Legally, banks and credit unions are not required to provide you with canceled or returned checks. But they can they can send the original check or copies physically or online if your checking account agreement and their policies state they should.
However, many financial institutions may honor a specific request for the check originals or copies. Note that you may need to pay additional fees for the service.
Canceled vs. Returned Checks
Cancelled checks are those that have been successfully deposited to a bank account. Banks cancel them to stop payment to a second party. On the other hand, returned checks are those that banks do not honor because the payer has insufficient funds to cover their costs, and they eventually affect your credit report negatively. You need to know the difference when you cash checks.
Current Check Processing Rules
According to the Federal Reserve System, the Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act enables financial institutions to process check information electronically and reproduce it physically for those who prefer paper checks. Help With My Bank defines these paper copies of the front and bank of your original check as substitute checks. You can legally use them in the same way you would an original.
However, while banks and credit unions are not legally obligated to give you copies of your canceled checks, they must keep a copy of all checks. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, state laws dictate that financial institutions should keep copies of all checks for seven years. Plus, some states allow up to two free check requests in any given statement cycle.
What Happens to a Check After It’s Cashed?
If you upload the check image to a check processing mobile app, you can keep the original check in your financial documents for reference.
However, when a check is submitted to a bank or via an ATM, the financial institution will send it to a clearing institution, such as Federal Reserve Bank, physically or in the form of scanned images. The institution will then deduct the amount from the check writer and credit it to the payee.
The average check processing time varies from two to five business days. A regular personal check may take longer. However, a cashier’s check, which draws money from the bank’s own funds, may take less processing time because the money is available.
Afterward, the deposited check will be returned to, or remain in, the issuing bank, which will keep it for a while. Then, it will be destroyed. However, even after destruction, the bank must maintain the check copies for the legally mandated time. It is during this time that you can request a copy.
How to Get Returned Checks
You can contact your bank or credit union in person or via their designated email, mailing address or phone number. Then ask for a copy of your returned check or the original, and follow the instructions they give you. Depending on your bank rules, you may or may not pay an extra fee for such services.
There are ways that you can get your check back.
- Via a bank statement: It would include a check number, payment date and amount of the check. Upon request, you will receive the check images, which you can print and store.
- Physically, in-person or by mail: Some banks and credit unions may provide the service for free upon request, while others may charge a fee.
- As a substitute check: It comes in handy if you have a canceled check that was cashed or after your check bounces and you need a copy to follow up the matter. How much you pay will depend on your bank policies.
- Original upon request: You can receive the original canceled check from the bank upon request. Expect to pay a fee for some or all of the checks you ask for.
Why Banks Return Checks
There are a few reasons why your bank may return your check:
Your Check Has Bounced
Bounced checks are like declined credit cards. They indicate that the issuer doesn’t have enough money in their account to cover the amount of the check and other associated checks. If you write a bad check, the bank may charge you overdraft fees, and you may also be sued by the payee. If that payee is a lender, they may charge you additional fees as well.
Also, even if you are the payee, you may attract non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees, which you will have to recover from the person who wrote the bounced check.
Your Check Is Invalid
Financial institutions may return invalid checks. According to Cornell Law School, the Uniform Commercial Code states that banks are not obligated to process a check that is more than six months old, unless it is a certified check. So, if you present a check that is more than 180 days old, it may be returned.
You Made a Request
If you request that the bank return your check, they may do so. This may happen because you need to know who cashed a check, prove payments were made, pursue the person who issued a bad check and caused you to pay NSF fees, etc.
Some banks will give you a physical copy, while others might send you a digital version, which you can print. And the returned check fees may vary. Some banks charge for physical check images but not online versions.
For example, Bank of America provides the first two check copies for free. After that, you will need to pay $3.00 for each copy of the Bank of America check image you receive with your mailed statement, up to $75.00 per request.
- FederalReserve.Gov: Frequently Asked Questions about Check 21
- HelpWithMyBank.Gov: Am I entitled to get my canceled checks with my bank statement?
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: My bank/credit union no longer provides copies of my cancelled checks with my statement. Can the bank/credit union do that?
- Cornell Law School: § 4-404. BANK NOT OBLIGED TO PAY CHECK MORE THAN SIX MONTHS OLD.
- Bank of America: Personal Schedule of Fees
I hold a BS in Computer Science and have been a freelance writer since 2011. When I am not writing, I enjoy reading, watching cooking and lifestyle shows, and fantasizing about world travels.