The Difference Between Traveler's Checks & Personal Checks

by Kathy Adams McIntosh
Before leaving home, travelers need to consider the differences between traveler's checks and personal checks.

As a traveler prepares to leave town for a trip, she needs to consider whether to pay her expenses with personal checks or traveler's checks. When she chooses personal checks, she writes each one individually and it withdraws money directly from her account. When she chooses traveler's checks, she purchases the checks ahead of time and spends them like cash. Understanding the difference between personal checks and traveler's checks helps her determine which is her best option.

Purpose of Traveler’s Checks

Traveler’s checks serve as an alternative to cash for individuals traveling away from home. They come preprinted with all the information needed to use them, including the dollar amount of each check and the check number. Travelers exchange the traveler’s checks for products or cash when they arrive at their destination. Traveler’s checks provide an added level of security, because they can be replaced if the traveler loses the checks or they are stolen.

Values Differ

The dollar amount of traveler’s checks and personal checks is determined in different ways. The dollar amount associated with a traveler’s check is a fixed amount. The traveler chooses the denomination at the time he purchases them. The individual using a personal check writes out the check for any amount he chooses. He is not bound by a specific denomination.

Signatures Required

Traveler’s checks maintain an additional level of security by requiring two signatures. Each traveler’s check contains two signature lines. The traveler signs the first signature line of each check at the time she purchases them. Later, when she uses the traveler’s checks, she signs the second line. The merchant sees immediately if the signatures match. The bank also verifies whether the signatures match. Personal checks only require one signature at the time the traveler writes out the check.

Currency Options

Traveler’s checks offer more currency options than personal checks do. Individuals who travel internationally can purchase traveler’s checks in the currency of the country they plan to visit. This eliminates their need to exchange their dollars into the foreign currency. Personal checks use the individual’s home currency. The traveler needs to exchange his personal checks for a fee at a financial institution to receive money to spend in the foreign currency.

Photo Credits

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