When a financial institution -- such as a bank or credit union -- issues a cashier's check, they certify it, or guarantee its payment. Unlike a normal check, the bank can't refuse to pay the cashier's check. That's why they require cash upfront and charge a fee for the service. Money orders are similar. They must be paid for in cash before the money order is issued. Some merchants take debit cards, but the only way to use a credit card is by getting a cash advance, and using the cash to make the payment.
Money Order Defined
A money order is a form of payment that is similar to a check, but because it’s paid for in advance, you can use it like cash, as there's no chance it will "bounce" like a bad check could. Different types of businesses sell money orders, including banks, the post offices, gas stations, convenience stores or retail stores. Fees vary based on the amount of the money order and the issuer, but usually range from a few cents to around five dollars.
Cashier's Check Defined
Only financial institutions can issue cashier’s checks, which are similar to money orders. The bank takes a cash payment or withdrawal from your account when the check is issued and guarantees its payment. The checks usually cost more than money orders -- around $5. If you bank with the institution, it may provide it for free or at a discount. Also, the bank will issue cashier's checks for much larger amounts than the $1,000 cap for money orders.
Buying With Credit Card
Before you can buy a money order or cashier’s check with a credit card, you’ll have to get a cash advance. Typically, the amount for a cash advance is the same as the available credit on the card, but you'll pay an upfront fee, and possibly a higher interest rate. In addition, you don’t get an interest-free grace period as you do with regular purchases. You can get cash advances at any bank or through some ATMs, but it's best to go to your bank or the one that issued the credit card.
Which to Use
Which payment method -- money order or cashier's check -- is best? It all depends on why you need it. Money orders work best If you mail payments under $1,000 or buy something from a private individual, and don't want the person to have access to your banking information. Cashier's checks provide a higher level of security and are normally used for amounts that exceed $1,000. If you accept these forms of payment, you should still examine them closely, as forgeries can occur, just like with regular checks.
- Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Getty Images