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What is a certified check? Definition, uses and cost

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What is a certified check?

A certified check is a personal check that the bank will confirm has the proper amount of funds in the account to cover a purchase and has a genuine signature.

This money is earmarked for payment of the check, according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC).

“Certified (checks) kind of fall into that same umbrella as cashier’s checks in the sense that they’re both considered official check instruments,” says Ben Craigie, director of compliance and training at the Massachusetts Bankers Association.

When to use a certified check

People typically use certified checks for large transactions or when the recipient doesn’t know the account holder. In those instances, a certified check certifies that the buyer can make the purchase. A standard check doesn’t offer that assurance. It’s not common for people to use certified checks, though.

An example of when someone might use a certified check is at an auction.

“It’s not offered by everybody, for sure,” Craigie says. “There’s just some banks that don’t have that service.”

How much a certified check costs

Certified check services may cost more than some other payment options. For instance, Santander Bank charges $15 for a certified check and only $10 for an official bank check and $5 for a money order.

Check with your bank to see which of these payment options it offers.

It may be difficult to find a bank that offers certified checks. When available, certified checks may be used for large purchases or other transactions, Craigie says.

“They’re a feature that banks offer to their customers, but they’re not as readily used historically as cashier’s checks, (or) money orders,” Craigie says.

Certified check vs. cashier’s check

A certified check is a personal check from an account that’s certified by a bank, according to the OCC. A certified check indicates that a bank has verified a customer’s signature and certifies that the appropriate amount of money is on deposit and earmarked for the payment of the check, according to the OCC. A signature, stamp or some kind of marking shows the check is certified.

When you use a cashier’s check, the bank withdraws available cash from your account and issues an official bank check from the bank made out to a certain person or business. That money is guaranteed by the bank using its funds. If you want a cashier’s check, the bank will issue you the check. Usually, you’ll be required to have the bank print the name of the payee on the cashier’s check before it’s issued.

How to protect yourself from fraud

See if the bank that certified the check will confirm that it’s authentic.

When it comes to official check instruments, which covers cashier’s checks and certified checks, trust but verify, Craigie says.

“You can always call the bank that the check is drawn on and verify the legitimacy of the item in your possession,” Craigie says.

Don’t call a phone number that’s on the check, Craigie says. Verify the bank’s phone number on your own using the bank’s website or another official method.

Written by
Matthew Goldberg
Consumer banking reporter
Matthew Goldberg is a consumer banking reporter at Bankrate. Matthew has been in financial services for more than a decade, in banking and insurance.
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