What Is a Certified Check?
A certified check has long been considered a relatively safe and reliable payment option, as these checks carry a guarantee from the payer’s bank that the funds will be available when the check is cashed. Basically, a cashier’s check is guaranteed with funds from the bank, is signed by the bank, and is not from your own personal account. Here’s a closer look at how certified checks work and the process involved in obtaining these checks.
How Certified Checks Work
With a certified check, the bank is actually making two guarantees to the payee: that the bank customer’s signature on the check is genuine and that there are sufficient funds in the customer’s account to honor the check when it’s presented for payment. Usually, banks will impose conditions on certified checks, such as that the check will be void 60 days after issuance.
In order to minimize that guarantee, often a banking institution will freeze the amount of a certified check in the depositor’s account. In other words, you may have $1,000 in your checking account, but if you have obtained a certified check in the amount of $500 and it hasn’t been cashed yet, your bank will only allow you to have access to the remaining $500 to avoid a bounced check.
Most banks do charge a fee for issuing a certified check for their banking customers, but some banks will provide it as a free service. It’s definitely not the most convenient method of paying a transaction, but there are many common situations which require a guaranteed payment, and often a certified check is your best option.
How to Get a Certified Check
To obtain a certified check you need to go in person to your bank and have the cashier prepare the check for you, with the payee’s name on the check and your signature. Your banking institution will then reserve that amount of money in your account as untouchable—thus guaranteeing that the certified check will not bounce. This check is as good as cash but safer to mail or carry around, especially if the amount is large, as the bank is not obligated to pay when fraud or forgery is involved.
When to Get a Certified Check
Certified checks are used primarily in situations where a creditor doesn’t know or trust a borrower’s (or payee’s) creditworthiness. They are also commonly required for large transactions: for example, for providing a down payment when buying a car or to pay a required security deposit. Since the check issuer cannot put a stop payment on a certified check, the check holder knows that he or she can get cash out, guaranteed. If you don’t have a bank account, most banks will allow you to get a cashier’s check in exchange for cash, plus the processing fee.
In some situations, you can avoid having to use a certified check by paying with cash or a money order, or even by paying on credit. It’s a good idea to find out ahead of time what the payee prefers or requires and then weigh your options.