Using a Money Order or Cashier's Check

Although money orders and cashier's checks are not as common as they used to be, you will still likely deal with them at one point in your life. Here's a rundown of what you need to know about each, plus the differences between the two.

Differences Between a Money Order and a Cashier's Check

Woman filling out money order on a bank counter in front of a female teller

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A money order is a document, similar to a check, used for making a payment. Since money orders and cashier checks are prepaid, the funds are considered guaranteed forms of payment. Keep in mind though that money orders are sometimes used in scams, so be sure to be careful when using them.

A cashier’s check also called a bank check, is another form of guaranteed payment. However, you'll need a bank account to get a cashier's check.

Cashier's checks are normally used for larger purchases, while money orders are commonly used for smaller ones.

Purchasing a Money Order

Money order sign sitting atop assorted foreign currency
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You can buy a money order from your bank or credit union. You can also purchase a money order through the post office or businesses that offer them. Money orders can also be purchased at grocery stores, banks and credit unions, convenience stores, and U.S. post offices.

When you purchase a money order, the bank will either accept cash or direct debit your account. Most banks charge a fee for money orders, though they may waive the fee if you have certain types of accounts with them.

When purchasing a money order, you’ll need the amount of the money order and the name of the payee. Avoid making the money order out to cash, and always keep your receipt. The maximum amount of money orders is $1,000.

When to Use a Money Order

Two females smiling as one holds the keys to the car she just purchased with money orders meeting by a car

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A money order is ideal to use when you know you are going to make a large purchase, and you do not want to carry cash. You would use a money order when your debit card or personal check would not be accepted, and the amount is too large to carry cash. If you are purchasing a car or making a large purchase through the classifieds, you can purchase multiple money orders if the amount is more than the limit put in place by your bank.

Purchasing a Cashier’s Check

Male customer purchasing a cashier's check from a female bank teller who is running his bank card through the tabletop system

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You can purchase a cashier’s check at your bank or credit union, and the charge will usually be around $8. You will need to present the following to purchase a cashier’s check: a valid ID, available funds in your account, as well as the amount of the check, to whom it is payable, and anything you’d like to include in the memo portion of the cashier’s check.

Once you purchase the cashier’s check, the funds will be removed from your account and transferred into the bank’s account. (That’s how they guarantee payment.) Once the check is cashed or deposited by the payee, then the funds will be removed from the bank’s account.

When to Use a Cashier’s Check

A man filling out a financial document on a table with a key attached to a house-shaped key ring and a miniature house
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You should use a cashier’s check when you are making a large purchase, and using cash would not be practical. For example, many people use a cashier’s check when making a down payment on a house, since the amount is too large to carry cash.

Most banks will only issue a cashier's check to a customer since you need a bank account to get one. Traditionally, cashier’s checks are considered a safer payment method than a personal check since the funds are guaranteed. They are also safer for you since they don’t contain your account number.

Accepting a Money Order or Cashier’s Check

Female customer accepting a cashier's check from a male bank teller

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It's wise to require a money order or a cashier's check when you are selling a large item, such as a car to a private seller. This requirement will protect you because the funds are guaranteed as long as the money order or cashier's check is legitimate, and there are no stop payments put on the check. 

Keep in mind that once you purchase a cashier’s check or money order, it is very difficult to cancel.

Avoiding Scams

50 dollar bill being pulled out of a wallet by a hook

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There are a variety of scams circulating that use money orders or cashier’s checks. The scams involve giving you a check to deposit into your checking account, then instructing you to withdraw the funds and send a portion or all of the money to someone else. 

The original money order or cashier’s check doesn’t clear, and then you are left out of the money you sent back, as well as any money you may have spent from the original amount since you thought it was yours to keep.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal.

Article Sources

  1. Federal Trade Commission "Using Money Transfer Services." Accessed Dec. 10. 2019.

  2. Rocket Mortgage. "What Is Cash To Close?" Accessed Dec. 10, 2019.

  3. Capital One. "What's a Cashier's Check and How Do You Use It?" Accessed Dec. 10, 2019.

  4. Washington State Department of Financial Institutions. "Cashier’s Check Scams." Accessed Dec. 10. 2019.