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Cashier’s Check: When You Need One, How to Get It

Cashier’s checks are available at most banks and credit unions. They are a safe way to make large payments, as the bank guarantees the payment instead of the purchaser.
Banking, Banking Basics
Cashier's Check 101: When You Need One and How to Get It

What is a cashier’s check?

A cashier’s check is a check guaranteed by a bank, drawn from its own funds and signed by a cashier or teller.  The most important difference from a regular check is that the bank guarantees its payment, not the purchaser.

A cashier’s check is used in place of cash, personal checks, credit cards or money orders.

When do I need one?

Cashier’s checks are one of the safest, most practical and preferred payments on large purchases. If you have a big purchase to make and can’t use a debit or credit card, a cashier’s check can be a great way to pay a large amount of money. When you purchase one of these checks from a bank or credit union, all parties can be confident that the transaction is secure and the risk of theft or fraud is minimal.

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How can I get a cashier’s check?

You can usually purchase cashier’s checks through a bank or credit union. Here’s how it works:

  • You’ll need to supply the exact amount of the check and the name of the “payee,” the business or person you are paying
  • A teller will ensure that you as the “remitter” — the person purchasing the check — have the cash to pay for the cashier’s check
  • If the funds are in an account at that institution, the full amount of the check will be frozen in your account or withdrawn when the check is issued
  • The check then will be written for the amount you requested, and the teller or a bank officer will sign it

Some institutions let you order cashier’s checks online. This usually takes longer, so plan ahead, or stick with visiting a branch if you’re in a hurry. Banks may hesitate to issue a cashier’s check if you’re not a client. You may need to open a checking account. If that’s not practical, a money order or certified check might fill the bill.

Cashier’s check vs. certified check vs. money order

A cashier’s check isn’t the same as a certified check, which is a personal check written by a bank customer and drawn on the customer’s account. The bank certifies that the signature is genuine and that the customer had sufficient funds to cover the check when it was issued. (Here are tips on when you should use a certified check.)

Why use a cashier’s check instead of a money order? Money orders may have limits on their value, such as the U.S. Postal Service’s $1,000 cap. Unlike cashier’s checks, money orders aren’t backed by a bank since they are prepaid with cash or a debit card. (Here’s the lowdown on  when it makes sense to use a money order.)

What are the fees?

Fees for cashier’s checks vary by account and institution. For example, credit unions might charge less than $5, and big banks might charge upward of $5. At least a few charge a percentage of the check amount. Information about these fees and related policies can usually be found in the checking rates and fees pages that most institutions publish on their websites.

How can I avoid cashier’s check fraud?

Try not to take a cashier’s check from someone you don’t know. If you do receive one, wait to use the funds until several days after the check has been deposited, or check with your bank to make sure it has cleared.

Don’t accept a cashier’s check from someone you don’t know, and — even if you can — try not to use the funds until the check clears.

Although funds from a cashier’s check deposited into a bank account are usually available the next day, many banks place a hold on amounts over $5,000 until the check has been cleared by the issuing bank. In some cases, this can take days, but that helps protect against cashier’s check fraud.

Cashier’s checks also contain additional security features — such as watermarks and sometimes signatures by two bank employees — that make counterfeiting more difficult.

What if I lose the check?

If you lose a cashier’s check, the bank may require that you get an indemnity bond before issuing another one.

The bond, which is not that easy to get, makes you liable for the replacement check, according to the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The bank regulator recommends contacting an insurance broker for help.

Even with the bond, the bank may require that you wait more than a month for a replacement check.

Updated Oct. 19, 2017.