How to Cancel a Check with a Stop Payment Request
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Disputing a credit card transaction is fairly straightforward. If someone uses your account to make a purchase without your permission, all you have to do is let the card issuer know. You may need to answer a few questions, but most of the time you can get the amount credited back to your account without much hassle.
But the same isn’t always true for a written check. Once you sign a check and send it off, you may not be able to get it back. If you accidentally mail your check to the wrong person or write it from the wrong account, then your only option may be to use a stop payment.
What Does It Mean to Stop Payment on a Check?
A stop payment is a request made to your bank to withhold payment on a check that has not been processed. This request can only be made by the account holder (you).
When you write a check to someone, they can deposit it in person at a bank, check-cashing company, or with a mobile banking app. The company or bank they use to deposit the check will contact your bank through a clearinghouse service and request the money. Your bank subtracts the money from your checking account and sends it on to the check recipient’s bank.
But when you issue a stop payment order, you’re telling your bank to keep an eye out for that check. When it sees the check come through, instead of depositing the money, they’ll return it without payment.
Remember that you can only do this for checks that have not been processed. Once the check has been cashed and the money has been taken out of your account, it’s too late to issue a stop payment order.
What’s the Process for Stopping Payment on a Check?
The process to cancel a check and issue a stop payment order is simple. There are a few steps to follow, but it’s a fairly straightforward process.
1. Make the request
A stop payment request can only come from the accountholder. You can’t ask a friend or partner to do it on your behalf.
To initiate the process, you need to contact your bank and find out how they prefer you to communicate the stop payment request, such as:
- In writing
- Over the phone
Be prepared to provide the bank with details including the check number, the check amount, your bank account number, the payee, and the date the check was issued.
Follow a two-step approach
It’s generally a good idea to make your request twice: over the phone or online and in writing. This ensures that your stop payment request stays in effect as long as possible.
Once you realize you need to stop payment, first call the bank or log in to your account as soon as possible. Doing so helps get the stop order placed before the check is cashed. This is the most immediate way to solve your problem, but it has time limits.
Stop payment orders placed over the phone or online only last for 14 days. If your request expires, you might have to initiate a new one. However, if the recipient waits to cash the check, you might not run into an issue.
After you’ve submitted your phone or online request, follow up with a written stop payment order. Written orders last much longer — up to six months. Since most checks have an expiration date of six months, if the recipient tries to deposit the check after that time, it might have expired. While the online or phone request is quicker, a written request makes sure it stays in place as long as possible.
Check with your bank if you’re worried about a check being cashed after the six-month period. If they do honor checks older than this, you’ll need to place another stop payment order.
2. Pay the fees
Stopping payment on a check will help prevent you from paying overdraft or returned-check fees, but stop payment orders aren’t free. It will generally cost about $30 for each stop payment order you put in place. The cost may vary depending on if you use a bank or credit union and the type of account.
Before initiating a stop payment request, check with your bank to verify the fees. You want to make sure that you have enough money in your account to cover any costs you’ll incur.
If you’re stopping checks because of a lost, stolen, or misplaced checkbook, some banks and credit unions offer a reduced fee for putting a stop payment order on a series of checks. For example, the normal rate may be $15 to put a stop payment order on one check. But if you have two or more stop placement orders, some banks may charge $25 for the entire batch.
This will vary based on your bank and type of account. If you suspect that multiple checks have been lost or stolen, it’s usually better to issue a stop payment order for multiple at once instead of one check at a time.
3. Your bank watches for the check
After you’ve put the stop payment order in place, it’s in the bank’s hands. They’ll keep an eye out for your check. If they see it, the bank will flag the check and return it without sending payment from your account.
You can set a monthly or bi-weekly calendar reminder to check in and make sure the check hasn’t been deposited.
When Should I Stop Payment on a Check?
There are a few instances when stopping payment on a check is a good idea. For example, if you realize you overpaid someone and you don’t have the money in your account to cover the excess, you might want to stop the payment.
Another instance where you might want to cancel a check is if you know it was lost. If you can provide proof that you sent a check to your electric company, for example, and they claim they never received it, that check could have fallen into the wrong hands. In this situation, you’ll want to submit a stop payment on the check and send a new one.
You also might want to stop payment or cancel checks if you lose your checkbook or suspect it’s been stolen. This prevents someone from using your checks for illegal or fraudulent purposes.
Canceling recurring online payments
If you’ve set up a recurring online payment that’s connected to your checking account, you might need to revoke that authorization for any number of reasons. In order to do this, you’ll need to contact the company directly, and you’ll probably need to do that in writing. If you need help, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has sample letters you can use.
You’ll also need to contact your bank and notify them that you’re revoking authorization for the recurring payment, and to put a stop payment order in place.
When Stopping Payment on a Check Isn’t a Good Idea
There are a few instances where stopping payment isn’t your best choice. For instance, if you’ve written a check you’re afraid might bounce, consider transferring or depositing money to cover the amount rather than canceling it. This might cost you less than paying the cancellation fee.
You also shouldn’t stop payment on a check you’ve used to buy goods or services that you’ve already received and no longer want to pay for. The same applies to utility and other service providers. If you’ve written a check to pay your bill knowing that you don’t have funds to cover it and then issue a stop payment order, this might be considered check fraud.
Understanding How to Stop a Check Can Prevent Future Problems
Even though it can be costly to issue a stop payment order, sometimes it’s necessary and cheaper than letting the money be deposited. If someone does cash that check, there’s often no way to get that money back once it leaves your account without getting law enforcement or a lawyer involved.
Taking a few minutes to cancel a check and spending a few dollars now can save you from more pain down the road.