What is a certified check? Definition, use, and costs
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What is a certified check? Definition, use, and costs

January 10, 2023
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What is a certified check?

A certified check is a personal check that the account holder's bank has confirmed is covered by sufficient funds and bears a legitimate signature.

Money from a certified check is used only to pay that check. The bank stamps or otherwise marks the check to indicate that it is certified.

For this reason, a certified check is considered an "official check."

When to use a certified check

Certified checks are usually used for high-value transactions, such as a down payment for a car purchase.

They are also used in transactions where the buyer and seller do not know each other. If you are buying an expensive item in an online marketplace, a certified check assures the seller that you have the funds to make the purchase.

A standard check does not offer this assurance.

How much does a certified check cost?

A certified check costs more than other forms of payment. The price is between $15 and $20.

Not only are certified checks more expensive, but it is also difficult to find a bank that offers them. Many banks sell cashier's checks and money orders, but not certified checks. Even large traditional banks tend not to offer them.

"Banks do offer them to their customers, but historically they are not as readily used as cashier's checks (or money orders)," says Ben Craigie, vice president of the Massachusetts Bankers Association. "There are banks that don't have this service."

If you need an official check, ask your bank what payment options it offers.

Certified check or bank check: what is the difference?

The terms "certified check" and "bank check" are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. A certified check is drawn on the bank's customer's account; a bank check is drawn on the bank's funds.

"Certified checks are in the same category as bank checks, in that they are both considered official payment instruments," Craigie explains.

A certified check is a personal check from a checking account that has been certified by a bank. The bank certifies that the account holder's signature is genuine and that the money needed to complete the transaction is in the account and has been set aside to pay the check. A signature, stamp, or other mark indicates that the check is certified.

With the cashier's check, the bank withdraws the money from your account and issues you an official check made payable to the person or company with whom you are making the transaction. The money is guaranteed by the bank, which uses its own funds. Usually the bank prints the payee's name on the cashier's check before issuing it.

How to protect yourself from fraud

A legitimate certified check counts as cash because the bank has verified the signer's account and signature and set aside funds to pay it.

Although the certified check is a more secure payment instrument than the standard personal check, forgeries are possible.

When it comes to official checks, which include certified checks and cashier's checks, it is good to trust but verify, Craigie advises.

To protect yourself from fraud, ask the bank that certified the check to confirm its authenticity. "You can always call the bank on which the check was issued and verify the legitimacy of the item in your possession," Craigie says.

Do not call the phone number listed on the check, Craigie says. Instead, check the bank's phone number yourself. Go to the bank's website, visit a branch, or use another official method.

Irene Scott
Written by
Irene Scott
I’ve worked for more than 5 years as a Credit Analyst and more than 4 years as an Internal Auditor for one of the leading global financial institutions. I have been exposed to the credit review process, various banking products, financial security topics, corporate governance, operational risk, and the internal control framework of a complex, multinational organization.