I stared in confusion at the papers laying on the kitchen table as I attempted to reconcile our checking account. My mortgage statement said the amount due was $1543 as it always does. The numerical dollar amount written on duplicate of the check I dropped off at the bank matched, as did the receipt I got from the teller.
But that’s NOT what the written amount on the check said.
The written amount was, “One thousand forty three dollars.” I had apparently omitted the “five hundred” when I wrote out the check.
I needed to find out exactly how the bank was going to process the check. If there was one bill I didn’t want to be late, it was our mortgage. I called the bank with which I have my checking account. After checking with their “back end” person, the representative told me that although the check was written incorrectly, if my mortgage lender had processed it as $1543, they would not correct it on their end and would let the full amount be deducted from my checking account. As much as this seemed like one of those “two wrongs makes a right” situations, I was relieved that my mortgage payment would go through as I had intended.
I write very few checks, but this incident just reinforced a thought I have had for quite a while: I should use checks as little as possible.
Writing checks is error prone: This is exemplified by my introductory story. Had my bank processed the check as the written amount (as I had thought would be the case – check with your bank if this ever happens to you), I would have underpaid my mortgage and would have likely had to pay a $53 late fee. Had I taken the time to set up automatic payments, this would never be a concern.
Checks cost money: A box of checks costs me right around $13. One box lasts a really long time, but automatic electronic payments are free.
Checks can be forgotten: In the beginning of September, Vonnie wrote a check for $12 to purchase a shirt from the school she works at. That check hasn’t cleared yet. Every time I reconcile the account it takes me a second to remember that I need to rewind my register back nearly 8 weeks to find that uncashed check. If I forget about it, and then it suddenly clears, I could be exposed to an overdraft charge. Most electronic payments via debt card post immediately. At most it may take 1-2 business days.
Checks can be abused: Have you ever written a check on Wednesday knowing you don’t have the funds to cover it, but also knowing full well that it won’t clear at least until you get paid on Friday? I know I’m not the only one that has played this game. It’s not a good game to play. At the height of my financial irresponsibility I would spend enormous amounts of energy looking at how long a check to each of my monthly financial obligations usually took to clear. Using that information I would pay the bill as far away from payday as I could, and cross my fingers that it wouldn’t clear early. Again, most electronic payments post immediately, and at most it may take 1-2 business days.
I don’t use a lot of checks, but I do use them for certain bills, and for times when it’s my only choice for payment. But because of this incident I’m re-evaluating all my payments and switching to electronic wherever possible. It will be less error prone, and help keep us honest with where we’re truly at with our finances.
How about you, readers? Do you have an interesting story about using checks? Do you even use checks anymore?