Several alternatives to a bank account allow you to send and receive money, make purchases, cash your paychecks and keep money on a card for use at automatic teller machines. You won’t have a bank debit card without a bank account, but several types of non-bank debit cards exist for different purposes.
Different types of accounts come with check-writing privileges. Credit union and mutual fund accounts are two alternatives to bank accounts. Credit unions typically cater to people of any income level who live, work or attend religious services in the same community. Investors can open mutual fund accounts at sites such as Scottrade or Fidelity online. Additionally, a cash management account through a brokerage firm is a higher-income alternative to a traditional bank account.
Many cards exist that are not attached to a bank account. Fee-based prepaid and “reloadable” cards allow you to add money to the card and access it later through ATMs, or use it at point-of-purchase terminals while shopping. Charge cards such as American Express, on the other hand, offer options for using money on credit but require you to pay it back in full by a due date each month. Employees can receive payroll cards in place of paychecks or direct deposits if their employers opt to offer this service. The U.S. government and several states -- including Connecticut, Oklahoma and New York -- issue cards instead of paper checks for taxpayers receiving refunds.
Check Cashing Services
Banks and retailers will cash your checks without requiring a bank account. Provide two forms of state-issued photo identification, such as a driver’s license and passport, and for a small fee most large banks will cash a check issued to you by one of its own account holders if you are not an account holder yourself. Supermarkets and convenience stores in your community also might be licensed to cash your payroll and government-issued checks if you can show at least one state-issued photo ID. Retailers charge more than banks, sometimes taking a small percent of the amount of the check as a fee. Most retailers will not cash personal checks because these companies rely on the financial security of the institutions issuing patrons’ checks.
You can get paid online without a bank account. As of April 2012, PayPal allows you to withdraw up to $500 per month without the need for a bank account or major credit card. Attaching your PayPal account to a bank account or credit card will make the account “verified,” lifting the transaction limits. PayPal also offers cards that allow you to access your money directly from PayPal through ATMs, bypassing the need to transfer funds to a bank.
Cash is a feasible, though particularly risky, alternative. The Internal Revenue Service might scrutinize your dealings more closely if your job or business is mainly cash-based. Security also becomes an issue with cash. Having a lot of cash on your person or at home can attract trouble. If a card or check is lost or stolen, you can cancel its use with a phone call to the check or card issuer; however, when cash is lost or stolen, it's gone. Using only cash can be increasingly limiting in today’s electronic transaction-heavy world. However, a cash-only approach can save you the costs of bank and electronic transaction fees.
A writer since 1995, Christian Fisher is an author specializing in personal empowerment and professional success. From 2000 to 2005, he wrote true stories of human triumph for "Woman's World" magazine. Since 2004, he has also helped launch businesses including a music licensing company and a music school.