If you need to send cash to someone, a money order is one way to get the job done. A money order is similar to a check, but you pay for it up-front — which means the funds are guaranteed. You make your money order out to a specific individual or business, and they cash it as they would a regular bank check.
Some people use money orders because they do not have a traditional checking account. Other people purchase money orders because they need to make a payment to someone who will not accept a traditional check. Although money orders are less common these days, thanks in part to the increase in money order scams, people are still sending and receiving money orders through banks, the U.S. Postal Service, services like Western Union and Moneygram and retailers like Walmart and 7-Eleven.
Most issuers only accept cash as payment for money orders, so if you want to use a credit card to purchase a money order, you’ll need to get a cash advance — which can cost you a lot of money in fees and interest charges, especially if you can’t pay off your credit card balance right away. Before you use a credit card to purchase a money order, here’s what you need to know.
Money order overview
Although a money order is similar to a regular bank check, it works very differently than a check does. When you write a check from your checking account, the money doesn’t leave your account until the recipient cashes the check. When you purchase a money order, you pay for the entire amount up front, using a guaranteed form of payment such as cash or a transfer from your checking or savings account.
Money orders eliminate one of the key risks associated with using bank checks, which is not having enough funds when the check is cashed. When that happens, you’ll incur an overdraft fee, and the recipient won’t get their money, which is why some people and organizations hesitate to accept personal checks. With a money order, the recipient knows it’s already paid for, so the money is guaranteed.
Paying for a money order with a credit card
In most cases, you’ll need to use your credit card to withdraw cash from an ATM — a transaction called a cash advance — if you want to use your credit card to fund your money order purchase. This is because most retailers do not let you use a credit card to pay for a money order directly. If you do find a retailer that lets you buy a money order with a credit card, your credit card issuer will probably still classify the transaction as a cash advance, since you’re essentially purchasing cash.
When you take out a cash advance, your credit card issuer will charge you a cash advance fee on the transaction and your purchase will incur a higher interest rate. Cash advance interest rates can be as high as 25% APR, which means your money order could end up costing you more than you realize.
The best way to avoid the hefty cost of a cash advance is to pay off your cash advance debt as quickly as possible. If you let that debt remain on your credit card month after month, the cash advance interest rate will continue to rack up.
What merchants accept credit cards for a money order?
Currently, no major merchants allow you to pay for a money order with a credit card. Western Union and 7-Eleven are often cited as places that allow customers to pay for a money order with a credit card, but we confirmed directly with both retailers that they only accept cash payments. Walmart, Moneygram and the U.S. Postal Service also do not let people use credit cards to purchase money orders.
If you want to buy a money order from a merchant that does not accept credit cards as payment, you can use your credit card to get a cash advance from an ATM and then use that cash to pay for your money order.
You may also be able to purchase your money order with a debit card, since some retailers that do not accept credit cards for money orders will still accept debit.
Can I use a credit card to pay for a money order online?
Money orders must be purchased in person, so you cannot use a credit card to pay for a money order online.
If you would like to send money to friends or family online, consider a money transfer app like Venmo or Square Cash (aka the Cash App). Both apps allow you to use credit cards to make online payments, but watch out for fees — both Venmo and the Cash App charge a 3% fee when you use your credit card to send money, and some credit card issuers code peer-to-peer transactions made with credit cards as cash advances. If you use a debit card or bank account with these apps, you can send money without paying fees.
Can I earn rewards from the purchase of a money order?
Credit card cash advances do not earn rewards — so when you use a credit card to purchase a money order, you will not earn rewards from your purchase.
When you read the terms and conditions of the Citi Rewards+SM Card, for example — which is one of Bankrate’s top rewards credit cards — you learn that “Balance transfers, cash advances, checks that access your Card Account, items returned for credit, unauthorized charges, interest and account fees, traveler’s checks, foreign currency purchases, money orders, wire transfers (and similar cash–like transactions), lottery tickets, gaming chips (and similar betting transactions) do not earn ThankYou Points.”
These types of restrictions are fairly standard among credit card issuers, so you should not expect to earn rewards when you use your credit card for a money order.
What should I do if I need an emergency money order?
If you need an emergency money order, you’ll need to find the closest merchant, retailer or bank that offers money order services. Be aware that although some retailers like Walmart might be open 24 hours a day, the money center within that retailer may operate under limited hours. Contact the merchant or retailer to confirm that their money order services are still open, especially if you need to purchase a money order after standard business hours.