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Banking

A Guide to Money Orders

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

First issued by American Express in 1882, money orders are a convenient and widely accepted form of payment that are secured by a third party. You can purchase them almost anywhere in the United States, usually for a small fee. Below, we have outlined how money orders work, how much they cost and everything else you need to know.

What is a money order?

A money order is a certificate of payment that is secured by a financial institution or another third party. Much like a personal check, with a money order you assign a recipient, which reduces the risk of it being cashed by someone other than the intended payee. You’ll need to include your name and contact information, as well as the recipient’s, on the money order.

It is also a convenient way to pay bills if you don’t have a checking account. Because you need to pay for money orders in cash, the receiver never needs to worry about the money order bouncing or being returned for insufficient funds, as is possible with a personal check.

Example of a money order

4 Steps to filling out the money order:

  1. Write the name of the person you are paying.
  2. Fill out your information where it says something like Purchaser, Sender or From.
  3. Sign the money order
  4. Save your receipt! It’s very important to show a record of having paid for the money order if you lose or the recipient loses the physical money order. You can also find tracking information on the receipt to help recover it later.

When should you use a money order?

  • When you want to send a secure payment that is backed by a third party.
  • If you don’t have a checking account but need to make a payment and do not want to risk paying with cash.
  • When you don’t want to provide your bank account information.
  • If the person you are paying doesn’t have access to a bank account such that a personal check would be harder to cash.
  • If the recipient of the money order wants to ensure that the payment does not bounce or is returned for insufficient funds.
  • When you need to send money overseas and don’t want to send cash or a personal check. (International money orders are available and accepted by many countries.)

Where to get a money order

Money orders are prepaid, and you can buy them just about anywhere, including from the third-party vendors listed below:

  • Financial institutions, like banks and credit unions, offer money orders.
  • The United States Postal Service (USPS) offers money orders at all of its locations. You may send a money order domestically for a maximum of $1,000, and internationally for a maximum of $700.
  • Money transfer agents, such as Western Union and MoneyGram or other check-cashing outlets, carry money orders. Some of these providers have set limits on the amount that you can purchase.
  • Convenience stores and supermarkets, like Walmart, often provide money order vendors at their stores. For instance, Walmart offers money orders through MoneyGram.

How much do money orders cost?

You can get a money order by prepaying the full amount plus a small service fee charged by the institution; they can be purchased with cash, debit card or traveler’s check. However, because you prepay for a money order, it is like handing over cash. So, using a credit card to buy a money order is considered a cash advance by many banking institutions and you may be charged a fee associated with that service, which can get expensive.

Listed below are service fees associated with the standard third-party vendors that offer money orders:

  • Financial institutions sometimes waive service fees associated with money orders for certain customers. For instance, if you have a Chase Premier Plus Checking account, there is no fee for your money order.
  • The USPS charges a $1.20 service fee for money orders up to $500, and $1.65 for a money order in excess of $500. The fee for U.S. postal military money orders is $0.40. You can send a money order within the United States for as much as $1,000, or overseas for a maximum of $700 ($500 for El Salvador and Guyana) for a fee of $8.55.
  • Money transfer agents often have their own fees depending on their location. For instance, Western Union does not have a set fee rate. It’s best to check with the location from where you are planning to purchase the money order.
  • Convenience stores and supermarkets who are authorized agents will sell money orders for a small fee. For instance, Walmart charges a $0.70 fee for a money order of any amount, up to a maximum of $1,000.

Important things to know about paying with a money order

  • If you lose your money order: You may cancel a money order or request a refund (so it’s always wise to keep your receipt), but doing so often includes a fee. Western Union charges a $15 non-refundable processing fee for canceling or requesting a refund if you have your receipt, and $30 if you don’t. And, simply inquiring about a money order at the USPS incurs a fee of $5.95 (domestic) or $6.45 (international). If the money order has already been cashed fraudulently, you might not get a refund, but you can alert law enforcement.
  • If you cash your money order instead of depositing it: Cashing a money order at a check-cashing outlet, instead of bringing it to your bank, often requires a fee. But if you do need to cash it at a place other than your bank, consider bringing it to the same vendor that issued the money order, which might avoid fees.
  • Money orders can be targets for con artists: Because money orders are not used as regularly as personal checks, fake ones can be tough to identify. As a result, scammers may target money orders as a way to steal money. A common scenario when selling something on Craigslist, for example, is that the scammer will pay the seller with a money order that is more than the purchase price and ask for the difference back.

