How Money Orders Compare to Cashier's Checks
Money orders and cashier’s checks are both useful tools for making payments, and they even have a similar appearance. But there are significant differences between the two that might determine which is best for your needs. In particular, cashier’s checks have higher limits, but they are only available from financial institutions.
Compare and Contrast
Maximum issue: A primary difference between money orders and cashier’s checks is the maximum dollar limit. Money orders typically have maximum limits around $700 or $1,000, although actual limits depend on the issuer. Cashier’s checks, on the other hand, are available for much larger amounts. As a result, cashier’s checks are commonly used for high-dollar transactions like a down payment on a home, which can be hundreds of thousands of dollars—or more.
Where to get them: You can buy money orders by walking into any place that sells them, including most grocery stores, post offices, pharmacies, and convenience stores. You can even get them at banks and credit unions. However, cashier’s checks are only available from banks and credit unions, and you usually have to have an account at the bank to get one.
If you don’t have a local bank account, or if there’s no branch nearby, it will be difficult to get a cashier's check quickly. That’s just one reason to keep a local bank account (which can save you time and money in several ways). However, you may still have options:
- Order cashier's checks online, by mail, or fax from your online bank or out-of-state bank.
- Walk into a local bank or credit union and ask if it’s possible to pay cash (or use a debit card cash advance) to buy a cashier’s check.
If you order online, some banks restrict who the check can be made payable to and where it can be mailed.
It's not impossible to get a cashier's check from a bank that you’re not a customer of, but it may be hard to find a bank that will accommodate you.
It is difficult or impossible to get a money order online.
Trust: Credibility is another difference between money orders and cashier’s checks. Cashier’s checks are drawn against a bank and guaranteed by the bank, while other types of organizations issue money orders. Sometimes a money order is perceived to be less secure than a cashier’s check and will not be accepted as a substitute.
If anybody pays you with one of these instruments and then asks you to return money, it’s most likely a scam.
Cost: Cashier’s checks are typically more expensive than money orders, which makes sense if you consider the differences listed above—cashier's checks just have more horsepower. They're also issued by banks, which don't have a low-cost reputation like most mass retailers who sell money orders for one dollar. However, cashier's checks can be less expensive in some situations. If you can pay a single fee—$10, for example—for a large cashier's check versus multiple charges for multiple (maximum dollar limit) money orders, the single fee might be better.
"Stop payment" or cancellation: Both of these instruments offer some form of protection if they get lost or stolen.
If a payment goes missing, you'll want to get your money back or you'll need a replacement. This process is slightly easier with a money order—assuming you keep your receipt when you buy a money order. But dealing with missing money orders is rarely free, and you should expect to wait 30 days or more for a resolution. With a cashier's check, you might need to wait 90 days after submitting a cancellation request, and that may cause cash flow problems for you unless you have a lot of extra cash on hand.
Funds availability: When you deposit a cashier’s check, you can generally get the first $5,000 available within one business day. Money orders are often treated differently, with longer hold times, and only the first $200 available within one day. USPS money orders get better treatment than other types of money orders—they should get the same availability as cashier’s checks.
Cashier's checks and money orders share several features that may make either one a good choice, all else being equal.
- Check-like: Whoever receives one of these instruments will deposit it just like a check, or they can attempt to cash the payment if their bank allows.
- Seller-preferred: Both are considered to be safer for recipients than personal checks because they're guaranteed (the question is who guarantees the instrument), and therefore less likely to bounce. However, fake documents are common, so sellers need to verify legitimacy before sending anything of value.
- Private: Money orders and cashier's checks do not contain your checking account number. That makes them safer than personal checks, which are full of valuable information. Assuming you don't know or trust whoever you're paying, you might not want to reveal your full name, phone number, or home address.
- Difficult to unwind: You can attempt to cancel either one, but the process can be cumbersome. If the recipient cashes the payment, you’ll be out of luck.
Alternative Ways to Pay
There are several other ways to make or receive payments. Depending on your needs, other methods might be less expensive, more secure, or more convenient.
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