What Is a Certified Check?

Definition & Examples of Certified Checks

woman at bank counter
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A certified check is a verified check secured by funds that are in a bank account. This gives the recipient assurance that the check won't bounce if it is cashed within a specified timeframe.

What Is a Certified Check?

A certified check has been verified. An officer of the bank where the funds are being held certifies that the check writer had sufficient funds available and the signature is genuine. As a result, anyone accepting the check can be confident the check will not bounce or be returned if it is legitimate and still valid.

With a personal check, there's no telling if the check writer has enough money in the bank to cover the payment. The check writer can spend it before the payee is able to deposit or cash the check. As a result, they might not get paid, and might have to pay fees for depositing a bad check.

How Certified Checks Work

Payment with a certified check means the check writer visited a bank branch in person and a bank employee verified they owned the account and had funds available to cover the check.

After verifying that a check is good, banks typically add a stamp and signature to the check, along with any conditions. It's typical to limit the check's validity to 60 or 90 days. The bank should then prevent the check writer during this period from using or withdrawing the money that funded the check.

Certified Checks vs. Cashier’s Checks

Certified Check Cashier's Check
Funds stay in your account  Funds move immediately to bank 
You write the check, bank certifies Bank issues the check 
Payee has confidence  Payee has confidence 

One alternative is a cashier's check. Cashier’s checks are similar to certified checks, and they might be easier to find when you need to pay with certified funds.

With a certified check, the account holder writes a check, and the bank certifies the check. The funds come from your account when the recipient eventually deposits or cashes the check. For both certified and cashier's checks, you may have to pay a small fee for the service, depending on the type of account you have.

With a cashier’s check, you pay the bank by providing cash or having the funds transferred out of your account. The bank then creates a check written to your payee. When the check is eventually paid out, the money comes from the bank’s account, not yours. 

For anybody receiving payment, the differences between a cashier’s check and a certified check are probably not meaningful. They’re both forms of guaranteed funds.

Alternatives to Certified Checks

Other ways exist to guarantee payment when making a purchase. Wire transfers send money directly from one bank account to another. When the funds show up, the recipient can be certain the money is there. Money orders are prepaid vouchers you can usually get from the U.S. Postal Service. And of course, there's also cash.

Risk and Certified Checks

Both certified funds and cashier's checks are a favorite tool for scammers. These people may write a false check and hope that merchandise is delivered before the scam is caught. Banks often make the first $5,000 of a check available immediately before verifying funds are available. But funds are not cleared until the bank receiving them has verified they are real, whether or not they made the money available to the payee upfront.

If you think the check may be fraudulent, contact the bank that certified the check and verify the check is legitimate. Be sure to use a phone number you know is legitimate, not a number printed on the check, because a fake check will have a fake phone number. You can also take the check to a branch of the same bank the funds are coming from and try to get cash immediately. A teller might be able to spot problems.

Key Takeaways

  • A certified check is a verified check secured by funds that are in a bank account.
  • These checks can be used when secured payment is requested.
  • Cashier's checks and wire transfers are other ways to deliver certified funds.
  • These checks can still be subject to fraud.