What is a certified check?


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A certified check can save you from some of the risks of using cash in certain transactions.

This is true for both the seller and the buyer in a transaction.

But there are some key differences between certified checks and other types of payments that you should know about to make the best choice for your situation.

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 the check 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).

Banks that offer certified check services for customers consider it an official check service, says Ben Craigie, director of compliance and training at the Massachusetts Bankers Association.

“So 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 Craigie.

For a certified check, you use a check from your own checking account. If you wanted a cashier’s check, that check would be issued to you from the bank. Usually, you’ll be required to have the bank print the name of the payee on the cashier’s check before it’s issued.

[READ: 21 savings tips to reach your financial goals]

When to use a certified check

Some people use certified checks when they attend an auction.

“Where they want to bring a certain amount of money — they’re willing to buy something, they don’t necessarily know what it’s going to be,” Craigie says.

Certified checks may save you from carrying around a large amount of cash. But they aren’t a common bank transaction, Craigie says.

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

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 that it 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, Craigie says.

A cashier’s check is when a 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. This is not a personal check. You can find cashier’s checks at banks such as Capital One, which offers the service for a $20 fee.

How to get a certified check

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.

Money orders typically have a limit of $1,000.

Cost of certified check

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. The Bank of Akron also charges four times as much for a certified check ($20) as it does for a cashier’s check ($5). Meanwhile, a money order only costs $3 at the Bank of Akron.

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

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,  never take any chances and 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.

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