A bank issues and certifies a certified check by placing a hold on the funds until the check is presented for cashing. For a money order, you prepay the specific amount, which reserves the funds until the money order is cashed. Both the certified check and the money order provide the holder with the safety of guaranteed funds, but each has pros and cons.
Understanding Certified Checks
A certified check is as good as cash since the bank guarantees that the check will be honored and cashed, with no waiting until a personal check clears. When your bank places a hold on funds for a certified check, those funds remain on hold no matter what other activities occur with your account. Banks are not required to provide certified checks to their account holders but do so as a courtesy, for which they charge a small fee. The accountholder and the person to whom the certified check was written can sue the bank if it refuses to honor the check.
Defining Money Orders
Money orders are sold by the U.S. Postal Service, banks, convenience stores, retail stores, grocery stores and bill payment centers. A number of sellers, like the Postal Service and Western Union, provide domestic and international money orders. You pay a small fee to purchase money orders, often less than $2.00. Many money order sellers do not cash them, but many banks and retail stores do. Holders of postal money orders can cash them at post office locations that have sufficient funds, or take them to their bank or credit union.
Certified Check and Money Order Uses
A person or company with whom you conduct business, especially someone unfamiliar with you, might prefer the certainty of a certified check over a personal check. You might prefer to use a certified check to ensure that nothing goes awry with your payment. People purchase domestic money orders to pay bills or send money. Some businesses will not accept checks and require the use of money orders. You can purchase international money orders to send money to other countries. If your money order is lost or stolen, you can request a stop payment and replacement. Some money order sellers charge a fee for this service. Generally, money orders do not expire.
You don't need a bank account to use money orders. The only restriction on your certified check is the amount of money in your bank account. Although some problems exist with certified checks, the use of money orders is significantly affected by law enforcement’s attempts to prevent criminal activity, such as money laundering and other illegal activities. Money order sellers limit the amount for which you can purchase a money order. Consumers who accept money orders risk being taken in by fake or forged money orders. Laws that regulate the use of money orders prohibit cashing one that contains errors, such as wrong dates or illegible text.
Gail Sessoms, a grant writer and nonprofit consultant, writes about nonprofit, small business and personal finance issues. She volunteers as a court-appointed child advocate, has a background in social services and writes about issues important to families. Sessoms holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies.