Budgeting

Certified Check vs. Personal Check: Which Is Better?

A check can be one of the easiest ways to move money around. For anything from monthly bills to giving cash to friends and family, a check is a cash alternative that is accessible to just about anyone. But when it comes down to certified check vs. personal check, which is better?

This blog will look at how certified checks and personal checks stack up in some key areas. Ultimately, your choice may come down to how quickly, securely, and effortlessly you want to manage your money. Read on to figure out what option will work best for you. 

What is a Certified Check? 

Simply put, a certified check is a check that the bank also issues. A certified check converts cash into a check used to send money to a business or individual. These checks provide access to your account.

How does a Certified Check Work?

If you want to use a certified check, you must visit the bank that holds your checking account. 

When you request a certified check from the teller, they will ensure that your account holds the funds to cover the check.  

Once this information is verified, a hold is put on the desired amount and can only be released when someone cashes or deposits the certified check.

For example, you have a checking account with $2,000 in it. You need to place a deposit of $1,000 for a new apartment with a certified check. After the certified check funds are drawn, you will only have access to the remaining $1000 in your account. The money under the certified check is available only for your payee.  

Advantages of Certified Checks 

Certified checks bring two significant advantages to the payee:

Security – Since the bank has the money, there’s no question that the funds are available to the payee whenever they request them. 

Speed – Whenever the certified check is cashed or deposited, it takes only a business day to release the funds. 

Disadvantages of Certified Checks 

On the other hand, the security and speed that certified checks provide do come with some critical realities: 

Frozen funds. Once your check amount is certified, you will no longer have access to your money.  Those funds are available only when the payee deposits the certified check. Think of a certified check as a “non-refundable purchase.” 

Complex cancellation. If your certified check is lost or stolen, stopping payment on it can be a tricky process. You will have to visit your bank and fill out paperwork that declares the check as lost. 

It may take up to 90 days to get your money back, and in that time, a fraudster could find the check and cash it before your claim is registered. The cancellation process is expensive; fees for canceled certified checks run at least $30 at most banks.    

Certified Check vs. Cashier’s Check 

Certified checks are easily confused with another popular bank product—the cashier’s check. A cashier’s check is also a check that a bank writes. But when you use a cashier’s check, those funds are drawn directly from the bank. Cashier’s checks are typically used for large purchases, like down payments for real estate. 

To purchase a cashier’s check, you give the bank or credit union the money you want to convert, and whatever processing fees apply (typical costs run from $5-$15). The bank will then print a check with the payee’s name and information on it. However, the bank is the payer instead of you. The cashier’s check is then mailed to the payee or delivered to you. 

Regardless of the delivery option, you should always get a receipt. 

What Is a Personal Check? 

A personal check is a check that allows funds to be drawn from your account. While these checks are not tied to other accounts, other people can write checks if the account holder allows them.

If you know how to write a check, you can write one to a business or individual (the payee) for any amount you need to pay. The only catch is that any check you write needs to be for an amount of money currently available in your account. If you write a bad check, your bank or credit union will refuse the check or cash it and charge you an overdraft fee. 

Depending on your bank’s practices, a book of checks is either included as part of your bank account or is available for a nominal fee. 

Advantages of Personal Checks 

Even though credit and debit cards cover most day-to-day transactions, personal checks are still used for rent or sending payments through the mail. 

There is a sort of “old-school” protection that comes with a check. Personal checks require your signature, and most retailers that accept checks require the writer to present a photo ID—which makes them difficult for thieves to use. 

Banks can trace checks, so if one is stolen or misplaced, it can be canceled. Additionally, your payee doesn’t necessarily need a bank account of their own to cash your check. 

Disadvantages of Personal Checks

The biggest drawback to personal checks is in processing them. When you write a check, the money will remain in the bank until the payee cashes or deposits it. That means that you have to account for it in every other transaction you make, so you don’t overspend.

Additionally, since businesses widely accept debit cards, fewer businesses accept checks, as they take longer to clear from a bank. 

Personal Checks vs. Certified Checks vs. Cashier’s Checks 

Now that you know more about these three types of checks—certified, cashier’s, and personal—you might be wondering if there is an option that will work best for you. 

Both certified checks and personal checks pull funds from your checking account. However, the big difference between personal checks and certified checks is the availability of those funds. 

A personal check can only pull whatever funds are available upon deposit—regardless of the amount for which it’s written. That means you have to be responsible for balancing your checkbook to make sure you don’t overspend until your payee cashes your check. 

On the other hand, banks guarantee certified checks. Since the certified check is always good, it is a much more secure way to pay.   

