A certified check is a type of check issued from a bank or credit union that guarantees sufficient funds available in a personal account. Certified checks are authenticated by banks to ensure that the check is legitimate. According to the U.S. Federal Reserve, there were approximately 11.2 billion checks in circulation in 2021.1
When buying or selling, there are a few reasons you may want to use certified checks, and essential differences when comparing them to other check types.
Read on to learn more about everything you need to know about a certified check.
Benefits of Using a Certified Check
There are many reasons to use or receive a certified check over the more commonly used personal check.
A certified check is a better option when receiving funds for an expensive purchase because it is more secure than a personal check. Additionally, with an authenticated check, both parties involved in the purchase may feel better about the transaction as a whole, especially if they don’t know each other.
Using a certified check is safer than cash, and it can be mailed and deposited in the same way as cash without taking on the risk of carrying cash. However keep in mind that unlike
When taking a certified check as a form of payment, you’ll know:
- That the payee has enough money in their bank account
- The validity of the check itself
- Whether the signature you need to cash the certified check is present
What Can I Use These Checks for?
Unsure about the different uses for certified checks? They can be used for all kinds of financial services. Most businesses that accept cash, personal checks, or automatic payments from checking accounts should accept certified checks as a payment method.
Here are a few examples of everyday expenses that you can use a certified check for:
- To pay bills like rent, mortgage payment utilities
- When paying back debt such as a personal loan (secured or unsecured), student loans, cash advance loans, etc.
- Car purchases and repairs
- Travel expenses
- Buying furniture or appliances
- An alternative for cash gifts (in-person gifts or through a postal service)
- Making a down payment on a home
How To Get a Certified Check
Most credit unions and banks offer certified checks. If your financial institution does not issue certified checks, they should have cashier’s checks—which work similarly to certified checks. Keep in mind that you will likely need to have a checking account with some type of depository institution. The good news is that there are a ton of benefits of having a checking account and setting one up is simple to do.
When you want to get a cashier’s check, you can head to your local branch of a bank or credit union and request a certified check from a bank teller. You’ll want to bring some basics like your debit card and a photo ID. From here, the process is pretty straightforward:
1) WRITE YOUR CHECK
Start the process by writing the check correctly with all the details—include the check amount, who you are issuing the check to, write the amount on the check in words, and sign the check (it will need an account holder’s signature).
2) CONFIRM YOUR IDENTITY AND OTHER INFORMATION
Your bank teller will ask for your ID to verify your bank funds, identity as the account holder, and other bank account information. It may take a few minutes for them to verify your information. If you have insufficient funds, they will ask for cash to deposit or money transfers between your own funds.
Once everything looks good, and your bank verifies your information, your bank representative will add an official stamp, which establishes that the bank certifies the check.
3) PAY THE FEE
Next, you’ll have to pay a small fee, ranging anywhere between $5 to $20 (your bank charges to your checking account), and you will be ready to go with your check.
Keep in mind that you will have to head to your financial institution, whether credit unions or banks, in person to get a certified check. Unlike a personal check, you cannot have them mailed to you. And so, you may have to wait until business hours to get your check.
What Happens if I Lose a Certified Check?
If you lose a certified check, the first thing you need to do is notify your bank immediately (or whatever financial institution you use). From here, complete some paperwork, and pay a fee, if one is involved. At this point, you will have two options, you can go ahead and initiate a cancellation and start again or request a replacement check.
If you want a replacement check for your lost certified check or, in some cases, for stopping a check altogether, you will have to purchase an indemnity bond. An indemnity bond protects the bank by ensuring that no one can cash the initial check. It is issued by insurance companies rather than banks or financial institutions. So, you will have to find an insurance company or broker that can handle that for you. After you buy that bond and submit it to your financial institution, it may take anywhere from 30 to 90 days for your bank to issue a new certified check.
Certified Checks vs. Other Check Types (Traveler’s, Cashier’s Checks, etc.)
Below are some of the similarities and differences between certified checks and other types of checks:
A Certified Check vs. A Personal Check
Personal checks are the kinds of checks you can get from a bank or credit union linked to a personal checking account. You will likely have used one yourself when paying rent or making a purchase. Certified checks are like personal checks in that they connect to a personal checking account; however, certified checks have more security and guarantee for the user.
A Certified Check vs. A Cashier’s Check
A certified check is highly similar to a cashier’s check. Certified and cashier’s checks provide guaranteed funds; however, the key difference is whose funds are used to make the payment when the check is cashed.
- With a certified check, you will be the one signing onto the check, and the funds will be taken out straight from your personal checking account.
