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I'm a PhD student and am due to go to a conference in Boston, MA next month (I'm based in Edinburgh, in Scotland). I've been awarded a travel bursary to attend the conference: nothing major, but it will make a real difference to my being able to attend the conference or not.

The travel bursary comes in the form of a US dollar check, made out in my name. I don't have a US dollar bank account, and the conference organisers can't make the check out in a different name for "tax and audit reasons" so I can't, for example, have it made out to my University and pay it in to their US dollar account.

I do have a friend who is based in Boston, and the conference organisers have suggested I "sign over" the check to him. They directed me to this WikiHow link on how to do this:

http://www.wikihow.com/Sign-over-a-Check

The person I'm in touch with at the conference says that she's done this herself in the past, but having done a bit more research it seems that it's less and less easy to find banks that will accept signed-over checks. My friend banks with Bank of America; do they still accept signed-over checks? Any evidence you can link to to this effect would be greatly appreciated.

Alternatively, are there are any other methods I could use to cash this check?

  • What bank is the check drawn on? – Joe Oct 26 '15 at 16:04
  • I'm not sure -- but I can maybe find out! Would it make a difference? – Jim Oct 26 '15 at 16:11
  • It's possible you could cash the check at the bank the funds were drawn on, without an account (subject to their terms and conditions). – Joe Oct 26 '15 at 16:11
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    It's worth asking your UK bank if they can convert a US dollar check, to pay it into a UK account - I have done that in the past, but the fees can be rather high. – Simon B Dec 17 '16 at 21:44
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Depending on the bank it was drawn on, you may be able to cash it there; sometimes for a fee, sometimes without a fee. It is not a legal requirement that the bank do so, however, so check into this ahead of time.

For example, this list shows quite a few banks that charge no fees up to a few thousand dollars, and others that charge small fees (typically $5-$10).

Some universities also provide check cashing services, often by or near the office of the Bursar. Those may cost money, but might waive the fees for students - you will need to investigate this separately. If your conference is associated with a nearby university (of which Boston has dozens), you may be able to take advantage of that.

Be aware that if you choose to open a US bank account, while it won't necessarily take very long (I don't know how much more time it would take a UK citizen, but as a US citizen it typically takes a half hour or so), depending on the amount of the check you may not be able to use all of the funds right away. There may be a hold of a week or two on the funds (and as long as a month, depending on various circumstances and bank rules). Be sure to find out ahead of time from the bank what their policy would be, and be as detailed and explicit as possible - and double check with the person opening the account for you.

  • Thanks -- I checked with PNC and they do offer this service, at the discretion of the branch. The problem is that there are no PNC branches in Boston, southern New Hampshire, or Hartford, which is where I'll be while I'm in the States. I contacted BoA about the "signing over" method, and apparently this only works when both people own the account (so, I ask, what's the point of doing it at all!?). So I'm still stuck, but your answer is really helpful :) – Jim Oct 27 '15 at 15:06
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One option would be to go with your friend together to the BoA branch and ask them.

Another option would be for you to go there yourself, open an account in your name, deposit the check and write your own check (you'll get a small amount on the spot) to your friend. The check you deposit will probably be blocked for about a week, so let your friend know that he'd have to wait for a while before he deposits your check. After that - just email BoA to close the account.

Third option would be to go to any check cashing store, and cash your check there. Keep in mind that they charge a hefty commission for the service (and the risk associated with that).

  • Thanks! Yes, I'm able to go to a BoA branch with my friend (I'll amend my question to emphasise this), but I can't do that now as I'm home in Edinburgh. I'd like to find out whether signing over a check is possible in advance, so I can try to make other arrangements if that proves necessary. How easy is it to open an account in the USA? In the UK it can be time consuming, and I won't have a US address. Thanks for the tip on the check cashing stores! Are there any particular ones you can recommend, or are they all as good or bad as each other? – Jim Oct 26 '15 at 10:35
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    Cashing stores are all as bad as each other. For opening bank account, you can give that friend's address (if you trust him/her enough). The problem is that they may not trust the signature unless they can actually see you sign and verify your identity. You can always use your British credit card in the US, in any case, and I'm sure you can deposit a USD check in your British bank account. – littleadv Oct 26 '15 at 15:09
  • Thanks! Yes, I trust my friend enough to open a bank account at his address, and I could open the bank account in person: but won't they want to see some kind of ID that connects me to my friend's address? And yes, I'll be able to access funds through my UK cards when I'm in the US, I'm just wondering how I'll cash this US dollar check. Depositing the check in my UK sterling account is another possibility, but the fees are large. – Jim Oct 26 '15 at 16:08
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    Many grocery stores and places like Wal-mart also offer check-cashing services, often with much lower fees than shady check-cashing stores. You could try getting in touch with some such place (or have your friend in the US ask at their local grocery store, etc.) to see what their policy is regarding showing ID, etc. – BrenBarn Oct 26 '15 at 16:52
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Depending on the amount of money involved and given that you would be able to go to a BoA branch in Boston with your friend, one solution would be go to the bank and talk to an officer (not a teller). Let your friend who has an account with Bank of America do the talking. You should endorse the cheque as payable to your friend in front of the officer, and then your friend deposits the cheque in his BoA account. In my experience (though not with BoA), the officer used to go over to a teller, cheque and deposit slip in hand, and bring back the receipt. These days with a printer and terminal on every desk, the receipt is printed out and handed over right there and then. Thank the officer politely and leave. Next, your friend makes a withdrawal from his account in the amount of the cheque and hands over this sum to you. Now, the deposited cheque will take several days to clear, and so your friend's account will have a reduced balance until the cheque clears and the money is credited to his account.

Note that the above procedure is not the same as cashing the check (as far as the bank is concerned) since they are not on hook if the cheque turns out to be fraudulent or if you are not whom you say you are or you don't look at all like the picture in your passport. It is quite likely that a phone call to BoA will result in a reply that your friend cannot deposit a third-party cheque into his account, but bear in mind that the call is being answered by a low-level employee, possibly a teller (or a call center) where you get a canned answer, whereas an officer has the authority to override these rules

You say that you are a student, and perhaps your friend is a student too. When I was a student in the US (getting on to 50 years ago), I would not have been able to do this as a favour for a visiting friend since I rarely had more than $200 in my account at any time. So, look at the numbers and ask your friend if he/she can go through this exercise with you.

  • Thank you! However, BoA have said that they will not allow my friend to deposit a signed-over check unless his account is owned by both of us. This seems odd to me, as surely then there wouldn't be a need to sign over the check, but that's what BoA have said. – Jim Oct 28 '15 at 2:41
  • Weird... I have not had any problems depositing third-party endorsed cheques in my account (though my account is with a local bank and not with BoA). – Dilip Sarwate Oct 28 '15 at 3:09
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Bank of America does not accept third party endorsements period. Unless you know someone.... Rich man's bank.

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