We've all seen commercials where a cash-strapped person in dire need of money for bills, bail or some other emergency calls a friend or family member for a quick financial infusion. Typically, a loving but exasperated parental figure drives down to the closest bank or money transfer service and arranges for a money order to be sent to their down-and-out loved one. Cue happy smiles all around as everyone -- including the bill collectors -- gets the financial assistance they're looking for. Thanks to the World Wide Web and some enterprising services, however, it's no longer necessary to leave the house when granting someone a financial windfall. Money orders are now available online, although they're a bit different from the ones you purchase in person.
Regular money orders can be bought at your local grocery store, bank or post office. There are some limitations to paper money orders, but they're easily worked around. For example, the amount can't exceed $1,000, but you can buy more than one at a time. So, if you need to send $5,000, just purchase five money orders worth a grand apiece. The United States Postal Service charges $1.50 per order if going to a customer in the U.S.; those being sent internationally cost $3.85 per $700 [source: Bank of America].
The ability to send a money order online is still a relatively new development, and most major banks and financial institutions don't yet to offer the service. There are a few companies, however, that will allow you to use the Internet to purchase money orders.
Keep reading to find out about what you can expect from a typical online money order.
Sending an Online Money Order
As with anything banking-related, fees, payment limits and methods for online money orders vary by company. For example, if you buy an online money order from Payko -- arguably the leading company offering money orders over the Internet -- you can pay using your PayPal account, which is either linked to your bank account or your credit or debit card. Although convenient, Payko's customers don't have the flexibility of physical transactions, as the service presently limits each account to a single $200 online money order per day. According to their Web site, this is the highest money order amount currently available online.
However, using Payko is going to cost a bit more than sending a traditional money order. The company's fees range from $3.49 to $4.99, plus up to 5.49 percent of the total amount being sent. Also, unlike standard Internet transactions, the exchange is not instantaneous. A physical money order is still printed, and it can also take several days for it to be sent out, depending on the type of service and delivery method you choose. For example, sending the money order via express mail is pricier, at $15, than standard first class mail, which is free but takes longer.
There are a few other Web sites offering online money orders, but most of them are based in India, and both you and the recipient must be in the country in order to use these services. Other companies advertise online money orders, but actually offer money transfers, which are not the same thing.
We must state, however, that the online money order business is a volatile industry. While researching information for this article, we came across several Web-based companies that apparently offered money orders but had recently shut down. Even the Payko Web site went down for several days between the time this article was written and its publication.
Before purchasing an online money order, do a bit of research to make sure the company is reliable, especially if they appear to be recently established. If you're at all unsure, you may want to head down to your local bank, post office or grocery store to buy one in person. It might not be as convenient, but it'll cost less, and you won't have to worry about the legitimacy of the transaction.
- Bank of America. "Sending Money to Friends and Loved Ones." 2011. (Sept. 29, 2011). http://learn.bankofamerica.com/articles/money-management/sending-money-to-friends-and-loved-ones.html
- Payko. "Payko Help Center." Payko. 2011. (Sept. 29, 2011). http://www.payko.com/help.aspx#7
- Washington Office of the Attorney General. "'Grandparent Scam' Targets Washington Elderly Again." 2011. (Sept. 29, 2011). http://www.atg.wa.gov/BlogPost.aspx?id=20398