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What Are Money Orders, and How Do They Work?

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The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

Have you ever wanted to send money in the mail without writing a check? Money orders are one way you can make a payment to someone else without involving your personal financial information. Find out more about this payment method and how it works below.

What Is a Money Order?

Money orders are pieces of paper that act as a form of payment. They look a little like checks, and they’re similar to checks in that they’re worth the value written on them.

But unlike checks, money orders don’t draw on funds in your checking account. You pay for them as if you’re buying a product. Here’s more on how they work.

How Do Money Orders Work?

Money orders let you provide a guaranteed form of payment to someone else. You prepay for the money order with cash or a debit card. In select cases, you may be able to pay with a credit card. You can’t buy a money order with a check.

When you buy a money order, you state how much you want it for. You pay for the face value of the money order plus the cost of the money order. The service you buy it from prints the money order with details, including the date and the amount the order is for.

Some services print who the money order is made out to. Others leave that blank, and you complete that information. You must also sign the money order and add pertinent information, which can include the account number for the payment and your own address.

You can then transfer the money order to the other person or business as a form of payment. You can hand it to them personally or mail it. Once they receive the money order, they can treat it like a check, depositing it into their bank account or cashing it at various locations that provide such services.

Where Can I Get Money Orders?

Money orders can be purchased at the post office. They can also be purchased at various grocery stores, convenience stores, drug stores and department stores, as well as locations that deal in check cashing and money order issuing as a primary line of business. If you want to know whether your local retail store offers money orders, check with the customer service desk.

How Much Do Money Orders Cost?

When you buy a money order, you must cover the amount you want the order for as well as a fee for the service provider. Fees often depend on how much the money order is for. For example, the United States Postal Service charges $1.25 for a money order between $0.01 and $500. It charges $1.75 for a money order between $500.01 and $1,000. You can’t buy a money order for more than $1,000 from the USPS.

Retailers may charge more or less than the USPS for money orders. Walmart, for example, charges a maximum fee of $0.88. Banks tend to be the most expensive location for purchasing a money order, charging up to $5 or more.

Where Can I Cash Money Orders?

You can cash a money order made out to you at a number of locations. Often the first choice for many people is to cash the money order at their own bank or they deposit the money order into their checking or savings account. The funds are securely deposited, and you don’t have to pay a fee becausethe bank treats it much like you’re depositing someone else’s check.

You might also be able to cash a money order at any location that offers money orders, including the post office. Check-cashing locations, grocery store customer service counters and money transfer businesses such as Western Union might also let you cash a money order. However, in these instances, you might have to pay a small fee as you would when cashing a personal check.

How Long Do Money Orders Last?

Money orders don’t expire, but if you wait too long, you might end up paying a fee when you get around to cashing or depositing one. It depends on where the money order came from, and you should be able to discover these details in the fine print on the back of the money order.

The USPS says that its domestic money orders never expire or accrue interest. It says USPS money orders can be cashed at a post office location for the face value without any fee. In contrast, Western Union notes that its money orders don’t expire, but after one to three years, a service charge will be deducted from the principal amount.

Are Money Orders Secure?

Money orders are more secure than cash—that’s why people use them They are more secure because they are written to a specific entity. That entity must sign the money order and show ID when depositing or cashing it. While it’s not impossible that a money order could be stolen and cashed fraudulently, cash is still much easier to steal.

How Is a Money Order Different From a Cashier’s Check?

A cashier’s check is an official check that comes from a bank, and you typically must have a bank account with the bank in question. Money is moved from your personal account into an account owned by the bank. The bank then creates a check drawn on that account for the amount in question.

Cashier’s checks are a bit more secure than money orders. And since the bank has already verified you have the money and pulled it into a special account for this purpose, the payment is guaranteed to the other party.

When Should I Use a Money Order?

You can use a money order when you want to make a secure payment without including your personal account information. For example, if you’re paying a debt collector and you don’t want them to have access to your checking account information for potential future garnishment, you might pay with a money order.

