With the Federal Reserve System reporting 17.9 billion paper checks still being written yearly, there are bound to be a few mistakes made among the bunch. One of those mistakes involves the author writing a different numerical value on the check than the written value. Fortunately, you don't have to return the check to the sender when this occurs. The Uniform Commercial Code has established rules to allow the check to be honored.
The UCC applies to commercial transactions in the United States. Article 3, Section 3-114 establishes rules to determine which total prevails when payment instruments, such as a check, contain contradictory amounts. According to the law, "If an instrument contains contradictory terms, typewritten terms prevail over printed terms, handwritten terms prevail over both, and words prevail over numbers." Therefore, if a check has $1,500 in the numeric line and "one thousand fifty dollars and zero/hundredths" on the text line, it should legally be cashed for $1,050.
Despite the UCC, cashing a check with mismatched totals is unusual and still can be tricky. If you've written the check yourself, consider voiding and rewriting so that both totals agree. Otherwise, take the check to a teller, point the difference and have a copy of the UCC with you. Check-reading software detects the discrepancy in checks deposited electronically and may kick the check out as being unusable to prevent fraudulent altering. If you must deposit a mismatched check electronically, consider waiting a few days before using the funds to be sure they have been credited to your account.
Alternatives to Cashing the Check
Despite your best efforts, your bank still may refuse to cash a check. The UCC does not require that they cash the check; it only establishes rules for doing so. Your bank's written policy will govern, if it is consistently applied. If your bank refuses to cash the check, you can return it to the sender and request a new check, cash or a money order.
If you've mistakenly paid a bill by writing a check with mismatched totals, verify that your bank deducted the same amount that your biller credited. The biller actually receives the amount the bank pays. In a discrepancy, send the biller your bank statement and a copy of the check and request a correction.
If you write "one thousand fifty dollars and zero/hundredths" in the legal line, but the bill actually was $1,500, your biller legally can charge you late fees for the remaining amount, even if you wrote the correct amount in the number line. If the mistake isn't caught before the next billing cycle, they also may report you as late to credit bureaus.