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How to Cancel a Check
A surprising number of people either never learned how to properly cancel a check, or learned how to do so incorrectly. Unfortunately, in certain circumstances either situation can lead to rapidly mounting bank fees, accidental overpayment and even a substantially elevated risk of identity theft. The fact is, cancelling a check is a bit more complex than many people ever realize; fortunately, if you follow these simple steps, you will never need to worry about an improperly cancelled check coming back to bite you.
# 1: Locate the Check
By the time you realize you need to cancel a check, it is usually too late to get it back. Fortunately, most major banks now offer online banking portals that make it easy for you to log in to your account and locate a printable copy of the check you wrote. If for whatever reason that is not an option, recording all relevant details about the check (including its number, date, who you wrote it to and how much it was for) is better than nothing.
# 2: Talk to the Bank
Once you have located all of the relevant details about the check you wish to cancel – and ideally, an actual copy of the check itself – you are ready to contact your bank. In some cases, you will be able to handle this process over the phone, but in others, you will need to actually go to one of your bank’s branches to sign documents to ensure that the check is properly cancelled. In addition to the details about the check, the bank will generally need your name, account number and routing number.
# 3: Study Financial Institution Regulations
To save time and hassle later, you may wish to research your bank or credit union’s policies on check cancellation. Some specifics will vary, but no matter what financial institution you use, you will not be able to cancel a cashier’s check or an ordinary check that the person or organization that received it has already cashed. For checks that are eligible for cancellation, your financial institution may charge you a fee to handle the process.
# 4: Keep Records
Your bank will likely want to add your reason for cancelling the check to their records. The amount of detail they will require, and how long the cancellation process will take, will vary significantly from one financial institution to another. In case the process drags out, make sure that you keep copies of all documents you give your bank, and that you maintain records of all details of phone or face-to-face conversations, along with the names of everyone with whom you speak.
# 5: Follow Up
In most cases, a cancellation or stopped payment for a check lasts for six months. Although this will usually not be necessary, you may need to re-cancel the check after that length of time has passed to ensure that the payee does not try to deposit it again. Your bank will be able to advise you on whether this is necessary in your situation.
Cancelling a check is always a hassle, but it is certainly preferable to the hassle of dealing with fraudulent charges on your account or even identity theft. Understanding the check cancellation process and the steps it involves ahead of time can help substantially decrease your inconvenience.
How often do you write checks?
Wells Fargo: “Orders, Copies, and Other Requests Questions”
TD Bank: “How Do I Cancel a Check?”
New York Times: “Stop Payment. Now Stop It Again”
Intuit Quickbooks: “Void, Cancel, or Recall an Assisted Payroll Check”