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Check 21: Substitute Checks

What is a substitute check?

A substitute check is a paper copy of the front and back of the original check. A substitute check is slightly larger than a standard personal check so that it can contain a picture of your original check. A substitute check must be printed in accordance with very specific standards so that the substitute check can be used in the same way as the original check. If you receive a substitute check that appears to have a problem, such as it contains a bad picture of your original check, contact your financial institution.

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When is a substitute check legally the same as the original check?

A substitute check is legally the same as the original check if it accurately represents the information on the original check and includes the following statement: “This is a legal copy of your check. You can use it the same way you would use the original check.” The substitute check must also have been handled by a financial institution.

If you receive a substitute check that is not legally the same as the original check and you suffer a loss related to the substitute check, Check 21 provides you with a special procedure that you can use to get your money back.

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Can I use a substitute check as proof of payment?

Yes. You can use a substitute check as proof of payment because it is legally the same as the original check. For instance, the IRS will accept your substitute check as proof of payment. If you do not have a substitute check but have a copy of an original check or a copy of a substitute check, you usually can use these documents as proof of payment.

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How are image statements different from substitute checks?

Instead of providing canceled checks, some financial institutions provide customers with image statements that show multiple pictures of canceled checks per page. The pictures on the image statement could represent an original check or a substitute check. Whether the consumer receives an original check, a substitute check, an image statement, or a line item on his or her account statement, check law protects consumers against erroneous and unauthorized check payments. In addition, Check 21 provides a special refund procedure (called “expedited recredit”), if you receive a substitute check.

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Can I demand a substitute check from my financial institution instead of a copy?

Your financial institution may provide you with a substitute check, but it is not required by law to do so. If your financial institution does not provide you with a substitute check, you usually can use a copy of an original check or a copy of a substitute check as your proof of payment.

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What should I do if something is wrong with the substitute check that I receive?

A substitute check must show the front and back of the original check and be printed in accordance with very specific standards. If you receive a substitute check that appears to have a problem, such as it contains a bad picture of your original check, contact your financial institution. If you suffered a loss related to a substitute check you received, see the consumer protection section below or contact your financial institution.

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Is my financial institution required to tell me about substitute checks?

Under Check 21, financial institutions are required to provide a disclosure to their consumer customers who receive canceled checks with their monthly statements. The disclosure describes substitute checks and consumer rights regarding substitute checks. Financial institutions must provide this disclosure to existing customers not later than the first statement mailing after Check 21 became effective on October 28, 2004. After October 28, 2004, financial institutions must provide this disclosure to new customers at the time the customer relationship is established. If you receive canceled checks with your account statement but did not receive the required disclosure within the timeframes described above, please request one from your financial institution.

Financial institutions must also provide this disclosure when a consumer requests an original check or copy of a check and receives a substitute check. In addition, the financial institution must provide this disclosure if a check the consumer has deposited is returned unpaid to the consumer in the form of a substitute check.

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