Cashier’s Check vs. Certified Check: Here Are the Differences
People use certified checks and cashier’s checks for transactions that require verified funds. Banks ensure the availability of funds for these checks, so recipients trust them more than personal checks.
A seller might ask you for a cashier’s or certified check when you buy an expensive item, such as a car or a house. You should also consider requesting one of these payment methods if you sell something costly.
While they seem very similar, there are differences between these two types of checks. Read on to find out how they differ and if one is preferable to the other.
What Is a Cashier’s Check?
A cashier’s check is a check issued by a bank or credit union and backed by its own funds, not against the funds in a depositor’s account.
The depositor pays for the cashier’s check with funds from his own account and the bank holds the money in its own account. When it’s deposited or cashed, the funds are drawn from the bank’s account.
What Is a Certified Check?
A certified check is when you write a personal check and ask your bank or credit union to stamp and verify that the signature is legitimate and that funds are available in your account.
Using this method is another way to pay for purchases or bills while providing proof that the funds were deemed available. The bank will place a hold on your account for the amount on the check, which guarantees fund availability.
What Is the Difference Between a Cashier’s Check and a Certified Check?
Cashier’s and certified checks accomplish the same goal of providing guaranteed funds to a recipient. But there are some minor differences between the two. It is rare that a bank will offer both options, and most banks will only offer cashier’s checks.
When you get a cashier’s check, you give the bank the amount the check will be made out for. The bank then writes the check and deposits the funds into its account. In essence, the bank’s funds ensure the check will go through.
With a certified check, your funds cover the check amount. The bank verifies that you have the funds in your personal account to cover the check. You sign the check, and a bank representative signs the check. The check will also have “certified” or “accepted” printed on the check.
Signature on the Check
Since a certified check is a personal check that a bank or credit union verifies, the account holder is the one who signs on the bottom, along with a bank representative. On the other hand, a cashier’s check is a check that comes from the bank, so the only bank’s signature goes on the check.
Payer of the Check
Another minor difference between the two payment methods is whose name is written as the check’s issuer. When the bank certifies your check, it has your name on it; when you get a cashier’s check, it has the bank’s name as the payer.
Availability of Funds
The Electronic Code of Federal Regulations requires banks to make funds for certain types of deposits available the day after putting the money into an account. Both cashier’s and certified checks fall under this requirement.
Fraudsters will always look for ways to scam people. While funds are guaranteed when the check is real, unscrupulous individuals forge both certified and cashier’s checks.
When a Cashier’s Check or Certified Check Might Be Required
Many situations call for cashier’s or certified checks, which are also known as official checks. Some situations that require a cashier’s check or certified check include:
- Making a rental housing security deposit
- Handling real estate purchase transactions
- Buying an automobile
- Paying court fines and traffic citations
Security Deposit Example
If you rent an apartment for $1,000, the landlord might ask for a two-month security deposit in guaranteed funds. You can walk into a bank, give the teller $2,000 — plus the cashier’s check fee the bank charges — and the teller will issue you a check made out to your landlord for $2,000. The bank is the issuer, and the bank’s funds fully back the cashier’s check.
Cashier’s Check vs. Certified Check: Which Is the Best Option?
If a situation requires an official bank check, either a cashier’s check or certified check will likely be acceptable. Both provide assurances that the check won’t bounce, so either one should be adequate for recipients.
A cashier’s check, however, might provide an added layer of security for some because ultimately the bank is accountable for the funds.
If one payment type or the other doesn’t matter to the recipient, ask your bank or credit union which is cheaper. Note that online-only banks don’t offer certified checks, and some brick-and-mortar banks may not offer certified checks.
How To Avoid Check Scams and Fraud
According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2019, people lost more than $28 million through fake check scams, including fraudulent certified and cashier’s checks. Knowing what to expect can help you protect yourself against scammers. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. lists the following common scams to look out for:
- You’re told that you won a lottery or received an unexpected inheritance. The scammer will send you a fraudulent cashier’s or certified check and ask you to wire money for taxes or fees.
- Someone pays for an item or service with a fake certified or cashier’s check and will overpay. When you discover that the check amount is too high, the fraudster will ask you to return the excess funds.
- You get hired as a mystery shopper and are paid with a counterfeit bank check. The person who hired you then sends you another check to cash against your account and tells you to wire the funds using a money transfer business to evaluate its services.
In all of these cases, the scammers hope that your bank won’t discover the check is fraudulent until after your funds clear the scammer’s account. The FTC warns that if you deposit a fraudulent check into your account, the bank can come after you for the money when it sees it doesn’t clear.
Here are some precautions you can take to avoid being the subject of a bank scam:
Precautions Against Check Fraud
- Make sure the bank listed on the check is real. If you’re unsure, you can use the FDIC’s BankFind to verify its legitimacy.
- Call the bank to ensure the check is legitimate. But get the bank’s phone number from its website — don’t use the number on the check in case it’s fake.
- If you weren’t expecting to receive the money, be on high alert and automatically assume the check is counterfeit.
- When the amount on a check is higher than expected, don’t refund any money without first verifying the check’s validity.
- Always ensure that the check has common security features, such as color-changing ink and watermarks.
This article has been updated with additional reporting since its original publication.
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