You have a check in hand that you need to cash right away. No problem at all. Visit the bank, give the check to the teller and walk away with the cash. Sounds simple, but that’s not always how it works.

cashing a check

Why so? According to a recent survey conducted by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), seven percent of households are unbanked. That’s a whopping 9 million consumers. And if you fall into this category, using the bank may not even be an option. The good news there are other ways to cash a check without spending a fortune.

Read on to explore more options:

Banked Consumers

Do you have a checking or savings account at a bank or credit union? If so, you don’t have to think twice about where to cash checks. In fact, you should be able to do so via the mobile app or ATM if you’re unable to make it to the branch.

Credit union members get the luxury of depositing at locations across the United States that are a part of the shared network. (ATM deposit capabilities may also be available).

But there’s a major drawback you should be mindful of: some banks don’t release the funds to you right away. For larger amounts, the funds availability policy may restrict your access for one business day or longer. And if you are a new account holder, there’s a chance the funds won’t be available until the check clears the writer’s bank.

Unbanked Consumers

Don’t have a bank account? No problem. You still have several options to cash checks without spending a fortune. And depending on which place you choose, you may be able to cash the check for free.

Open a New Account

Have you considered opening a new account to cash your check? This is a free way to retrieve funds. And depending on the amount, you can use the check to make the opening deposit. But, the hold time may be longer since you’re new to the financial institution.

What if you don’t qualify for a traditional checking or savings account because of poor banking history? Some banks offer second-chance accounts to consumers with ChexSystems or Early Warning Services (EWS) reports. So, try speaking with a banker to determine if you qualify.

Bank of Origin

You can visit the bank of origin or financial institution listed on the check. It usually appears on the left-hand sign below the line designated for the long-form amount of the check.

Depending on the bank, a nominal check-cashing fee may apply. (Note: you should expect to pay a fee if you’re not an account holder). Also, prepare to present a valid form of identification, like a driver’s license, passport or state issued ID card, so the bank can confirm your identity. But you’ll have the funds right away if they’re available in the account.

This option may also be worth considering if you have a bank account, but prefer not to wait to access your funds.

Major Retailers and Grocery Stores

Big-box retailers, like Walmart and Kmart, offer check-cashing services to consumers. It’s not necessary to make a purchase, but prepare to fork over a small percentage of the check amount and a flat fee to complete the transaction.

Walmart will cash payroll checks, government checks, tax refund checks, cashier’s checks, insurance settlement checks and retirement disbursement checks. The amount of the check cannot exceed $5,000, and the maximum fee is $6.00.

Kmart will also cash payroll checks and two-party checks, but this service is only available to ShopYourWay members. Checks are limited to $5,000 ($500 if two-party personal), and the fee will not exceed $1.

Visit the store and speak with a customer service representative to learn more. If there isn’t a Walmart or Kmart in your local area, check with other major retailers or local grocers as they may also offer check-cashing services.

Payday Lenders

You can also visit a payday lending or check cashing store to swap out your check for cash. Fees vary by location and brand but expect to pay a flat fee plus a percentage of the check amount. Generally, funds will be issued at the time of your visit. But the representative will have to call the bank to confirm the account holder has an adequate balance to cover the check.

Prepaid Card Accounts

Prefer not to open a bank account or visit a check cashing establishment? You can buy a prepaid debit card and deposit the check into the account to access funds. Most prepaid debit cards, like Chase Liquid, NetSpend, and Bluebird by American Express, allow you to make deposits from your smartphone. But you may have to wait until the check clears to make withdrawals or purchases.

Convenience Stores

Some convenience stores, like 7-Eleven, have self-serve kiosks from Refund Advantage that enable you to cash checks for a fee. Most are available for use during business hours, but you may also be able to use select kiosks 24/7.

Which Option is Best?

It depends on how fast you need the funds and what you’re willing to spend. Banked consumers have the luxury of fee-free check cashing, and not all checks are subject to extended (if any) holds.

If you’re an unbanked consumer, opening a checking or a prepaid account is always an option. And even if you’re forced to deposit the check and wait until it to use the funds, you’ll save money. But if you need cash fast, you can visit the writer’s bank, local check cashing establishment or stores that offer these services.

What If the Check Bounces?

If you deposited a personal check at your bank, there’s a possibility the entire amount was reflected in your balance but unavailable for withdrawal. The funds were also available to cover any debit card purchases, electronic funds transfers or ACH transactions.

But what if the check doesn’t clear or is returned to the issuer for insufficient funds? You’ll be on the hook for the amount spent and any overdraft fees incurred.

Bottom Line

Whether you’re a banked or unbanked consumer, there are several ways to cash a check and access the funds you need without pulling your hair out. However, you’ll probably have to pay a small fee if you don’t have an account at a financial institution.

But if you cash checks often and are getting fed up with paying fees, it may be worthwhile to explore checking account options. Even if you’re in ChexSystems or EWS for poor banking issues, there may be low-cost second chance banking options available to you.