Money orders are about as simple to fill out as a personal check. Different outlets use different formats, but they all need the same basic information. Most money orders are from one of three brand names: Western Union, MoneyGram, or the U.S. Postal Service.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on when to use a money order, where you can get one, and how to fill it out correctly.

Key Takeaways

  • Money orders are easy to buy and cash, and about as simple to fill out as writing a check.
  • Fees vary widely, so check in advance. Avoid using a credit card.
  • Once you fill in the recipient's name, the money order is safe from misuse.
  • If you're paying a bill, include an account or invoice number to ensure the payment is credited correctly.
  • It can take up to 30 days or more for a refund if you cancel your money order.
  • Money orders are helpful for people without checking accounts.

When You Should Use a Money Order

When you need to pay someone or someone needs to pay you, but cash, a personal check, or a smartphone app aren't good options for whatever reason, a money order might be the solution.

A money order is a piece of paper, but it is more secure than cash because it names a specific recipient, who will have to endorse it and show identification to cash it. Money orders are beneficial for people who don't have a checking account or do not want to accept personal checks. Even if you use checks, you might not want to share the personal information printed on them—such as your address and account number—with specific recipients. Money orders are widely accepted because they are prepaid, eliminating the risk of bouncing.

Certified and cashier's checks issued by financial institutions offer even more security than money orders. However, they carry much higher fees and require visiting a bank during banking hours, and a money order is an easier and less expensive option.

Where You Can Get a Money Order

So far, online money orders are rare and pricey. So buying a money order typically requires you to visit a location that sells them and leave with a paper money order in hand.

Fortunately, thousands of U.S. locations sell money orders, many with evening and weekend hours. You can buy one at any Walmart, CVS, or 7-Eleven, as well as at any of the 31,300 U.S. Postal Service (USPS) retail offices. Banks, credit unions, grocery store chains, and check-cashing stores sell money orders, too.

The limit on money orders is $1,000, but you can order more than one at a time.

What They Cost

Almost all money order purchases involve a fee, so it’s wise to shop around. Walmart charges $1.00 at most locations, and the USPS charges $1.30 to $1.75 depending on the amount. International prices are significantly higher. For example, the USPS charges at least $10.55 plus a fee.

Prices at banks, credit unions, and other sellers can be significantly higher. On the other hand, some banks offer them free to specific categories of customers.

Credit card companies generally charge hefty fees on money order purchases because they treat them like cash advances. You also could be piling up interest charges, so avoid this option if possible.

What Information You Need to Fill Out a Money Order

First, you'll need to know the exact dollar amount you want. This will be machine-printed directly on the money order, and you won't be able to alter it later. You also need to know the proper name of the person or company you'll make out the money order to. Be precise, or the recipient may have trouble cashing it.

If you're paying a business, add the account or invoice number to ensure the payment is appropriately credited to you. You can fill this information out later, but a blank money order (as long as the cash amount is on it) is as good as cash if it's lost or stolen.

Also, bring a debit card or cash to pay for your money order, unless you're at your bank and can withdraw it from your account.

If you forget to fill out the name of the recipient on your money order and then lose it, anyone can cash it, it is basically found money.

How to Fill out a Money Order

The U.S. Postal Service carries its brand and format of money orders, as do some banks and credit unions. Other sellers generally offer one of two brands: MoneyGram is sold at all Walmart and CVS stores, while Western Union is sold at 7-Eleven, some grocery chains, and check-cashing stores. Whichever type you get, the seller will imprint the date and the amount and then give you the incomplete money order to finalize by hand.

There are just three pieces of information you'll be asked to provide to complete any money order: the recipient's proper name, your address, and your name or signature. Money orders ask for your address so that the recipient can contact you if a problem occurs. If you're not comfortable sharing this information, there's nothing to stop you from leaving this field blank or entering your email address or cell phone number instead.

