Check 21

Substitute Checks and Your Rights

  • What Is a Substitute Check?

    To make check processing faster, Federal law permits banks to replace original checks with “substitute checks.” A substitute check is a special paper copy of the front and back of an original check. The substitute check may be slightly larger than the original check. Substitute checks are specially formatted so they can be processed as if they were original checks. The front of a substitute check should state: "This is a legal copy of your check. You can use it the same way you would use the original check."

    Not all copies of a check are substitute checks. For example, pictures of multiple checks printed on a page (also known as an image statement) that is returned to you with your monthly statement are not substitute checks. Online check images and photocopies of original checks are not substitute checks either. You can use image statements and other copies of checks to verify that your bank has paid a check.

  • How Does Check 21 Affect You?

    Because of Check 21 and other check-system improvements, your checks may be processed faster--which means money may be deducted from your checking account faster. Before you write a check, make sure that your checking account has enough money in it to cover the check.

    You will not receive your canceled checks with your AltaPacific Bank account statements. Instead, you may receive "pictures" (known as digital images) of your checks, a list of your paid checks, or a combination of these items. Check 21 will have little or no effect on these practices.

    You may receive substitute checks in other limited circumstances. For example, your bank may give you a substitute check if you ask to have a particular canceled check back to prove a payment. Also, your bank might provide a substitute check to you when returning a "bounced" check that you deposited into your account.

    By law, your bank may not pay a check from your account unless you authorized that payment. In other words, you are protected from having your bank pay the same check from your account more than once or from having your bank pay the wrong amount for a check. Check 21 does not change these protections. However, Check 21 does give you special rights if you receive a substitute check from your bank.

  • Electronic Check Conversion

    Sometimes, when you write a check to buy something at a store or to pay a bill, your check is used as a source of information to make a one-time electronic payment from your account. In this procedure, called "electronic check conversion," your paper check will not be processed as a check. Instead, the payment will be debited from your account as an electronic funds transfer.

    You must receive a notice if a merchant or anyone else you are paying plans to use your check for electronic check conversion. For example, if you are at a store, you may see the notice on a sign, or you may be asked to sign a written notice. If you mail a check to pay a bill, you may see the notice on an insert with your monthly bill, or the notice may be on the bill itself.

    You will probably experience the following if your check is used for electronic check conversion: If you write a check at a store, your check may be stamped "void" and handed back to you with a receipt. If you mail a check to pay a utility bill, the utility company will keep a copy of your check as a record but will destroy the original so that you won't be charged more than once for the same bill. Your check will not be returned to you. When you receive your account statement, both of these electronic check conversions should be listed.

    As you do in other electronic fund transfers, you have certain rights when your check is processed as an electronic check-conversion transaction. These rights include the right to have AltaPacific Bank investigate errors (called "error resolution"). If you mailed a check to pay a bill and need a copy of the check to resolve a dispute or to prove you made a payment, you may contact the company you paid. The Bank can also help you to get a copy of a check.

  • Check 21 Standards

    Additional liability is created under Check 21 for any bank that introduces into the check collection or return process any item on which the necessary elements (name, account numbers, dates, amounts, signature, endorsements, etc.) are not clearly legible when they are imaged or copied. Therefore, the customer should not write or deposit a check that is written in an ink type or color that does not reproduce clearly when imaged or copied. Further, the customer should not write or deposit a check that bears designs, security features, or other elements that prevent the check from being imaged or copied with all of its necessary elements being reproduced clearly.


    • When a bank uses substitute checks, your checks may be processed faster. Be sure you have enough money in your account to cover the checks that you write.
    • Always review your account statement to make sure the charges are correct.
    • If you receive something other than a substitute check, be aware of your rights to resolve errors under other state and federal laws.
    • Contact AltaPacific Bank immediately if you notice an error in your account.