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What Is a Canceled Check?

What Is a Canceled Check?
Jacqueline DeMarco
Jacqueline DeMarcoUpdated July 14, 2023
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Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
A canceled check is a check that the bank cancels once the money is deducted from the payer’s account — that way, the check can’t be used twice. Let’s take a closer look at what a canceled check is and what consumers need to know about them.

Canceled Check Definition

After opening a checking account, one of the major perks is having access to a checkbook. Before using a check to make a payment, it’s beneficial to understand how this payment works. For example, what is a canceled check?When it comes to understanding the canceled check definition, it’s important to know when canceled checks occur. A check is typically canceled once the payee cashes it, that way the check is no longer usable. In some cases, consumers need to provide copies of canceled checks. For example, a canceled check may be required to prove payments of child support or during a divorce settlement.It’s also possible to request a check be canceled before someone cashes it. Recommended: How Long Does It Take for a Check to Clear?

Canceled Checks Versus Voided Checks

It’s easy to confuse a canceled personal check with a voided check, but these are two different things. A voided check, or stopped payment, refers to a check that has the word “VOID” written across it in order to indicate that the check is not eligible for use as a form of payment. No one can use a voided check, which can help protect the check writer from fraud and criminal activity. The check writer is the one responsible for voiding a check, but it cannot be voided once it’s given to the payee.Oftentimes, people request a voided check so they can use the information on the check to set up an electronic payment (like when setting up a direct deposit with an employer), as checks contain the account number and bank’s routing number.

Canceled Checks Verses Returned Checks

Returned or bounced checks are also different from canceled checks. Check returns occur if the payer doesn’t have enough money in their account to fulfill the check payment. When the payee goes to cash the check, if the payer’s account has insufficient funds, the check ends up being returned. It’s common to refer to a check with insufficient funds in the payer’s checking account as a bounced check. The payer ends up paying a non-sufficient funds fee to help cover administrative costs associated with the payment not processing and to discourage writing bad checks. Unfortunately, the payee can also face penalty fees when they try to cash a bounced check. It’s important to budget accordingly before writing a check to help ensure it doesn’t bounce.

How a Canceled Check Works

To better understand how canceled checks work, let’s look at a canceled check example. Let’s say Tom owes his sister Susan $150 for their mom’s birthday present. Once Susan cashes the check, the bank, credit union, or community bank who issued the check will cancel it so she can’t cash it again and take more money out of Tom’s bank account. If Tom decided after giving Susan the check that he didn’t want her to cash it, he could request the bank cancel the check in advance. To do this, he would request a “stop payment.” To stop payment on a check, Tom would first confirm the check hasn’t already been cashed. From there, he would contact the bank to request the cancellation and would provide the check number, amount, and bank account number. He’ll likely have to pay a fee for canceling the check.

What Does a Canceled Check Look Like?

A canceled check doesn’t look any different from a normal check, but the payee won’t be able to cash them after a cancellation occurs. For cancellations that occur after cashing a check, the bank keeps the canceled checks, so the consumer doesn’t typically see it (although they can request a copy of the canceled check for their records).

Who Needs a Canceled Check?

Canceled checks are often required when someone needs to prove a payment. This is particularly common with court-ordered payments, such as child support or alimony. Some employers request voided checks when setting up direct deposit payments. 

Requesting a Copy of a Canceled Check

While in the past it was common for banks to include copies of canceled checks in bank statements, today banks don’t give customers back canceled checks. The customer can request a copy, though, as the bank is obligated to retain reproductions or copies of the checks for five years. Keep in mind that banks may not save smaller checks of $100 or less and they may charge a fee for this service.

Access Canceled Checks Online

Some banks make it possible to request a copy of a canceled check via the customer’s online account or mobile banking app. Simply log into your bank account and view your transaction history. Click on the check number, and you should be able to view and print a copy of the cleared check.

Request a Copy In-Person or By Phone

For customers who prefer human assistance with their banking matters, they can call their bank or stop by an in-person branch location to request a copy of a canceled check. 

The Takeaway

There are two ways a canceled check can occur. The most common is when someone cashes a check and the bank cancels it so the payee can’t try to cash the check again. The second way is for a payer to request a check cancellation before the payee cashes it. How that process works depends on the payer’s bank.Looking for a new savings account? Lantern by SoFi allows you to make comparisons of today's high-yield savings rates, taking into account any associated fees and minimum balance requirements. Start your search for a new high-yield savings account with Lantern by SoFi.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you get a canceled check?
Is a canceled check the same as a voided check?
What is proof of a canceled check?
Photo credit: iStock/AndreyPopov

About the Author

Jacqueline DeMarco

Jacqueline DeMarco

Jacqueline DeMarco is a personal finance writer and editor based in Southern California. While she spends the bulk of her time writing about complex financial issues, she also tackles a variety of subjects ranging from food to fashion to travel. Her work can be found across dozens of publications such as Credit Karma, LendingTree, Northwestern Mutual, The Everygirl, and Apartment Therapy.
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