How do you tell if a check is a certified check?

A certified check, also known as a cashier’s check or bank check, is a check issued by a bank and drawn on the bank’s own funds. Certified checks offer more security than personal checks because the funds are guaranteed by the bank. But how can you tell if a check you received is certified?

What is a certified check?

A certified check is a type of check where the payment is guaranteed by the bank. When a certified check is issued, the bank debits the amount from the purchaser’s account immediately and holds it until the check is cashed or deposited. This guarantees there are sufficient funds available to cover the check.

Certified checks are commonly used for large purchases or payments where the recipient wants extra assurance the funds will clear. They provide more security than a personal check, where non-sufficient funds are possible if the check writer’s account balance is too low.

Features of a certified check

There are several features that can help identify a certified check:

  • Bank logo and information – Certified checks include the name, address, and logo of the issuing bank in the top left corner.
  • “Certified Check” identified – The words “Certified Check” or “Cashier’s Check” will be printed on the check.
  • Memo line – This will state who the check is payable to and cannot be left blank.
  • Watermarks – Many certified checks have a watermark in the background for security purposes.
  • Serial number – An individual serial number is printed on each certified check.
  • Authorized signature – The check will include an authorized signature from a bank representative.

Differences from personal checks

There are some key differences between certified checks and regular personal checks:

Certified Check Personal Check
Guaranteed funds Possible non-sufficient funds
Bank debits money immediately Money remains in check writer’s account
Includes security features like watermarks Basic check without watermarks
Can only be purchased at bank Anyone can write a personal check

How to verify a certified check

To confirm a check you received is truly certified, it is important to verify it with the issuing bank. You can do this by:

  • Call the bank – Call the phone number printed on the check and ask if it is one of their certified checks. Have the check number ready.
  • Visit a branch – Take the check to the nearest branch of the issuing bank to verify in person.
  • Write “for deposit only” – Endorse the check “for deposit only” into your account and wait for it to fully clear.
  • Consider the source – Only accept certified checks from reputable sources that you trust.

What if a certified check is fraudulent?

Although rare, it is possible for certified checks to be fraudulent or counterfeit. Warning signs of a fake certified check include:

  • Spelling errors or low-quality printing
  • Invalid bank name, address, phone number, or logo
  • Smudged ink or altered details
  • Issued for an oddly specific amount
  • Someone asking you to wire back funds

If a certified check turns out to be fake, the bank will reverse the deposit and you will be liable for the funds. That’s why it’s critical to verify a check’s authenticity before spending or transferring any of the money.

Alternatives to certified checks

There are other secure payment options besides certified checks, such as:

  • Wire transfer – An electronic transfer directly between bank accounts. Immediate and guaranteed.
  • Money order – A payment order that can be purchased from a bank or post office. Safer than personal checks.
  • Cashier’s check – A check issued directly by a bank. The same as a certified check.
  • Cash – Using physical currency eliminates concerns over fraudulent payments or checks bouncing.

Key takeaways

Here are the key things to remember when determining if a check is certified:

  • Certified checks say “Certified Check” and include security features like watermarks.
  • The bank guarantees the funds by debiting the money from the purchaser’s account.
  • Always verify a certified check’s authenticity directly with the issuing bank.
  • Counterfeit cashier’s checks can result in reversed deposits and financial liability.
  • Consider safer alternatives like wire transfers or cash for large payments.


Certified checks provide a convenient and secure way to make large payments or purchases. But it’s essential to verify that any check is authentic and funds are available before relying on the payment. Looking for identifying features, directly contacting the bank, and taking fraud prevention steps can help avoid problems with counterfeit certified checks. For high-dollar transactions, cash, wire transfers, or cashier’s checks may be the safest approach.

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