How to deposit cash at an online bank

Learn how to easily put cash in your online bank account

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An online bank provides many of the same functions and services as a traditional bank, except it doesn’t have any physical branches. Instead, you complete your banking tasks from your computer or mobile device. While this can make certain tasks like paying bills extremely convenient, it can make depositing cash into your account a little more challenging. That said, there are still ways to do it.

Key insights

  • Online banks typically don’t have physical branches. This can make it more challenging to deposit cash.
  • When deciding how to deposit cash into an online bank account, consider convenience, fees and deposit frequency.
  • Even though depositing cash into an online bank account can be a bit of a hassle, there are plenty of reasons why online banks are worth it, including better rates and lower fees.

Ways to deposit cash at an online bank

Many people have moved to online banks because they tend to offer lower fees and higher interest rates. Online banks can afford to do this because there are not the same overhead costs associated with running a brick-and-mortar bank. However, in exchange for lower fees, higher rates and the convenience of banking from your phone, there are some drawbacks. One major drawback is that it’s more difficult to deposit cash.

At a traditional bank with physical branches, you simply walk into your local branch and make your deposit with a human teller. Alternatively, you can often use your bank’s ATM to make your deposit.

With an online bank, there are no physical branches, so you don’t have the option of an in-person deposit. While there are other ways to get your cash into your online account, the process is often more difficult and time-consuming.

At an ATM

Many online banks allow you to deposit cash at an ATM and, according to R.J. Weiss, a certified financial planner and founder of the personal finance website The Ways to Wealth, “This is by far the most popular option.” However, Weiss said that this cash deposit method is “not something every online bank offers, and there are limits to how much cash can be deposited at once.”

While some online banks don’t have ATMs, many still participate in ATM networks. You can contact your bank to see if ATM cash deposits are an option and how many ATMs are in your network. If your online bank offers this service, you can typically deposit your cash for free at any in-network ATM. If you deposit money at an out-of-network ATM, you might incur fees, but some online banks will reimburse you.

Some online banking apps have an ATM location feature that allows you to type in your location to find the in-network ATMs closest to you. Once you find an ATM, making a deposit is easy. Insert your debit card, enter your PIN, and make your deposit. You can expect it to take a day or two before the funds clear in your account.

If you’re depositing cash at an ATM, make sure you use one that’s in-network to avoid fees.

With a bank-to-bank transfer

“If you find yourself depositing a lot of cash throughout the year and still want to use an online bank,” Weiss said, “it’s best to have an account with a local brick-and-mortar bank where you can deposit the cash. From there, you can transfer the funds to your online bank account.”

While a bank-to-bank transfer is a relatively easy process, the downside is potential fees. Some banks allow free electronic transfers, while others may charge a fee when you move money from one financial institution to another. Depending on the bank, a transfer can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

Through a peer-to-peer payment app

A peer-to-peer (P2P) payment app, also known as a money transfer app, allows you to easily send money to another person. If you have a friend or family member who uses a P2P payment app like PayPal, Zelle, or Venmo, consider giving them your money and asking them to transfer it back to you using the money transfer app. You can then link the app to your online bank account and transfer the money over.

While this is another viable way to deposit money into your online account, it involves several steps and could also inconvenience your friends or family. Depending on the app you use, it will generally take between one to three business days to get your money. While the P2P transfer can happen quickly (often within minutes), you also have to consider the transfer time from the app to your bank account. Some apps offer instant transfers, but it will cost you a fee.

For instance, a free transfer from PayPal to your bank account will take one to three days. An immediate transfer will only take minutes but will cost you a fee. The fee varies based on how much money you are transferring.

With a money order

A money order is a paper certificate that you pay for with cash and purchase at a bank, credit union or a variety of retail locations, including post offices and some big box stores like Walmart. A money order is similar to a check in that you assign it to a specific person. Unlike a check, the money order is guaranteed, since you have to prepay for it.

When you purchase a money order, the seller will provide you with a paper copy. It’s up to you to fill in the specific details, including to whom the money order is payable. In this case, you make it payable to yourself. If your bank allows you to make deposits by snapping a photo of the money order, then you can go ahead and do this. Alternatively, if your bank accepts deposits through the mail, you can mail the money order to the address that your online bank provides.

There are a few downsides to consider with a money order, including:

  • There’s typically a limit to how much you can deposit per money order. Each domestic money order with the U.S. Postal Service, for example, has a maximum of $1,000. If you want to deposit more than $1,000, you’ll need to purchase multiple money orders.
  • When you purchase the money order, you may have to pay a small fee. This fee is usually around $2. If you have to mail the money order to your bank, this can also take more time than some of the other options.

» MORE: Best Money Transfer and International Money Transfer Services

With a prepaid debit card

Another option is to purchase a prepaid debit card. Prepaid debit cards are readily available at banks and credit unions, as well as many grocery and drug stores. You can load cash onto the card when you purchase it and link it to your online bank account. From there, you can transfer the money into your online bank. It can take several days for the funds to hit your account.

While it’s usually free to transfer money from your prepaid card to your bank account, there are other fees to consider, such as:

  • Initial purchase fees
  • Monthly maintenance fees
  • Reload fees
  • ATM fees

Make sure you consider if the added cost of fees is worth it before committing to this option.

» MORE: Best Prepaid Cards

Choosing the right approach to depositing cash

When deciding which approach to depositing cash is right for you, there are a few variables to consider, including:

  • Fees: If you open an online bank account intending to save on fees, you probably want to avoid spending money to deposit your cash. Research the different fees associated with the various options before committing to a method. Making an ATM deposit at an in-network machine is typically more cost-effective than using a prepaid debit card laden with monthly maintenance and reload fees.
  • Convenience: One of the benefits of online banking is convenience. Instead of going to a physical branch to deposit a check, you can snap a picture and it’s done. Unfortunately, there’s no easy fix for cash deposits. If convenience is important to you, look for a deposit option that doesn’t require a series of steps to complete. For instance, you might want to choose an online bank with a large ATM network and locations that are close to where you live.
  • Deposit limits: Consider how much money you want to deposit at a time. If you make larger cash deposits, you might want to skip the money order option, as it usually has a deposit limit of $1,000. If you want to deposit more than the limit, you have to pay for an additional money order.
  • Frequency of cash deposits: Also consider how often you make cash deposits. If you rarely have to deposit cash, then you don’t have to worry as much about picking the “right” option. On the other hand, if you work in the service industry as a server or bartender and you are frequently making cash deposits, you may want to weigh your options more carefully.
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Do all online banks accept cash deposits?

Not all online banks allow cash deposits. While some banks have large ATM networks that permit you to make cash deposits, some only accept direct deposits, electronic transfers or mobile check deposits. Contact your online bank to see if it accepts cash deposits; if it does, find out what methods you can use.

How do I deposit cash into an online bank account without incurring fees?

If you want to avoid fees, you can often deposit cash at an in-network ATM for free. Often, bank-to-bank transfers are free, though some may charge a small fee.

What’s the easiest way to deposit cash at an online bank?

One of the easiest ways to deposit cash at an online bank is to use a linked ATM. If you have a traditional bank account, you can also deposit the money at a physical branch and then transfer it to your online account.

Bottom line

While many online banks offer lower fees and higher rates than traditional banks, one frequent drawback is that it’s more difficult to deposit cash. Fortunately, there are several ways to get your cash into your account, including using an in-network ATM, a peer-to-peer app or a money order. When deciding which approach to take, make sure you compare methods based on factors such as fees, convenience and deposit limits.

Article sources
ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
  1. U.S. Postal Service, “ Sending Money Orders .” Accessed Feb. 9, 2023.
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