Bounced checks: Causes, consequences, and prevention strategies


A bounced check, often referred to as a “rubber check,” occurs when an account holder lacks sufficient funds to cover the check they’ve written. When a check bounces, it’s returned by the bank, leading to non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees for the writer. This guide explores the ins and outs of bounced checks, including their legal implications, fees, and how to avoid them. Learn how to protect your finances and maintain a good credit score by understanding the consequences of writing bad checks.

Understanding bounced checks

A bounced check, also commonly referred to as a rubber check, occurs when an individual writes a check, but their bank account lacks sufficient funds to cover the amount specified on the check. When this happens, the bank returns the check to the payee unpaid and may charge the account holder with non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees.


Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.

  • Quickly identifies insufficient funds
  • Helps prevent overspending
  • Encourages responsible financial management
  • NSF fees can be costly
  • Negative impact on credit score
  • Potential legal consequences

Are there fees for bounced checks?

Indeed, when a bank bounces a check due to insufficient funds, they impose an NSF fee on the account holder. Furthermore, if the check is accepted but leaves the account with a negative balance, the bank may also apply an overdraft fee. These fees can vary among different banks, but as of 2022, the average overdraft fee was approximately $29.80, making it essential for consumers to be aware of their bank’s specific fee structure.

What happens when a check bounces?

The consequences of a bounced check extend beyond bank fees. Payees who receive a bounced check may impose their own charges, often referred to as bounced-check fees. In addition, some businesses report bounced checks to financial databases like ChexSystems, which collects information on individuals’ banking histories. Negative reports to such systems can make it difficult for individuals to open new checking and savings accounts in the future. Furthermore, some establishments maintain lists of customers with a history of bounced checks, potentially leading to restrictions on their ability to write checks at those establishments.

How to avoid bounced checks

Preventing bounced checks is crucial for maintaining financial stability and a good banking reputation. Here are some effective strategies:

  • Monitor your bank balances: Regularly check your account balance to ensure you have enough funds to cover your checks.
  • Maintain accurate check registers: Keep a detailed record of all your transactions, including deposits and debits, in a check register. This will help you keep track of your available funds.
  • Use online banking: Many banks offer online banking services that allow you to check your account balance in real-time, helping you make informed financial decisions.
  • Link a savings account: Consider linking a savings account to your checking account. In case of overdrafts, funds can be automatically transferred from your savings to cover the deficit.
  • Explore digital payment methods: Opt for alternative payment methods like cash, debit cards, mobile wallets, or online banking transfers for discretionary spending. These methods provide real-time fund availability checks, reducing the risk of overdrawing your account.

How serious is a bounced check?

Writing a bounced check can have severe consequences. Apart from the immediate financial impact of NSF and overdraft fees imposed by your bank, it can also lead to charges from the payee. Moreover, a bounced check can negatively affect your credit score, making it challenging to secure loans or credit in the future. In some cases, particularly if a bounced check involves a significant amount or repeated offenses, it can even lead to legal trouble.

How long does it take for a check to bounce?

The time it takes for a check to bounce depends on various factors, including the bank’s policies and the specific circumstances of the transaction. Generally, checks can take two or more business days to clear, and a bad check may bounce after at least two business days. It’s crucial to ensure that you have sufficient funds in your account during this period to avoid bounced checks.

Will my bank notify me if a check bounces?

While banks are not obligated to notify account holders when a check bounces due to non-sufficient funds, some banks offer optional services that allow customers to sign up for overdraft notifications. These notifications can help you stay informed about any bounced checks and take prompt action to address the issue.

The bottom line

Bounced checks can result in costly fees, damage to your credit score, and potential legal consequences. However, by staying vigilant and adopting responsible financial practices, you can avoid the pitfalls of bounced checks. Consider enrolling in overdraft protection and linking a savings account to your checking account to provide a safety net against bounced checks. Ultimately, proactive financial management is key to maintaining a healthy banking history and financial well-being.

Frequently asked questions

Can I be criminally charged for writing a bounced check?

Yes, writing a bounced check can lead to criminal charges, ranging from misdemeanors to felonies. The severity of the charges often depends on factors like the check amount and whether the activity involved crossing state lines. It’s essential to ensure you have sufficient funds before writing a check to avoid legal consequences.

Are there alternatives to bounced checks?

Yes, there are alternatives to writing checks that can help you avoid bounced checks. Consider using digital payment methods like mobile wallets, online banking transfers, or debit cards. These options offer real-time fund availability checks, reducing the risk of overdrawing your account.

How can I repair my credit score after a bounced check?

If a bounced check negatively impacts your credit score, take steps to repair it. Pay off any outstanding debts, including the bounced check and associated fees. Make timely payments on other accounts, and consider seeking professional credit counseling if needed. Over time, responsible financial behavior can improve your credit score.

Can I dispute a bounced-check fee with my bank?

Yes, you can dispute a bounced-check fee with your bank if you believe it was charged unfairly. Contact your bank’s customer service and provide any evidence that supports your case. Be prepared to explain the circumstances surrounding the bounced check and the fee. While success is not guaranteed, it’s worth addressing any discrepancies.

Key takeaways

  • Writing a bounced check can result in criminal charges, depending on factors like the check amount and jurisdiction.
  • Alternatives to bounced checks, such as digital payment methods, can help you avoid potential overdrafts.
  • If a bounced check impacts your credit score, take steps to repair it by paying off debts and practicing responsible financial behavior.
  • You can dispute a bounced-check fee with your bank if you believe it was charged unfairly.
View Article Sources
  1. Bounced checks – Federal Election Commission
  2. I received a returned check notification, what does this mean? What should I do next? – University of North Texas
  3. Bank Checks: The Definition, Mechanism, and Writing Procedure – SuperMoney
  4. Bounced Check: What To Do When You Write Or Get One – SuperMoney