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What Does One Do With a Bouncing (NSF) Check?


From the Washington County (Oregon) Law Librarian:

This question comes to law librarians with a variety of different back stories, but the gist of the question remains:

Question: What DO you do with a check that keeps getting returned for insufficient or non-sufficient funds?

Answer: Believe it or not, sometimes the answer is simple. Don’t assume the person who wrote the check knows that it bounced. This happened to me once and the person who wrote the check was mortified when I told him. Problem solved.

But, we’ll assume for now that the reason you are researching this “on the Internet” is that the simple solution wasn’t in play. (And, please, please tell me you don’t get legal advice from “the Internet.” The legal information on “the Internet” is legal information. It is not legal advice, it is not specific to you, and it is not from a licensed attorney, who is the only person allowed to give you legal advice.)

As for this blog post, I’m recommending only a few places to begin your research – you will need to talk to your financial institution and maybe even a lawyer or a debt collector for advice on your specific situation.

Keep in mind also, that there are huge businesses built around collecting on unpaid debts, and bouncing checks may just be the beginning of your journey.

Where to start your research? You have several options, depending on the facts of your specific situation:

1) First, ask for advice from the bank where you are trying to cash the check. Some banks are very helpful to their customers (but not all). They will be able to explain a bit about the check cashing process. For example, some (most?) banks process checks on a first-come, first-served basis, so they may advise you to keep trying and to cash the check as soon as (if) the funds become available. On the other hand … there is always another hand ….

2) If you are a small business, and this is a debt owed the business, there are several small business organizations that could advise you on how to collect on customer debts. If you are asking personally, and this also applies if you are a business, you will need to look at the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) to find out what debt collection options you may pursue lawfully.

3) The Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) can be found online or in print at many public libraries. Use the index and look up terms such as debt collection, small claims court, bad checks, dishonored checks, negotiable instruments, etc.

4) In some situations, you may really need legal advice – and you can get this only from an attorney (not a paralegal! not an accountant! not your law student neighbor!). A determination will be made about whether or not your situation is a criminal matter or if your only recourse is through the civil courts. That could depend in part on the amount of the check, but additional factors will be considered. There can be penalties for writing bad checks, but only a lawyer could advise you.

5) In addition to contacting an attorney, you may also want to contact your local police department to ask if your specific situation might be a criminal matter and if you can file a police report.

6) If you need to find an attorney, I recommend you contact the Oregon State Bar (OSB) association’s Information and Referral Service, or at 503-684-3763. A guide on how to find a lawyer is at our webpage:

7) Also, depending on your specific situation, you may want to call the Oregon Attorney General Consumer helpline.

Their telephone numbers:

Salem area: (503) 378-4320
Portland area: (503) 229-5576
In Oregon (toll free): (1-877) 877-9392

Good luck with your research!

Disclaimer #1: The information provided on this blog is for research purposes only. We do not provide legal advice, nor do we endorse any person, product, or company.

Disclaimer #2: It is against state law for library staff members to engage in any conduct that might constitute the unauthorized practice of law (ORS 9.160, 9.166 and 9.21). They may not interpret statutes, cases or regulations, perform legal research, recommend or assist in the preparation of forms, or advise patrons regarding their legal rights. They may, however, assist patrons in locating materials or links that would aid in individual research.

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