December 22, 2017 in Banking
Courtesy of Smithsonian National Postal Museum

If you don’t have a checking account or would rather not use a personal check to make a payment, sending a money order is a safe alternative to paying with cash.

Money orders are a widely accepted way to make a payment. They never expire, and if they are lost or stolen, they can often be replaced. Money orders must be prepaid, so unlike checks, they will not bounce, which makes them a secure way to make purchases, pay debts or send money through the mail.

Here’s what you need to know in order to purchase and fill out a money order correctly.

How to purchase a money order

You can purchase a money order at banks and credit unions, check cashing businesses, the U.S. Postal Service and some big box stores. You can use cash or a debit card to buy the money order.

However, you may want to avoid using your credit card to purchase a money order, as your credit card company may consider the purchase a cash advance. Cash advances may trigger steep fees, and you may be hit with a higher-than-normal interest rate until you pay off the balance.

There may be limits on the size of the money order you can purchase. The USPS, for example, allows you to buy money order up to $1,000. On top of the price of the money order, you will typically have to pay a fee of between $1 and $10.

How to fill out a money order

Once you’ve purchased your money order, fill it out carefully to make sure it will go to the right person and that he or she can cash it. Here are the steps to follow when you fill it out:

  • Fill in the name of the recipient of the money order in the “pay to” field. This could be a person’s name or the name of a business. Spell everything correctly, making sure your writing is legible and in ink.
  • Fill out your name in the field labeled “from,” “purchaser” or “sender.”
  • Sign the front of the money order in the portion labeled for your signature.
  • Fill in your address where the money order asks for the purchaser’s address. There may be a second address field where you can fill in the address of the person or business you are paying or sending money to.
  • A memo line allows you to note what the money order is designated for. For example, you can specify that it is to purchase a specific item or pay off a particular debt.
  • Do not sign the back of the money order. This is where the person or business that you are paying endorses the money order before they cash it.

Keep your receipt, which contains a tracking number. This number can tell you if the right person cashed you money order. And in case it is lost or stolen, you can use the tracking number to help you replace it. There may be a processing fee for replacing money orders. Your receipt can also help you cancel the money order should your plans change.

Money orders can be a useful way to send and receive money. Knowing the ins and outs of how to acquire and use them allows you to add this dependable tool to your financial toolkit.