- With a cashier’s check, the bank will have to sign onto the check, and the money will be taken out through the bank’s account. You will then have to repay the bank for the funds they made available for your cashier’s check.
A Certified Check vs. A Traveler’s Check
A traveler’s check is a prepaid check that you can use as cash while traveling. Compared to a certified check, a traveler’s check is similar in that it is secure for the user. However, traveler’s checks you usually only secure with cash.
How To Verify a Certified Check
Just because a certified check is safer than a personal check doesn’t mean that you can’t get a fraudulent check from someone. Although receiving legitimate certified checks is higher than with personal checks, check fraud can still happen! The good news is that there are ways to verify whether you have an official check or not.
To avoid check fraud, independently look up the phone number of the issuing bank to verify that it matches the phone number on the check. You can find the bank’s phone number online. If there is a discrepancy, chances are that the check is fraudulent.
Additional Information About Certified Checks
|Varies by bank; often between $5 to $20. Some banks waive fees for premium account holders.
|Typically no set expiration, but may become “stale” after 90 – 180 days.
|High; bank verifies and guarantees funds.
|Complex; may require an indemnity bond and associated fees.
|Large purchases, deposits, transactions where guaranteed funds are preferred.
|Possible with proper documentation and procedures; may involve fees.
|Rare; most banks require in-person visit to issue a certified check.
|Required for depositing into another person’s account or cashing.
|Short; often clears within one business day due to the bank’s guarantee.
|Less common than personal checks but preferred for transactions requiring guaranteed funds.
Additional Information About Cashier’s Checks
|Feature/Aspect of Cashier’s Check
|A cashier’s check is a check guaranteed by a bank, drawn on the bank’s own funds and signed by a cashier or bank officer.
|A cashier’s check is often used for significant transactions where the receiver requires a secure form of payment.
|Many banks charge a fee for issuing a cashier’s check, though some might offer it for free for account holders.
|Cashier’s checks are sometimes considered more secure than a personal check since the funds are guaranteed by the bank.
|Typically, a cashier’s check doesn’t expire. However, some banks might consider them “stale” after 60 – 90 days.
|A cashier’s check can be obtained from most banks and credit unions. Funds are typically withdrawn from the purchaser’s account.
|A cashier’s check may be difficult to stop payment once issued, but possible in cases of loss or theft with appropriate documentation.
|A cashier’s check will usually clear faster than personal checks since the funds are drawn against the bank, not a personal account.
|While secure, a cashier’s check is also a target for fraud. Always verify before accepting as payment.
|If a cashier’s check is lost or stolen, the bank requires a declaration form and waiting period (often 30 – 90 days) before reissuing.
|A cashier’s check is commonly used for down payments, car purchases, real estate transactions, and other large transactions.
FAQ: What’s a Certified Check?
A certified check guarantees the availability of funds, as it’s backed by the bank’s assurance, while a regular check does not offer this guarantee and is directly drawn from the check writer’s account.
Typically, a certified check clears faster than a regular check, often within one business day, since the bank has already verified the funds.
Stopping payment on a certified check is more complex than with a regular check. Due to the bank’s guarantee of funds, there are stricter requirements, such as purchasing an indemnity bond.
While certified checks don’t have a standard expiration date, banks may consider them “stale” after a certain period, often 90 days, and may not honor them after that time.
When making a down payment, especially for significant purchases like a home, a certified check ensures the seller that the funds are available and legitimate, offering both parties security in the transaction.
No, a certified check uses the funds from the personal bank account of the individual who requested the check. The bank’s funds are only used in the case of cashier’s checks.
Yes, you can request a certified check from your own bank account. The bank will verify the availability of funds and then issue the certified check.
Before issuing a certified check, the bank ensures that the check writer’s account has sufficient funds. If not, the bank won’t issue the check.
Yes, banks typically charge a fee for issuing a certified check. The fee varies by institution but is usually between $5 to $20.
Yes, as long as the check is endorsed properly, you can deposit a certified check into another person’s account.
A Word From CreditNinja About Certified Checks
Most banks and credit unions offer their customers personal checks, cashier’s checks, and certified checks. With a certified or cashier’s check, your bank branch will guarantee payment by approving the check as official bank checks after a verification process. Which will include double-checking the account holder’s personal and banking information and providing an official stamp. These checks are best for large purchases or as an alternative to cash or a personal check.
CreditNinja is dedicated to providing consumers with free financial resources to help them better manage their finances. If you want to learn more about certified checks, cashier’s checks, handling a bank account, and more, check out the CreditNinja blog dojo!
- Federal Reserve Payments Study (FRPS) | Federal Reserve
- How to Handle a Lost Cashier’s Check | Investopedia