Stop Payment: What does it Mean & Does it Work?

Definition and Overview of the Process

Heisman Hand Stopping Money
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A stop payment is a request to your bank to deny a check you’ve written. You can contact your bank before a check is processed, and ask them not to honor the check. If anybody deposits the check after your request, it will be as if the check bounced – they won’t get the money.

If you’re worried about a check, make sure you understand how these requests work – the process is complicated, and sometimes the bank won’t  be able to successfully stop payment from happening.

How it Works

When you request a stop payment, you provide information about a specific check to your bank (for example “check # 203 for $500 written to Acme Enterprises”). The bank flags the check, and – if the check hasn’t yet reached the bank – will not allow the check to clear.

Your bank will generally continue looking for the check for six months (but bank policies differ, so be sure to confirm everything with your bank). After that, the stop payment expires, and the check could potentially be paid – but you might have the option to extend or renew the stop payment request.

You can often request a stop payment verbally, but you might need to send something in writing within 14 days to confirm your request. If you don’t confirm, the bank might not follow through with your order.

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 – No Such Luck

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 still have a cashier’s check in your possession and simply want to cancel it, things are easier. Read more about cancelling 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 cancelling 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 stop a check. Debit card transactions can be processed 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 have the ability to do something like a chargeback. Debit cards don’t have as much consumer protection as credit cards, but your bank might be able to help. If your debit card is lost or stolen, 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 ask at the source: tell the billing company (your lender, insurance company, gym, or whoever) that you do not authorize future withdrawals. Any requests might need to go to the bank or biller in writing in order to be effective. You can ask your bank orally (at least 3 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 your check is lost or stolen – especially if you’ve communicated with the payee about stopping payment and writing a new check. 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 goods can be considered check fraud.

You might have a good reason for not wanting to pay, but bouncing checks is rarely a good idea.