When it comes time to make a large purchase, your payment options may be limited. Perhaps the seller isn’t willing to accept a personal check and cash isn’t a practical option. In fact, depending on the situation, you may be required to use a cashier’s check.

cashiers check

Whether it’s mandatory or it just sounds like a good idea, it’s important to learn what exactly a cashier’s check is and when you might need to use one. We’ll also show you how to weigh all of your alternative payment options so you can pick the best one for you and your payee.

What is a cashier’s check?

Rather than paying for something with cash, credit card, or even a personal check, you can use a cashier’s check as a safe way to pay. It’s a draft using your own funds, but instead of being guaranteed by your own account, it’s guaranteed by the bank that issued the check. So how exactly does a cashier’s check work?

What generally happens is that the money is deducted from your bank account as soon as you request the cashier’s check. The funds are deposited into the bank’s own account and you receive a check signed by the bank cashier or teller.

You can then use the check as a more secure form of payment because the recipient knows that the funds have already been earmarked for them and there is little to no risk of the check bouncing. This added layer of assurance makes it an attractive option for anyone who requires a large sum at once and doesn’t want to risk dealing with a bounced check.

Why use a cashier’s check?

A cashier’s check is most commonly used when you need to pay a large amount of money. They are primarily used in real estate and brokerage transactions because the dollar amounts for these purchases are so high. A down payment on a house, for example, can be tens of thousands of dollars or even more.

Receiving a personal check carries a much higher risk for the lender in this situation because there is no guarantee the funds are actually in your account. With a cashier’s check, however, the lender knows that the bank has already debited the funds from your account and will release them in full when the check is cashed.

Using a cashier’s check can also be helpful in time sensitive situations. The funds typically clear the next day so you don’t have to wait for staggered amounts to be released over several days.

If you’re sending a large amount of money and the recipient needs to access that cash as soon as possible, they will experience a much shorter wait time with a cashier’s check. It typically takes just a single business day. Even if you’re just sending money to a family member, a cashier’s check can be a helpful tool to quickly give them access to the funds they need.

Where can you get a cashier’s check?

A bank or credit union is the only place to get a cashier’s check. You typically must already have an account with the financial institution, but you may be able to find a place that doesn’t require this step. Just expect to take some extra time and effort to find such a bank. But if you need a cashier’s check quickly and don’t have any type of banking account, now might be the time to open one up.

For credit union members, you can often get a cashier’s check from any credit union near you (not just your own) as long as yours participates in shared branching. This convenience provides you with more options when you need a cashier’s check.

Each cashier’s check typically costs around $8 and $10, though the exact amount varies depending on your bank or credit union. When you go in, make sure you bring a photo ID with you. You’ll also need the funds for the cashier’s check, which can be in the form of cash or deposits already in your bank account.

In addition to the check amount, you’ll need to inform the teller of who the check should be made out to as well as any notes to go in the memo line, such as an account number or other pertinent information.

All of the information on the cashier’s check is filled out by the teller in advance so you only have to deliver it to the recipient once it’s ready. This also means it’s important to convey each detail accurately while you’re at the bank because there’s no way to change it once you’ve left with the cashier’s check in hand.

Double check that each piece of information is correct before you leave the bank to avoid any unnecessary hassle or confusion when the recipient goes to deposit the check.

How secure is a cashier’s check?

Because cashier’s checks are a more secure form of payment than most others, funds are typically available in the recipient’s account the next day. However, some banks may only release the first $5,000 until the check officially clears.

That gives everyone a little bit of additional security in case the check is counterfeit. If you’re about to receive a cashier’s check, it’s good to know what a real one looks like so you can identify any potential fraud.

Ask to see an example at your bank or do some research online. You’ll notice that each cashier’s check contains some security features to help prevent counterfeit checks from being created. In addition to the issuing bank’s name, the check should also include watermarks, security thread, color-shifting ink, and bond paper.

Another way to stay secure when sending or receiving a cashier’s check is to watch out for common scams. These typically involve the con artist sending out fake cashier’s checks. For example, a typical scenario is receiving a letter stating that you’ve won the lottery or received an inheritance.

The company claims there is a third party processing fee that they cover by sending you a money order. You’re then supposed to wire money from your personal bank account to the third party, which is usually located in a foreign country.

In the meantime, the cashier’s check is discovered as a fake and you’re out the cash. There are many variations of this scam, including claims that you’ve been chosen as a mystery shopper, so it’s important to remain vigilant and view any unsolicited offers with a wary eye. The best rule of thumb is never to accept a cashier’s check from someone you don’t know, particularly if the request is from abroad.

What is the difference between a cashier’s check and a money order?

The two are similar products, but there are some key differences between a cashier’s check and a money order. The biggest one is that a cashier’s check is issued by an actual bank, while a money order is purchased at retailers, post offices, and money transfer stores.

While these stores have security measures in place and take your money to pay for the money order, they don’t specifically guarantee the funds as a bank does with a cashier’s check. Plus, money orders typically come with a maximum amount.

For example, the post office only allows money orders up to $1,000. If you need a guaranteed check for a larger amount, you’re better off with a cashier’s check.

Still, a money order can be easier to get because you don’t need a bank account in order to buy one. You can simply walk into any location that sells them and pay with cash or your debit card.

Money orders are also typically cheaper than cashier’s checks, usually costing less than $2. That’s compared to the $10 or so you’ll pay for a cashier’s check. Which one is right for you depends on your specific needs, so it’s good to know the differences.

Cashier’s checks can also be confused with certified checks, but they aren’t actually the same thing. A certified check is issued by a bank and verifies that both your signature is legitimate. It also verifies that (at the time of issuing) you had enough money in your account to cover the check.

However, a certified check is still backed by your own account, not the bank’s. So the recipient still incurs the risk that the check might bounce if you take money out of your account before it’s actually cashed.

Using cashier’s checks for major purchases can be convenient and reassuring to all parties involved in the transaction. While the fee might be high compared to other methods of payment, it’s unavoidable for the level of security both you and the check recipient receive when dealing with a cashier’s check.