Yes, people still use money orders sometimes. Here’s how to fill one out

A money order is a prepaid financial document you send to a person or company to make a purchase or pay a bill. If someone asked you for one, would you know what to do?

Like a check, a money order has several fields you must complete before sending. We’ll explain how to fill out a money order step-by-step. That way, you can use one confidently to cover an expense.

Why you may need to buy a money order

In today’s digital world, you might think that money orders are obsolete. However, that’s far from the truth.

Rebecca Kelly, head of North American payments at Western Union, says that money orders are “still an extremely important part of the United States financial services ecosystem, especially for underbanked consumers.” If you don’t have a checking account at a bank, other payment options like cashier’s checks or certified checks generally aren’t available to you. 

In addition, some billers may require you to send a money order rather than a personal check. Since you prepay for a money order, the recipient doesn’t have to worry about the funds clearing when they go to cash it. Plus, if you’re worried about protecting your banking information, using a money order can help you feel more secure because it doesn’t contain that data. 

Information you need to fill out a money order

Money orders vary slightly, depending on which issuing institution you get them from. However, the information you need to fill one out is similar (and straightforward) no matter who issues the financial instrument. 

Here’s the information you should have on hand:

  • The name of the recipient (known as the payee)
  • The recipient’s address
  • Your address
  • The payment amount
  • The expense you’re covering, including your account number, if applicable

It’s also smart to have your government-issued photo identification with you when you buy a money order. Some vendors may ask to see it—especially if you’re purchasing a high-value money order (or set of money orders).

How to fill out a money order, step-by-step 

When you purchase a money order, some information, like the date and payment amount, will already be printed on the face of the document. However, completing the rest of the fields is your responsibility.

Filling out a money order is similar to writing a check. Here’s how to do it:

1. Request a money order in the exact amount you need

Ask the vendor for the precise amount you need, down to the penny. However, be aware that you may need to purchase multiple money orders to cover a large bill or expense because the vendor or state may cap the value of a single money order. Often, the upper limit is $1,000.

You should also have enough cash in hand or in the bank to cover the money order’s amount and the processing fee. The processing fee will differ from issuer to issuer. However, you can generally expect to pay one to three dollars (banks may charge more).

Some money order vendors may permit you to use a credit card to pay for the transaction. However, your credit card company might view it as a cash advance, which can come with steep fees and a higher interest rate than regular purchases.

Grab a pen before filling out the money order. Writing in ink makes it more difficult for a scammer to alter the document later.

2. Fill in the recipient’s name

First, write in the name of the person or company you’re paying. “It’s pretty important that the customer fills out the “pay to the order of” [field] immediately to avoid a situation [where] that money order instrument gets lost and isn’t addressed to anyone. So for the safety and security of everyone, it’s good for that to get filled out immediately so that it can only be deposited by who it’s addressed to,” says Kelly.

Be sure to write legibly. Your money could get applied to the wrong account, or processing could be delayed if the recipient can’t read your writing.

3. Write your address in the purchaser’s section

Write your current address in the space provided. The money order may also have a line for your name. If so, provide your full legal name.

4. Fill in the account number or order number in the memo field

Some money orders have a designated spot to write in what the payment covers. This is where you put your account number, order number, or expense type (such as ‘September 2023 rent’, for example). The field could be labeled ‘memo,’ ‘notes,’ ‘payment for,’ or any other word or phrase that indicates the money order’s purpose.

Even if the document doesn’t supply a line for this information, it’s still wise to include it somewhere on the face of the money order. That way, the recipient can apply your payment appropriately.

5. Sign the front of the money order

Sign your name on the line provided on the front of the money order. Like a check, there’s a signature line on the back of the document, too. However, that spot is for the payee to endorse the money order, so leave it blank.

6. Put your receipt in a safe place

Don’t throw away your receipt! You should keep it handy until the payee receives the money order.

The receipt contains essential information to track when the money order gets cashed. It also serves as proof of purchase, so you’ll need it if you want a refund or to stop the payment. (A fee to do so may apply.)

Filling out a money order is a fairly straightforward process. However, consumers sometimes still make errors.

Eva Yingst, head of financial paper products at MoneyGram, says, “I think the biggest mistake is to not fill out the money order. People buy it, don’t fill it out right away, stick it in their pocket, and then they drop it. The next thing you know, somebody [else has] made it payable to [themself] or to another company.” 

You can avoid this fate by writing out the money order as soon as you purchase it. Then, hand it directly to the payee or stick it in an envelope and drop it into a secure mailbox.

The takeaway 

Knowing how to fill out a money order is a useful, easy-to-learn skill. If you remember to write carefully, triple-check your work, and get the document to your recipient as soon as possible, you’ll be in good shape. However, if you’d rather start paying your bills with a personal, bank, or cashier’s check, it’s time to open a bank account.