Bounced Check

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on July 12, 2023

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What Is a Bounced Check?

A bounced check, also known as a returned check or a dishonored check, is a check that cannot be processed by the bank due to insufficient funds in the account of the person who wrote the check.

When a check bounces, the bank typically returns the check to the person who attempted to deposit or cash it, and both parties may face various fees and penalties as a result.

Bounced checks can create a host of financial and legal problems for both the check writer and the recipient, making it crucial to understand the reasons behind bounced checks and how to prevent them.

A bounced check occurs when a bank refuses to honor a check due to insufficient funds in the check writer's account.

This can result from various factors, such as account holder error, fraudulent activity, or an unexpected hold on the account.

When a check bounces, the recipient is left without the expected funds and may incur fees or penalties as a result.

The bouncing of a check can lead to a cascade of negative consequences for both the check writer and the recipient, making it essential to engage in responsible banking practices and maintain open communication to avoid such situations.

Causes of Bounced Checks

Insufficient Funds

One of the primary causes of bounced checks is insufficient funds in the account of the person who wrote the check.

This can happen when an individual spends more money than they have available in their account, leading the bank to reject the check when it is presented for payment.

Insufficient funds can result from poor money management, unexpected expenses, or delayed deposits, making it crucial for individuals to closely monitor their account balances and transactions to avoid bouncing checks.

Account Holder Error

Another common cause of bounced checks is account holder error.

This can occur when an individual writes a check without realizing that their account balance is too low to cover the amount, or when they mistakenly record the wrong information on the check (e.g., incorrect date, payee, or amount).

To minimize the risk of bounced checks due to account holder error, individuals should carefully track their account balances and transactions and double-check all check details before issuing them.

Fraudulent Activity

In some cases, bounced checks may be the result of fraudulent activity, such as check forgery, identity theft, or unauthorized account access.

When a check is found to be fraudulent, the bank will typically refuse to honor it and may initiate an investigation into the matter.

To protect themselves from bounced checks due to fraudulent activity, individuals should regularly review their account statements, report any suspicious activity to their bank, and take steps to safeguard their personal information.

Consequences of Bounced Checks

Overdraft Fees

When a check bounces due to insufficient funds, the bank may charge the check writer an overdraft fee.

This fee is assessed for each bounced check and can quickly add up, leading to significant financial strain for the individual.

Additionally, the recipient of the bounced check may also be charged a returned check fee by their own bank, adding to the financial burden of the situation for both parties involved.

Negative Impact on Credit Score

Bounced checks can also have a negative impact on the credit score of the check writer.

If the individual fails to promptly address the situation and make good on the payment, the recipient may report the bounced check to credit bureaus, resulting in a negative mark on the check writer's credit report.

This can lead to a lower credit score, making it more difficult for the individual to secure loans, credit cards, or other financial products in the future.

Legal Consequences

In some cases, bounced checks can result in legal consequences for the check writer.

Writing a check with insufficient funds may be considered check fraud, depending on the circumstances and the intent of the check writer.

If found guilty of check fraud, an individual may face fines, legal fees, and even imprisonment.

Moreover, the recipient of the bounced check may pursue legal action to recover the funds owed, leading to additional financial and legal burdens for the check writer.

Prevention and Avoidance of Bounced Checks

Monitoring Account Balances

One of the most effective ways to prevent bounced checks is to regularly monitor account balances.

By keeping a close eye on account activity, individuals can ensure they have sufficient funds available before writing a check and avoid the negative consequences associated with bounced checks.

Online and mobile banking services make it easy for individuals to track their account balances and transactions in real-time, helping them stay on top of their finances and minimize the risk of bouncing checks.

Keeping Track of Transactions

Another important step in preventing bounced checks is keeping track of transactions.

By maintaining a record of all checks written, deposits made, and other account activity, individuals can more accurately assess their available funds and avoid writing checks that may bounce.

Using a check register or financial tracking software can help individuals stay organized and ensure they have an up-to-date understanding of their account balances.

Using Overdraft Protection

Many banks offer overdraft protection services, which can help prevent bounced checks by automatically transferring funds from a linked savings account or credit line to cover a check when there are insufficient funds in the checking account.

While using overdraft protection can help prevent bounced checks, it is essential to understand the fees and terms associated with these services, as they may vary between banks and can still result in financial penalties if not managed carefully.

