What Is a Certified Check?

Written By
G. Dautovic
October 03,2023

A certified check is not just another form of payment; it's a financial instrument fortified by the assurance of a banking institution. This means the bank has scrutinized the funds associated with the check and has guaranteed its payment, making certified checks a highly reliable payment solution. 

However, there are still precautions and potential disadvantages associated with using certified checks, and we’ll explore these along with the benefits.

How Certified Checks Work

Certified checks are thought of as the epitome of financial security and trustworthiness. This is because in the issuance of a certified check, the bank undertakes a meticulous verification procedure to ascertain that the payer's checking account possesses adequate funds to honor the check.

Subsequent to this verification, the bank formally "certifies" the check, thereby segregating the specified funds and rendering them unavailable for alternative transactions.

This ensures that the check will not bounce, providing peace of mind to both the payer and the payee.

The heightened security attributes inherent in certified checks come with associated costs, commonly manifesting as service fees levied by the issuing financial institution, which usually range from $10 to $15, although exceptions with higher fees may occur.

Additionally, the clearance process for certified checks is often more time-consuming compared to conventional checks, frequently necessitating multiple business days. This extended period is attributed to the receiving bank's potential requirement for additional verification measures to confirm the check's authenticity prior to fund release.

When to Use Certified Checks

Certified checks are particularly useful for transactions where a large amount of money is changing hands and both parties require assurance. 

This includes scenarios like real estate transactions, buying a car, or making a down payment on a large purchase. 

The certified check serves as a binding promise that the funds are available and will be paid.

In an increasingly digital world, certified checks offer a layer of security that can make online transactions less risky.

Since the bank has already verified and set aside the funds, the recipient can accept a certified check with greater confidence, even in cases where the buyer and seller have never met and are conducting the transaction remotely.

How to Get a Certified Check

Obtaining a certified check is a pretty straightforward process. Simply visit a branch of your bank, provide personal identification and fill out a form.

After the account review process, you will most likely get issued your certified check right on the spot.

If you don’t have a traditional bank account, or if your bank or credit union doesn’t provide the certified check service, you can try out venues like check-cashing stores and financial service centers, but we must note that the fees incurred at these places can be substantially higher.

Certified Checks vs. Cashier’s Checks

Certified checks and cashier's checks are similar but not identical. Both options are highly secure forms of payment, but unlike certified checks, which are drawn against the funds already in your account, cashier’s checks are drawn against the bank's own funds.

This alone makes cashier’s checks more secure in the eyes of recipients, along with the fact that they are less expensive to issue and may clear more quickly.

Where certified checks have a clear advantage, however, is in terms of flexibility, as cashier’s checks must be physically mailed or handed over in person, while certified checks offer a much higher degree of personalization and are a much better option for online transactions.

Alternatives to Certified Checks

Credit cards can also serve as a secure method of payment, especially for online transactions or situations where the payee is capable of processing card payments. 

Similarly, prepaid debit cards offer the advantage of immediate fund transfer, eliminating the waiting period associated with check clearance.

Other methods like wire transfers, money orders, and digital wallets like PayPal or Venmo also offer varying degrees of security and convenience.

How to Avoid Fraud With Certified Checks

Certified checks are generally secure, but they are not foolproof. Fraudsters have been known to forge certified checks. 

Always verify the issuing bank and consider calling to confirm the check's validity, especially if dealing with an unknown party.

Be cautious if the check amount exceeds what was agreed upon, or if any of the printed information appears altered or suspicious, in which case we advise you to report it to your bank and the issuing bank as immediately. 

Acting quickly and decisively can help you avoid financial loss and can assist law enforcement in tracking down fraudsters.

Bottom Line

Certified checks are a highly secure payment option, best-suited for online transactions and transfers of a substantial amount of money, where trust is crucial.

The fees associated with issuing them can be higher than with other options, and certified checks usually take a few days to clear, but the benefits offered by them in most cases easily outweigh the inconvenience and cost.


Do certified checks clear immediately?


No, certified checks do not clear immediately. They usually require a few business days for both the issuing and receiving banks to verify the check's authenticity and the availability of funds.

Is a certified check equivalent to cash?


Once a certified check has cleared, it is as good as cash.

Are certified checks secure?


Certified checks are considered to be one of the safest payment methods available, but as with every other financial product, they are also susceptible to fraud.

Can a certified check be counterfit?


Yes, like any form of payment, certified checks can be faked. Always verify the check's details with the issuing bank, especially if you're dealing with an unknown or suspicious party.

About author

I have always thought of myself as a writer, but I began my career as a data operator with a large fintech firm. This position proved invaluable for learning how banks and other financial institutions operate. Daily correspondence with banking experts gave me insight into the systems and policies that power the economy. When I got the chance to translate my experience into words, I gladly joined the smart, enthusiastic Fortunly team.

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