You might also use a money order if you want to pay bills via mail without opening a checking account or if the person or business you’re paying has requested a guaranteed form of payment. Not everyone takes a check, and if you have previously bounced a check to a business, they might not be willing to accept a check from you again. The bottom line is this: If you’re looking for other ways to securely make payments, money orders might be a good option for you to consider.


Reviewed by Cynthia Thaxton, Lexington Law Firm Attorney. Written by Lexington Law.

Cynthia Thaxton has been with Lexington Law Firm since 2014. She attended The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Arabic. Cynthia then attended law school at George Mason University School of Law, where she served as Senior Articles Editor of the George Mason Law Review and graduated cum laude. Cynthia is licensed to practice law in Utah and North Carolina.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

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Class calculator: Which American income class do you really fall under?

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The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

With so much economic uncertainty, the desire for normalcy and stability has never been greater. The American “middle class” is an often vague categorization of the way most Americans live—including milestones such as homeownership, sending two kids to college and retiring at 65.  

According to a 2018 Northwestern Mutual report, 68 percent of Americans consider themselves “middle class.” But in reality, only 52 percent are designated as such (as of 2016). This discrepancy may be fueled by the desire to fit neatly into the middle, which can often be perceived as the norm. So what class do you really fall under? 

Middle class calculator

The calculator below gives an estimate of middle class designation based on state and total household income. It will also compare your results to your state’s average income and the current national average. To learn more about the evolution of the middle class, skip to our infographic.


Please enter your income and state.

You in the middle class in .

Here’s how you stack up compared to your state and the national average:

The evolution of the middle class and economic mobility

The middle class is slowly disappearing. As wealth disparity and wage gaps continue to widen, the concept of the “99 percent” versus the “one percent” becomes more of a reality.

For context, in 1971, 61 percent of Americans fell under the middle class. By 2016, this percentage had shrunk to just 52 percent—a significant drop of 9 percentage points.

Along with a shrinking middle class, downward economic mobility remains a concern. As technology and automation replace jobs, many workers will continue to lose their employment and slide into a lower income class. According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, about 17 percent of middle-income jobs are at a high risk of automation.

Determining income class

There is no set standard for what is considered upper, middle or lower class. One simple method, coined by economist Stephen Rose, categorizes income class based on five buckets:

  • Poor or near-poor: $0 to $29,000
  • Lower middle class: $30,000 to $49,999
  • Middle class: $50,000 to $99,999
  • Upper middle class: $100,000 to $349,999
  • Rich: $350,000

Another method used by Pew Research Center to determine the middle class is to calculate whether income falls within two-thirds to double that of the national average—which is currently $63,179. By this method, a household with a total income ranging from $42,199 to $126,358 could be considered “middle class.”

While these methods are a great starting point, there are typically other factors that play into class, such as debt load, personal health, family situation, education and more.

The relativity of class and alternative viewpoints

The analysis of class is always relative. Psychological factors—like how we perceive our own situation—play a vital role in our happiness. “The mind is the most powerful functioning organ in our system, and thinking you are poor will definitely cause your whole system to act like it,” explains Ricardo Flores, a financial advisor at The Product Analyst. “Class is definitely relative. You can move from this position in life if you feel like you should or you can.”

Social and cultural capital are alternative ways to view class. This way of thinking approaches class as relating to how you view yourself and how you interact with others. It also allows room for your cultural background to influence your class—including art, literature, music and other important aspects of culture that make us who we are.

Just as income, education, location, social connections and mindset impact our well-being, so does debt. Credit card debt is massively expensive over time due to interest paid. But perhaps even more importantly, it has been linked to mental health issues like depression. No matter which class you fall into, proper credit management is vital—to both your physical and financial health. 

