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Sometimes when you need to make a major purchase, cutting a personal check just won’t cut it. There are certain situations where you and the other person or company involved with your transaction may need an extra level of security when getting paid. This is when you may need a certified check for making a payment.
Certified checks can help reduce risk and provide greater convenience for both sides of a transaction. They also can be a good option for making payments for certain special situations when cash or a regular check aren’t safe enough.
Certified Checks: What They Are and How They Work
A certified check, in some ways, is similar to a typical personal check that comes from an everyday checkbook, but with one big difference: A certified check is guaranteed by the check-writer’s bank. With a certified check, the bank is verifying that the check-writer’s checking account has enough money to cover the amount of the check.
A certified check provides an extra level of assurance that the check is valid and that the check will not bounce because It helps guarantee the availability of funds for the transaction. Also, it tells both sides of a transaction—buyer and seller—that they will get what they want from the deal.
Certified checks are not typically requested or necessary for everyday purchases. They usually are needed for larger transactions, such as:
- Buying a car from a private party seller
- Making a down payment on a house
- Buying a boat/recreational vehicle
- Buying land
- Buying used merchandise from someone you met via an online marketplace
Any large transaction where the buyer and seller do not know each other well—and do not have easy access to online payments or other bank payment options, such as ACH or wire transfer—may be a good fit for a certified check.
Using a certified check gives both the buyer and seller an added level of security and reassurance: The buyer gets the convenience of paying by check but also shows good faith that they really do have the money in the bank as promised and the seller gets a guarantee that they will get paid.
A certified check works basically the same as a typical personal check, but, after the party writes the check, the bank will certify and stamp the check to show that the check is valid and that there are adequate funds in the account. The bank may charge a small fee for the certified check, depending on your bank and on the details of your account agreement. Not all banks offer certified checks, so contact your bank branch first to see if they can provide this service, or find out if they have other options, like a cashier’s check, that could be an equally good solution.
Some banks and credit unions may use the terms “certified check,” “cashier’s check” and “official check” interchangeably, although they are not the same. Both a certified check and a cashier’s check are forms of official checks, but the parties signing the check are different, as discussed below. You could ask for a “certified check” but end up getting a cashier’s check.Be sure you understand the terminology and know your options, so you can provide the form of payment that your buyer wants to receive.
Certified Check vs. Cashier’s Check
Instead of a certified check, some banks may only offer a cashier’s check as a secure payment option. The effect is the same: This is a guaranteed check that the bank verifies as having enough money to cover the requested amount. But, with a certified check, the check is written by you (the person/account holder/buyer), and with a cashier’s check, the check is actually written and paid by the bank.
With a cashier’s check, the bank (with the customer’s permission) transfers the requested amount of money from the customer’s account to the bank’s account, and then writes a check from the bank on behalf of the customer.
Some sellers prefer to receive a cashier’s check because it gives them an added level of assurance that they will get paid: They’re getting a check not just from an individual person, but from a bank. Cashier’s checks are difficult to counterfeit and so there is lower risk of fraud when receiving this form of payment.
Depending on your bank, if you want a certified check, your bank may not offer this as an option and so you may have to agree to use a cashier’s check instead. But the results will be the same: The buyer pays as promised, and the seller gets paid.
How to Get a Certified Check
To get a certified check, the first step is to contact your bank to be sure they provide the service of certifying checks. Since the physical process involves your writing a personal check and then having the bank mark it as certified, you will need to visit your local bank branch.
There is usually a fee charged by the bank for each certified check, but the exact fee amount depends on your bank and your overall banking relationship. (Specific to banks that offer cashier’s checks instead, major banks like Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo charge fees for cashier’s checks that range from $8 to $15 per check, sometimes with added delivery fees for online orders.) Some banks may waive the fee as part of your total package of banking services.
How to Avoid Fraud With Certified Checks
Three of the main reasons why people like to use certified checks are to help ensure security, guard against fraud and avoid bounced checks for large transactions. Using a certified check can give a seller more certainty that they will get paid. However, there are still a few tips to look out for to avoid fraud with certified checks:
- When you’re the party receiving a certified check, call the bank immediately after receiving the certified check. Don’t use any phone number for the bank that is printed on the check; if the check is fraudulent, that number could be fake, too. Or look up the bank online.
- Ask the bank to verify the account holder’s name and check number.
Counterfeiters are becoming more sophisticated at printing official-looking bank logos and creating physically convincing fake checks. While a certified check is typically more secure than an average personal check, you may want to take extra steps to verify that the check is legitimate before releasing the purchased goods.
Why Certified Checks Matter
With so many different online payment tools and payment methods available now, many people may not choose to rely on a typical personal check. For example, if you’re selling a used car for a dollar amount you consider significant—or you’re transacting with someone you’ve only met online—you may prefer to get paid via an online payment app so that you get immediate access to the money.
However, if you are doing a transaction that exceeds the daily limit of an online payment app, where you don’t want to carry cash or pay a credit card transaction fee, a certified check can be a good option to protect both sides of the transaction.
As the seller, you have the right and the responsibility to make sure that a certified check is legitimate. Don’t be afraid to call the bank right away, in front of the buyer, to make sure the check is accurate and valid.
Even though there are more ways to get paid than ever before, sometimes you still need to transact by writing a personal check. For big, important transactions,using a certified check can help to provide an added level of security and reassurance that the check will clear as promised. This is why official checks—whether certified checks or cashier’s checks—can still play a role in your banking needs. Talk to your bank or credit union to learn more about your options for how to certify a check.