Cashier's checks and certified checks are popular payment options for large purchases or in cases in which personal checks or credit cards aren't accepted. Both are issued by banks and credit unions and eliminate the risk of carrying a lot of cash.

This article compares the differences between a cashier's check vs. certified check to help you choose the payment option best for you.

Whichever option you choose, keep in mind that there's an increasing incidence of fraud involving forged cashier's checks and certified checks[1]. These often involve receiving an "official check" for more money than you were supposed to receive and being asked to send the extra money back to the sender via a gift card.

Never accept a check from a person, business, or other entity you don't know and trust. Also, never accept a check for an amount higher than the original payment. If in doubt, contact the financial institution listed on the check to verify the check's legitimacy.

What Is a Cashier's Check?

A cashier's check is written by a bank or credit union using one of its own accounts. When a customer requests a cashier's check, the funds are moved from the customer's account to the bank's account. The check is then made out to a third party and signed by a representative of the bank rather than the customer.

You don't necessarily need to be a bank customer to get a cashier's check — some banks allow non-account holders to purchase a cashier's check in person with cash.

Where To Get a Cashier's Check

Most banks and credit unions allow their customers to request a cashier's check. Depending on the bank, you may be able to order one in person at a local bank branch or online or using your bank's mobile app. There's usually a fee of around $10 to $15 for each cashier's check.

When requesting a cashier's check, you'll need to supply the name of the person or business you're paying (also known as the "payee"). 

Typically, when you ask for a cashier's check in person, you'll receive it right away. Be sure to bring along your government-issued photo ID for verification purposes. 

On the other hand, if you purchase a cashier's check from your bank using its website or mobile app, it will likely be mailed directly to the recipient. Make sure you know the payee's mailing address before placing your order, and allow time for the check to arrive.

Common Uses of a Cashier's Check

Cashier's checks are commonly used for large purchases, such as for buying or making a down payment toward a house or car. They're also popular for instances in which personal checks, debit or credit cards, and even cash aren't accepted, such as for some government services.

What Is a Certified Check?

A certified check is similar to a personal check in that the funds are taken directly from your checking account. However, when you request a certified check from your bank or credit union, the financial institution will verify your signature and the fact that you have enough money in your account to cover the specified amount. The bank teller will then mark the check with a stamp or other marking and sign it to show that it's certified. Unlike with a cashier's check, you're the signatory on a certified check rather than the bank.

Where To Get a Certified Check

To get a certified check, you'll have to visit your bank's local branch office. They're not available online or through a mobile app. However, not all brick-and-mortar banks and credit unions offer certified checks and may offer only cashier's checks. Before visiting your financial institution, call to ask whether it offers certified checks.

If your bank does offer these types of checks, you'll need to show your government-issued photo ID and complete the check in front of the teller, who will check your account to make sure you have the necessary funds.

If there is enough money in your account, the exact amount will be earmarked for the check — meaning you'll be unable to spend it.

Banks that offer certified checks usually charge $15 to $20 for the service.

Common Uses of a Certified Check

As with cashier's checks, certified checks are typically used for large purchases such as a pricey appliance or home improvement bill. However, not everyone may accept a certified check; some prefer a cashier's check. It's always a good idea to check in advance.

Cashier's Check vs. Certified Check: How They're Different

As you may have already learned, there are several key differences between cashier's checks and certified checks.

For one, not all banks and credit unions offer certified checks. In addition, there are differences in how these checks are drawn up. When you request a cashier's check, the bank will automatically draw the amount from your account. Cashier's checks are signed by the financial institution rather than the customer, and the bank's account is used for the check. That often makes these checks generally considered "safer."

By contrast, certified checks are signed by the account holder, and the signature is then certified by the bank teller. The bank customer's checking account is used for the check, and the money stays in your account until the check is cashed — although it is "earmarked" so you can't use it.

Table 1: Cashier's Check vs. Certified Check

  Cashier's Checks Certified Checks
Where to Get Them At a bank or through your bank's website or app Available in-person only at some banks
How They Work Funds are transferred from your account to the bank's account Funds stay in your account but are usually "earmarked" 
Account Listed on Check The bank or credit union's The customer's
Who Signs Them The bank or credit union The customer
Typical Cost $10-15 $15-20

The Bottom Line

Both cashier's checks and certified checks are considered "official checks." They're both offered by banks and credit unions, usually for a fee.

Both guarantee your payment, and both types of checks can be used in place of cash, personal checks, or debit or credit cards. 

The next time you need to make a secure payment to a merchant who doesn't accept debit or credit cards, consider using a cashier's check or certified check obtained from your bank.