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.
1. Should I Use a Money Order?
When you need to pay someone or get them to pay you, but cash and personal checks aren’t good options — and paying with your smartphone is a total non-starter — a money order might be your ideal solution.
A money order is a paper payment that is more secure than sending or delivering cash because it names a specific recipient, who will have to endorse it and show identification to cash it.
Money orders are especially useful to people who don't have a checking account or don't accept 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. In addition, since money orders are prepaid and eliminate the risk of bouncing, they are widely accepted even by those who don’t trust personal checks.
Provides the security of a check written to an individual or company while being much more widely accepted
Much safer to carry or mail than cash
Easy to buy in hundreds of thousands of locations, at a wide range of hours
Much cheaper and easier to purchase than cashier’s checks
Requires visiting a seller, whether a major retailer, grocer, convenience store, bank, credit union or post office
Almost always incurs a small fee to buy
Can be made out only for $1,000 or less
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. So if a money order works, it’s an easier and less expensive option.
2. Where Can I 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 over 30,000 U.S. post offices. Banks, credit unions, grocery and convenience store chains, and check-cashing stores sell money orders, too.
Almost all money order purchases involve a fee, so it’s smart to shop around. Walmart charges under $1 per money order, and the USPS less than $2. 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 their customers. So we recommend calling ahead.
3. What Information Do I Need To Fill Out A Money Order?
You’ll need to know the exact dollar amount you want. This amount will be machine-printed directly on the money order, and you won’t be able to alter it later. Also be forewarned that the largest money order you can buy is $1,000. So if you’re making a payment larger than that, be prepared to purchase multiple money orders.
It’s also best that you arrive knowing the proper name of the person or company you'll make out the money order to, and your account number if you’re using it to pay a business. Though you can fill this out later, a blank money order that’s lost or stolen is as good as cash since anyone who finds it can write their name in.
On the flip side, if you put the wrong name on it, the recipient can have trouble cashing it. So it’s smart to take care in entering the correct name on the money order right at the counter when you buy it.
Also bring a debit card or cash to pay for your money order, or be prepared to make a withdrawal from your account if you’re purchasing at a bank or credit union. Credit card companies generally charge large fees on money order purchases because they treat them like cash advances.
- Safe, cheap, and widely accepted, money orders are easy to buy and redeem, and about as simple to fill out as writing a check.
- When deciding where to buy a money order, check fees in advance because they can vary widely.
- Gather the information you need before heading out to buy a money order: the exact amount and the recipient’s correct name, so that you can keep your payment secure by completing the form correctly right at the counter.
- If you’re paying a bill, include your account and/or invoice number on the money order to make sure your payment is credited.
4. How Do I Fill Out a Money Order
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) 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 purchase, 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 have 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 the recipient or seller can contact you if a problem occurs. If you’re comfortable sharing this information, it’s a good idea to include it. But if you prefer not to reveal any personal information to the recipient, there’s nothing to stop you from leaving this field blank, or even 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.#,” and on USPS money orders, it’s simply “Memo.” Here’s where you can write in an account number if your money order will pay a bill. Or you could simply use the space for an optional note to your recipient — just like the memo field on a check. (Curiously, MoneyGrams do not provide a designated memo space.)
If you’re paying a company with your money order, failing to include your account, order, or invoice number puts you at risk of the payment not being credited to your account.
USPS money orders offer additional space for the address of the recipient, meaning both your address and the recipient’s would appear. On MoneyGram and Western Union orders, only your address is requested. But note a common point of confusion on MoneyGram money orders: The blank simply says “Address”, with no clues on whose address to provide. The intended information is your address, as the sender.
5. How Should I Deliver the Money Order?
Once you’ve filled in all the fields you want to complete, be sure to detach the receipt that comes with all brands of money order. This stub provides the money order’s official identification number, which you can use later to track whether the money order was cashed. It can also aid your record keeping.
Now that you have a completed money order in hand, and a receipt retained for yourself, you can safely hand-deliver the money order or mail it to your recipient, since only that individual or company will be able to cash it.