The infographic below dives deeper into the making of the middle class:

Methodology
Lexington Law used Pew Research Center’s standard of calculating income class that defines the middle class as having a household income that is two-thirds to double that of the national average. The most recent data available on average household income from the U.S. Census Bureau was used for the state and national averages. Lexington Law does not share any of the information provided in this calculator.


Reviewed by Cynthia Thaxton, Lexington Law Firm Attorney. Written by Lexington Law.

Cynthia Thaxton has been with Lexington Law Firm since 2014. She attended The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Arabic. Cynthia then attended law school at George Mason University School of Law, where she served as Senior Articles Editor of the George Mason Law Review and graduated cum laude. Cynthia is licensed to practice law in Utah and North Carolina.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

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Do’s and Don’ts of Paying Off Debt Early

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The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

The word “debt” usually has a negative connotation. Whether it’s student loans, lines of credit, consumer debt or a mortgage, most people strive to pay it off as early as possible. However, there are smart decisions to be made when paying off debt. For example, many people wonder, “Does paying off a loan early hurt credit?” This guide takes you through all the do’s and don’ts of paying off debt early so you can make the right decisions for your financial health.

What are the benefits of paying off debt early?

There are several appealing reasons why you might want to pay off your debt early.

You can save money

When it comes to debt, what can really get you is the interest rates. Luckily, if you pay off a debt earlier, you’re reducing the total interest you pay.

Let’s say you have a credit card balance of $5,000 at an average credit card interest rate of 16 percent. If you’re making a monthly payment of $200, it will take you 31 months to pay off the debt, and you’ll have paid a total of $1,122 in interest.

Now, if you increase your payment, it can make a significant overall difference. By doubling your monthly payment to $400, you will more than double the impact on interest and total loan time. Your time to pay off the debt will decrease to 14 months, and your total interest paid will be $506.

You can protect your credit

If your debt is something like a loan, then paying it off early can protect your credit. You will no longer be in danger of damaging your credit with a late or missing payment. Either of these instances can typically lower your credit score by 90 – 110 points for several months.

Additionally, paying off your debt can help your debt-to-income ratio. Your credit score is made up of five factors, and the debt-to-income ratio accounts for approximately 30 percent of your credit score.

You can decrease your debt-related stress

According to a 2019 survey produced by BlackRock, Americans identify money as their number one source of stress. Debt can make people feel insecure about their future and cause endless worry. This financial stress can start to impact job performance, quality of life and personal relationships. When you pay off your debt early, you’ll have more peace of mind about your financial state.

Potential negative consequences

You might be surprised to learn that there are some potentially negative consequences to paying off debt early as well.

Prepayment penalty fees

It’s essential to read the fine print of your debt before you start paying it off early. Some creditors choose to protect themselves from individuals trying to pay off debt early by including penalty fees. For example, many mortgages put a cap on how much extra you can contribute to your mortgage loan every year. Usually, it’s up to 20 percent of your principal balance annually.

Find out if your loan has a prepayment penalty fee, and calculate whether this fee is greater than the interest left on your loan. If your interest is lower than the penalty fee, it’s really not worth paying off the loan early.

Changes to credit factors

So, does paying off a loan early hurt your credit? The answer is, sometimes it can. For example, installment loans are different from revolving debt. Installment loans, such as mortgages, have a fixed interest rate for a period of time and fixed payments. Revolving debt, such as credit card debt, usually has high interest rates and options for minimum payments.

Keeping installment loans open can help your credit by improving your credit diversity. Additionally, installment loans show the credit scoring companies that you can reliably pay a loan. On the other hand, credit card debt, unless you’re paying it off entirely every month, can do more harm than good to your credit score.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that paying off a loan will hurt your credit score—you just shouldn’t expect it to automatically help, either. Your credit score may not change at all, or it may shift in either direction by just a few points.

Paying off debt: Do’s and Don’ts

Do address monthly expenses first

Your debt shouldn’t take priority over your monthly fixed expenses. Payments such as your rent, utilities and food are necessities. You need to pay these to continue living safely and comfortably.

