How to Verify Funds on a Check

Identify Bad Checks

Image by Bailey Mariner © The Balance 2019 

If you have any doubts about a check, it’s wise to verify funds and find out if the check is likely to bounce. If you deposit a bad check, you’ll have to pay bank fees, and you’ll need to take additional steps to get the money you're owed.

How to Verify Funds

To verify a check, you need to contact the bank that the money is coming from.

  1. Find the bank name on the front of the check.
  2. Search for the bank online and visit the bank’s official site to get a phone number for customer service. Don’t use the phone number printed on the check (more on that below).
  3. Tell the customer service representative that you’d like to verify a check you received.
  4. Provide the bank account and routing numbers from the bottom of the check (see where to find those numbers).
  5. Provide the amount of the check.

Use legitimate sources: The check might have the bank’s phone number printed along with the bank’s name and logo. However, it’s best to call a number that you know (through your own research) is legitimate. If the check is fake, con artists typically provide a number that goes to a fake “customer service agent,” who will tell you the payment is good.

Bank policies create challenges: Some banks make check verification difficult or impossible. They may require you to visit a branch in person and they might even refuse to verify funds for their customers (due to privacy concerns, for example). At the least, they should eventually tell you if the account exists. From there, you have to decide whether or not to take your chances and deposit the check.

What Do You Know?

After you verify funds, you have more information, but you still can’t be certain that the check is good. At best, you might find out that there are sufficient funds available in the check writer’s account at the time of your phone call (or as of that morning). So, what could go wrong?

  1. The check writer can withdraw funds from the account before you deposit the check.
  2. You might deposit the check immediately after verifying it, but it can take a day or two for the check to hit the check writer’s account. Even if you deposit the check with your bank’s mobile deposit app, the process takes a few days.
  3. The person who gave you the check might have given you a stolen check or used stolen checking account details. The legitimate account owner has plenty of money, but they can reverse the payment once they see that a fraudulent transaction hit their account.
  4. Other withdrawals, debits, or account holds can deplete funds from the check writer’s account before your check is presented.

When you verify funds, there’s no guarantee that the money will be there for you. The funds are available temporarily, but you can’t reserve those funds. Unless the check is an authentic cashier’s check (which is drawn on the bank’s own accounts) or a certified check, there’s always a risk that the check will bounce.

How to Prevent Problems

The safest way to make sure you get your money is to cash the check in person at the check writer’s bank. You must visit a branch of the check writer’s bank for this strategy to work. If you take it to your bank (which happens to be a different bank), your bank might give you cash immediately. However, the funds have not yet been collected from the other bank. If you go to the bank that the funds are drawn on, the money comes out of that account immediately.

Using your bank? What happens if you deposit (or cash) the check at your bank? It’s safest to wait several weeks before you spend the money—unless you’re confident that the check is good. You’re responsible for any money you take out of your account, so you’ll have to repay your bank if the check bounces. Your bank's funds availability policy (and federal law) may allow you to walk away with cash, but that doesn’t mean the check is good.

Check Verification Services

If your business accepts checks from customers regularly, contacting banks for every check is not practical. Automated check verification services can help you figure out if you're likely to get paid, but they don't necessarily check recent account balances. Instead, those services flag accounts and people who have a history of writing bad checks—and that's useful information. Some services even guarantee payment if they fail to alert you to a bad check.

A check verification service is the closest you can get to online verification, and it costs money to use those databases.

Unfortunately, there is no simple, free tool for consumers to verify checks online. You need to contact the particular bank that the funds are drawn on (or the check issuer), and the bank needs to be willing to accommodate your request.

Red Flags

In addition to asking banks for information, some basic detective work can help you determine if a check is likely to be a fake.