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Cancelling A Check With A Stop Order Doesn’t Always Protect Your Account

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

Jon Delano Jon Delano
Jon Delano is a familiar face on KDKA-TV, having been the station's...
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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Stopping payment on a check is pretty common, and we do it for lots of reasons.

One person: “You’re supposed to receive a service and you didn’t get it.”

Another person: “I think I overpaid him.”

Still another: “Cancelling a contract with an organization.”

Fourth person: “Turned out I didn’t have enough money, so I was, oh boy this, is gonna be bad, I better stop the check.”

But when you call your bank to stop payment, how long do you expect that stop order to last?

One person: “If you stop the check, the check should be stopped.”

Second person: “There shouldn’t be no more transactions on that check.”

That’s what Carla Evans thought when she put a stop payment on this check.

“That the check would be no good for the rest of my life,” said Evans.

But three years later, her bank cashed the check and $849 disappeared from her checking account.

“We were totally shocked because we thought this was good for ever,” said Evans.

Turns out the stop payment order had expired.

When she called her bank, she learned, “There’s a stop payment on it, it’s only good for a year which we didn’t know.”

Duquesne University business professor Tom Nist once worked for PNC, Mellon and Equibank, so KDKA money editor Jon Delano asked him how long a stop order lasts.

“That depends on the bank, Jon. Banks specify that in their fine print, typically. I would say industry practice is six months,” added Nist.

Six months is standard for PNC and Citizens, although a customer can ask to extend for a fee.

Most people have no clue that saying — cancel this check — is a short-term request.

“Oh, yes, because I’ve been talking to people, and they’re all shocked,” noted Evans.

And here’s another wrinkle.

Many think old checks are no good, but that’s not always true.

Under federal law, a bank is not required to cash any check that is more than six months old, but they can. So that’s where knowing the terms of the stop order process is critical.

“I think it’s probably possible that someone presents a check that’s more than six months old, the stop payment’s expired, and the check gets through,” Nist said.

Bottom line — when you cancel a check, ask how to protect your account.

“If you don’t want someone to cash your check, you need to take an abundance of caution to make sure that doesn’t happen,” adds Nist.

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