Don’t neglect your savings

It’s crucial to have savings, especially emergency savings. Make sure you have an emergency fund at a level you’re comfortable with. That way, if something urgent comes up, like the loss of a job or a medical bill, you will be able to survive without falling into more debt. People without emergency funds often find themselves turning to desperate solutions (such as payday loans), which are usually more harmful in the long run.

Do consider refinancing

If the balance of your installment debt is incredibly high, it might be time to consider refinancing. This route is usually a great option if you’ve been making regular payments and have seen an improvement in your credit score. A better credit score may mean you qualify for better rates with refinancing, which can save you thousands of dollars in interest.

Talk to a financial planner first to better understand if refinancing is the best option for you.

Don’t discount investment opportunities

It can be tempting to prioritize debt above all else, including retirement. Don’t discount investment opportunities, though. Just as you should have an emergency fund, it can hurt you long term  if you don’t begin saving for retirement now.

Additionally, consider the interest rates on your debt. The average return on investments in the stock market is, historically, around 10 percent. If the interest on your debt is lower than 10 percent, investing might be a better option than paying debt off early.

Do consult a professional

The right balance of debt can actually help your overall credit. However, it’s all quite complicated, and there are a lot of different factors to take in. It’s vital to consult a finance professional before making any significant decisions.

Paying off your debt sooner than necessary isn’t quite the straightforward process it might seem to be. There are many factors to consider, and it’s important to be thoughtful before making any decisions. You can also reach out to our team at Lexington Law today to learn more about your credit.


Reviewed by Cynthia Thaxton, Lexington Law Firm Attorney. Written by Lexington Law.

Cynthia Thaxton has been with Lexington Law Firm since 2014. She attended The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Arabic. Cynthia then attended law school at George Mason University School of Law, where she served as Senior Articles Editor of the George Mason Law Review and graduated cum laude. Cynthia is licensed to practice law in Utah and North Carolina.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

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New debt collector rules you should know about

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The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

In October 2020, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced  a new rule for the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which is in place to stop debt collectors from engaging in unfair practices. Consumers must understand the new debt collector rules under the FDCPA to know their rights and protect themselves. 

Your rights under the FDCPA

Approximately 28 percent of Americans with a credit report have had debt in collections, according to a 2019 report by the CFPB. Having a debt collector contact you repeatedly can feel overwhelming and intimidating. The government protects consumers by placing explicit restrictions on debt collectors under the FDCPA. By having a clear understanding of your rights, you’ll know when a debt collector is violating the law. 

The FDCPA outlines the methods a debt collector can and cannot use to contact you. Some of the previously existing rules included:

  • A debt collector cannot contact you at inconvenient times and places, including at work if they are told you’re not allowed to receive calls there. If a debt collector does contact you at work, you have the right to tell them to stop and they cannot continue calling your workplace. Additionally, debt collectors cannot call before 8 a.m. or past 9 p.m. unless you specifically say these times are okay. 
  • Debt collectors generally cannot tell others about your debt. They can only disclose your debt to yourself, your spouse, and your attorney. 
  • However, a debt collector can contact other people in an attempt to find your address, phone number or place of work. They can usually only contact these people one time. 
  • Debt collectors aren’t allowed to threaten you, use obscene language or harass you with phone calls. 
  • Debt collectors can’t tell you lies about your debt or the consequences of not paying your debt.
  • Debt collectors are not allowed to collect more than the original debt owed (like interest, fees, or other charges) unless the original contract or state law allows it.
  • If you don’t believe the debt is correct, you’re allowed to ask for a debt verification letter. After making this request, the debt collector cannot continue to pursue you until they have shown you written verification of the debt. 

It’s important to note that these rules only apply to third-party debt collectors—when a debt has been sold to another party—not the original creditor. If you have a debt outstanding with your creditor, it’s best to start discussions with them before the debt is sent off to collections. 

