Paying for a Car Without a Physical Bank Account
September 9, 2017 7:14 PM   Subscribe

I'll buy a used car from a dealer in a week or two. I don't have a checking account, just a brokerage acct. It lets me write checks...but not certified checks. Is my only solution to open a checking account, deposit funds from my brokerage, wait to clear, cut certified check, then close the account? I only need a certified check maybe once per decade.

I also have a Simple account (for charge-free ATM transactions), but that won't produce a certified check, either.

Electronic transfer to dealer from brokerage is not an option, as it takes forever for them to certify a new recipient. And this would exceed Simple's transfer limit.
posted by Quisp Lover to Work & Money (20 answers total)
I have bought cars (brand new, expensive cars) fully paid with personal checks. Are you sure you need a certified check?
posted by primethyme at 7:16 PM on September 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

I bought a new car from a dealer with a personal check. It wasn't the full price of the car, but we put down half the price, so it was a five digit check.

You might also consider cash. Check with the dealer, but if you can get your hands on the cash, they'd probably take it.
posted by gideonfrog at 7:21 PM on September 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

About a month ago, I paid five figures for a used car using a personal check. The dealer didn't bat an eye.
posted by minsies at 7:40 PM on September 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

I bought a car with a credit card and the immediately paid the card balance off. Can you do that?
posted by joan_holloway at 7:46 PM on September 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, personal checks are often fine. But you can "buy" a cashier's check (similar to a certified check, and should be accepted in all the same circumstances) at a bank without being a customer. I've heard major national banks are more likely to offer this to non-customers than little local ones, although I've never really had a problem and on a few occasions I've had to go to a weird random bank nearby and get a cashier's check. You probably have to pay a fee since you're not a customer, but it's not that big.

(I think you have to use cash to buy a non-account-holder cashier's check most of the time, but you could call ahead and clarify. But if you can get the cash out of an ATM, no problem.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:48 PM on September 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

The last time I bought a car (a new one that time), the dealer made an "absolutely no way" nod when I asked about personal checks. I figured that was the norm.

Joan Holloway, I just checked, and it turns out I have a way higher limit on my (ordinary, non-elite) credit card than I thought. Like $22K, which is much more than enough for this purchase. OTOH if I were a dealer, I'd worry about chargeback.

It would take an awfully long time to get enough cash from ATMs. Most accounts limit you to $400-500 per day.
posted by Quisp Lover at 8:13 PM on September 9, 2017

You'll need to check with your dealer. A lot (at least around here) limit how much of a purchase people can make on their credit cards. They don't want to wind up paying big service charges to the credit card companies.
posted by sardonyx at 8:21 PM on September 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I buy money orders from my bank, costs $1 (cashier's check is something like $20). If there's a total limit, buy as many as you need. And, of course, cash should always work.
posted by MovableBookLady at 8:27 PM on September 9, 2017

Buying with a credit card will effectively increase the purchase price by about 3% because if the dealer allows credit card purchases the interchange fee will be bundled into the purchase price.
posted by Candleman at 11:03 PM on September 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, nthing that I've bought a car with a personal check before.
posted by Candleman at 11:05 PM on September 9, 2017

I've bought brand new cars with personal checks, with not a single eyelid batted. Dealers wouldn't allow me to pay for a car with Visa, no doubt due to the 3% Visa commission.
posted by monotreme at 11:20 PM on September 9, 2017

Another personal check user here, most recently a year ago this week for 50% of the car's total price: never had a dealer blink an eye, never had a check turned away.

You could just buy a cashier's check from your bank, might cost a couple bucks (probably around $5); or else walk away and tell the dealership you're buying elsewhere.
posted by easily confused at 1:12 AM on September 10, 2017

Schwab will send me a certified check.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:45 AM on September 10, 2017

Yep, ask the dealer - I bought a car with a personal check earlier this summer but they had to run my credit before they would accept it, so if your credit has anything to raise the dealers eyebrows, or if you're very cautious about credit inquiries, or if your dealer can't do the inquiry it could be more of a problem.

Our dealer only let us put $3000 on a credit card.
posted by mskyle at 3:46 AM on September 10, 2017

I once had a broker send a check directly to a third party. They wanted something more in the way of authorization than for a check to me, but no big deal. Takes a couple days, though. If the dealer doesn't want your personal check, then ask the broker what they can do for you.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:41 AM on September 10, 2017

Is there a physical bank where you have your brokerage account? You could go into that bank, and use money in the brokerage account to buy a certified check.

If there is a physical bank you could notify them that you wish to withdraw the amount of money that you want so they have a heads up to have the notes available, and then come in and withdraw the money in cash from the teller. When I needed to withdraw roughly $6,000 from my credit union several years ago it needed to give them 24 hours notice to take it out in cash.

You could pay the dealer with a personal cheque today, and let them hold the car for the next two weeks until they can verify that your cheque has cleared. Once it goes through they let you pick up the car.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:59 AM on September 10, 2017

When you're spending that kind of money, the dealer assumes you're good for it when you write a personal check.

But one alternative for future reference-- you can just open a checking account at a local bank, deposit a check or do an electronic transfer from your brokerage account, and then withdraw the cash or have a certified check issued.
posted by deanc at 7:08 AM on September 10, 2017

It would take an awfully long time to get enough cash from ATMs. Most accounts limit you to $400-500 per day.

Typically you can raise this limit temporarily by quite a bit by just calling your bank. It exists mostly for your protection, not to inconvenience you.
posted by so fucking future at 7:33 AM on September 10, 2017

It looks like Simple can provide a certified check.

Great find, "songs about trains", thanks so much. Only issue is Simple limits incoming wire transfers to $10,000 per day, but that's still viable. Also like that there's no fee for the certified check. Most banks do charge.
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:02 AM on September 10, 2017

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