What are convenience checks?

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Have you ever opened a credit card statement only to discover that your credit card issuer had sent you a few blank checks? These checks are called credit card checks, or convenience checks, and can be used to make purchases, pay off other credit cards or pull cash advances from your line of credit.

Although a number of today’s best credit cards offer them, that doesn’t mean convenience checks are always a good option. In fact, thanks to the fees and interest rates associated with cash advances, writing a convenience check could cost you a lot more money than you anticipated.

Should you use your convenience checks? It all depends on the situation—and whether you have any better alternatives. Let’s take a look at how to get convenience checks from a credit card, where you can cash a convenience check, whether you can write a convenience check to someone else and more.

What are convenience checks?

A convenience check can be used as a personal check—but when you write a convenience check, the money comes out of the line of credit associated with your credit card. If you want to make a purchase with a convenience check, you simply make the check out to the merchant for the amount of your purchase and sign it. If you want to get cash for yourself, simply make the check out to yourself and cash it anywhere you would cash a personal check.

When you use a convenience check, the amount will be deducted from your credit card in the form of a cash advance. Be aware that your cash advance limit might be lower than your credit limit, and be prepared to pay cash advance fees and cash advance interest rates on the money you withdraw from your line of credit.

Benefits of convenience checks

Convenience checks allow you to access your line of credit in situations where credit cards are not accepted. If you need money to pay rent, for example, your landlord might not accept a credit card, but you should be able to use a convenience check to make the payment.

Convenience checks also allow you to access cash in situations where you cannot use your debit card or checking account. If you need cash quickly but do not have the money in your bank account, you could write yourself a convenience check and cash it just like you would a personal check.

You can even use a convenience check as a way to pay a credit card with a credit card. Most credit card issuers will not let you pay your credit card bill with a convenience check from the same issuer—in other words, you can’t use a Capital One convenience check to pay off a Capital One credit card—but you could use a convenience check to pay a credit card bill with a different issuer. That said, if you find yourself unable to pay your credit card bills without withdrawing money from another credit card, it might be time to start looking into credit card debt resources.

Drawbacks of convenience checks

Convenience checks work like cash advances—which means they usually include advance fees, higher interest rates and stricter penalties around repayment. The average credit card APR is around 16 percent, but convenience checks can have APRs of 25 percent or more.

Convenience checks do not have grace periods like credit card charges. Instead, your convenience check will begin to accrue interest as soon as you use it. If you’re unable to repay the balance in full immediately, the interest charges could start to add up.

There are no restrictions in place to prevent you from writing a convenience check that puts you over your credit limit. Further, your cash advance credit limit might be lower than your total credit limit, so keep that in mind as you use convenience checks. If you go over your credit limit with a convenience check, penalties may apply.

How to use credit card checks

Credit card checks function almost exactly like personal checks and can be used wherever checks are accepted.

Where to get them

How can you get a convenience check from a credit card? Many credit card issuers regularly send cardholders convenience checks in the mail; for example, convenience checks might arrive with your monthly statement. Other card issuers only offer convenience checks to cardholders with certain levels of creditworthiness. If you would like to request convenience checks from your credit card issuer, call the number on the back of your credit card.

Where to cash them

You can cash a credit card convenience check anywhere you can cash a personal check, including bank branches and check-cashing services.

Before you cash your convenience check, you need to fill out the check, putting the word “Cash” next to “Pay to the order of.” Write out how much cash you’d like to withdraw from your line of credit, then sign and date the check.

When you write a check that contains the words “Pay to the order of: Cash,” anyone who has the check in their possession can cash the check. This means if your convenience check is lost or stolen, someone else could claim your cash. For security’s sake, try to avoid filling out your convenience check until right before you turn it over to a bank teller.

Can I write a convenience check to someone else?

One of the advantages of credit card convenience checks is the ability to write a check to someone else, such as a landlord, utility company, friend or family member. Convenience checks are accepted everywhere personal checks are accepted, so feel free to make your convenience check out to a third party.

How do convenience checks affect your credit score?

Convenience checks do not directly impact your credit score. However, using a credit card convenience check could raise your credit utilization ratio by increasing the amount of debt you are carrying on your credit cards. Since credit utilization makes up 30 percent of your credit score, racking up a high credit utilization ratio could lead to a lower credit score overall.

Any cash advance fees and cash advance interest rates associated with your convenience checks will also add to your debt and raise your credit card balances. Unless you’re able to pay off your convenience checks relatively quickly, you could find yourself using more of your available credit than you realized.

High credit balances aren’t the only things to worry about. The fact that you’re using convenience checks to withdraw money from your credit cards might mean you don’t have a lot of available cash in your checking or savings accounts. This could make it more difficult to make on-time credit card payments. Since credit card payment history makes up 35 percent of your credit score, missed or late payments could have a serious impact on your credit.

Alternatives to convenience checks

If you need access to cash but don’t have the money in your bank accounts, credit card convenience checks are one option—but you should also consider a few alternatives to convenience checks.

  • Personal loans: Taking out a personal loan can help you get the cash you need, and personal loan interest rates are often much lower than cash advance interest rates.
  • Borrowing money from family or friends: According to a 2019 Bankrate survey, 60 percent of Americans have loaned cash to a family member or friend, so you might know someone who is able to help you out. Just make sure you agree on a repayment plan, and do your best to stick to it.
  • Picking up a side hustle: Sometimes the quickest way to get access to cash is to earn it. Side hustles like Uber and DoorDash could be the solution to your cash flow problem. Use Bankrate’s list of top side hustle services to get started.

The bottom line

While convenience checks can be helpful in a pinch, they can cost you more money than you realize. In fact, the high cost of convenience checks can even damage your credit score over time.

Make sure you understand all of the pros and cons before you use a convenience check, and look into convenience check alternatives before you write a check that lets you borrow money from your credit card.