVS. On the cheaper end, you can get a money order for $0.70 at Wal-Mart or one for less than $2 at a U.S. post office, but it may be $5 at a bank. As a rule, you can send a larger amount with a bank money order, like $1,000. If you’re making a big payment, you may need to buy multiple money orders.
You can typically pay for a money order with cash or a debit card, but there may be other options depending on the place. Just steer clear of using a credit card, because your issuer might consider it a cash advance and charge you extra for it.
People or businesses may ask for money orders in situations where they want guaranteed funds. For example, a landlord may ask a tenant to pay rent with a money order instead of a personal check.
The cost of a money order depends on where you buy one, but it usually ranges from under a dollar to a couple of bucks. This can be a bargain compared with some other ways to send money, especially
When do I need one?
There are times when using cash and personal checks can put you at risk, or they aren’t accepted for payment. Here are circumstances where money orders can be especially useful:
You don’t have a checking account and need to pay bills. About 1 in 13 U.S. households doesn’t have a bank account. Since money orders require you to pay in advance, the money isn’t tied to any bank account and can be easily sent to other people. But if you want to store your money and pay for more than just bills, a better solution is a prepaid debit card.
You’re worried about bouncing a check. Because money orders are prepaid, they can’t be rejected for insufficient funds and aren’t subject to the fees that come with bouncing a check. Some businesses or people may accept money orders but not personal checks because they don’t want to bother with the risk of a bad check.
You’re mailing money. A money order helps ensure that only the recipient can use it. Mailing cash, in contrast, can be dangerous since it’s anonymous and can’t be returned if lost or stolen.
You need to send a payment more securely. Unlike checks, money orders don’t include your bank account number. This can be important if you’re sending money to a company or person you don’t completely trust.
You’re sending money overseas. Not all money orders work abroad, but U.S. Postal Service money orders can be sent to 28 countries including the Bahamas, Canada, Japan and several Latin American countries. You can buy an international money order with a value of up to $700 at a U.S. post office for $4.75 by paying with cash, debit card or traveler’s checks. Another way to send money is through a wire transfer, which is faster but usually more expensive.