Communicating With the Bank

Maintaining open communication with the bank is another crucial step in preventing bounced checks.

By informing the bank of any anticipated large deposits or withdrawals, individuals can minimize the risk of unexpected holds on their account that may result in bounced checks.

Furthermore, discussing any concerns or questions about account balances and transactions with the bank can help individuals better understand their financial situation and make informed decisions when writing checks.

Prevention and Avoidance of Bounced Checks

Dealing With Bounced Checks

Contacting the Check Writer

If a check bounces, the first step for the recipient is typically to contact the check writer to inform them of the situation and request payment through an alternative method, such as cash or a cashier's check.

In many cases, the check writer may not be aware that their check has bounced and may be willing to promptly address the issue to avoid any further negative consequences.

Bank's Role in Handling Bounced Checks

When a check bounces, the bank that initially accepted the check for deposit or cashing will usually return the check to the recipient, along with a notification explaining the reason for the returned check.

The recipient's bank may also charge a returned check fee, and it is essential for the recipient to understand their bank's policies regarding bounced checks and any associated fees or penalties.

Repercussions for the Check Writer

Bouncing a check can have several repercussions for the check writer, including overdraft fees, negative impact on their credit score, and potential legal consequences.

In order to minimize these negative outcomes, check writers should promptly address any bounced checks by making good on the payment and working with their bank to resolve any underlying issues that may have contributed to the situation.

Bank's Bounced Check Policies

Banks have different policies regarding bounced checks, including how they handle returned checks, the fees they charge for bounced checks, and the steps they take to notify customers of returned checks.

It is essential for both check writers and recipients to understand their bank's bounced check policies in order to navigate the situation effectively and minimize any potential fees or penalties.

Check Clearing and Processing

The check clearing and processing system is a complex network of banks, clearinghouses, and other financial institutions that work together to ensure the efficient and secure transfer of funds between accounts.

When a check is deposited or cashed, it goes through a series of steps, including verification, clearing, and settlement, before the funds are ultimately transferred from the check writer's account to the recipient's account.

Understanding the check clearing and processing system can help individuals better anticipate the time it takes for checks to clear and manage their finances accordingly to avoid bounced checks and their associated consequences.

Legal Regulations and Protections

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal law that protects consumers from abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices by debt collectors.

In the context of bounced checks, the FDCPA regulates how debt collectors may attempt to collect on debts resulting from returned checks, including when and how they may contact the debtor and the information they must provide.

By understanding their rights under the FDCPA, individuals can better protect themselves from unfair collection practices and ensure they are treated fairly when dealing with bounced checks.

Uniform Commercial Code (UCC)

The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) is a set of model laws governing commercial transactions, including the issuance and negotiation of checks.

Adopted in some form by all 50 U.S. states, the UCC provides a standardized legal framework for dealing with bounced checks and other check-related issues, helping to ensure consistency and fairness across the country.

By familiarizing themselves with the provisions of the UCC related to checks, individuals can better understand their rights and obligations when dealing with bounced checks and avoid potential legal pitfalls.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a federal agency responsible for protecting consumers in the financial marketplace.

In the context of bounced checks, the CFPB enforces regulations related to fees, disclosures, and other consumer protections, ensuring that individuals are treated fairly by banks and other financial institutions.

If an individual believes their bank has acted improperly in handling a bounced check, they can file a complaint with the CFPB, which may investigate the matter and take appropriate action if necessary.


A bounced check is a check that cannot be processed due to insufficient funds in the account of the person who wrote the check.

Bounced checks can create various financial and legal problems for both the check writer and the recipient, making it essential to understand the causes and consequences of bounced checks.

Bounced checks can result from insufficient funds, account holder error, or fraudulent activity. By understanding these causes, individuals can take proactive steps to prevent bounced checks and avoid their negative consequences.

Dealing with bounced checks involves contacting the check writer, understanding the bank's role in handling bounced checks, and addressing the repercussions for the check writer.

By engaging in responsible banking practices and maintaining open communication, both check writers and recipients can minimize the negative impacts of bounced checks.

Responsible banking practices, such as monitoring account balances, keeping track of transactions, and understanding legal regulations and protections, are essential in preventing and dealing with bounced checks.

Bounced Check FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website or view his author profiles on Amazon, Nasdaq and Forbes.

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