According to the Federal Reserve System, 3.657 billion commercial checks were written in 2021 alone. When you consider that this excludes other types of checks, such as personal checks (from personal checking accounts) and cashier’s checks (guaranteed by the bank or credit union), as well as other forms of payment and withdrawals like credit cards, direct deposit services and ATMs, that’s a significant number of checks.
Generally, checks work just fine. Sometimes, though, you will receive a check with mismatched amounts in which there is one amount written in numerals and another written in text. When that happens, you have options that depend upon the Uniform Commercial Code and your situation.
Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) 3-114
According to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute (LII), Article 3, Section 3-114 of the UCC establishes rules to determine which total is considered first when payment instruments, such as checks, contain contradictory amounts.
It states: "If an instrument contains contradictory terms, typewritten terms prevail over printed items, handwritten terms prevail over both, and words prevail over numbers." Therefore, you may not need to return the check to the sender if the written value is accurate since the UCC will prioritize it over the numerals.
For example, if you cash a check with two different amounts, such as $1,500 in the numeric line and "one thousand fifty dollars and zero/hundredths" on the text line, it should legally be cashed for the amount in the text line ($1,050).
How to Cash Checks With Mismatched Amounts
Despite the UCC, cashing a check with mismatched totals can be tricky. If you've written the check yourself, consider cancelling it and rewriting a new check so that both totals are similar. Otherwise, take the check to a teller, point out the difference and show them a UCC copy.
Check-reading software will spot the difference in checks deposited electronically and may kick the check out as being unusable to prevent fraud. As a payee, after depositing a mismatched check electronically, wait a few days before using the funds to be sure they are sent to your bank account.
Alternatives to Cashing the Check
Despite your best efforts, your financial institution may still refuse to cash checks with mismatched amounts. That’s because the UCC does not require that they cash the check - it only establishes rules for doing so.
Your bank's written policy will govern whether you can cash such checks, if it is consistently applied. Therefore, 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. Alternatively, you can request for an electronic deposit of funds due to you and ensure the correct routing number and account number is used.
Verify Information on Checks
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 or lender credited. The biller actually receives the amount the bank pays, which may be the written amount. So, if there is a difference, send the biller your bank statement and a copy of the check and request a correction.
Based on the above example, 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, reducing your credit score.
Randi Hicks Rowe is a former journalist, public relations professional and executive in a Fortune 500 company, and currently a formation minister in the Episcopal Church. She has been published in Security Management, American Indian Report and Tech Republic.She has a bachelor's in communications, a master of arts in Christian education and a master of business administration.