What It Means to Deposit a Check

a person taking a picture of a check for deposit on a phone
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The term deposit often applies to financial transactions, but it is also used elsewhere. There are two primary ways to use the word deposit:

  1. As a noun (or thing)
  2. As a verb (or action)

Making a Deposit: Definition When Banking

When banks and credit unions refer to deposits, they are simply talking about your money held at the bank. As a noun, a deposit is something that has been placed somewhere. That might be money that you put into your bank account or jewelry in a safety deposit box at the bank.

The "deposit" is the result of some action that a person (or thing) took to make the deposit. Some common financial examples are below.

  • Cash placements (or money in the bank): I deposited $100 into my checking account.
  • Funds in an FDIC-insured bank account: The U.S. government insures your deposits in case your bank fails. At credit unions, deposits are NCUSIF-insured, which is just as safe as FDIC insurance.
  • Security deposit: I have to pay the first month’s rent, and make a security deposit of $500 for my apartment. If I damage the property or disappear without paying rent, the landlord will keep my deposit.

When used as a verb, the term deposit can also refer to the act of putting something somewhere. In the banking world, this happens when you add money to your accounts. Again, it can also apply to any other situation where somebody or something leaves something behind.

  • Adding money: I found $100. I’m going to deposit it into my checking account so I can build up my emergency fund
  • To drop something off: I’m going to deposit the rental agreement on the property manager’s desk.

In the first example above, you deposit cash into your account. However, there are several other ways to add to your account—and we’ll discuss those different types of deposits below.

How to Make Deposits

You can deposit funds into your account in several ways.

  • In person: You can walk into a bank branch and hand cash or checks to a teller, who will credit the funds to your account. For added convenience, you can also do so at some deposit-enabled ATMs. Typically, you need to use a branch or ATM that your bank owns, but credit union members can often use other credit unions to make deposits—if both credit unions participate in shared branching.
  • By mail: If you have paper checks or money orders payable to you, you can send those in by mail. Ask your bank which address to use for the fastest service, and find out about any other requirements.

When you deposit paper cash or checks, you’ll generally need to fill out a deposit slip. That sheet of paper tells the bank where to put the money and makes a record of the transaction. You'll also need to endorse any checks by signing the back and adding any additional information required.

If using an ATM, no deposits slips or envelopes are required when the ATM is equipped with scanning technology that captures an image of your check. Follow the ATM instructions carefully—some ATMs still use deposit slips.

Electronic deposits are also an option.

Note that you may have to wait to use your money after you make a deposit. Depending on how you add funds to your account, your bank may impose a waiting period to ensure that there are no problems with the deposit. The wait is longest with personal checks, but government-issued checks and wire transfers into your account are available much more quickly.

To find out how long you’ll have to wait, ask a teller or customer service representative about your bank’s the funds availability policy. In some cases, this waiting period can protect you—if you spend money that fails to arrive, you’ll have to repay the bank, and you may bounce checks and incur penalty fees in the meantime.