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By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s a little known fact about checking that could wipe out your account!   As 3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan finds, you may want to stop and read the fine print before putting a stop payment on a check.

Millions of Americans write checks each and every day and occasionally some get misplaced or lost.  That’s when a stop payment can come in handy.  At least that’s what Carla Evans figured when she put a stop payment on a check.   But three years later when $849 disappeared without warning from her checking account she says, “we were totally shocked.”  That check had been cashed. The stop payment order had expired!

While Carla thought the stop payment was good forever, Bankrate’s Allison Ross says think again.  According to Ross, “Whenever you do anything with a bank you need to read the fine print and understand what you’re getting into.”

In Carla’s case the fine print could be found on page 15 of her 49 page account agreement with TD Bank which said stop payments will remain in effect for one year.  That’s actually longer than most banks.  According to Ross, “There’s a rule from the Uniform Commercial Code that says stop payments are only in effect for 6 months, and you can renew them again for another 6 months after that.”

Indeed Wells Fargo, Bank of America, PNC and Citizens Bank stop payment orders are good for six months, often costing you a fee each time you request or renew one.  Ross says, “If you only do the stop payment verbally, it can expire after only 14 days if you don’t follow up with a written response for a stop payment.”

TD Bank had sent Carla a confirmation of her stop payment 3 years ago.  It included an “expire date”, but it wasn’t really clear what that referred to.  And Carla says, “we never really saw that part.”

When 3 On Your Side reached out to TD Bank, it reviewed Carla’s complaint and as a courtesy refunded the $849 back into her account.  Carla says, “So we’re very happy with them so we’ll stay banking with them because they satisfied the check.”  Making it another 3 On Your Side problem solved.

By the way, you don’t always have to put a stop payment if a check goes missing.  But if was given to a business or someone other than a close family member, it may be worthwhile.  And if the check involves a large amount of money, you may be better off just closing the account.

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