When you lose a personal check or it’s stolen, you’re not out of luck. You can ask your bank or credit union to cancel the check — also known as a stop payment order — but you’ll want to act quickly, before the check can be cashed.
1. See whether the check has already cleared
In general, you can stop payment on a check only if your bank hasn’t paid it. So check your online bank account or use your mobile device. Look through your transaction history to see if the check has posted. If the check was stolen and it has cleared, it’s important to act fast to report fraud.
» Suspect fraud? Learn the four steps you should take if your account is at risk.
2. Gather a few pieces of information
There are several details you’ll need before you contact your bank:
- Your account number
- The check number
- The exact amount of the check
Other details you might need include the date on the check and the name of the recipient (the “payee”) and the person who signed the check, especially if you have a joint account and someone else wrote it.
3. Contact your bank
You must give your bank notice orally or in writing to request a stop payment. Banks recommend various ways to contact them, but generally you can make a request online, at a branch or by calling the phone number on the back of your debit card.
Assuming the check hasn’t already been presented to the bank, the stop payment request should take effect once the bank authorizes it.
4. Approve any stop payment fees
A few banks and credit unions don’t charge customers to cancel a check, but others have fees as high as $35 that would be debited from your account.
Banks may charge from $0 to $35 for canceling a check.
The amount could vary depending on how you contact the bank. You may be charged more for requesting a stop payment over the phone instead of online, for example. You’d have to approve these fees before the bank processes the stop payment order.
Some institutions waive fees for customers who have premium accounts. Click the green button below to compare what 24 banks charge for canceling a check.
5. Note the expiration date on the stop payment order
A stop payment order typically lasts about six months, but at some banks it can last a year or longer. Whenever the order ends, you can renew it for another period. Most banks won’t cash a check more than 6 months old.
Lost check Q&A: Good tips
Can I cancel recurring bill payments?
You can request stop payments for a series of checks and pre-authorized ACH debit transactions, such as recurring bill payments. Federal law requires you to make a request orally or in writing to your bank at least three business days before the transfer date. If you call, your bank may require written confirmation of the request within 14 days. By law, you can’t cancel one-time electronic ACH transfers.
Can I stop payment on a cashier’s check?
You can’t stop cashier’s checks, although the bank might in the case of fraud. Because these forms of payment rely on bank funds, a bank must honor them.
What if a fraudulent check has cleared my account?
A stop payment order is not your only line of defense if a check is stolen. If a fraudulent check goes through, you might be able to get charges removed by reporting the incident to your bank in a timely manner.
What about the payee?
Contact the payee if necessary. In the event of an error or lost check, let the recipient know about the request to stop payment and arrange a way to send a new check.
Updated December 15, 2017.
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Spencer Tierney is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @SpencerNerd.