How to cancel a check

Losing a personal check can put you and your money in a vulnerable position. Follow these steps to know the best options for how to cancel a runaway check. 

Clay Bennett/The Christian Science Monitor/File
A cartoon illustration of a check being written. It's possible to cancel and stop checks if banks are alerted quickly.

If a personal check gets lost or stolen, or you pay a merchant and decide he’s swindling you, you’re not out of luck. You can try asking your bank or credit union to cancel the check, also known as a stop payment order. Timing may be crucial, so follow these steps as soon as you can.

1. See whether the check went through

A stop payment request will cost you a steep fee, so make sure you still have the chance to cancel the check. In general, you can stop a check only if your bank hasn’t paid it.

Look through your account’s transaction history online or on your mobile device to see if it has posted. Or call the recipient and ask if she’s cashed it.

2. Gather information

Find your account number, check number and the exact amount of the check, because you’ll need that information when you contact your bank. Other details you might need include the date on the check and the name of the recipient (the “payee”) and the person who signed the check, especially if you have a joint account and someone else wrote it.

3. Contact your bank

You must give your bank notice orally or in writing to request a stop payment. Banks recommend various ways to contact them, but you can generally make a request online, at a branch or by calling the phone number on the back of your debit card. Some banks charge more for requesting a stop payment over the phone, while others recommend you call or visit a branch.

4. Note the stop payment order’s expiration date

A stop payment order typically lasts about six months, but at some banks it can last a year or longer. Whenever the order ends, you have the option to renew it for another period. Most banks won’t cash a check that’s six months old.

Other things to note:

  • You can request stop payments for a series of checks and pre-authorized ACH debit transactions, such as recurring bill payments. Federal law requires you to make a request orally or in writing to your bank at least three business days before the transfer date. If you call, your bank may require written confirmation of the request within 14 days. By law, you can’t cancel one-time electronic ACH transfers.
  • You can’t stop cashier’s checks, although the bank might in the case of fraud. Because these forms of payment rely on bank funds, a bank must honor them.
  • A stop payment order is not your only line of defense if a check is stolen. If a fraudulent check goes through, you might be able to get charges removed by reporting the incident to your bank in a timely manner.
  • Contact the payee if necessary. In the event of an error or lost check, let the recipient know about the request to stop payment and arrange a way to send a new check.

When it comes to checks, time can be of the essence. Knowing how to cancel them can save you from losing money and the uncertainty over the fate of a lost check.

This article first appeared at NerdWallet.

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