See What Happens When You Stop Payment on a Check

Definition and Overview of the Process. Does it Even Work?

Image by Theresa Chiechi © The Balance 2019

When you stop payment on a check, you ask your bank to deny that payment. If anybody tries to deposit or cash the check after your request, the bank should not honor it. Instead, the check will be returned as if it bounced.

Requesting a stop payment can make sense for lost or stolen checks, and it also works in other situations. Make sure you understand how these requests work. The process is complicated, and sometimes banks can’t successfully prevent payments from being processed.

How It Works

When you request a stop payment, you provide information about a specific check to your bank. The bank flags the check, and assuming the check hasn’t yet reached the bank, the bank will not allow the check to clear.

Example: If a check gets lost, you might tell the bank to “stop payment on check number 203 for $500, written to Acme Enterprises on July 21st.”

How long: Your bank will typically continue looking for the check for six months. Bank policies differ, so be sure to confirm the specifics with your bank. After that, the stop payment expires, and the check could potentially be paid. However, you might have the option to extend or renew the stop payment request.

How to request: You can often request a stop payment verbally, but you might need to follow up in writing within 14 days to confirm your request. If you don’t do so, the bank might not honor your request.

Cost: Banks usually charge a fee to flag your check and prevent it from being paid. $30 or so is a typical fee, but it’s always worth asking how much you’ll pay.

Cashier’s Checks: Not As Easy

You cannot stop payment on a cashier’s check. Because the funds are guaranteed to be paid by the bank, the bank is not allowed to say “sorry, no dice” when the check is presented (either cashed by the recipient or deposited to a bank account). You can request cancellation, but you’ll have to wait 90 days before any funds are returned.

However, if you have a cashier’s check in your possession and simply want to cancel it, things are easier.

Read more about canceling a cashier’s check.

Money Orders

If you paid with a money order, you can cancel the money order and eventually get a refund—as long as the money order has not yet been deposited or cashed. As with cashier’s checks, the process can take a while. Learn more about canceling a money order.

Debit Cards

Debit cards pull funds from your checking account, but it’s not possible to stop payment on a debit card charge in the same way you can with a check.

Debit card transactions can go through almost instantly. If you are having a dispute with a merchant and you don’t want to pay for something you bought, contact your bank, as you may be able to cancel the transaction.

Debit cards don’t have as much consumer protection as credit cards, but your bank can often help. If your debit card is lost or stolen, that’s a different story—it’s essential that you notify your bank immediately.

Electronic Payments

If you’re expecting a preauthorized electronic payment to hit your checking account, you can prevent it from happening by requesting a stop payment with your bank.

However, it’s best to cancel the payment at the source: Tell the billing company (your lender, insurance company, gym, or whoever) that you do not authorize future withdrawals.

Any requests to stop electronic payments may need to go to the bank or biller in writing to be effective. You can give verbal instructions to your bank at least three days before the charge hits, but you’ll need to confirm in writing within 14 days.

Is It Legal to Stop Payment?

Stopping payment is a good idea if a check is lost or stolen—especially if you’ve communicated with the original payee about canceling the check and writing a new one.

In other situations, you might be putting yourself at risk. Talk with a local attorney if you’re thinking of stopping payment because of a dispute or similar situation. Paying for goods with a check, and then stopping payment simply to avoid paying for the products, can be considered check fraud.

You might have a good reason for not wanting to pay, but bouncing checks is rarely a good idea. It’s best to stay on the right side of local laws to minimize fees and legal trouble.