Money orders and cashier’s checks are both useful tools for making payments, and they even have a similar appearance. But there are significant differences between the two that might determine which is best for your needs. For example, cashier’s checks have higher limits, but they are only available from financial institutions.
We’ll cover the similarities and differences in detail below.
How They Compare
When deciding between a cashier's check and a money order, it's important to know the details about each, including where to get them and what fees you'll pay.
A primary difference between money orders and cashier’s checks is the maximum dollar limit. Money orders typically have maximum limits around $700 or $1,000, although actual limits depend on the issuer. Cashier’s checks, on the other hand, are available for much larger amounts.
Because of their larger maximum issue amounts, cashier’s checks are commonly used for high-dollar transactions such as a down payment on a home.
Where to Get Them
You can buy money orders by walking into any place that sells them, including most grocery stores, post offices, pharmacies, and convenience stores. You can even get them at banks and credit unions. However, cashier’s checks are only available from banks and credit unions, and you usually have to have an account there to get one.
If you don’t have a local bank account, or if there’s no branch nearby, it will be difficult to get a cashier's check quickly. That’s just one reason to keep a local bank account (which can also save you time and money in other ways). However, you may still have options:
- Order cashier's checks online, by mail, or fax from your online bank or out-of-state bank.
- Walk into a local bank or credit union and ask if it’s possible to pay cash (or use a debit card cash advance) to buy a cashier’s check.
If you order online, some banks restrict who the check can be made payable to and where it can be mailed.
It's not impossible to get a cashier's check from a bank that you’re not a customer of, but it may be hard to find a bank that will accommodate you.
It is difficult or impossible to get a money order online.
Credibility is another difference between money orders and cashier’s checks. Cashier’s checks are drawn against a bank and guaranteed by the bank, while other types of organizations issue money orders. Sometimes a money order is perceived to be less secure than a cashier’s check and will not be accepted as a substitute.
Both cashier's checks and money orders can be fakes, and con artists commonly use both in scams.
If anybody pays you with one of these instruments and then asks you to return money, it’s most likely a scam.
Cashier’s checks are typically more expensive than money orders, which makes sense if you consider the differences listed above—cashier's checks are a more robust instrument. They're also issued by banks, which don't have a low-cost reputation, unlike mass retailers who sell money orders for $1.
However, cashier's checks can work out to be less expensive in some situations. For example, if you need a large amount of money in the form of a certified payment —say, $15,000—it's cheaper to get one cashier's check that costs $10 than it would be to have to purchase multiple smaller-denomination money orders at $5 apiece.
If Things Go Wrong
Both of these instruments offer some form of protection if they get lost or stolen.
If a payment goes missing, you'll want to get your money back or you'll need a replacement. This process is slightly easier with a money order—assuming you keep your receipt when you buy a money order. But dealing with missing money orders is rarely free, and you should expect to wait 30 days or more for a resolution. With a cashier's check, you might need to wait 90 days after submitting a cancellation request, and that may cause cash flow problems for you unless you have a lot of extra cash on hand.
When you deposit a cashier’s check, you can generally get the first $5,000 available within one business day. Money orders are often treated differently, with longer hold times, and only the first $200 available within one day. USPS money orders get better treatment than other types of money orders—they should get the same availability as cashier’s checks.
Cashier's checks and money orders do share several features that may make either one a good choice, all else being equal.
- Check-like: Whoever receives one of these instruments will deposit it just like a check, or they can attempt to cash the payment if their bank allows.
- Seller-preferred: Both are considered to be safer for recipients than personal checks because they're guaranteed (the question is who guarantees the instrument), and therefore less likely to bounce. However, fake documents are common, so sellers need to verify legitimacy before sending anything of value.
- Private: Money orders and cashier's checks do not contain your checking account number. That makes them safer than personal checks, which are full of valuable information. Assuming you don't know or trust whoever you're paying, you might not want to reveal your full name, phone number, or home address.
- Difficult to back out: You can attempt to cancel either one, but the process can be cumbersome. If the recipient cashes the payment, you’ll be out of luck.
Alternative Ways to Pay
There are several other ways to make or receive payments. Depending on your needs, other methods might be less expensive, more secure, or more convenient.
If a money order or cashier's check won't do, some alternatives include cash, check, credit card payment, debit card payment, wire transfer, or prepaid card.