Cashier’s Check vs. Certified Check: What’s the Difference?

A person in a cafe takes a photo of a check with her phone.
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Both cashier’s checks and certified checks help to guarantee that a check clears, offering more security than a standard personal check. However, they do have a few key differences.

For one, certified checks verify you have money in the bank and earmark it while cashier’s checks require a withdrawal right away. Learn more about the differences between the two so you can choose which one is right for you.

What’s the Difference Between Cashier’s Checks and Certified Checks?

Cashier’s checks and certified checks have some fundamental differences, including their funding sources, key benefits, and how they work.

Cashier's Check Certified Check
Funding source Bank's funds Funds in an individual's account
Check signer Bank Individual
Main benefit The recipient is assured funds are available. Sufficient funds are earmarked for the payment of the check from the payer's account.
How it works The payor pays the bank and the bank creates a check written to the recipient. When the check is cashed, it comes out of the bank's account. The payor contacts the bank and a bank employee verifies that they are the account owner and they have the money to cover the check. Once verified, the check is typically stamped and the funds are held so they can’t be used for any purpose aside from paying the check. 
Guarantee Very high High
Cost May have a small fee May have a small fee

Funding Source

One of the main differences between a cashier’s check and a certified check is where the money is drawn from when the check is cashed.

In the case of a cashier’s check, the money comes from a bank. With a certified check, the money comes from an individual depositor’s account. As a result, the bank will be the payor that signs a cashier’s check while an individual will sign as the payor of a certified check.

Main Benefit

The main benefit of both a certified check and a cashier’s check is that they offer a guarantee above and beyond a personal check. Both certified and cashier’s checks ensure the payor has the money.

With a personal check, the recipient has no guarantee the check will not bounce. The payor could possibly use the funds in the account before the check is cashed.

How It Works

Both check types require the payor to contact their financial institution. However, with a cashier’s check, the payor will actually pay the bank the amount of the check and the bank will create a check to pay the desired recipient. With a certified check, the money will remain in the payor’s account, but the bank will ensure it’s there and available.

Security

While both certified and cashier’s checks offer more security than personal checks, cashier’s checks offer a bit more protection for the payee because the money has already been taken from the payor’s account.

With cashier’s checks, the money remains in the payor’s account, which does create more risk that somehow, the money potentially could be used before being paid. However, in most cases, banks reserve the funds so they aren’t available for other transactions.

If you’re receiving a cashier’s check or a certified check, another important factor to consider is the risk that a cashier’s or certified check could be counterfeit.

Scammers can copy a bank’s checks, making them look very real. To ensure a check is legit, call the financial institution it came from to verify it. Look up the contact number of a financial institution because the phone number on the check could be fraudulent.

You can verify the check has cleared before offering anything in return for it, when possible.

Cost

Both certified checks and cashier’s checks can come with a fee. For example, Wells Fargo charges customers $10 for cashier’s checks and $8 for delivery if you order it online. Citizens Bank charges $10 for certified checks that it refers to as “Official Checks.”

Accessibility

Most banks and credit unions offer cashier’s checks online and in person. However, certified checks can be harder to come by.

Which Is Right for Me?

If you are looking for a way to pay or accept payment for a large purchase—like a down payment on a house, a security deposit on a rental home, or a car from a private party seller—cashier’s checks may be your ideal payment method.

Most banks and credit unions offer cashier’s checks to their members in person and online. They pull the money from the payor immediately, minimizing any possibility of discrepancies. Certified checks may not be offered by all institutions, and they don’t officially pull the funds out until the check is cashed—which can add a bit more risk for the recipient.

Alternatives

Financial institutions may only offer certified and cashier’s checks to their customers. So if you don’t have a bank account or if your bank doesn’t offer that service, you could consider alternatives such as a money order.

Money orders are purchased like cashier’s checks, except you can buy them from many locations, including post offices and locations that offer Western Union services.

You’ll get a receipt so you can track the payment and show proof in the event it’s lost, damaged, or stolen. The downside is that they are typically limited to $1,000, which may mean you need to purchase multiple (and pay multiple fees) to get the amount you need.

Depending on your situation, other payment options may include person-to-person payment services like Venmo, Zelle, and PayPal, which let you send money to other users electronically; or money transfer services like Western Union that let you send money to a named recipient who can then pick it up in person.

The Bottom Line

Cashier’s checks and certified checks were both designed with the same goal in mind: to guarantee that a check will go through, making them more secure than a personal check.

However, nowadays, cashier’s checks have become more commonly offered by banks and credit unions. They remove the money from the payor’s account right away. That means the payee doesn’t have to worry about the check clearing, because it’s prepaid and coming directly from the bank.