Can the Bank Pay a Post-dated Check before the Date on the Check?

Can the Bank Pay a Post-dated Check before the Date on the Check?

Last updated: November 2007

The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "Q&A: The Law," runs in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Illinois Edition) and the Champaign News Gazette.

Question

I wrote a post-dated check to cover an IOU. The person didn’t wait to cash it like he was supposed to, and my bank paid it, which caused several other checks to bounce. Am I responsible for all the bounced check fees, since the checks wouldn’t have bounced if the bank had waited like it was supposed to before cashing it?

Answer

The bank’s not responsible, since the law lets banks cash post-dated checks before the date on the check. You could go after the person you wrote your check to, on the grounds that he broke an agreement to hold off on cashing the check. But that might be hard to prove, and the amount involved—the bounced check fees—probably aren’t enough to sue over.

Post-dated checks are perfectly legal. If they weren’t, “pay day” lenders, and other crude forms of credit, couldn’t exist.

Only “properly payable” checks are supposed to be cashed by banks. But just about anything with the right signature on it is properly payable, including post-dated and overdrawn checks. Post-dated checks are a risky form of do-it-yourself credit.

The main reason the law lets banks cash post-dated checks is that it’s too hard to look at checks for their date. Processing 45,000,000 checks a day is tough enough, without looking at dates.

There’s one exception to the general rule that lets banks cash post-dated checks. That’s if you warn your bank ahead of time about your post-dated a check, so it knows to be careful. The law says you have to describe the check “with reasonable certainty,” and give the bank enough time to have "a reasonable opportunity to act.”

Therefore, although it's not generally a good idea to write post-dated checks, the careful writer of post-dated checks will notify his bank as soon as possible about his post-dated check. As always, putting it in writing is best. Don’t be surprised if the bank charges a fee for having to be extra careful.

If you do like you’re supposed to and tell the bank about a post-dated check, and the bank still pays it before the date on the check, the bank can be responsible to you for the losses. That would include any bank fees and damages caused by an improperly overdrawn account.

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