Cashier's Check vs. Certified Check: What's the Difference & Which Is Better?

Cashier's Check vs. Certified Check: What's the Difference & Which Is Better?
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When making everyday purchases and paying bills, using a standard personal check can work fine and satisfy the payee. However, large purchases may warrant the type of check where the payee will know for certain the check will clear and not bounce due to lacking sufficient funds. Both cashier's checks and certified checks can serve this purpose; however, they differ in how the funds are backed, and banks usually don't offer both as an option. Read on to learn about cashier's check and certified check similarities and differences as well as how to get and use these official checks.

Learning About Cashier's Checks

When you write a personal check, there's no guarantee to the payee that you will have enough funds in your account at the time when they cash the check. A cashier's check solves this issue by being backed with money allocated in the bank's own account and not your own.

Specifically, when you ask for a cashier's check, your financial institution immediately takes the funds from you – either in cash or from your account there – and puts it aside in its own account. When the check from the bank gets cashed, the money comes from the bank's funds, and there's no risk of the check bouncing.

Understanding Certified Checks

It can get confusing since some banks and credit unions simply refer to both cashier's checks and certified checks as "official checks" that have a guarantee for the funds. However, a certified check rather guarantees that the bank has checked and marked that amount in the payer's bank account as dedicated for the check, and you write a personal check for this purpose.

The bank will mark this check as "certified" and likely put a hold on the funds in your account. When the payee cashes the check, the money will get taken from the issuing bank for your exact amount directly just like with a personal check.

Certified and Cashier's Check Uses

Generally, either type of check can work if you need to make a purchase of at least $1,000, although you could potentially use a certified check or cashier's check for a smaller transaction that needs an official form of payment. Some examples of common uses include:

  • Down payments: Official checks play a big part in real estate transactions since there needs to be high assurance the money for a down payment or earnest money is available for the transaction to continue. Such transactions also need to clear more quickly, making these check options appropriate. They can work for down payments for vehicles as well.
  • Debt payments: While you could use a wire transfer or money order for a monthly mortgage or credit card payment, large debt payoffs can warrant an official type of check with guaranteed funds. For example, you might use a cashier's check to pay off a mortgage or put thousands of dollars toward paying off a line of credit.
  • Security deposits: If you rent a house, apartment or another type of dwelling, the landlord may require an official check instead of a money order, personal check or cash for the security deposit. They may also request a certified check or cashier's check for your monthly rent payments to offer assurance you can pay the rent.
  • Large product or service purchases: If you lack a bank account and don't want to pay with a large amount of cash, you could choose a cashier's check or certified check to pay for a sizable purchase like a used car or major home repair. In situations like purchases from the classifieds, you might choose an official check if you don't know the seller very well, but you have to be mindful of scams if you pursue this payment option.
  • Urgent transactions: When you have a transaction where the payee needs the money quickly, you might use a certified check or cashier's check since the payee will often get access to as much as $5,000 the next business day versus often just a few hundred for a personal check. Of course, bank policies vary, so check with the bank first and don't rush into any suspicious transaction.

Cashier's Check Pros and Cons

When comparing types of checks, you'll find that cashier's checks offer the strongest assurance for the payee. After all, paying with a personal check means something could happen with the payer's checking or savings account between the time the check is written and the time when the payee cashes or deposits it. This isn't a concern for cashier's checks as the money's already been moved aside to the bank's own account. You also get the convenience that not paying with cash offers alongside the wide availability of cashier's checks for those with and without bank accounts and a shorter fund hold period for the payee.

Of course, cashier's checks will come with a fee that you don't experience with a personal check. For example, your bank may charge $10 per check, and this can add up fast. You also have to go through the process of requesting the check and possibly waiting for it to come in the mail if you use an online or phone request. This secure type of check also has an association with fraud, so you must take precautions before requesting or cashing a cashier's check.