One required field on any money order is an indication of the sender. On most money orders, it's your signature that's requested, just as you sign a check. But on USPS money orders, the blank is only labeled "From." Whether you write or sign your name is up to you. One optional field on most money orders can be quite useful. On Western Union money orders, it is called "Payment for/Acct.#." On USPS money orders, it's labeled "memo." This is where you can write in an account number if your money order pays a bill. Or you can use the space for any other information, just like you would use the memo field on a check.

USPS money orders offer additional space for the address of the recipient. On MoneyGram and Western Union orders, only your address is requested. MoneyGram money orders are confusing. The blank says "Address," with no clues on whether your or the recipient's address is wanted, and it means the sender's address.

You will need to provide valid identification to purchase or cash a money order.

How to Deliver a Money Order

Once you've filled in all the fields, be sure to detach the receipt. This stub provides the money order's official identification number, and you can use it to track whether the money order was cashed, and it's also a record of your payment.

Now that you have a completed money order in hand and a receipt, you can safely hand-deliver the money order or mail it to your recipient. Only the recipient will be able to cash it.

Mistakes to Avoid

While a money order is seemingly straightforward and straightforward to use, there are mistakes to avoid when using a money order. The most important thing is to make sure you spell the recipient and payee's names correctly and fill out all the parts of the order. If you forget to fill something out or misspell a name, it can void out the order. Never leave anything on the order blank, and don't forget to keep your receipt of the transaction.

Don't forget to shop around for the lowest fees for a money order, either.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Money Orders

One obvious advantage of using a money order is its simplicity. You can walk into a big box or even your local grocery and walk out with a money order, You don't need to have a checking account to purchase a money order, either, and they are simple to fill out.

The disadvantages are minimum, but they may be enough to dissuade you from using one. First, you have to pay a fee to purchase a money order, something you don't have to do when using a check. If you lose a money order and it is not filled out correctly, it can be easily stolen. The cap of $1,000 on money orders means you can't use them for larger purchases or payments. You'll have to purchase more than one, and with each order comes additional fees.

Pros
  • It's easy to find a place to purchase a money order.

  • You don't need a checking account to purchase or cash a money order.

  • Only the recipient can cash the money order.

Cons
  • A money order can only be used for up to $1,000.

  • If you lose or need to cancel your money order, it can take up to 30 days or longer to be reimbursed.

  • If forget to put the recipient's name on the order and lose it, anyone can cash it.

How to Cancel or Replace a Money Order

If you need to cancel or replace a money order, immediately contact the entity that issued it to you, and they will ask you to fill out a cancellation request form. Always make sure to save your receipt and be prepared to show it. You will need to pay a fee for a canceled money order, as well. When you fill out a cancellation request, you may ask for a replacement money order or a cash refund.

According to Experian, it can take up to 30 days or more for a refund or replacement, so you will have to be prepared to wait. If the matter is urgent, you will have to purchase another money order.

Alternatives to Money Orders

There are many alternatives to money orders. You can use apps like Venmo and PayPal to send money with one swipe, and many banks, like Chase, use Zelle to transfer money directly from your checking account. You can write a personal check, too, for zero fees and more protection, should the check get lost or stolen.

The Bottom Line

For less than $1,000, money orders can be an easy way to purchase something, pay a bill, or pay back personal debt. You can buy a money order for a small fee at convenience stores, money order businesses, big-box stores, and at some credit unions and banks. There are drawbacks to using money orders such as a limited amount of money on each order, fees, and a 30 day or more waiting period for a refund on a canceled money order.

Whose Address Do You Put on a Money Order?

Usually you need to put both your address and the recipient's address on a money order.

Do You Have to Sign a Money Order?

Yes. You do have to write out your signature on a money order.

What Happens If You Fill Out a Money Order Wrong?

Unfortunately, if you make a mistake, it is hard to correct. For example, if you write out the wrong payee name or misspell it, you will have to ask for a refund, which could take 30 days, according to Western Union.

Can a Blank Money Order Be Cashed?

Yes. If someone finds a blank money order with a specified amount on it, in theory, they could fill it out and cash it. If you find a blank money order with no cash value listed, you cannot cash it.

Can Anyone Cash a Money Order?

Anyone can cash a money order, assuming it is made out to them and they have valid identification.