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Cashier's checks and certified checks are both official bank checks that consumers often use to pay for big purchases or transfer large amounts of money. But they differ in their level of security and cost.
The bank guarantees a cashier's check—meaning the bank is held responsible if the check bounces. With a certified check, you guarantee the check you write from your account. That makes cashier's checks safer and potentially slightly more expensive to obtain.
Here are the primary differences between a cashier's check and a certified check.
|Cashier's Checks vs. Certified Checks|
|Cashier's Check||Certified Check|
|Guaranteed by a financial institution||Guaranteed by the individual making the payment|
|Extra security measures include bank employee signatures or watermarks||Bank certifies the money was available when the individual wrote the check and verifies the payer's signature|
|Can come with a fee of up to $20||Can come with a fee of up to $15|
What Is a Cashier's Check?
A cashier's check is a type of check guaranteed directly by a bank or credit union. That means the bank is on the hook if the check doesn't go through (meaning there are insufficient funds in the payer's account).
Because that's very unlikely to happen when a bank's own funds guarantee a transaction, cashier's checks are considered one of the safest forms of payment. You may need to use a cashier's check to make a down payment on a home, for example, or to buy a car.
Here's how it works: When you want to get a cashier's check, you pay the bank the amount you'd like to provide to the payee, and the bank cuts a check to you with its own funds. The bank lists the payee on the check so that it can be used specifically for the purpose you provided. A cashier's check may clear faster than a personal check.
It's possible you'll need to be an existing customer of a bank or credit union to get a cashier's check from that institution. The cost ranges from up to $10 to pick up a cashier's check at a branch to $20 to request one online and have it delivered to your home.
What Is a Certified Check?
A certified check is also a type of check provided and verified by a financial institution. Unlike a cashier's check, however, a certified check is more similar to a personal check: The money comes directly from your own bank account, which means you're responsible if it bounces.
Certified checks are more secure than personal checks because the bank takes a few extra steps to ensure they're valid and that the associated account has sufficient funds. When you get a certified check, the bank will authenticate your identity, verify that the check will clear from your account, allocate the funds for the payee, and add to the check an official bank stamp or watermark.
Like a cashier's check, you can get a certified check either at a bank branch or online. Fees for certified checks range widely. Some banks and credit unions may waive the fee entirely if you're a customer or have a certain amount of money in your account. Others charge customers a fee of $2 to $15. Some banks issue only cashier's checks, not certified checks; you may see either type referred to as an "official check."
Which Is Better: Cashier's Check or Certified Check?
Both types of checks are safer than a personal check. They're good options if you're paying a large amount, or if you're transferring to or receiving money from a person you don't know.
The payee may require you to use one or the other form of payment, so confirm whether they have a preference. Since these checks differ in the way they're guaranteed, you may find that a payee requests you use a cashier's check for particularly large sums.
What Happens if You Lose a Cashier's or Certified Check?
The official nature of a cashier's check or certified check means it's more difficult to replace one if you lose it. Contact the bank immediately to learn about the process to report and get a replacement for a lost check.
The process to replace a cashier's check in particular is complex. You'll likely have to buy an indemnity bond, which is a type of insurance that confirms you're on the hook to cover the funds if a lost check turns up later and the payee deposits it. You won't be able to simply stop payment on the check.
Reach out to insurance companies you already have a policy with and ask if they sell indemnity bonds. If not, you may have to go through an insurance broker. Even with an indemnity bond, the bank may require you to wait up to 90 days before you can get a replacement check.
Choosing the Best Payment Option
Whether to use a cashier's check or a certified check often comes down to the payee's preference. But if given the option, look into your bank's fees for each, and consider the extra security measures that a cashier's check provides. For a large money transfer like making a down payment or buying a car, you may decide a cashier's check's additional safeguards are worthwhile.