Prior to the widespread adoption by banks and consumers of Internet banking, most banks mailed checking account customers a monthly statement, and enclosed the original checks cashed during that time period—the canceled checks. Today, bank practices vary. Although most banks will send customers the originals upon request if they have them, they usually charge for the service.
A canceled check provides a nearly indisputable proof of payment. Prior to the widespread bank practice of photocopying canceled checks, customers who received monthly mailings of canceled checks had to be cautious about storing them—often they constituted the only original proof of payment. Now, however, the bank either keeps photocopies of all checks or, alternatively, keeps the originals and sends customers photocopies. Note that many banks no longer archive check originals or photocopies for extended lengths of time.
Bank of America Check Image Fees
As of the fall of 2010, Bank of America, the largest U.S. bank, charges California customers a monthly fee for returning photocopied images of canceled checks, and a higher fee for returning originals. These charges vary by state and depend upon the account type and average balances maintained in the account. Without the additional charge, however, you can receive an online version of your statement that includes check images. You can print these out if you wish to keep permanent copies. Otherwise, the images remain available for six months.
Other Big Banks
Although fee structures may differ slightly in detail, Bank of America's charges typify 2011 bank charges at two other large U.S. banks. Citibank, the third largest U.S. bank has different fee structures for different checking account tiers. Most customers must pay $2 per month for having their original checks returned. Customers with accounts that do not ordinarily receive originals or photocopies can order two original checks without charge each month. Thereafter Citibank charges $5 per check. Similarly, J. P. Morgan Chase, the second largest U. S. bank gives customers the option of viewing check photocopies online without charge for four months, and charges for mailed check copies. The charge varies with the account type. Blake Ellis, a reporter for CNN Money, notes this general trend at all the larger U.S. banks, but points out that smaller banks, community banks and credit unions still offer free checking with fewer fees.
The Federal Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act (Check 21) allows banks to forward check copies to other banks, most often in digital form, rather than requiring them to forward originals. This means that if you give your Bank of America check to someone with an account in another bank, Bank of America may never receive the original, and will have no practical way of retrieving it in the ordinary course of business.
I am a retired Registered Investment Advisor with 12 years experience as head of an investment management firm. I also have a Ph.D. in English and have written more than 4,000 articles for regional and national publications.