Comparing Cashier’s Checks vs. Money Orders

By Marcy Lovitch · October 18, 2023 · 8 minute read

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Comparing Cashier’s Checks vs. Money Orders

Cashier’s checks and money orders are two forms of currency used to make payments. While there are similarities between the two, there are also significant differences. Cashier’s checks are drawn on a bank account and guaranteed by the financial institution. A money order, on the other hand, is a prepaid financial tool that can be obtained at banks, the post office, or retail businesses.

Depending on your needs, one payment method may be a better choice than the other. Here, learn what distinguishes a money order from a cashier’s check, the way they work, plus the pros and cons of each.

What is a Cashier’s Check?

A cashier’s check, also known as a bank check, is issued by a bank or credit union. You can obtain a cashier’s check by either paying cash upfront or, if you’re a customer of that bank, have the funds drawn from your account.

Because the check is backed by the bank, it’s guaranteed so you don’t have to worry about a bounced check. This is why it’s considered a safe and secure method of payment. Cashier’s checks also clear rather quickly, with some of the funds usually available in one business day.

Cashier’s checks are typically available in smaller and larger amounts, and generally there’s no upper monetary limit. Many people use a cashier’s check for a large purchase or deposit, such as a car, boat, down payment on a home, or a security deposit to a landlord.

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Recommended: Where to Cash a Check Without Paying a Fee

How Do Cashier’s Checks Work?

In most cases, you’ll visit your bank in person to do the cashier’s check transaction. Your bank may offer the opportunity to get one through their website, but doing so will take longer since the check will be mailed to you, instead of handed to you.

When you go to the bank, you’ll likely give the bank employee the recipient’s name and the amount of the check. You’ll either purchase the check with cash or have the money debited from a checking or savings account that you have with that particular bank. Cashier’s checks often come with a fee, which usually run about $10 to $20.

Don’t have a bank account? You may be able to get a cashier’s check from a bank where you’re not a customer, but you’ll have to check with the financial institution first. And, if you are able to get a cashier’s check from a bank where you don’t have an account, you’ll have to purchase the cashier’s check with cash.

A credit union may offer you more flexibility if you’re not a customer. Often, credit unions will issue cashier’s checks to members of other credit unions along as their own.

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What is a Money Order?

Like a cashier’s check, a money order is a form of paper payment and an acceptable alternative to paying a bill or debt with cash or a check. You can purchase a money order with cash, traveler’s checks, and a credit or debit card. Since a money order is prepaid, unlike a regular check, a money order can’t bounce.

A money order has empty spaces where you’ll need to fill out certain information, similar to writing out a check. Besides the amount being paid and the date the money order is issued, you’ll need to fill out your name and address as well as who is the payee, and then sign your name. In the memo line, you can fill in the reason for payment.

There may be limits on the amount of the money order that’s possible. For example, at a United States post office, a single money order can be no more than $1,000.

You’ll also get a receipt when you purchase a money order which is important to keep safe. With a receipt, you can track your money order and, if the payment is lost or stolen, use it to attempt to recover the funds.

Money orders can be obtained at a number of different places, including post offices, Western Union and similar retail businesses, check-cashing outlets, financial institutions, supermarkets, and convenience stores. Along with paying the face value of the money order, you’ll also have to pay a fee. The amount depends on such specifics as where you obtain the money order, but typically fees don’t exceed $10.

People who want to cash a money order can generally do so at the same places you purchase one. Unless you deposit it into a bank account, be aware that you may be charged a small fee for cashing the money order.

Money Order vs. Cashier’s Check

While both money orders and cashier’s checks are similar in some ways, there are also distinctions between the two. Here’s how the two compare.

Similarities

Both money orders and cashier’s checks are forms of payment that can be used instead of cash or a personal check. Because these are both completely prepaid, a person can cash or deposit a money order and a cashier’s check without worry that either will be declined or returned for insufficient funds.

Money orders and cashier’s checks share the following features:

•   Can both be purchased at a bank or credit union.

•   Prepaid so funds are guaranteed.

•   Provide more privacy for the payer because neither contain a checking account number.

•   Each typically comes with fees.

•   Allow you to trace or track payments.

Differences

Now, consider the ways in which they differ:

•   Cashier’s checks may be available in large sums, while money orders often have limits.

•   Money orders can typically be obtained at more locations than cashier’s checks.

•   Cashier’s checks are guaranteed by the financial institution that issued them; money orders are paid for with cash. Or you could use a debit card, a credit card, or similar payment method.

•   Money orders must usually be purchased in person.

•   The fees on money orders may be lower.

Differences Between a Money Order and a Cashier’s Check

Here, how money orders and cashier’s checks compare in chart form.

Money OrderCashier’s Check
Minimal fees, as low as $1Higher fees that can equal $10 or more
Generally have a maximum limit amount of $1,000No limit on amount
Backed by the outlet where you purchased the money orderBacked by the bank
Can be purchased more widelyCan only be purchased at a bank or credit union
Must be bought in personMay be purchased through a bank’s online portal
The ‘pay to’ line is blank so payer must fill in this information or else anyone can cash itRecipient’s name is filled out by the bank or credit union cashier so the check can only be cashed by the payee
No expiration dateMay have an expiration date depending on the bank or local laws

Pros and Cons of Cashier’s Checks

Next, take a closer look at the pluses and minuses of cashier’s checks. First, the pros:

•   Available in higher dollar amounts

•   Higher security because it’s guaranteed by a bank

•   May be purchased through a bank’s website.

Next, the cons:

•   Not as widely accessible because you can only obtain at banks or credit unions

•   Harder to get at a bank if you’re not a customer

•   Higher fees than money orders.

Pros and Cons of Money Orders

Here’s a closer look at money orders and their benefits and downsides. First, the pros:

•   Useful for people who don’t have a bank account

•   Can be purchased with cash or another type of payment such as a credit or debit card

•   Lower fees make it less expensive than a cashier’s check

•   More widely and readily available.

And, on the other hand, the cons:

•   Typically can only be purchased up to $1,000

•   Must get them in person

•   May not be able to deposit through mobile banking

•   Can be cashed by anyone if you don’t fill out the ‘payment to’ line.

The Takeaway

Both cashier’s checks and money orders are a form of prepaid payment, which makes the funds guaranteed so you don’t have to worry about a bounced check. Whether you use a money order or a cashier’s check as a payment depends on many factors, including the size of the payment you’re making, if you have a bank account, and the outlet you choose to make the purchase. Taking into the account of the pros and cons of each can help you make the decision of which method is right for you.

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FAQ

Are a cashier’s check and a money order the same?

No. While both are prepaid forms of payment and therefore guaranteed not to bounce, a cashier’s check can only be obtained at a bank or credit union, while money orders are more widely available at other venues including post offices, check cashing places, and various retailers. Cashier’s checks are better for large purchases or deposits since there’s no monetary limit, while money orders often have a maximum limit of $1,000.

Why would someone use a money order instead of a cashier’s check?

People who choose to use a money order may not have a bank account, could be paying a bill or a debt less than $1,000, or might want to avoid the higher fees associated with a cashier’s check.

How quickly do money orders and cashier’s checks clear?

In most cases, funds from deposited money orders and cashier’s checks can be available the next business day. If the bank suspects there might be fraud involved, however, it could be several weeks.

Photo credit: iStock/Fly View Productions


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