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Guide to Canceled Checks

By Alice Garbarini Hurley · June 17, 2022 · 8 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Guide to Canceled Checks

The phrase canceled check may confuse many people, but it’s actually a simple concept. A canceled check generally refers to a check that was processed, cleared, and paid by the bank. It means the check-writing system worked as it should and money has been transferred appropriately.

Canceled checks can play an important role in your financial life. Here, you’ll learn:

•   What is a canceled check?

•   What is a canceled check vs. a returned check?

•   What is a canceled check vs. a stop payment?

•   How can you use checks?

What is a Canceled Check?

A canceled check is a check that is processed and paid and cannot be used again. If you write a check to your sister or to the electrician and they deposit or cash it, the funds are taken from your checking account and put into their hands (or account). Your bank will cancel the check, meaning that the rectangle of paper has done its job.

Sometimes you may be asked to show a canceled check to prove that payment was made. For instance, if you paid a bill by check but the payee believes they haven’t received the funds, you could send an image of the canceled check from the bank to prove that you settled the account. You may be able to obtain such images within a certain time frame by reviewing your bank account online via your financial institution’s website or app.

How to Write a Canceled Check

If you’re wondering how to write a canceled check, sorry: You can’t. In truth, only a bank can cancel a check. What you as a banking customer can do is void a check (by writing the word “void” across it, as you may need to do when you set up direct deposit or autopay). In some countries, the term canceling is used instead of voiding when doing this to a check, which can cause a bit of confusion.

Another possibility in this realm is to put a stop payment on a check via your financial institution to prevent it from being paid (more on that below).

Examples of Canceled Checks

What are canceled checks? Here’s what is usually meant by that term:

•   A canceled check is likely one that is cleared and paid by the bank. Funds have been transferred, so the transaction it triggered is completed. (Incidentally, you can even cash a check if you don’t have a bank account and get the funds due to you.)

•   The term is sometimes used to refer to a check you put a stop payment request on. You might say, “I canceled that check,” meaning you instructed your financial institution not to pay it.

•   You may hear some people say “canceled check” when they are referring to a voided check. A voided check is usually one that you write “void” on and provide when setting up an ACH transaction, such as direct deposit.

•   What these checks all have in common is that they are out of circulation and not to be reused. (One exception: In certain cases, a stop payment might have to be renewed after six months if you feel the check could still be circulating).

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Canceled Check Fees

When a bank cancels a check after clearing it, there is no fee. This is a standard transaction at your bank or credit union. But a stop payment request can run about $15 to $35, depending on the bank. When you void a check, no fee is involved.

Canceled Checks vs Returned Checks

What are canceled checks and returned checks? Not at all the same thing. They differ considerably: One is paid, the other isn’t. Here’s a closer look.

•   Payment. A canceled check has been paid (cleared) by the bank it was drawn on. A returned (or bounced) check is not paid or cleared by the bank because the account holder has insufficient funds.

•   Consequences. Since canceled checks are standard practice, there are no negative consequences for you. However, with returned checks, you may have issues. Your bank will likely charge you an overdraft fee of up to $35, and the business you tried to pay may bill you for their bank’s returned check fee of about $25. In addition, your payment is probably now considered late, which might trigger more charges and affect your credit standing.

•   Your good standing. A check canceled by the bank once it zips through as usual should not cause you any problems. But banks and businesses tend to look unfavorably on returned checks and the fees and headaches that come with them. Banks do not report returned checks to credit bureaus, but this activity may turn up on your banking record, which is monitored by agencies like ChexSystems. Too many returned checks, and you may find it hard to open a bank account in the future. It’s also important to keep payments up to date at places where you do business so as not to lower your credit score.

Canceled Checks vs Stop Payment Requests

Canceled checks and stop payment requests are two very different animals. Here are some of the most significant differences.

•   Contact with the bank. A canceled check sails through the system. The bank handles the process. You don’t need to do anything; it’s even better than one-click convenience. But a stop payment request requires a call or visit to your bank right away or for you to engage with the bank’s website or app. This process needs to be done quickly, before the check is presented to deposit or cash. If your check or checkbook is lost, you think your check was stolen, or you need to halt a payment, know that many bank phone support lines operate 24/7.

•   Fees. Canceled checks don’t cost you, but stop payment requests do. (See above.)

•   Time window. Checks are typically canceled within a couple of days of their submission, though timing can vary depending on how they were submitted (say, via your bank’s app or into an out-of-network ATM). Once checks are paid by your financial institution, they cannot be reused, and that’s final. Stop payment requests, however, usually last only up to six months, and you may need to renew them after that if you think there’s a chance someone might still try to cash the check.

How Long Until a Check Becomes Canceled?

As mentioned above, it typically takes about two business days for a deposited check to clear, but it can take a little longer — about five business days — for the bank to receive the funds. The length of time depends on the amount of the check, your relationship with the bank, how and where you deposited it, and whether your account is in good standing (no frequent overdrafts or prolonged negative balances). Another factor that could impact processing: If you let a check sit for a few months before depositing it, that check could reach its expiration date and no longer be valid.

Recommended: How Long is a Check Good For?

Tips on Using Checks

With the advent of online banking and bill pay, as well as P2P platforms, checks aren’t used as often as they once were. However, many people still order checks and they remain an important financial tool. For these reasons, it can be worthwhile to brush up on how to use them most effectively. Some tips:

•   Record each check you write and each checking account deposit you make in the transaction register. Include check number, date, payee (or source of deposit), and amount.

•   Use the columns with a check mark on top to check off deposits or checks paid once they are cleared by your bank and reflected in your balance.

•   Keep your checkbook in a safe place, as you would a debit or credit card. Checks can be forged by someone who is not you.

•   For important payments, such as rent, child support, healthcare, and donations, consider keeping a copy (front and back) of canceled checks. Banks used to return these checks with paper statements, but no more. At many banking websites, you can download PDF images to save or print. Bank of America, for example, keeps canceled check images on its customer website for 18 months. Or call your bank to request scanned images up to seven years old (sometimes for a fee).

If you still have questions about checks (say, about how to sign over a check written to you or how cashier’s checks are different from others), it’s easy to get answers. Visit your bank’s website or talk with a bank representative in person or by phone.

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Is a canceled check the same as a voided check?

People sometimes use the terms interchangeably, but technically speaking, they have different meanings. While both checks are unable to be used, a canceled check is one that has been paid by a financial institution. A voided check is one that you, the account holder, has written the word “void” on to make sure it isn’t used to transfer funds.

Can you use a canceled check?

No, you cannot use a canceled check. It has been processed, meaning the funds were transferred as directed, so its job has been completed.

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