What Is a Certified Check? What to Know About Getting One

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Updated on Thursday, January 7, 2021

A certified check is much like a personal check you write, except that the bank is the one that issues it. Your bank will set aside money from your account and guarantee that the funds will be there when someone goes to cash the check.

Generally, funds from a certified check must be made available one business day after it’s deposited. If the deposit wasn’t made through a bank teller, the funds are generally available after the second business day.

What’s a certified check and when do you need one?

A certified check is a more secure form of payment than a personal check or cash. Since the bank issues it, the funds are guaranteed. That way, both the check sender and issuer know the check won’t bounce.

Certified checks are often the payment form of choice when it comes to pricier purchases, like buying a used car or furniture from a secondhand store. As a bank-issued document, it provides a certain degree of certainty and peace of mind to the seller.

The recipient will be able to access their funds pretty much right away — the first $5,000 must be available within a business day. Compare it with just a $200 limit for a personal bank, and you can see why a certified check is better for larger transactions.

Certified check vs. cashier’s check

Both certified and cashier’s checks are issued by the bank and are considered “official checks” that guarantee payment. The main difference is that with a cashier’s check, the bank first receives money from the person purchasing it, then guarantees the payment. The funds are drawn against the bank itself.

In contrast, a certified check is drawn against your personal checking account, meaning the funds need to be there for the bank to guarantee payment when it issues the check.

Whichever check you use, both types will typically guarantee that the first $5,000 will be available the next business day, provided the recipient deposits it in person.

How to get a certified check

You can purchase a certified check at most banks and credit unions, though you may consider calling a branch before visiting to confirm that they offer them. It can take just a few minutes to get a certified check depending on how busy the bank or credit union is. While you can typically get a certified check from any bank, it may be easier to go to a bank or credit union that you have an account with since you may not need to pay any fees.

When you get a certified check, you’ll typically need to indicate the amount, who the recipient is and any further notes or details included on the check. Once you’ve done that, the bank or credit union will ask to verify your identity, such as with a state-issued ID. The bank will then issue the check by certifying it (most likely using a stamp) and give you a receipt.

Certified check costs

Most banks and credit unions typically charge a service fee each time you want a certified check. Some banks may charge you a shipping fee if you’re able to order one without going to a physical location.

Note that many banks may offer cashier’s checks instead of certified checks. While they are similar, they are not the same, so check to see what is available before going to the branch.

Here are the fees charged at a few major banks for cashier’s checks, as they do not offer certified checks. Fees for certified checks are often similar, though it’s best to call customer service to double-check.

Fees for Cashier’s Checks at Major Banks
BankCost of cashier’s check
Chase$8 each; free for some checking accounts
Bank of America$15 each; waived with Preferred Rewards
Capital One 360$10 at the branch, $20 if done online (includes overnight shipping)
Ally BankNo charge
Wells Fargo$10 each; waived for certain accounts
Santander Bank$10 each
TD Bank$8 each

Certified check scams to be aware of

Although certified checks are official documents, they may still be susceptible to fraud. Someone can create a fraudulent check and you likely won’t find out until much later when you go to the bank to deposit or cash the check.

If you receive a certified check, check for obvious signs of fraud, such as typos and grammatical errors. If you’re unsure — which may be the case since technology can create convincing scams — contact the issuing bank to confirm that it did issue the check. You may not want to call the number on the check in case it’s false. Instead, it’s best to do a search yourself.

Ultimately, you are responsible for verifying a check’s validity. If you deposit a fraudulent check and the bank finds out the check isn’t real, you may be asked to return the money. If you write your own checks or make purchases with that money from your checking account, you could also be on the hook for writing a bad check and any associated overdraft fees.

All fees listed in this article are accurate as of publishing.