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Check 21: Original Checks

Can I still get my canceled checks back?

If you get your canceled checks back with your account statements today, you will continue to receive canceled checks unless your financial institution notifies you otherwise. The only difference will be that some of the canceled checks that you receive may be substitute checks. You can use a substitute check the same way you would use an original check, such as for recordkeeping and proof-of-payment purposes.

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Can I get my original check if I need it?

Financial institutions are not required currently to keep your original check for any specific length of time, and Check 21 does not add any new retention requirements. In many cases, the original check may be destroyed. If you request your original check from your financial institution, your financial institution may provide you with the original check, a substitute check, or a copy of the check.

Can I prevent others from using my original check to create a substitute check?

No. Generally, any check can be used to create a substitute check, except a foreign check. Financial institutions and their customers must accept a substitute check as if it were the original check because the substitute check is legally the same as the original check.

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What happens if I receive a substitute check representing a fraudulent original check?

Check law provides protections against fraudulent checks so that generally you are not responsible if you notify the financial institution in a timely fashion. This is the case whether you receive an original check, a substitute check, an image statement, or a line item on your account statement. If you receive a substitute check of a fraudulent original check, you may have additional rights under Check 21. Contact your financial institution for more information.

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Do I need to use magnetic ink or toner when printing checks?

To process checks, financial institutions’ automated check sorting equipment relies on numeric information that appears at the bottom of checks and is printed in magnetic ink. This information is known as the check’s magnetic ink character recognition line, or MICR line, and contains information such as the routing number of the financial institution on which the check is drawn, the account number on which the check is drawn, and the check serial number. Generally applicable industry standards for original checks long have required the MICR line to be printed in magnetic ink; the need for magnetic ink on original checks is not the result of the Check 21 Act. Only the MICR line of a check must be printed in magnetic ink. The rest of the information on the check, such as the date, the payee name, and the amount, can be printed in regular, non-magnetic ink.

If you make payments by printing checks at home and the checks you use have pre-printed MICR lines, then the rest of the information that you print on the checks need not be in magnetic ink. By contrast, if you must print a check’s MICR line because it is not preprinted on the check, you should print the MICR line in magnetic ink.

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Check 21: General FAQs Check 21: Substitute Checks Check 21: Consumer Protection Check 21: Original Checks