What’s a Certified Check?

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Updated on Friday, January 25, 2019

handing off a certified check

You want to purchase a used car from the owner. Instead of paying cash, which can be risky, you try to pay with a personal check. The seller is hesitant in case the check bounces.

This is where certified checks can come into play.

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 the funds will be there when someones goes to cash the check. This can make the seller feel safe about parting with the car.When issuing a certified check, the bank verifies the account holder’s signature is real and that there is enough money for the amount you specified.

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

Why a certified check can be a good idea

A certified check can help you reduce risks when it comes to making transactions for both parties. It can also be helpful to use a certified check for larger transactions when a seller wants a certain degree of certainty. The certified check is a bank-issued document so it’s viewed as if being safer.

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 to just a $200 limit for a personal bank, and you can see why a certified check is a better idea for large 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 the first $5,000 to be available the next business day, provided the recipient deposits it in person.

Although both certified and cashier’s checks are official documents, they may still be susceptible to fraud. Someone can create a fraudulent check and you won’t find out until much later. Ultimately, you are responsible for depositing that check and you may be asked to return the money if the bank finds out the check isn’t real.

If you receive a certified or cashier’s check, check for signs such as typos and grammatical errors. If you’re unsure, contact the bank the check was issued from to confirm it’s from it. You may not want the call the number on the check itself in case it’s false. It’s best to do a search yourself.

How long it takes to get a certified check

Purchasing a certified check can be done through a bank or credit union. It can take as little as a few minutes depending on how busy the bank or credit union is. You can typically get a certified check from any bank, but it can 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 one, 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 a state-issued ID — then issue you the check by certifying it (most likely using a stamp) plus a receipt.

Certified and cashier’s check fees

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

Many banks may offer cashier’s checks instead of certified checks (remember they’re similar but not the same), so check before going to the branch.

Here are some fees offered at a few major banks. Keep in mind that most of the fees listed are for cashier’s checks. The ones for certified checks may be similar, though it’s best to call customer service to double-check.

ChaseCashier’s check: $8 each; free for some checking accounts
Bank of AmericaCashier’s check: $15 each; waived with Preferred Rewards
Capital One 360Cashier’s check: $10 at the branch, $20 if done online (includes overnight shipping)
AllyCashier’s check: No charge
Wells FargoCashier’s check: $10 each
Santander BankCertified check: $15 each
TD BankCertified/cashier’s check: $8 each