Alternatives to money orders

Although money orders are a secured, convenient form of payment, sometimes there are better options. For instance, you cannot get a money order for just any amount (there are maximums), and if you don’t have a checking account, it can become pricey to cash money orders consistently at check-cashing outlets. Listed below are some alternatives to using money orders:

  • Cashier’s checks: There is usually no cap on the amount of a cashier’s check, so you may purchase them in larger sums. Because a cashier’s check is issued by a bank and drawn from the bank’s funds, the recipient usually gets the money more quickly than with a money order.
  • Certified checks: Much like a cashier’s check, a certified check is also issued by a bank. The difference is that the amount of the certified check is withdrawn from a personal or business checking account and the bank account number is included on the check.
  • Wire transfers: This alternative is best if the recipient needs the money as quickly as possible. However, wire transfers are pricey and you need to know the recipient’s bank account and routing number. If you wire money in U.S. dollars from a Bank of America account to a financial institution within the U.S., it will cost you $30, and if you send it to an international account, it will cost $45.
  • Prepaid debit cards: If you’re using money orders because you don’t have a checking account, a prepaid debit card is another alternative. You can use them anywhere as long as you prepay with a set amount of cash.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Vivian Giang
Vivian Giang |

Vivian Giang is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Vivian here

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Banking

Money Market Funds vs Money Market Accounts: What’s the Difference?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

It’s easy to confuse a money market account with a money market fund, but there’s a bigger difference between these two savings products than a single word.

While both provide a relatively risk-free place to put your cash, a money market account is a deposit account held at a bank or credit union that is virtually indistinguishable from a savings account. A money market fund is a mutual fund in which you invest, meaning it is governed by an entirely different set of rules and regulations than a bank deposit product.

Below, we’ll explore in more detail the differences between the two, and give you a better idea of which one is right for your savings goals.

Money market accounts vs. money market funds

The most important difference between a money market account and a money market fund is that the first is a risk-free deposit and the second is an investment product that is not free of risk.

Money market accounts are deposit products, and as such they are insured up to $250,000 by the FDIC for banks, or the NCUA for credit unions, which eliminates the risk of losing your money.

These mutual funds are investment vehicles that place their clients’ money in short-term securities, commercial paper and ultra-safe investments. They are securities regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Because this mutual fund is an investment, there is no ironclad guarantee by the government that you won’t end up losing some of the principal you put in. This could happen if the market tanks and the funds “break the buck” — meaning their net asset value falls below $1.

As the summary prospectus for Vanguard’s Prime Money Market Fund spells out, “You could lose money by investing in the Fund. Although the Fund seeks to preserve the value of your investment at $1.00 per share, it cannot guarantee it will do so.” This last happened in 2008, when the Primary Fund reported customers would only get 97 cents for every dollar invested thanks to the chaos of the financial markets at the time.

 

Money Market Account

Money Market Fund

Product type

A specialized savings account with a bank or credit union

A low-risk mutual fund which invests in short-term debt securities

Access to funds

Can withdrawal money up to six times each month

Same-day settlement without any limits on transactions

Level of risk

Insured by the FDIC or NCUA up to $250,000 per account

Low-risk investment product, with no guaranteed return of your money

Utility

Earns a decent interest rate for long-term savings

A higher-yield product to grow money for a short-term goal, such as a home or car purchase

When you need a money market deposit account

While hearing “you need to save more money” ranks right up there with “eat less pizza” as advice that causes your eyes to roll straight to the back of your skull, it’s unfortunately almost always true. A money market account is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal to follow through on that advice, giving you an account that earns high interest while granting you easy — if limited — access to your funds for emergency spending.

It’s also virtually indistinguishable to a savings account in that both products typically earn higher interest rates than the pittance earned by most checking accounts while still retaining more liquidity than certificates of deposit (CDs).

“The differences between money market accounts and savings accounts depend on the institution that is offering them,” said Ken Tumin, founder and writer of DepositAccounts.com, which, like MagnifyMoney, is owned by LendingTree. “I’ve seen some banks offer money market accounts that have the same features as savings accounts at other banks.”

One general point of differentiation Tumin sees between savings accounts and money market accounts is that many money market accounts come with checks or an ATM card, which makes it easier to tap those funds for the sort of big-ticket emergency purchases — think of a fridge on the fritz — you’ve been saving for.

When you need a money market fund

Money market funds are the purview of brokerage firms, and they typically give investors a higher return than what they can earn via interest on money market deposit accounts. This makes it a good option for people saving for a short-term goal who don’t mind taking on a little more risk than they would with a federally-insured deposit account.

“Its yield fluctuates and will probably end up being somewhere between a savings account and a CD, but closer to the CD yield,” said Amy Goan, a CFP and former money market fund manager based in Washington. “However, if you want to liquidate the whole account and invest the money elsewhere, it’s just like any other mutual fund and the money will be available the next business day.”

One reason you may want to avoid these for the long haul is that due to the conservative nature of their investments, this mutual fund has a difficult time beating inflation.

“Long-term goals, such as retirement and education should be invested more aggressively to generate competitive return over inflation over the long term,” said Samantha Anderson, a CFP based in Ohio.

The bottom line on money market accounts vs. funds

Despite how easy it is to mix up money market accounts and funds, they both serve similar but distinct savings goals. Money market accounts provide more stability and security thanks to the FDIC/NCUA protection they have and make excellent places to park your emergency fund.

These mutual funds can perform the same function if you don’t mind the small (but still present) chance of losing some of the money invested, plus your funds will usually grow faster than if placed in a money market account. But for the money you’re planning on spending in the next year or so, money market funds provide a combination of strong returns, safety and liquidity that make them attractive investments.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

James Ellis
James Ellis |

James Ellis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here

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Banking

How to Get a Debit Card

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Debit cards are a must-have for many consumers today. They’re more widely accepted than checks, safer than carrying around large sums of cash and, unlike credit cards, don’t land you in debt (unless you overdraft).

