Money Order vs Cashier’s Check + Other Types of Checks

There are several different types of checks that you can use to fit your personal financial needs. Below, we detail the differences between money orders and other types of checks: cashier’s checks, certified checks, and personal checks. See the table for details about each check type, then scroll below for further analysis.

Type Payment Fee Limits Payment Where to Buy Where to Cash Depositing Security Traceability Expiration
Money Orders Prepaid $5 or less $1,000 or less Cash, debit card, bank withdrawal Banks, credit unions, grocery stores, convenience stores, retail stores, etc. Bank, credit union, check cashing store, select retail stores Funds usually available right away No personal bank information; watermarks and other physical security features Track online or call the issuer One to three years for some; USPS money orders never expire
Cashier's Checks Prepaid Around $10 None Bank withdrawal or cash Only at banks or credit unions Bank, credit union, check cashing store First $5,000 available right away; rest transferred soon after No personal bank information; backed & signed by issuing bank; other physical security features Call the issuing bank or credit union Varies by bank; may be between 60 and 180 days
Certified Checks Prepaid Around $8 None Bank withdrawal Bank or credit union where you have an account Any branch of the issuing bank Funds availability varies by bank/account agreement Physical security features like watermarks Not traceable Varies by issuer and state; may be between 60 and 180 days
Personal Checks Paid when the recipient cashes it None to write, but you must purchase checks in books from the bank (starting around $5) Vary by bank/account agreement Bank withdrawal Directly from the bank or an approved check printer Bank, credit union, check cashing store, select retail stores Funds availability varies by bank/account agreement May include physical security features like watermarks or reactive ink Contact your bank or credit union Do not expire

Cashier’s Checks vs. Money Orders

Money orders and cashier’s checks are both money transfer vehicles that you must pay for upfront. They don’t contain information like your bank account number. Both money orders and cashier’s checks can only be cashed by the written recipient unless the recipient signs it over to another.

However, there are a few key differences between money orders and cashier’s checks:

  • Cashier’s checks usually have higher fees than money orders (as detailed in the table above).
  • Cashier’s checks have no limits, whereas money orders are limited to $1,000 or less.
  • Money orders are more widely available; you can buy them at grocery stores, convenience stores, and other places, while cashier’s checks are only available at banks or credit unions (as previously reported).
  • A cashier’s check may expire sooner than a money order, depending on the issuer.

Both money orders and cashier’s checks make funds available quickly after deposit, are traceable, and can be paid for using cash or your bank account. Since they do not have limits, cashier’s checks are good for secure transactions larger than a money order would allow.

Certified Checks vs. Money Orders

Like money orders and cashier’s checks, certified checks are prepaid. To purchase a certified check, the account owner needs to have sufficient funds at the time of writing the check. To assure that the account will still have sufficient funds by the time the certified check is deposited or cashed, the bank may put the funds on hold.

Differences between money orders and certified checks include:

  • Certified checks tend to have higher fees (around $8).
  • Money orders allow a wider range of payment, purchase, and cashing options (as detailed in the table above).
  • Certified checks are not traceable and typically expire sooner than money orders.

Certified checks are similar to cashier’s checks in that they have no limits, and you can purchase them at your bank using an account withdrawal. If you need a check for an amount larger than money orders allow, certified checks are a suitable alternative to cashier’s checks.

Personal Checks vs. Money Orders

Personal checks are commonly used and come free with some bank accounts. However, they are the least secure of the check types listed here since it’s possible to float or bounce them. Floating a check is writing a check you can’t currently pay for in hopes that by the time the recipient cashes it, you’ll have the funds. A bounced check is a check that can’t be cashed since the account doesn’t have sufficient funds. Both floating and bouncing checks are illegal.

Personal checks have several other significant differences from money orders:

  • Personal checks are not prepaid; the bank will remove the funds from your account when the recipient cashes the check.
  • Personal checks are tied to your name, address, and bank account.
  • You must buy checks directly from your bank or one of its approved check printers rather than at a local store. While there is usually no fee to write or send a check, check prices start around $5 per book.
  • Personal checks do not expire, while some brands of money orders expire within one to three years.

More Information

For more information about money orders, see our previous research on where to get money orders and where to cash them. We also explain how to track a money order after sending it. Or, see our full money order FAQ.

Recently received a cashier’s check? See our list of places where you can cash a cashier’s check.