Do money orders expire? Here’s what to know.

Young woman at home using laptop to look up if money orders expireImage: Young woman at home using laptop to look up if money orders expire

In a Nutshell

Worried that an old money order has expired? Rules can vary depending on the issuer and the state where you purchased the money order, but in most cases, you’ll still be able to cash it. Though it may no longer be worth the full face value.
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You may already know that cashing an old check can be difficult, but what about money orders?

In most cases, you don’t have to worry about having one expire on you, but there are factors that might affect the value of the money order over time. Let’s look at how money orders work, who issues them and what to do if you have an old one.

Money orders 101

You can use money orders in a variety of financial transactions. In some ways, they work similarly to personal checks, but there are some distinct differences that make them a safer alternative in certain situations.

What is a money order?

Like a check, a money order is a form of payment you can use to pay an individual or company. The recipient can cash it or deposit it into a bank account.

Unlike a personal check, a money order is prepaid, so there’s less risk of having one bounce. Also, money orders aren’t tied to your bank account, so using one doesn’t expose your account information to the risk of falling into the wrong hands.

How do money orders work?

You can usually purchase a money order worth up to $1,000, though that amount may vary depending on where you buy the money order. There’s typically a small fee involved, which can also vary depending on where you purchase the money order.

You can purchase a money order with cash, a debit card or sometimes a traveler’s check. You can’t typically use a credit card to purchase a money order, but it may be an option with some merchants — though probably at a higher fee.

Once you purchase the money order, you’ll fill it out and give or send it to the recipient, who can cash or deposit it.

How much do money orders cost?

The cost of purchasing a money order can vary based on the state of purchase and the issuer. In most cases, the fee is around $1 to $2, but if you purchase one from a bank, it can cost more. Be sure to shop around and compare fees to limit your costs, especially if you use money orders regularly.

Where can I get a money order?

You can buy a U.S. Postal money order at any post office. Pharmacies, convenience stores, grocery stores, check-cashing stores and retailers may also sell money orders from major issuers like MoneyGram or Western Union. Banks and credit unions also tend to sell money orders.

What are some pros and cons of money orders?

Money orders are trackable, so you’ll know when a money order is cashed. And they’re safer than cash, because they’re usually made out to someone specific so that only they can cash the money order. You also don’t need a bank account to get one and the funds are guaranteed.

But there’s a limit on the face amount of a money order, and you have to purchase it in person. Even if fees are low, they can add up over time if you use a lot of money orders.

Do money orders expire?

Generally, money orders don’t have expiration dates. This means you should be able to cash a money order no matter how old it is.

But issuers may begin applying fees if a money order goes uncashed for a year or more. The fee can vary. For example, on money orders more than a year old, WesternUnion charges a $2-per-month service fee for each month after the first 12 — up to a maximum of $144.

U.S. Postal money orders are an exception — they never expire and never lose value. The post office will honor its money orders for the exact amount printed on the document regardless of how old the money order is.

Some money order issuers to consider

Here are some of the top money order issuers and the fees they charge.

Issuer Purchase fee Unpaid service fee
U.S. Postal Service Up to $1.75 None
Western Union May vary by location Listed on the back of the money order; kicks in after 1–3 years
MoneyGram May vary by location Listed on the back of the money order; kicks in after 1 year
Amscot None $2 per month, up to $144; kicks in after 1 year

What can I do if I have an old money order?

If you have an older money order and are concerned that fees may reduce the principal amount of the money order, you may be able to find out what service fees, if any, apply by looking on the money order itself. For example, MoneyGram puts service charge conditions and information on the back of its money orders. You may also try contacting the issuing company for more information about its policies and fees.

If you have an old money order and expect a large service fee, consider asking the person who gave you the money order to request a refund and send you a new one. A refund request may require a receipt and a processing fee. But if the refund fee is less than the service fees you would face if you tried to cash the money order, it may be worth it to work something out with the sender.

Alternatives to money orders

If you want to avoid the potential drawbacks of a money order, including fees for waiting too long to cash it, there are some alternatives you could consider.

  • Peer-to-peer payment app — If you’re sending money to somebody and they have an account with PayPal, Venmo, Zelle, Cash App or any other peer-to-peer payment app, consider sending the money electronically. But this option may not work if your recipient doesn’t have an app or you’re sending payment to a company.
  • Cashier’s check — A cashier’s check is similar to a money order because it’s a prepaid financial instrument. The difference is that a cashier’s check is issued by a bank, which means you may need to have a bank account to get one. They’re also a bit more expensive. But cashier’s checks can have much higher limits than money orders, making them a better choice for larger transactions.
  • Wire transfer — If you’re sending money abroad, consider using a wire transfer. It’s typically more expensive but can get the money to the recipient faster than if you were to send a money order in the mail.

You have many ways to make payments, including money orders. As with any financial decision, it pays to understand all your options before choosing how to make a payment.

About the author: Ben Luthi is a personal finance freelance writer and credit cards expert. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business management and finance from Brigham Young University. In addition to Credit Karma, you can find his wo… Read more.