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

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 make sure the payment is credited correctly.

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 in order to cash it.

Money orders are especially useful for people who don't have a checking account or don't 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 certain 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. 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, more than 200,000 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 30,000 U.S. Postal Service (USPS) 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 smart 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 certain categories of customers.

Credit card companies generally charge large 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.It

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 make sure the payment is credited properly to you.

You can fill this information out later, but a blank money order 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 own bank and can withdraw it from your account.

How to Fill Out a Money Order

The U.S. Postal Service carries its own 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.

Most money orders are from one of three brand names: Western Union, MoneyGram, or the U.S. Postal Service.

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 simply labeled "memo.” This is where you can write in an account number if your money order will pay a bill. Or you can use the space for any other information, just like you would use the memo field on a check. (Curiously, MoneyGrams do not provide a designated memo space.)

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

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. 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.