What Happens When You Bounce a Check?

Bouncing a check can result in penalty fees -- or even a frozen account.

A close-up of a woman's hands while she fills out a check.
AndreyPopov/Getty Images

A bounced check can cause more issues than it's worth, from overdraft fees to a flawed history on your ChexSystems report. If you don't have the funds to cover a particular transaction, you're better off not writing a check. 

What is a bounced check?

A bounced check is a check that can't be processed due to insufficient funds in the account or an error with how the check was written. A bounced check can result in an overdraft fee or a penalty for nonsufficient funds. There are a few reasons why a check might bounce, including: 

  • The account has insufficient funds. If the account has a balance lower than the check amount, it will be rejected. 
  • A stop payment order was issued. The issuer may request a stop order payment on a check if they believe it to be stolen or they no longer want to allow the check to be deposited. 
  • The check was not filled out correctly. If a check has incorrect or misspelled information, the check could bounce. A few common errors include mismatched amounts, a signature in the wrong place, a stale date or a misspelled name.  
  • The check is old. Banks typically honor checks for up to six months. They are not required to cash a check older than six months old.

What happens when a check you've written bounces?

The bank may charge you an NSF fee or overdraft fee if you write a check that bounces. If you issue a check to cover your rent payment or another service and the check bounces, the company you were trying to pay might charge you a late fee if your payment ends up being overdue.

What happens when you receive a check that bounces?

If you try to deposit a bounced check, you'll have to reach out to the issuer of the check to determine whether they can pay you. You won't be held liable for NSF fees or overdraft fees, but the bank may charge you a returned check fee. 

Consequences of a bounced check

Bank penalty fees

If you write a check that bounces, your bank will likely charge you an NSF fee, ranging from $10 to $40, depending on the bank and its policies. If the bank decides to cover the check -- even though it bounced -- you could be charged an overdraft fee. Overdraft fees arise when you spend more money than what is available in your bank account and tend to be $35 per instance. 

Damaged banking record 

ChexSystems is a consumer reporting agency that tracks a person's deposit and debit history and issues a score banks use to gauge risk, similar to a credit card lender pulling a credit score. If you have a history of writing bounced checks, your ChexSystems report will reflect that data. 

A frozen or closed bank account

Your bank may be authorized to freeze or close your account if you bounce too many checks. If you have difficulty managing your checking or savings account, reach out to a bank representative and see if they are willing to work with you. 

How to avoid bouncing a check

If you have trouble keeping track of your finances, take these steps to stop your checks from bouncing:

  • Monitor your checking account closely, including your balance and upcoming payments. If you issue a check to someone, keep a close eye on your account and make sure it clears. 
  • Add overdraft protection. Banks offer overdraft protection to ensure your transactions are taken care of if you have insufficient funds in your checking account. If you write a check from your checking account and don't have sufficient funds, the bank will move money over from your savings account -- assuming you have the funds -- to cover the overdrawn amount. Banks typically charge a fee for this service ranging from $10 to $12.50 per transfer. 
  • Set up alerts on your account. Opt to receive mobile alerts from your bank's mobile app to receive notifications when you have a low balance or a payment due date coming up. 

The bottom line

Bouncing a check can have serious financial consequences, aside from being slightly awkward. It's essential to monitor your account balance, utilize available overdraft protection, and be aware of who you're taking money from to avoid bouncing checks and the associated fees and penalties.