A written order made by a depositor to a bank to pay a certain sum to the person designated—the payee—which is marked by the bank as
"accepted" or "certified," thereby unconditionally promising that the bank will pay the order upon its presentation by the payee.
A certified check is considered the equivalent of cash since the bank, by its certification, guarantees it to be cashable. No bank is under a duty to its depositors or anyone else to certify checks since it involves the assumption of a new obligation for which it is primarily responsible. It is a commonplace practice, however, and there is usually a small fee for this service. A certified check is often required by a payee who does not want to rely only upon the credit of the drawer, the person who wrote the check.
A payee who requires a drawer's check to be certified ensures his or her right to payment. Not only can the payee seek payment from the certified bank, but if for some reason the bank refuses to pay, the payee retains the right to enforce payment from the drawer. In this situation the bank is primarily liable while the drawer is secondarily liable.
Occasionally the payee or subsequent holder of the check—a person who has been legally given possession and the right to payment—will present the check to the drawer's bank for certification. Although the bank is obligated to cash the check, it need not certify the check because only it, not the drawer or any subsequent endorsers, would be liable for its payment. Some banks will certify a check in such instances only with the approval of the drawer.
If a bank refuses to pay a check that it has certified, its drawer or holder may sue the bank for its wrongful conduct, called dishonor. A certified check, a type of COMMERCIAL PAPER or negotiable instrument, is governed by Article 3 of the UNIFORM COMMERCIAL CODE.