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What’s the Difference Between a Cashier’s Check and a Money Order?

Cashier's checks and money orders are types of prepaid checks. But they aren't the same.

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Paying by cash or personal check may be convenient -- but if you don’t have a checking account or need to make a secure payment, a cashier’s check or money order may come in handy.

Despite some commonalities, cashier’s checks and money orders differ in where you buy them, what they cost and when you should use one or the other. They aren’t always interchangeable, so it’s essential to understand the differences to avoid choosing the less appropriate payment method.

What is a cashier’s check?

A cashier’s check is an official check issued by a bank or credit union on behalf of a bank customer. When you request a cashier’s check, the bank removes or holds the funds from your account, then gives you a check endorsed by the bank.  

You can purchase cashier’s checks at your own bank or credit union. You’ll need an account to get a cashier’s check, but you’ll still have to show ID too. You’ll also need your payee’s information, which the bank will print on the cashier’s check. 

Most credit unions and banks charge a fee for cashier’s checks, typically ranging from $10 to $15, according to Bankrate. Some banks or credit unions may waive that fee if your account balances meet a certain minimum or you’re enrolled in specific programs. For example, Bank of America will waive its $15 cashier’s check fee if you’re enrolled in its Preferred Rewards program.

A cashier’s check is more secure than a personal check or a money order because the name of the payee is printed by the bank before it’s issued. It’s also guaranteed by a bank or credit union; it includes the name of the issuing financial institution, the payee and the payer; and it may be watermarked. 

What is a money order?

A money order is a paper payment, similar to a check, that gives the recipient immediate access to a prepaid amount of money. Money orders are a safe way to transport funds when you can’t pay in cash or need a more secure method of moving money from one place to another. For example, you might use a money order to pay for the security deposit on an apartment.

Though not quite as secure as cashier’s checks, money orders can be more easily accessible, particularly if you don’t have a bank account. You can usually purchase money orders at grocery stores, convenience shops and post offices, as well as banks and credit unions.

You can buy a money order with cash or a debit card. Though most merchants don’t accept credit card payments, you could use your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM -- a process known as a cash advance. However, cash advances typically come with specific cash advance fees and interest charges, so we don’t recommend this payment method, if you can avoid it.

Typically, money orders cost between $1 and $5, depending on where you buy one, and international money orders that you’ll send abroad may cost more. Large retailers, like Walmart, tend to offer lower prices for money orders compared with banks and credit unions. It’s also worth noting that money orders usually have a maximum amount -- often $1,000.

When purchasing a money order, it’s important to write in the payee’s information. If you forget to complete this field and lose the money order, anyone can put their own name on it and cash it. 

Cashier’s check and money order overview

Cashier’s checkMoney order
Best for larger balances over $1,000.Maximum amount is generally $1,000.
Requires a bank account.Doesn’t require a bank account.
Available from banks or credit unions.Usually available at banks, credit unions, drugstores, convenience stores, USPS or gas stations.
Payee information is printed by bank or credit union.Payee information is filled out by purchaser.
Flat fees from $10 to $15 per check (fees waived for certain customers).Fees vary between $1 and $5 depending on the amount and issuer.

When should I use a cashier’s check?

Cashier’s checks generally don’t have caps, making them ideal for large payments. When you purchase a car or put a down payment on a home, you want to make sure the funds end up in the right hands. For this reason, it’s a good idea to use a cashier’s check over a money order when making large payments -- say, over $1,000. 

Since a cashier’s check is more secure than a personal check and it offers immediate access to the funds, some sellers may insist on them for large purchases.

When does it make sense to use a money order?

If you need to pay by check and don’t have a bank account or if a recipient is requesting a guaranteed form of payment, a money order can be helpful.

Overall, money orders are great for any scenarios where small but secure payments are necessary. Money orders can also help you send money overseas when electronic transfer options are unavailable or too expensive.

What’s the difference between cashier’s checks and money orders?

Consider the differences between cashier’s checks and money orders before deciding which is right for you. 

  • Cost: Cashier’s checks usually cost between $10 and $15. A money order typically costs between $1 and $5. 
  • Availability: Cashier’s checks are available through your bank or credit union, while money orders can be bought at banks, convenience stores, post offices and gas stations. 
  • Security: For a cashier’s check, the bank prints the recipient’s name and address for you. For money orders, you’re responsible for filling out the payee’s information. If a money order is lost or stolen before you fill it out, you’re risking someone else writing in their information and taking your money. 
  • Payment limits: Money orders for use in the US are generally limited to $1,000. Depending on your recipient’s country, international orders have various limits up to $700. Cashier’s checks typically don’t have payment limits, though this can vary by bank.

What’s the difference between a cashier’s check and a certified check?

A cashier’s check is more similar to a certified check than to a money order -- but there are a few key differences. Cashier’s checks are issued by banks or credit unions using funds taken from your account, while certified checks are similar to personal checks that have been guaranteed by the bank.

When issuing a certified check, the bank will confirm that you have enough funds in your account to cover the amount and that your signature is genuine, often adding a stamp or watermark to indicate certification. You’ll need a bank account to get a certified check, though not all institutions offer them -- some only provide cashier’s checks.

The bottom line

Both cashier’s checks and money orders are more secure payment alternatives to cash and personal checks. Before you decide which payment method makes the most sense for your next transaction, consider the funding limits, fees and availability. If you need to make a large payment for a new car or home, a cashier’s check is likely your best option. But a money order might make more sense if you don’t have a checking account and need to complete a smaller transaction that requires guaranteed and immediate access to funds.

Correction: An earlier version of this article was assisted by an AI engine and it mischaracterized some aspects of money orders. Those points were all corrected. This version has been substantially updated by a staff writer.

Toni Husbands is a staff writer with CNET Money who enjoys exploring topics that promote financial wellness. She began writing about personal finance to document her experience paying off $107,000 of debt, which is detailed in her book, The Great Debt Dump. Previously, she contributed as a freelance writer for websites, including, Centsai and Wisebread. She was also a regular contributor to Business AM TV, and her work has been featured on Yahoo News. Being a part-time real estate investor and amateur gardener also brings her joy.
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