Cashier’s Check vs. Personal Check: What’s the Difference?

Using checks might seem outdated. But even if it’s easier to send your friends money on Venmo or tap your credit card to pay for a purchase, there are still times when checks come in handy — or are even required.

For example, when you rent an apartment or buy a house, you might need to make your first payment via cashier’s check. Or if you’re giving a wedding gift, it’s still common to give a personal check.

But what’s the difference between a cashier’s check and a personal check? The short answer is that a cashier’s check is backed by a bank or credit union, while a personal check doesn’t have the same guarantee.

Erika Taught Me

  • Cashier’s checks guarantee that funds are available, whereas a personal check could bounce.
  • When you order a cashier’s check, the money comes out of your account right away. Personal checks don’t debit your account until they’re cashed.
  • Some financial transactions (like with real estate) don’t allow personal checks and instead require guaranteed funds.

. . .

What Is a Cashier’s Check?

A cashier’s check is a payment that’s issued and backed by a financial institution. 

This means that a bank or credit union has guaranteed there are enough funds in the payer’s account to cover the check.

How does a cashier’s check work?

To get a cashier’s check, you’ll pay a bank or credit union in cash (or have them debit from your account) for a designated amount. That amount is how much the check amount will be.

For example, if you request a $1,000 cashier’s check from your bank, they’ll deduct $1,000 from your account. They’ll also ask for some details, like the name of the person or entity you want the check made out to. 

Then, when the recipient cashes the check, the money comes from the bank or credit union — since it has already been deducted from your account.

Some banks and credit unions charge fees for issuing cashier’s checks, but it depends on the type of account you have. 

Typically, it’s easier to get a cashier’s check from a financial institution where you already have an account, but sometimes you can buy cashier’s checks even when you’re not a customer by paying in cash.

Some financial institutions let you order cashier’s checks online, but others may need you to go into a branch.

READ MORE: Checking vs. Savings Accounts: What’s the Difference?

What Is a Personal Check?

A personal check is essentially a set of instructions to withdraw money from one checking account and move it into another account owned by someone else. 

When you write a personal check, you are giving permission for the amount on the check to be withdrawn from your account.

How does a personal check work?

When you write a personal check, you are signing your intent to make a payment to another party. 

You’ll include details such as the amount to be paid and the name of the recipient, along with your signature and date. 

Personal checks also include your account number and the bank’s routing number so that the receiving financial institution can withdraw funds from that account.

However, a personal check doesn’t guarantee payment. Just because an amount is written on a personal check doesn’t mean the person has that amount of money in their checking account.

If they don’t, when the recipient tries to cash the check, it might “bounce,” meaning the transaction can’t be completed.

COMPARE: Best Checking Accounts

Differences Between Cashier’s Check vs. Personal Check

Cashier’s checks and personal checks have similar names and both are forms of payment, but there are clear differences between them.

Payment timing

Cashier’s checks need to be paid for upfront. With personal checks, the withdrawal doesn’t happen until the check is deposited by the recipient and the check “clears,” meaning there are sufficient funds to complete the transaction.

For example, let’s say you had $1,000 in your checking account. If you purchased a $500 cashier’s check, your balance would immediately drop to $500 (minus any cashier’s check fees). 

When the recipient deposits your cashier’s check, your bank or credit union transfers the funds on its own, rather than withdrawing from your account again. 

But if you gave someone a $500 personal check, your balance would sit at $1,000 until they deposited or cashed the check. Only at that point would it drop to $500.

Guarantee

Once issued, the financial institution behind a cashier’s check is responsible for completing the transaction. This means a cashier’s check is considered a guaranteed form of payment. 

With a personal check, there’s a possibility that the person writing the check has insufficient funds, which would cause the check to bounce.

Fees

There are sometimes fees with issuing a cashier’s check, typically about $10 or $15. But this depends on your bank and the type of account you have.