Certified Check Pros and Cons

Like with a cashier's check, a certified check will offer reassurance that the payer's bank account has the money available for the transaction. While the bank hasn't already moved the funds to its account for the highest assurance, this still offers more peace of mind than accepting a non-certified personal check that may or may not have any money available. The payee also gets the benefit of possibly having the funds clear more quickly for this secure check, and the payer can eliminate the hassles of paying a large amount in cash.

But if you specifically want a certified check vs. a cashier's check, know that you can expect to do more research to find a bank offering the option. While cashier's checks are available at most banks, places offering certified checks may require that it's for a very large amount of money. Also, you can still expect to pay a fee for a certified check that is around the same as for a cashier's check. You'll need a bank account for this option since it's a check written from your account, and you must beware of fraud.

Exploring Check Requirements and Fees

Whether you choose to use a cashier's check or certified check, you'll need to check with your bank to find out their requirements. You can expect to need to show a form of photo ID to get either check type, and you might need multiple forms of ID if you're not a customer. Since the bank will print information on the certified check or cashier's check, you'll need to locate and verify the information beforehand. You'll provide the amount of the check, the name of the payee and any extra details for the memo line, such as an account number or note identifying the transaction.

Verify the availability of the type of check you want. Know that if you seek a certified check, you'll need to have a bank account at the financial institution first as you won't be able to just hand over cash and get a check without an account. On the other hand, you could bring cash to get a cashier's check at another financial institution if you didn't have an account there. However, you should call ahead if you're not a customer to make sure the bank allows this service for you.

Lastly, verify what fee you'll pay for your cashier's check or certified check. Some banks like Wells Fargo and Ally will let you have these types of checks without a fee, either as a standard rule or as a benefit of having a certain type of checking account. Others tend to charge between $5 and $20, where the highest fees may come from having the checks mailed overnight versus getting them at a local bank or credit union location.

Knowing Options for Requesting Checks

Once you've confirmed the information and fees needed, your options for getting the check will depend on the type you want and your financial institution's processes. If you want a certified check, the process requires going in person since you'll need to fill out the check under a teller's supervision and have them put a marking on the check that certifies you have the money. If you need a cashier's check, your options can expand to requesting your check online or over the phone if you're a customer and your bank allows this.

Getting a Cashier's Check

If you lack a bank account and need a cashier's check, you'll need to go in person to a bank that offers these checks to non-customers and bring the cash for the exact amount of the check and the fee. Otherwise, head to your own bank where you can use cash or an existing bank account to fund the check and fee. In either case, you'll show your ID, state the funds needed, the payee name and other check details, and the bank will print the check for you so you can hand it to the payee as soon as necessary.

Alternatively, if you use a mobile banking app or website, log in and check in the section for account services for a cashier's check option. If it's available, you'll select options for the delivery method and address, check amount and payee, the pay from account and the memo line. Once you agree to the fee, you can expect to get the check mailed overnight or the timeframe stated on the bank's policy.

You can call your bank's customer service line to see if you can order a cashier's check by phone. You can expect to provide the same information and answer some security questions before the bank agrees to mail the check.

Getting a Certified Check

To get a certified check, go to a local branch of the financial institution where you have an account and bring your ID and a blank personal check. The teller will have you fill out the check details such as the date, amount and payee before they check you have the money in your account and put a marking that identifies the check as a certified one. You can have the fee deducted from your account or use cash. Once the check is certified, you're ready to provide it to the payee.

Choosing the Right Check

If you want the most security in that the payee doesn't see your bank account number and the money is guaranteed directly from the bank's funds, then a cashier's check is a better option than a certified check. Also, a cashier's check is easier to obtain regardless of whether you have a bank account, and you'll find such checks available more widely. This check option can offer more convenience too when your bank offers online banking and phone request options.

But if you know the payee and they're fine with a certified check, then a certified check offers some assurance with just less privacy as they'll see one of your personal checks. However, do know you may not have this option at your bank. If they offer certified checks, getting one means visiting a physical location rather than having the option to potentially request the check online or by phone.

In the end, your bank's offerings and the preferences for you and the payee will help you decide which type of check to use.