Cashier’s check vs. certified check: What’s the difference?

When considering a cashier’s check vs. a certified check for a big purchase, it’s important to understand the differences between these two payment methods.

A bank, credit union or other financial institution issues a cashier’s check backed by its own funds and guarantees the check can be cashed.

On the other hand, a certified check is a personal check written by an account holder. The account holder’s financial institution verifies the account holder’s signature on the check and certifies their account contains enough money to cover the check.

Read on to learn more about cashier’s checks and certified checks.

Key takeaways

  • Cashier’s checks and certified checks are frequently used for big purchases.
  • A cashier’s check uses funds from a financial institution’s account.
  • A certified check uses funds from a customer’s account.
  • Cashier’s checks usually include more security features than certified checks do.
  • The fee to buy a cashier’s check tends to be less than the fee to buy a certified check.

Explore featured cards

Compare cards for building credit, earning cash back and traveling further.

Take a look

What’s a cashier’s check?

A bank or credit union writes a cashier’s check from one of its own accounts. When a customer obtains a cashier’s check, the financial institution shifts money for the check from the customer’s account to the bank’s or credit union’s account. The check is written to a third party, such as a title company that’s handling a home purchase.

A representative of the financial institution, not the account holder, signs a cashier’s check.

Where can I get a cashier’s check?

You can get a cashier’s check at the branch of a bank or credit union, or you may be able to order one through a financial institution’s website or mobile app. In many cases, only a customer can get a cashier’s check from a financial institution.

A financial institution may charge a fee—perhaps up to $20—for a cashier’s check.

The check displays the name of the financial institution, the name of the person or business being paid and the dollar amount. “CASHIER’S CHECK” is normally printed at the top of the check, while information at the bottom of the check includes the financial institution’s routing number and account number.

A cashier’s check generally doesn’t come with dollar limits, meaning it can be written for any amount, but they’re often used for purchases of $1,000 or more.

What’s a certified check?

A certified check is a personal check written by a customer. When a financial institution certifies a check, it guarantees the customer’s account holds enough money to cover the check when it’s cashed or deposited. In addition, when the financial institution verifies the customer’s signature on the check, it marks the check as being “certified.”

Funds for a certified check come from the customer’s account, not the financial institution’s account. The bank or credit union typically reserves the dollar amount of the check in the customer’s account so the money cannot be spent on anything else.

Key differences between a cashier’s check and a certified check

Customers often use either a cashier’s check or a certified check for big purchases, such as a house or car. Whether someone picks a cashier’s check or a certified check comes down to factors such as fees and security features.

Here are some of the key differences between a cashier’s check and a certified check:

  Cashier's check Certified check
Average cost $10 to $15 $15 to $20
Who provides/guarantees the check? Financial institution Financial institution
Whose account is used for the check? Financial institution Customer
Who signs the check? Financial institution Customer
Security features Watermark or bank stamp, signature of bank representative, identity verification, verification of funds Watermark, signature verification, verification of funds
Availability Bank or credit union branch, financial institution’s website or mobile app, some online-only banks May not be offered by some banks and credit unions or by online-only banks

Avoiding cashier’s and certified check fraud

Although cashier’s and certified checks are usually safe ways to make payments, they aren’t completely fraud-proof. 

One common scam tied to cashier’s checks involves a transaction between an online buyer and seller.

A fake buyer offers to buy an item advertised online by the seller. The buyer agrees to send a cashier’s check for the purchase but makes it out for an amount higher than the sale price. Then, the buyer asks the seller to send back the extra money through a wire transfer after depositing the check. Often, the buyer may insist the money be sent right away—due to a family emergency, for instance. 

After depositing the cashier’s check into their account and wiring the extra money to the buyer, the seller’s financial institution delivers the bad news: The check is fake. In this case, the buyer manages to swipe the extra money and the seller is likely held liable for the stolen funds.

To avoid cashier’s or certified check fraud, follow these nine tips:

  1. Be careful about taking a check from anyone you don’t know.
  2. Be wary of accepting a check from someone in another country.
  3. Reject a check that’s made out for more money than was supposed to be paid.
  4. Ask that a cashier’s or certified check come from a local financial institution or a financial institution that operates a local branch.
  5. If you’re being paid for something that was sold online, don’t ship the purchased item until you have confirmed that the check is legitimate.
  6. Contact the bank or credit union that issued the check to verify its authenticity.
  7. When buying or selling online, consider using electronic payments instead of paper checks. Electronic payment methods may provide more protection than cashier’s or certified checks.
  8. Resist pressure to send back the money right away or return “excess” funds by wire transfer.
  9. Ignore any “free” prize offers that require you to pay money.

Cashier’s and certified check FAQ

Here are answers to several frequently asked questions about cashier’s and certified checks:

Technically, a financial institution guarantees cashier’s checks and certified checks. But money to cover a cashed or deposited cashier’s check comes directly from the financial institution’s account. Money to cover a cashed or deposited certified check, on the other hand, comes directly from the customer’s account. 

A certified check typically costs more than a cashier’s check. On average, a financial institution charges from $10 to $15 for a cashier’s check but $15 to $20 for a certified check. For one of its own customers, a financial institution might waive the fee for a cashier’s check.

Of course, no one wants to lose a cashier’s check. For one thing, the loss of a cashier’s check can cause complications. 

If you lose a cashier’s check that you purchased, a financial institution will ask that you fill out a “declaration of loss” statement.

Then, the financial institution will most likely require you to buy an indemnity bond for the amount of the check before it will provide a replacement check. An indemnity bond is an insurance policy that makes the customer—rather than the bank—responsible for financial losses if someone finds the lost check and cashes or deposits it. Without an indemnity bond, the financial institution might be responsible for covering both checks.

The scenario is similar if you lose a cashier’s check that someone else gave you. If the provider of the check refuses to provide a replacement check, you might end up buying an indemnity bond and asking that the financial institution accept it.      

An indemnity bond may cost as much as 15% of the amount of the check.

Both cashier’s checks and certified checks are secure forms of payment. But cashier’s checks are generally considered the safer of the two, despite the fact that cashier’s checks are susceptible to fraud. Cashier’s checks are viewed as being safer because they contain more security features than certified checks do and because they are written on a bank’s own account instead of on a customer’s account.

Cashier’s checks vs. certified checks in a nutshell

Cashier’s checks and certified checks are frequently used for big purchases because they offer more security than some other payment methods. But cashier’s checks are considered safer than certified checks as well as money orders because cashier’s checks generally provide more security features than certified checks and money orders do. Keep in mind, though, that fees for certified checks tend to be higher than those for cashier’s checks and money orders.

Related Content