How to Stop Payment on a Check
What It Is, How It Works, and What It Costs
A stop payment on a check is when you ask your bank to cancel a check before it is processed. After you request a stop payment, the bank will flag the check you specified, and if anyone tries to cash it or deposit it, they'll be rejected.
Requesting a stop payment can make sense for lost or stolen checks, but it won't work in all payment situations. A stop payment can only be issued if you hold the account that paid the check, and you may be charged a fee.
How It Works
When you request a stop payment, you'll provide the bank with information about a specific check you wrote. You can issue a stop payment on a check any time before it has been processed by following these steps:
- Call your bank
- Give them the details of your check: check number, amount, payee, and date
- Follow up in writing
- Pay a fee
The bank flags the check, and assuming the check hasn’t yet reached the bank for processing, the bank will not allow the check to clear.
For 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 21.” If the bank receives that specific check, they know not to proceed with payment.
You can request a stop payment verbally, but follow up in writing within 14 days to confirm your request. If you don’t, the bank might not honor your request. Act as soon as possible to catch the check before it makes it to the bank.
What It Costs
Banks usually charge a fee to flag your check and prevent it from being paid. A fee of $30 or so is typical, but it’s always worth checking how much you’ll pay. Some banks will waive the fee for customers with certain checking accounts, or charge less if you make the stop request online or over the phone. It also might be less expensive to cancel several checks at once (if you need to) rather than canceling them each individually.
How Long It Will Last
Your bank will typically be on alert 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. If you want to continue the stop payment order after that, you'll likely have to pay a fee to renew it.
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). However, if you believe the check is lost or stolen, you can request a cancellation. Contact the bank immediately to report the issue; you'll have to file a declaration of loss, which is a document that states (under penalty of perjury) that you don't have the check. This declaration then begins a 90-day waiting period, after which the bank may return your funds. A thief could still present the check during that three-month window, however, so be alert.
While you can request a cancellation in case of theft or loss, you can't just cancel a cashier's check because you changed your mind. If that's the case, you'll have to try to get you money back from the payee another way.
You can cancel a 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, you'll have to fill out a form, and the process can take a while—about 30 to 60 days, usually. You can mail the form or fill it out in person. You'll owe a fee as well; not as steep as what banks typically charge for canceled cashiers checks, usually between $6 and $18.
Debit card transactions can go through almost instantly. That means it's much more difficult to cancel or stop a debit card payment. 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.
While an ACH reversal can only be completed for the wrong amount, the wrong account, or a duplicate transaction; stopping an ACH payment is more like stopping payment on a check. 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. You can give verbal instructions to your bank at least three days before the charge hits, but you’ll need to confirm it in writing within 14 days.
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. Put these instructions in writing, too.
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 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.