Checks aren’t money.
That statement probably sounds strange, especially as checks still one of the most common way money passes hands. Checks are more accurately a permission slip to collect a certain amount of funds from a specific bank account. Often, your bank will honor your permission slip and give you the money even if they haven’t collected it yet themselves, but sometimes it doesn’t. Why?
First you need to know that banks classify checks in two major groups, on-us and not on-us, depending on which bank has the account the money is coming from. If the account belongs to the same bank you are presenting the check at, the check is considered “on-us”. If not, the check is “not on-us”. Banks will also classify you into one of two groups, clients and non-clients based off of weather you have a deposit account with the bank or not.
“On-us” checks are the easiest to cash because the bank can verify that the check is valid, or that the funds are there and the check isn’t fraudulent. Both clients and non-clients are able to to cash on-us checks, though often non-clients will have to pay a fee. The most common reasons a bank will refuse to cash an on-us check are
- The check is written for more than what is in the account or the check is written off a closed account.
- The check is suspected to be fraudulent. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the bank is assuming that you are doing anything illegal. Checks are more likely to be more heavily scrutinized if they are for high amounts or if the account owner has reported previous fraudulent activity or stolen/missing checks.
Be aware that banks are not allowed to give out confidential information about the account the check is written off of, and that often means that they cannot give you a specific reason for refusing to cash the check, so you may need to contact the account owner.
“Not on-us” checks are more risky for the bank to cash, since their validity isn’t as easily confirmed by the bank. In most cases, non-clients will not be able to cash not on-us checks. In order to be protected against losses from cashing bad checks, banks will cash not on-us checks against your account. What this does is allow the bank to recoup what they gave to you out of your account if the bank is unable to collect the funds from the account the check is drawn off of. This is where lack of “offsetting funds”, the most common reason a bank will refuse to cash a not on-us check, comes into play. If you were to cash a $500 check against your $3.00 back account, and the check ended up not being valid, that would be devastating to your account, especially if you were unable to return the cash. To protect you and itself, the bank will often require you to have “offsetting funds” or the amount of the check in your account before giving you cash for it.
Other reasons a bank may refuse to cash your check that apply to both on-us and not on-us checks include
- The issuer of the check didn’t fill it out correctly. Important information, like who the check is made payable to, is missing, or the legal line doesn’t match the written line. Maybe the issuer wrote the check for the wrong amount, tried to change it, but didn’t initial the changes or filled it out with different ink colors. If this is the case, you won’t be able to fix the check, and instead will have to take it back to the issuer.
- The check is mutilated, and important pieces of it are missing or illegible. Contact the issuer to get the check reissued.
- The bank can’t properly identify you. This is especially problematic if you are utilizing the drive through, are working with a new teller, or haven’t established yourself on a first name basis with the employees of your local branch.
- The check isn’t made out to you or is made out to you and another person. In some circumstances, a check can be specially endorsed to allow another individual to cash it, but the policies around doing so vary. Some banks still require the payee of the check to be present and have current identification or will still refuse the check if the payee is a non-client. If the check is made out to you and to another person, most banks require that either both of you be present with ID’s or that the check be deposited to an account with both payees on it.
Banks are constantly working to improve their check processing procedures to give you access to your money quicker, and one day might be able to instantly verify checks or make checks obsolete all together. In the meantime, to avoid not being able to meet your financial obligations when your bank is unable to cash your check, I recommend that you familiarize yourself with your bank’s funds availability policies, and plan accordingly.
Do you have any crazy check cashing stories? I’d love to hear in the comments below!