What Is a Certified Check?

The last thing you want to worry about when making a big purchase is being scammed. Whether you’re buying or selling something, you don’t want your money or investments to go to waste. Making any financial decision can be unsettling for your budget when faced with a chance of fraud. That’s where certified checks can help add security. But first, what is a certified check?

A certified check is authorized by a bank to guarantee buyers have the funds before writing the check. This ensures that the person receiving payment isn’t left hanging, and the buyer double-checks they have enough funds to make the purchase. 

Why Use a Certified Check?

A certified check is one of the most secure payment options available. When you’re selling or buying expensive items, you want to ensure you get what you were expecting. Certified checks generally require a bank or credit union to set aside money in the buyer’s account until the check has gone through. This way, the bank verifies the buyer has enough cash to make the purchase and the seller gets paid. If you’re selling a big ticket item, you can request payment with a certified check.

If you’re buying an expensive item, certified checks will offer your seller additional security. It will prove to the seller that you’re serious about your choice and that your finances are in place for this investment. 

Certified Check vs. Cashier’s Check

Chart compares the differences and similarities of a certified check and a cashier's check.

A cashier’s check is also used for large purchases and authorized by a bank or credit union. The main difference between cashier’s checks and certified checks is where the money’s stored until it’s cashed out. Before signing a cashier’s check, banks will move the funds into a separate account for security purposes. Then, a bank representative will sign the check over to the receiver. 

Even though both check types are generally safe, cashier’s checks tend to be more secure. As banks take the buyer’s funds when they authorize the check, your funds are waiting at the bank instead of in your buyer’s account until cashed out. 

How to Get a Certified Check

Illustration details the steps to getting a check certified.

For buyers looking to get certified checks, most banks or credit unions offer these services. While you’re able to get them at financial institutions that offer these services, fees may apply at banks you don’t have an account with. If you’re in need of a certified check, read our tips below:

  • Call your bank to ensure you meet all their requirements. 
  • Visit the bank in person to avoid any mishaps or miscommunication. 
  • Come prepared with:
    • Funds needed for the check amount
    • Name of the recipient
    • Your account number 
    • Photo ID
  • Verify your identity and funds with a photo ID and bank account numbers for authorization. You may be asked to sign the check in front of a teller for them to certify it. 
  • Bring extra cash in case your bank charges a service fee, typically anywhere from $5 to $25. A bank you already do service with may waive your fee.

The Pros and Cons of Certified Checks

Certified checks lower the risk of carrying around large sums of money or bounced checks. There are a few pros and cons to weigh before choosing your payment option as a buyer or seller. 

Pros:

  • Safer way to carry cash: Certified checks are great tools for large purchases. It can be impractical to carry around a large stack of cash or the risk of a regular check. This way, you’re able to cash in your earnings, or pay the seller without any worries. 
  • Adds additional payment security: For large purchases where a buyers credit score or payment is questioned, this adds additional security. Since the bank issuing the check double-checks that the funds are there, it takes more risk out of the deal. 

Cons: 

  • Scammers may be ready to scam: One downside of this payment option is the risk of scams. It’s common for businesses to purchase bulk products out of state in exchange for a certified check. If you realize your purchase is a scam after sending your check, you may not be able to stop the payment from going through. 
  • Potential service fees: As always, bank services usually come at a price. In this case, most banks and credit unions will bill you for the time used to certify the check. Generally, these services cost anywhere from $5 to $25. If you decide to request a certified check from a bank you already do business with, they may waive your fee. 

4 Tips to Prevent Check Fraud

Illustrations depict the 4 ways to prevent check fraud.

Forty-seven percent of industry money losses were from fraudulent checks in 2018. Taking the extra steps to double-check your buyer’s payment could prevent your budget from taking a hit. Follow the steps below to ensure you and your earnings are on the right track:

1. Research Your Buyer

People may use fake names, addresses, phone numbers, and more to get away with a scam. Without knowing the identity of the person you’re selling to, it may be hard to get your money if things go wrong. Research your buyer or safely meet with them in person to get a better feel for their identity. 

2. Call or Visit Your Buyer’s Bank of Choice

For more security, reach out to the financial institution where the check is issued. Contact your buyer to see where they’ll be authorizing their check. Look up the branch’s phone number and call to verify the check went through. Avoid calling any phone numbers the buyer gives you in case they provide you with the wrong number. 

3. Immediately Double-Check With Your Bank

Right after you get paid, go straight to the bank or call to ensure there weren’t any complications processing the check. Ask your bank or credit union if the funds made it to your account safe and sound. 

4. Save All Documentation

Receipts, emails, and other information can build a case in the event you don’t receive your payment. Keep all documentation or files until you’ve been paid in full. As long as you have all the details, you’ll have a better chance of building a case. 

Key Takeaways

  • A certified check is a check that’s authorized by a bank to guarantee buyers have the funds before writing the check. 
  • When you’re selling or buying a large item, certified checks are a less risky payment option. 
  • If you’re unsure about your buyer, do more digging. Research them, call the buyer’s bank, and save all documents and files from the exchange. 
  • Call your bank beforehand to ensure you meet all the requirements and ask about service fees. 

Having an uneasy feeling about selling or buying a large ticket item is normal. You don’t want your hard-earned money or investments going to waste over a bounced check or scam. Certified checks can be a safer payment option and it’s worth the extra research for your budget’s sake. 

Sources: Investopedia | DFI

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