When you open a personal checking account, you’ll usually get a free checkbook. If you run out and need more, your bank might charge a fee. Or you can buy them from places like Walmart and Costco. Once you have a stack of checks, there’s no cost to actually write them. 

However, if a check bounces, the payor is usually charged a fee of around $30. The recipient trying to cash the check may also have to pay a fee.

Hold periods

The funds from a cashier’s check are typically available faster than from a personal check. 

When you deposit a cashier’s check in person, the funds are usually available the next business day. 

Personal checks can have longer hold periods, depending on factors like the check amount and your bank’s rules. 

For example, some banks have hold periods of up to seven business days for personal checks, so they can verify there are sufficient funds to complete the transaction.

Expiry

Cashier’s checks don’t necessarily have an expiration date unless specified. 

Personal checks, however, are usually no longer valid if you don’t cash or deposit it within 180 days.

Using a Cashier’s Check vs. a Personal Check

There are times when one is preferable (or even required) over the other. 

When to use a cashier’s check

You’ll usually need to use a cashier’s check when you’re paying someone who requires the funds are guaranteed. You might need it for your first month’s rent on an apartment, or for the down payment on a new home.

You may also need to use a cashier’s check for a large purchase, like buying a car or piece of land.

When to use a personal check

You typically would use a personal check for paying your regular monthly bills (if you don’t use digital payments or autopay), or for giving a gift of money to friends or family.

If you have multiple bank accounts with different banks, you may also want to use a personal check to transfer the money from one to the other, so you don’t have to pay any inter-bank transfer fees.

These situations don’t require that you guarantee the funds, so you can avoid paying the fees that come with cashier’s checks. 

READ MORE: How Many Bank Accounts Should I Have?

FAQs

​How long is a check good for?

Personal checks are usually valid for six months, or 180 days. If you try to deposit a personal check after that date, it will be rejected by the bank and you’ll have to get a new one from the payor.

Cashier’s checks don’t have a standard expiration date, so it’s up to the bank to set one — some banks might say one month, some could say six months. Some banks won’t have an expiry at all. 

How much do checks cost?

There’s no fee to write a personal check, but you will need to buy your checks before you can write them. You can order checkbooks from your bank or credit union, or you can buy them from a store like Walmart, Costco, or VistaPrint for around $15 for a booklet of about 150 checks.

For ordering cashier’s checks, you can expect to pay around $10 to $15 per check, depending on the bank. There may also be a fee for cashing a cashier’s check if you’re not a customer.

Can you cancel a check?

Yes, you can cancel a check. You’ll need to contact your bank or credit union and give them all the information about the check: the check number, who it was made out to, and the amount. The process is called a “stop payment.”

There’s usually a fee for canceling a check — expect to pay around $30.

TL;DR

In many cases, a personal check is faster and more convenient to write, but if you need more certainty that your funds will make it to the recipient, a cashier’s check could be a better option. 

If you’re unsure which to use, ask the recipient to clarify their preferences or speak with someone at your bank or credit union.

For more finance 101 tips, check out these episodes of the Erika Taught Me podcast:

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I'm an award-winning lawyer and personal finance expert featured in Inc. Magazine, CNBC, the Today Show, Business Insider and more. My mission is to make personal finance accessible for everyone. As the largest financial influencer in the world, I'm connected to a community of over 20 million followers across TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. I'm also the host of the podcast Erika Taught Me. You might recognize me from my viral tagline, "I read the fine print so you don't have to!"

I'm a graduate of Georgetown Law, where I founded the Georgetown Law Entrepreneurship Club, and the University of Notre Dame. I discovered my passion for personal finance after realizing I was drowning in over $200,000 of student debt and needed to take action-ultimately paying off my student loans in under 2 years. I then spent years as a corporate lawyer representing Fortune 500 companies, but I quit because I realized I wanted to have an impact; I wanted to help real people and teach them that you can create a financial future for yourself.

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Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.