Basic Bank Rules for Writing Personal Checks

Bank check from Whitney Bank, New Orleans, Lou...

Bank check from Whitney Bank, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1905. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am well aware that you really don’t know anything about those little slips of paper you fill out and affectionately call personal checks. It’s not like the bank handed you an instruction manual when you signed up for a checking account. After the handshake, they probably handed you a check register and some starter checks. From that moment on, you were on your own.

However, there are some very detailed laws, known as Article 3 of the Uniform Commercial Code, that govern how checks are to be written, endorsed and cashed. I do not recommend reading them yourself, unless caffeine and a pre-set alarm clock are involved. I’ll spare you most of the comatose and cover a few big rules that can have a big impact on the way you handle checks.

A Person Has 180 Days to Cash a Check

Sorry Seinfeld fans. The episode where Jerry cashes in on 20-some-odd years of birthday checks doesn’t fly in the real world. Unless otherwise specified, checks expire after 180 days (that’s 6 months for the calendar folks). If someone hasn’t cashed your check after 6 months, you can write it off and keep your money.

Post Dating Doesn’t Stop a Check from Getting Cashed

Anyone who is hoping that post dating a check will save them from bouncing a check is gravely mistaken.

It’s common in the world of check writers, for people who have insufficient funds to cover a check they’ve written to date a check some day in the future. Often, when they think that they’ll have more money. For example, it’s 5/31 and I want to write my landlord a check for rent for $150, but won’t get paid until 6/3. Thus, I hand my landlord the check today, but date the check 6/3.

This practice is known as post dating and it relies on the premise that a bank must not clear a check before the date you’ve written. However, no such rule exists. You can post date a check for the year 2025 and I should be able to cash it today.

Don’t feel foolish if you’ve bought into this one. I’ve dealt with several large businesses that have post-dated checks believing in the incorrect assumption that the future date prevents withdrawal.

Numbers that are written Out Count More

Have you ever noticed that there are two sections of the check to indicate the amount of the draft? There is a space where you put the amount of the check and another section where you write out, in words, the amount of the check. What happens if they don’t agree? Can you still cash the check?

Per the UCC the amount written out in words take precedence.  The assumption is that it takes more consideration to write out a number in words and therefore, less likely to be erroneous.

The Check is Payable to You Even if the Name is Mispelled

Have a term of endearment for your spouse? Why not make a check out to “Mrs. Hotness?” Would a bank cash it?

According to UCC article 3, checks are payable to a person even if the identification is not that of the intended person. This is not a recommendation, but it does explain why you should be able to cash a check even if someone misspells your name.

There are many other rules for endorsing (indorsing in the actual UCC) a check and cashing a check, but I’ll cover those in a future post. Until then, feel free to practice writing checks by sending a few my way :)

Are there any weird check rules that you’ve run into? Any check rules that have been a hassle for you in the past?

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One Response to Basic Bank Rules for Writing Personal Checks

  1. [...] Family Finances points out some basic bank rules for writing checks.  These are all great reminders that we probably learned at one time or another, but have since [...]

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