You’re writing a check to your landlord, but you don’t have enough money in your account. So you date the check a few days in advance — also called postdating it — hoping your paycheck will clear by then.
Bad news: The check date won’t delay anything. Here’s what you need to know about postdating and what you can do instead.
» MORE: How to write a check
Postdated checks and payees
“It’s kind of a tricky scenario,” says Matt Foster, founder of the rental property search site iRent and a landlord in Ventura, California.
He receives checks from some renters on the 28th or 29th of the month that are dated for the first of the next month. He suspects his tenants do this to keep him from cashing their rent checks before they’ve been paid, so their rent checks don’t bounce.
Luckily for them, Foster waits to cash postdated checks, but he isn’t legally obligated. And in most cases, neither are banks.
Bank rules on postdated checks
Banks and credit unions generally state rules about postdated checks in their account disclosures. Some of the biggest banks, for example, note specifically that they can honor checks that are made out for future dates.
The Uniform Commercial Code, a collection of business laws adopted or adapted by many states, gives financial institutions the right to process a correctly written check with a future date. But you can ask your bank to delay cashing a specific check, and, depending on your state and the bank, it might comply.
What’s the worst that can happen?
If you write a check and don’t have enough money in your account when it’s cashed — whether or not it’s postdated — your bank can cover the payment or let the check bounce based on its overdraft practices. If the check goes through, you’ll pay an overdraft fee. If it doesn’t go through, the recipient might charge you late fees and a bounced-check fee. But usually it doesn’t get much worse.
“From a criminal law perspective, there is nothing inherently illegal about postdating a check,” says Eric Hintz, a criminal defense attorney at Hintz & Welsh in Sacramento, California.
Hintz says that only criminal intent, such as intentionally not having enough money for a payment, can be grounds for check fraud.
How do you delay or stop payments?
Consider these three strategies:
- Talk to the recipient. Tell the person receiving your check — your landlord, a merchant, a friend or family member — about your situation. Find out if he or she will accept payment later.
- Schedule an electronic transfer, such as an online bill payment. This is a much more precise way to make future payments, and you won’t risk sending money before you’re ready.
- Request a stop payment. Your bank provides this service, usually for a steep fee, but you must give it notice. The amount of notice depends on your bank.
» MORE: How to cancel a check
It’s risky to rely on postdating or processing delays to ensure your check clears. Financial institutions now send digital pictures of checks to other financial institutions, so they can be cashed more quickly.
“In short,” says Mathew Dahlberg, a financial advisor at Main Street Investments in Kansas City, Missouri, “if you don’t have the money in your checking account, then don’t write the check!”