A cashier’s check or a money order can come in handy if you’re paying bills or making a large deposit on a purchase. Personal checks are not accepted at all businesses and financial institutions, such as when you are closing on a mortgage.
Either a money order or a cashier’s check is a good option if you do not want to carry around a large amount of cash or you do not have a checking account.
A bank, credit union or other financial institution guarantees the full amount of the funds from a cashier’s check or money order even though the two options are not identical. Unlike a personal check that can bounce, both of these payment options are a paper form of money.
What Is a Cashier’s Check?
You can typically request a cashier’s check from a bank or credit union for amounts of $1,000 or more, says Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and a former U.S. News contributor.
A cashier’s check is basically a check written by your bank, so the funding is verified. The money is taken out of your checking or savings account and made out to the recipient and signed by a bank teller or another representative of the bank.
“Some issuers may cap transaction amounts, so it is a good idea to ask about the limit,” McClary says. “If you don’t have an account, it may be possible to obtain a cashier’s check in exchange for the cash equivalent plus a fee.”
What Is a Money Order?
Similar to a cashier’s check, a money order is a widely accepted alternative to cash or a personal check. To receive a money order, you would pay the face value of the amount, plus a transaction fee, normally in cash. Money orders can be purchased at most convenience stores, supermarkets, post offices, banks and check cashing outlets, but amounts are limited to less than $1,000. If you are paying a bill in a larger amount, you could purchase more than one money order.
The money order doesn’t come with a recipient’s name – you write it in. Some retailers let you pay for a money order with a debit card.
When Should You Use a Cashier’s Check?
A cashier’s check is typically used for large purchases such as a down payment for a car or a mortgage. Cashier’s checks also provide extra protection against losing the check because you can get a replacement from your bank.
Cashier’s checks provide the recipient a green light that funds will clear when presented, says Leslie H. Tayne, a New York-based attorney specializing in debt relief.
“The check is drawn on the bank’s own funds and signed by the bank’s teller, meaning the bank guarantees payment and not the individual as in a certified check,” she says. “This way, the receiver of the cashier’s check can be sure that the check will not bounce.”
A down payment for a house may require a cashier’s check to ensure funds will clear since the title is transferring at the time of payment, Tayne says.
“Since cashier’s checks are processed more quickly when presented due to higher reliability than personal checks, they prove that the money is available and that you are serious about the transaction,” she says. “It allows for trust between the parties.”
Online banks can mail you the cashier’s check.
“Once the bank writes the check, the check’s amount is frozen or held in your account until the recipient uses your check,” Tayne says.
When Should You Use a Money Order?
A money order is often used to pay a bill or a repair person and is useful if you do not have a checking account.
A money order is a paper form of money and cannot bounce like a check, Tayne says.
“You don’t need a bank account to get a money order, and similar to a cashier’s check, the money is guaranteed,” she says.
The fees for money orders are usually lower than those for a cashier’s check and are popular for transactions such as providing a deposit for an apartment or other payments when checks and cash are not accepted or feasible.
“For smaller transactions, money orders can be a less costly alternative to cashier’s checks because the fees are typically lower and priced based on the amount,” she says. “Cashier’s checks usually have a flat fee. Walmart, for example, charges a maximum fee of $1 for a money order.”