Luckily, getting a debit card with a checking account, prepaid debit card or even a savings account can be simple. This step-by-step guide on how to get a debit card covers the different types of accounts and how you can get one.

Decide what kind of account you need

There are many ways to get a debit card. The best option for you will depend on your financial situation and goals.

  • Checking account: This is a good way to safely store money you plan to use in the near future. A checking account from a bank almost always comes with one of these cards that gives you easy access to those funds. Some banks offer a bonus for opening a checking account, and there are also ones that earn rewards. If you’re after bonuses and rewards, keep in mind that these accounts often come with higher fees. Your local credit union is also a great option for a checking account — and debit card — with minimal fees. Plus, it’s smart to build a relationship with a credit union as you might want to use it for other financial needs in the future, such as a low-interest credit card, personal loan or mortgage.
  • Savings account: Some savings accounts and money market accounts will give you a debit or ATM card that allows you to make purchases and withdrawals using your savings. However, this option isn’t ideal for most people since Federal Reserve Regulation D limits savings accounts to six transactions per month. Exceeding that limit could result in fees or your account being closed.
  • Online bank account: Online banks operate without brick-and-mortar locations. Because they have fewer overhead costs, high-yield online checking accounts often have higher APYs and lower fees than traditional banks.
  • Prepaid debit card: It is possible for a financial institution to reject you for a checking account, usually because you have outstanding debt or banking fees from a prior account. Prepaid debit cards don’t require a bank account, and you can load money directly on the card with cash.
  • Debit card for teens: If you’re looking to get a debit card for your teen, look into debit cards and checking accounts specifically geared toward teens and students, which tend to come with lower fees and may not allow overdrafts.

Step-by-step guide on how to get a debit card

Now that you know what you want, follow these steps to open an account and get a debit card.

  • Research account features: Read up on account fees and features so you can choose the best one for you. Look for low-fee or fee-free checking accounts with low minimum balance requirements. Also seek out convenient features, such as mobile banking and online bill pay.
  • Gather necessary documents: If you’re opening a bank account, you’ll likely need to provide two forms of identification. These can include a passport, driver’s license, state identification card, birth certificate or Social Security card. Some banks will allow you to provide one form of identification and a bill addressed to you.
  • Bring funds to deposit: Most banks will require a minimum opening deposit to open an account, which tends to range from $25 to $100. This money goes into your account, and you can use it immediately.
  • Open an account: You’ll need to go to the bank or credit union to open an account in most cases. However, online checking accounts may allow you to open one through the bank’s website.
  • Request a debit card and load it with funds: Some accounts automatically come with a card, while others will require that you request it. You’ll also want to fund your account, which can usually be done with cash or check, or through another bank account.
  • Activate your debit card: Once you receive your card, you’ll be asked to activate it and set a PIN so that it can be used at an ATM. Make sure to do this immediately. After that, your card is ready to use.

How to get a prepaid debit card

Unlike a regular debit card, a prepaid debit card isn’t linked to a bank account. It’s useful for people who have difficulty getting approved for a bank account. They usually can’t be overdrawn, making them a good option if you’re prone to this.

You can purchase and reload prepaid debit cards at many grocery stores, convenience stores and drugstores using cash or check — and sometimes direct deposit. Many come with activation, monthly, ATM and deposit fees, but the best prepaid debit cards minimize those. You can even find a few prepaid debit cards that offer rewards.

Things to remember when you have a debit card

While these cards are secure and convenient, they can also rack up fees if you aren’t careful. Pay close attention to ATM fees, which can be charged by both your card issuer and the ATM owner. Most debit cards come with a network of ATMs you can use fee-free, so stick to those. Overdraft fees can also add up quickly if you don’t pay attention to your balance. To avoid these altogether, ask your bank to set up your account so that transactions that would overdraw your account are denied.

Fraud is always a threat with debit cards, from data breaches at places you’ve shopped to ATM skimmers, who use hidden devices to skim your card information from an ATM you’ve used. With credit cards, you’re only liable for up to $50 of fraudulent charges, but with debit cards you can be held liable for $500 or more.

Keep your card information safe by visiting easily visible ATMs in high traffic areas and always covering your hand while you enter your PIN. Keep your account information and PIN private, and avoid disclosing it over the phone or through email. If you shop online, don’t make purchases while connected to public Wi-Fi.

What is a rewards debit card?

Rewards debit cards offer points or cash back in exchange for every dollar you spend. The cashback cards typically deposit your earnings directly in your account, while the points-earning cards offer points that can be exchanged for travel, merchandise and more. These types of debit cards can be tempting, but they often come with annual or monthly fees that can outweigh the rewards you earn.

As with anything, the key to getting a debit card successfully is doing your research beforehand and selecting the best option for your needs. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be on your way to faster, more secure payments in no time.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Elizabeth Aldrich
Elizabeth Aldrich |

Elizabeth Aldrich is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Elizabeth here

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