When making everyday purchases and paying bills, a standard personal check can work fine and satisfy the payee. But large purchases may warrant a check where the payee is sure the check will not bounce due to insufficient funds. A cashier’s check or certified check can serve this purpose, but they differ in their backing. Banks usually don’t offer both payment options.
Learning About Cashier’s Checks
Money allocated in the bank’s own account (rather than your funds) backs a cashier’s check. Specifically, when you ask for a cashier’s check, your financial institution, which may be a credit union rather than a bank, immediately takes the funds from you – either in cash or from your account – and deposits the funds in its own account. Check fees apply. When the payee cashes a cashier’s check, the money comes from the bank’s funds, removing the risk of the check bouncing.
Learning About Certified Checks
A certified check guarantees that the bank has verified that you have sufficient funds in your account to pay the personal check. The bank marks the amount of the check in the payer’s bank account as dedicated for funding.
The bank marks the check as “certified,” and likely puts a hold on the funds in your account. When the payee cashes the check, the money flows from the issuing bank for the exact amount, similar to a personal check. Settling credit card debt through certified checks is widely permitted.
Cashier’s Check Pros and Cons
Cashier’s checks offer these advantages:
- They provide the strongest bank guarantees to payees against a bad check or fraudulent check writer.
- They are a widely available alternative to cash.
- Like with a money order, you can get them without owning a bank account, adding flexibility to your personal finances.
- Compared to uncertified personal checks, they provide a shorter fund hold period for the payee.
On the minus side, cashier’s checks:
- Require you to pay a fee, typically $10 per check.
- Take time and effort to obtain.
- Have a reputation for cashier’s check fraud, so you must take precautions against scammers perpetrating fraudulent check scams, warns the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
Certified Check Pros and Cons
You may prefer certified checks for these reasons:
- This form of payment offers more peace of mind than accepting a noncertified personal check that might not have sufficient money available, mentions Huntington.
- A certified check can’t cause an overdraft to your personal account.
- They clear faster than regular personal checks.
- They eliminate the hassles of paying large amounts in cash.
As for the disadvantages of certified checks:
- They’re not readily available at all banks.
- Banks may have minimum amount requirements.
- They require a fee similar to that for a cashier’s check.
- You need a checking account for this option since you write the check from your account.
Certified Check vs. Cashier’s Check
Suppose you want the maximum security that the payee won't see your bank account number (and possibly your address or phone number) and that the money is guaranteed directly from the bank’s funds. In that case, a cashier’s check is better than a certified check. Also, a cashier’s check is easier to obtain. This check option is more convenient when your bank offers online banking and phone request options to an account holder.
Certified checks offer payees assurance of payment. However, they do not prevent payees from seeing your check account number, and your bank may not even provide certification. Also, getting a certified check requires you to visit a physical location rather than having the option to request the check online or by phone. Of course, unbanked individuals cannot get certified checks.
Ultimately, your bank’s offerings, the bank charges and personal preferences will help you decide which type of check to use.
Ashley Donohoe has written about business and technology topics since 2010. Having a Master of Business Administration degree, bookkeeping certification and experience running a small business and doing tax returns, she is knowledgeable about the tax issues individuals and businesses face. Other places featuring her business writing include Zacks, JobHero, LoveToKnow, Bizfluent, Chron and Study.com.