How to Handle a Returned Check
For most any business, accepting checks is a service to its customers. Unfortunately, banks every so often return checks, and dealing with them can be a frustrating process. If you are the receiver of a bad check, you can take several steps to recover the money you lost on the sale, as well as the fees you incurred from your bank.
Handle the return check on your books:
The first thing you will need to do is record this returned check in your accounting system. You don’t want your accounts receivable and bank account to be misstated. If you don’t have this item set up already in your QuickBooks you want to create a new item “other charge” for your Item List: Bounced Check. Leave Amount at zero, tax code as non, and for the Account choose your checking account. Also create another “other charge” item: Bad Check Charge — no amount, non-tax, and for the account set up an income item named “returned check charge”. Then create an invoice to your customer using these two items. Invoice for the amount of the check on item Bounced Check and for the bank charge on the Bad Check charge item. (Include a description of the NSF ck# number, date.) This will have the effect of backing out the deposit and will match to your bank statement. When you receive a replacement check from your customer, receive it as you would any other payment.
Now for the handling of the check with your customer:
Do not redeposit the check without first speaking with your customer. This will avoid additional bank fees if the check still isn’t good. Call your customer. Good people make mistakes too, and giving your customer a call, and letting him know what happened often can solve the problem. Let the customer know the check number and dollar amount, as well as any fees your bank assessed you. The oversight might embarrass many people, and they will want make good on the check and then your problem is resolved.
If you don’t get anywhere after speaking with the customer, send a certified letter. Bad check laws vary from state to state but many State guidelines typically require you to send a certified letter to the check writer asking for payment of funds. Ask for payment to be made by a certified check or money order; request the check writer to pay bank fees you incurred because of the returned check. State law requires the check writer to respond within a certain number of days to your letter. Check with your state before sending the letter.
Place a follow-up call to the check maker. You are within your legal rights to go directly to small claims court if payment is not received. However, if you contact the check writer again and they pay restitution in full, then a court appearance can be avoided. Explain to the check writer that you will file a police report or take them to small claims court if they do not pay what is owed to you.
If none of the above actions are getting you anywhere, notify the police. If the check writer lives in your area, file a complaint with your local police department. You will need to fill out a police report and include copies of the bounced check, your certified letter, related receipts and document your attempts to recover the funds. Ask the police to pursue the check writer and bring forth charges.
Hopefully it will not come to the final step and you are able to recover the payment in full. But if not, it’s good to know there are steps you can take. The events might make you, the company; more cautious of whom you accept check payments from in the future.