Updates to the FDCPA

The FDCPA has had many amendments since its original enactment in 1978. The rule was released in October 2020 and will likely go into effect in fall of 2021. 

New methods of communication

Since the FDCPA was originally created before electronic communications existed, no parameters had been set for contacting consumers via texting and social media apps. The October 2020 ruling clarified this gray area, officially allowing debt collectors to reach consumers via electronic messaging. 

Debt collectors can officially send:

  • Text messages
  • Emails
  • Direct messages on social media sites

The CFPB doesn’t limit how frequently debt collectors can send messages but “excessive” communication is prohibited. Excessive communication would violate the FDCPA, which prohibits harassment, oppression and abuse by debt collectors. 

Debt collectors that use electronic messaging to contact consumers must provide a straightforward and easy way for consumers to opt out. Consumers should most definitely use this opt-out feature if they wish to. 

Additionally, public comments on posts aren’t allowed, and debt collectors have to disclose that they’re debt collectors before sending friend requests. 

A representative for Facebook stated, “We are in the process of reviewing this new rule and will work with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over the coming months to understand its effect on people who use our services.” 

Lack of verification

Another rule update is that debt collectors no longer have to confirm they have accurate details of a debt before attempting to collect. Previously, collectors had to verify the amount owed and the identity of the consumer before pursuing collection. This decision has met a lot of pushback as debt collectors have a history of pursuing debts that are already paid off, and this new rule will do nothing to stop that behavior. 

New limits on collectors

The new provisions also set some limitations on debt collectors. Now, when the debt collector initially makes contact with the consumer, they must:

  • Provide relevant information about the debt
  • State the consumer’s rights about the collection process
  • Provide clear instructions on how the consumer can respond to the collector 

The consumer has the right to receive all this information before their debt is reported to a credit reporting agency. 

Additionally, debt collectors cannot threaten to sue for debt that is past the statute of limitations. They can, however, still attempt to collect an old debt. 

If a debt collector is verbally asked to stop calling, this now holds the same power as a written request and they must stop calling. However, this request doesn’t mean the debt collector has to stop all forms of communication. And a request to stop calls does not mean the debt collector has to (or will) stop attempting to collect on the debts. 

Defining “harassment”

Collectors can’t call on an account more than seven times in a week, and once they have a conversation with someone on an account, they can’t call them for seven days after that. But this doesn’t help if you have multiple accounts with a collector. 

This new rule also doesn’t apply to other communication methods, and voicemails don’t count against the seven-attempts limit.  

Again, you need to be proactive about requesting that a collector stop contacting you. You should make this request in writing and keep a copy so you have a record. (And remember that the new amendments state that debt collectors must obey a verbal request to stop a particular form of contact). 

Know when your rights are being violated

These new rules were originally proposed in 2019, were approved in October 2020 and will likely go into effect in November 2021. The new rules have received a mixed response, as some rules seem to protect consumers while other rules give debt collectors more leeway. 

A debt collector has the right to collect an outstanding debt, but there are limitations in place to protect consumers. Understanding what these limitations are can help you protect yourself. Unfortunately, just because these rules are in place doesn’t mean every debt collector abides by them. The 2019 CFPB report on consumer complaints about debt collection revealed that 81,500 complaints were filed in 2018. 

If your rights are being violated under the FDCPA, you can potentially sue the debt collector for damages (lost wages, medical bills, etc.). And if you can’t prove damages, you may still be awarded up to $1,000 in statutory damages plus coverage of your legal fees. 

Ultimately, the vital step is for you to take action and stop further illegal harassment against you. 


Reviewed by Cynthia Thaxton, Lexington Law Firm Attorney. Written by Lexington Law.

Cynthia Thaxton has been with Lexington Law Firm since 2014. She attended The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Arabic. Cynthia then attended law school at George Mason University School of Law, where she served as Senior Articles Editor of the George Mason Law Review and graduated cum laude. Cynthia is licensed to practice law in Utah and North Carolina.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

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