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What’s the Difference Between a Certified Check and a Cashier’s Check?

By Jacqueline DeMarco · June 16, 2022 · 6 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

What’s the Difference Between a Certified Check and a Cashier’s Check?

If someone needs to make or receive a payment via check, both cashier’s checks and certified checks can offer a more secure option. That said, there’s an important difference between a certified check and a cashier’s check. With the former, the payer backs the check; with the latter, the bank guarantees it.

Keep reading for a breakdown of certified check vs. cashier check, including:

•   What is a cashier’s check? How does a cashier’s check work?

•   What is a certified check? How do certified checks work?

•   What are the differences between a certified vs. cashier’s check?

•   What are alternatives to cashier’s checks and certified checks?

What Is a Cashier’s Check?

A cashier’s check is a specific type of check that has a guarantee from a bank or credit union that if the check doesn’t go through, the financial institution will make the payment. This situation can arise if there aren’t sufficient funds in the payer’s account for the check to process. Because of this, cashier’s checks are considered to be the safest form of payment. This type of check is often required when making a major purchase like buying a car or putting a downpayment on a home.

How Do Cashier’s Checks Work?

The way that a cashier’s check works is that the payer requests a cashier’s check at their bank. They then pay the bank the amount they want to provide to the payee and the bank will then cut a check using their own funds.

The bank will list the payee on the check to ensure that the check is used by the person the payer intended it to go to. Cashier’s checks usually clear faster than personal checks issued from someone’s checkbook.

In many cases, the payer needs to be a member of a bank or credit union to request a cashier’s check be generated. A fee is typically involved as well. It can cost $10 to pick up a cashier’s check in person at a bank or $20 to order one online and have it delivered.

What Is a Certified Check?

A certified check is a different type of check that works more like a personal check. With a certified check, the money comes straight from the payer’s checking account. But by certifying the check, the account holder is held responsible if it bounces (unlike with a cashier’s check where the bank is the one on the hook if the check bounces). Because of this, certified checks tend to be more secure than personal checks.

Recommended: How Much Money Do I Need to Open a Checking Account?

How Do Certified Checks Work?

To certify a check, the bank verifies that the account associated with the check has sufficient funds to make the payment. They will also verify the payer’s identity and will add an official bank stamp or watermark to the check.

It’s possible to get a certified check in-person at a bank or online. If a customer has a certain (higher) balance in their account, the bank or credit union may waive the fee associated with the certified check. If they don’t waive the fee, it can cost anywhere from $2 to $15.

Which Check Is Safer?

While both certified checks and cashier’s checks are safer than a personal check, certified checks are a bit more secure. The reason: The bank that backs them won’t default on the payment. That being said, both types of checks are good options for someone paying a large amount of money. They can also be used when transferring or receiving money from a stranger. Most likely, if a situation arises that requires one of these check types, it’s because the payee requested payment be made with a specific type of check. They’re probably seeking a higher level of certainty that the payment will go through.

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Differences Between a Cashier’s Check and a Certified Check

Is a cashier’s check the same as a certified check? Simply put, no. There are a few key differences when it comes to certified check vs. cashier check worth understanding.

Source of Funding

Ideally, with either type of check, the funds will come out of the payee’s bank account. However, if a cashier’s check is issued and then can’t be processed because of insufficient funds, the bank will need to fund the amount due. If the check was a certified check, the payer still needs to fund it through their bank account.

Check Signature

A cashier’s check can include bank employee signatures. With a certified check, however, the bank simply verifies the payer’s signature.

Payer of the Check

With both types of checks, the payee is the one paying the check. If, during processing, the check bounces, they will only be held responsible with a certified check. With a cashier’s check, though, the bank that backed the check will then be the one who is required to fund it.

Funds Availability

As briefly noted earlier, with both a cashier’s check and a certified check, the funds available come from the payer’s bank account (it typically uses the checks ordered as part of usual banking). If the check bounces and it’s a certified check, then the bank will need to provide the funding. If it was a certified check, the payer will be responsible for making funds available.

How It Works

With a cashier’s check, the payer requests a cashier’s check at the bank. Then, the payer gives the bank the amount the check will be for. The bank will then cut (or issue) a check using their own funds.

When it comes to certified checks, the bank verifies that the bank account associated with the check has sufficient funds to make the payment. It also verifies the payer’s identity and adds an official bank stamp or watermark to the check. If the check bounces, the payer is held responsible.

Guarantees

A cashier’s check is guaranteed by a financial institution, whereas a certified check is guaranteed by the individual making the payment.

Costs of Checks

A cashier’s check can involve a fee of up to $20; the cost for a certified check can run up to $15.

Safety of Checks

Cashier’s checks come with additional security measures such as bank employee signatures or watermarks. With a certified check, however, the bank simply certifies the money was available when the payer wrote the check and then verifies the payer’s signature.

Avoiding Scams and Fraud

To help avoid scams and other types of bank fraud when writing or receiving a check, here are some best practices to keep in mind.

•   Don’t ever send money back to someone who sent you a check unless you have cashed the check or deposited it and are sure it cleared.

•   If selling something to a stranger online, consider using an escrow or online payment service instead of a check.

•   Never accept a check that is worth more than it was supposed to be.

•   Don’t lose a check with personal banking information on it. (It’s also wise not to let the opposite happen and have a check sitting around too long; checks can expire.)

Alternatives to Cashier’s Checks and Certified Checks

What if a cashier’s check or certified check doesn’t seem like the right fit for you? Don’t worry; there are still other ways you can send money to someone’s account.

Money Orders

When it comes to a certified check or cashier’s check vs. a money order, a money order functions much like a standard check. It can be bought at retail stores, supermarkets, financial institutions, and U.S. post offices. The payer pays for the money order upfront, so there’s no chance of overdrafting like with a check. No bank account is required. At the post office, fees are likely to be less than $2 for a domestic money order of up to $1,000.

P2P Payments

P2P payment services like Cash App, PayPal, Venmo, and Zelle make it easy to send cash for smaller purchases instantaneously. These can be ideal for daily life (for instance, when you owe friends money for dinner). This isn’t the right choice, though, when managing a large payment such as a downpayment on a home.

Money Transfer Services

Money transfer services are a convenient form of electronic payment that involve sending money from one bank to another via the Automated Clearing House (ACH). Among the transactions that work this way are e-checks and direct deposit.

The Takeaway

The main difference between a certified check vs. cashier check is who guarantees the check. In the case of a cashier’s check, the bank guarantees it, but with a certified check the consumer writing the check guarantees it. While cashier’s checks are typically thought to be the safest option, both are quite secure. These are important financial tools when you need a more trustworthy form of payment than a standard check.

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FAQ

Do certified checks clear immediately?

When you deposit a certified check, it doesn’t clear immediately. It typically takes until the next day for the first $5,000 of the deposit to become available.

Can you get scammed with a certified check?

Both certified checks and cashier’s checks are safer than a personal check. Of course, there is still a small chance that fraud may occur. Checks can be faked. It’s wise to always be careful when receiving or making payment via checks, especially for large sums of money.

Is it safe to accept a cashier’s check?

Yes, it is generally safe to accept a cashier’s check. A cashier’s check is much more reliable than a personal check; it is guaranteed by the bank or credit union issuing it.


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Photo credit: iStock/Dilok Klaisataporn
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