What’s a Certified Check?

Point of interest

Certified checks are a way to prove to a seller that you have funds in your account to pay them. They’re not cashier’s checks, but deliver a lot of the same benefits, including a bank guarantee.

When businesses, lenders and individuals need to guarantee the transfer of funds during a transaction, one available option is a certified check. So what is a certified check? Well, a certified check is a financial instrument that allows businesses and individuals to exchange funds with more certainty and protections than personal checks.

Generally, certified checks are considered an option when large sums of money are being exchanged, the recipient needs quick access to the funds or the business or person receiving the funds does not know the check writer well. This could include down payments, rent or mortgage payments, car purchases or security deposits on an apartment.

Cashier’s check vs. certified check

Certified checks and cashier’s checks are similar, but there are important differences. Both offer a guarantee that funds are in the bank, but a certified check withdraws the money from the check writer’s account when it’s cashed. Cashier’s checks, however, withdraw money that is being held by the bank from your account for payment of that check. Because of this, a certified check is technically a personal check, while a cashier’s check is a bank check.

What effect does that have on you as the check writer? Generally, not much. When you purchase a cashier’s check, the money is transferred immediately into the bank’s accounts so it can guarantee payment on the check. With a certified check, the money technically stays in your account, but most banks put a hold on the money in your account so they can guarantee the check.

As the check recipient, the difference is minimal. All funds promised by a cashier’s check are guaranteed by the bank. The bank stamps a certified check guaranteeing that the funds to cover the check are, in fact, in the account. You’re still getting guaranteed funds in both cases, but the details of the guarantee are slightly different.

Features Cashier’s CheckCertified Check
Pros1-All funds guaranteed by the bank
2-Recipients may access funds immediately
3-Can be used for large sums of money
1-Bank guarantees funds are available in the account
2-Recipients may access funds immediately
3-Bank and check writer are liable if it bounces
Cons1-May be counterfeited
2-Generally requires a fee to purchase
3-More expensive than money orders
1-Can be counterfeited
2-Generally require a fee to purchase
3-Less popular than cashier’s checks

How to get a certified check

1. Determine the transaction details.

To get a certified check endorsed, you will need to know all the details of the transaction. This includes the name of the person or business getting the check and the exact amount of the transaction. You will also need personal identification and money to cover the fee for the check certification.

2. Go to the bank or credit union.

It’s best if you go to a bank or credit union you already have an account with. Given how certified checks work, the bank will need to segregate the funds from your checking account. This can be a challenge when the account is held with another institution.

At the bank, go to one of the tellers and request your check. Unlike a cashier’s check that is only signed by the bank, you will need to sign the certified check as well. Pay the fee and you’ll be all set.

Common scams to avoid

As with any financial transaction, you’ll want to ensure you’re not getting caught up in any scams that could leave you holding the bag. While certified checks help to limit the ability for scammers to operate, there are still things that can happen.

Fraudulent check providers

You should only be getting certified checks from a well-known bank, credit union or financial institution. If someone offers to sell you a certified check in exchange for funds and you don’t know who they are, it may be a scam. The best way to protect yourself here is only to get certified checks from the banking institution you have accounts with.

This goes for recipients as well. If the check is guaranteed by an institution you’ve never heard of, it could be a scam or the guarantee could carry no weight.

Counterfeit checks

The bigger threat with certified checks is for the recipient. While certified checks are designed to mitigate risk, the process has flaws. Scammers can recreate the stamps and other marking systems used by financial institutions to validate checks.

There are a few ways to protect yourself. First, if something looks off with the check, it probably is. While a few elite scammers are experts at making counterfeits, most scammers are not that good. A keen eye can go a long way in protecting your money. Second, consider requesting a cashier’s check instead. These checks must be printed by the bank and come with several counterfeit protection measures like watermarks and digital signatures.

Overall protections

Scammers are innovative, and it’s impossible to predict what they might come out with next. To mitigate this, it’s best to practice some general safety measures. Try your best only to do business with people you know. If you don’t know the person writing the check, you may need to be a little stricter in your processes. This could include waiting for the check to clear to send merchandise or taking the person to the bank with you when you cash the check.

You can always look into using other transaction forms like wire transfers to eliminate even more risk. Wire transfers may be more expensive, but you can see the funds cleared in your account before delivering on what the payment is for.

As always, trust your gut. If something feels wrong, stop and reevaluate. When you’re making transactions of any size, you must let logic and reasoning drive your actions and not impulse and emotions.

Fees for certified checks

When you get a check certified, you will pay a fee to the financial institution. Fees will vary based on the particular institution and the fee structure it has in place. Average fees range from $5 to $15 for certified checks. There are no fees to the recipient for cashing the check or getting quicker access to the funds. In some cases, banks may waive the check certification fee for existing account holders.