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What You Can Do If You Receive an NSF Check

Posted Sunday, June 21, 2009 by Christopher L. Thayer

alt textDuring these difficult economic times you may be facing some unique challenges in your business as many companies and individuals suffer through a downturn in business. Many businesses are experiencing an increase in the number or volume of checks that are being returned “N.S.F.” (insufficient funds) or “bounced” by their customers. This post is to provide you with one small tool to help you collect on these accounts and to (hopefully) increase the likelihood that you will get paid. If you follow these procedures, it will provide you with additional leverage in the effort to collect on outstanding accounts receivable.

If you receive payment by check and that check is returned for insufficient funds, here are the issues to consider and the steps to follow to protect your rights:

  1. The check must not be the subject of a “justifiable stop payment order”. An example of a “justifiable stop payment order” would be where the person or business who signed the check has contacted their bank and asked that the check not be honored because of a dispute about he amount owing. If the drawer has a “justifiable” reason for placing a stop order on the check, then the following provisions do not apply. If you have any questions about this issue, please feel free to give me a call before sending out a notice.
  2. Execute a Notice of Dishonor form to be mailed to the drawer’s last known address. Mail two copies of this form to the drawor (person who wrote/signed check): one by regular mail and one by certified mail (return receipt requested). The statute does not require certified mail but I believe this is a good idea and can lay to rest any notice issues that might be raised by the drawer in the event of a subsequent collection. The contents of the form is proscribed by statute, which you can find here:http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=62A.3-520.
  3. Retain the original check for your records – until payment is made or the dispute is resolve. If a lawsuit is required, you may need to submit the original check into evidence.
  4. If the check is paid within 15 days of the date the Notice of Dishonor is mailed (postmarked), you are entitle to recover the face amount of the check, plus a “reasonable handling fee”, which is usually deemed to be $20.00.
  5. If the check is not paid within 15 days of the date the Notice of Dishonor is sent (post marked date), then you will be entitled to recover the following relief: 12% interest on the face amount of the check from the date of dishonor until paid, a “reasonable handling fee” (again, about $20.00 is typical), plus “collection costs” of up to $40.00 or the face amount of the check, whichever is less.
  6. If, after expiration of the 15 day period payment has not been made, you have the right to commence a lawsuit. In the event of such suit, you are entitled to recover all of the damages above. In addition, you will be entitled to an award of reasonable attorneys’ fees, court costs (filing fee and service of process), plus three times the face value of the check or $300.00 (whichever is less).
  7. This procedure is most useful in situations where you do not have a contractual relationship with the person or business who is writing the check to you. If you have a contract, which includes a provision for an award of attorneys’ fees and collection costs in the event of a default in payment, this procedure may not be all that helpful as the contract will give you the leverage you need. However, even where you do have a contract with the client or customer, it is an easy procedure to follow and getting an official “Notice of Dishonor” form sometimes helps prompt payment.

This procedure must be followed precisely in order to be effective. If you have any questions on how to pursue a claim on a dishonored check in Washington, feel free to contact me.

This post is being provided for information purposes only and should not be construed under any circumstances as legal advice. It does not create an attorney client relationship. If you have a situation that warrants legal advice, you should contact a local experienced attorney to review your circumstances.

For more information, please contact Christopher Thayer at 206-805-1494.

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