When it’s in a cashier’s check, your cash becomes the bank’s cash. The federal government, under the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), guarantees bank deposits. That protection ensures that the funds will be available to the payee as soon as they deposit or cash the cashier’s check at a bank. 

And since those funds aren’t coming from an account, you don’t even need to have a bank account to use a cashier’s check. That makes cashier’s checks an excellent option for people who may not have bank accounts due to bad credit history. Many people in that position have found relief by applying for loans for bad credit. 

So when it comes to picking a check option, the answer may come down to just how quickly and safely you need to send your funds. If you want to do it cheaply, a personal check is probably the way to go. To keep it as secure as possible, you may want to consider a certified check. 

Check Scams and Fraud 

Whether you get a cashier’s check, certified check, or personal check, there is one fact you have to consider with any of these options—theft. Check fraud continues to be a big problem, with banks reporting billions of dollars in losses every year. 

Certified Check Scam

Certified checks can be counterfeited, passed off as legitimate payments. When a bank receives a certified check, it must give the payee the funds within a business day. However, it may take longer for verification to come back on the check. Sometimes, verification on a certified check can take weeks—more than enough time for a scammer to disappear with the cash.  

Cashier’s Check Scam 

A typical cashier’s check scam involves selling items online. Using sites like Craigslist, a buyer will connect with a seller and provide a cashier’s check for payment written for an amount larger than the purchase price. When the seller deposits the check into their bank account, the buyer asks for the extra money they sent “by mistake.” After the seller withdraws the money, the bank discovers that the cashier’s check was fake. But, the seller is left responsible for the lost funds. 

Personal Check Scam

Personal checks are sometimes the easiest to use for fraud. People can be paid for goods and services with bad checks and typically don’t find out about it until they attempt to cash the check.  And a stolen checkbook full of your checks can be a jackpot for a thief. Because your name, address, and account number are printed on the check, anyone can use them to send payments to other people.

How to Protect Yourself From Scams 

If you get a cashier’s check, personal check, or certified check, use these tips to help keep you on the lookout for scams:

Don’t ever accept a check for more than the correct amount. If the check you received is more or less than you expected, do not accept it and ask for a new one.

Review the check. Make sure that your name is printed correctly and the check is signed. Checks shouldn’t have any grammatical errors or typos, and the official bank logo should be visible.

Contact the bank. Financial institutions can quickly identify personal checks, certified checks, and cashier’s checks. If you’re suspicious about a check you’ve received, find the bank’s phone number and call to verify. Give them the purchaser’s name and the account number and ID number printed on the check.

Alternatives to Personal Checks, Certified Checks, and Cashier’s Checks  

Personal checks, cashier’s checks, and certified checks are used for various payment situations.

But, if you don’t want to use a check, there are some other ways that you can use your money: 

Prepaid Debit Cards

A prepaid debit card is a card that can be loaded with money and used as a credit card. Banks issue credit cards, and major credit card companies like Visa, Discover, MasterCard, and American Express brand them. Any place that accepts those credit card brands can accept a prepaid card. Purchases made with prepaid debit cards are handled like any other credit card transaction. 

It’s important to note that although prepaid debit cards are used as credit cards, they do not provide the same advantages. Like a personal or certified check, a debit card is only as good as the money behind it. 

When your prepaid card runs out of cash, purchase a new one.  Some prepaid debit cards can be reloaded at a retail store or through an electronic transfer online. 

Wire Transfer

In a wire transfer, funds are transmitted electronically. This feature makes wire transfer not only secure but also fast. They are ideal for sending large amounts of money or for sending money internationally. Additionally, wire transfers are used to send money from one bank to another. 

A popular wire transfer service is Western Union, but banks and other financial institutions offer wire transfers.  

Even though they are reliable, it’s important to note that wire transfers are one of the most expensive ways to send money. Considering that the average transfer fee is around $30-$40, this payment method is not worth it for most people. 

A disadvantage of this payment method is that, in most cases, it will cost a lot more than any other method. The average wire transfer can run $15-$40, making it an option only for important circumstances. 

Conclusion 

Personal, certified, and cashier’s checks are just a few of the ways that you can move money around. Which one you choose may depend on how much speed, security, and fees you can afford. But, no matter the choice, make every effort to track your cash. Protecting your payments will ensure that you stay on good terms with your creditors and keep you financially healthy. 

References: 

How to Handle a Lost Cashier’s Check
How To Spot, Avoid, and Report Fake Check Scams
Cashier’s Check Definition (Investopedia)