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Check 21 & Substitute Checks

What is Check 21?

Check 21 refers to a federal law which makes it easier for banks to electronically transfer check images instead of physically transferring paper checks. This guide explains your rights under Check 21 as they relate to substitute checks. Substitute checks are special paper copies of the front and back of your original checks that are created to replace the original checks.

How Check 21 Affects You

Because of Check 21 and other check-system improvements, your checks may be processed faster – which means money may be deducted from your checking account faster. Before you write a check, make sure that your checking account has enough money in it to cover the check.

You will no longer receive your canceled checks with your account statements. Instead, you may receive “pictures” (”digital images”) of your checks, a list of your paid checks, or a combination of these items. You may receive substitute checks in other limited circumstances. For example, we may give you a substitute check if you’ve asked us to provide proof of a particular payment, or we may provide a substitute check when advising you of a “bounced” check that you deposited into your account.

By law we may not pay a check from your account unless you authorized that payment. You are protected from having a bank pay the same check from your account more than once, or paying the wrong amount. Check 21 does not change these rights, but does give you special rights regarding these substitute checks.

Substitute Checks

A substitute check is a special paper copy of the front and back of your check. They may be larger than the original, and are specially formatted so they can be processed as if they were original checks. The front of a substitute check should state: “This is a legal copy of your check. You can use it the same way you would use the original check.”

Not all copies of checks are substitute checks. For example, pictures of multiple checks printed on a page (also known as an image statement) are not substitute checks. Online check images and photocopies of original checks are not substitute checks either. You can use image statements and other copies of checks to verify that we have paid a check.

Why banks create substitute checks?

Some banks find that exchanging electronic images of checks with other banks is faster and more efficient than physically transferring paper checks. In certain circumstances, however, banks need to use a paper check. To address this need, Check 21 allows a bank to create and send a substitute check that is made from an electronic image of the original check.

What should I do if I receive a substitute check and there is a problem?

Check 21 provides a special process that allows you to claim a refund (also known as an expedited re-credit) when you receive a substitute check from a bank and you think there is an error because of the substitute check. For example, you may think that you were charged twice for the same check.

You may use the special process to get a refund of the money you lost. The amount of your refund under the special process is limited to the amount of your loss or the amount of the substitute check that you received, whichever is less, plus interest on that amount if your account earns interest. If your loss is more than the amount of the substitute check, you may have the right to recover additional amounts of money.

If we find that your claim is valid, you should receive your refund by the next business day after our finding. Unless we find your claim is not valid, you should receive up to $2,500 of your refund (plus interest if your account earns interest) within 10 business days after we receive your claim. You should receive the rest of your refund (plus interest, if your account earns interest) no later than 45 days after we receive your claim. If we find your claim is not valid, we will send you a notice explaining why. We may reverse the fund (including any interest on the refund) if we can show that the substitute check did not cause an error in your account.

How to file a claim under the special refund procedure for substitute checks

  • Contact us as soon as possible. In general, to use the special refund procedure for a substitute check, you should contact us no later than 40 days from the date we provided you with the substitute check or from the date of the statement that shows the problem.
  • Describe why you think the charge to your account is incorrect.
  • Describe why you believe the original check or a better version of the substitute check is needed to determine whether the substitute check should have been deducted from your account.
  • Estimate how much money you lost because of the substitute check. (Include any fees you were charged as a result of the substitute check. Also, alert us to any interest you lost, if your account earns interest.)
  • Provide us a copy of the substitute check, or any other information that will help us identify it and investigate your claim.

If you have more questions about Check 21 or substitute checks

  • Please contact us.
  • Visit the Federal Reserve’s web site on Check 21 by clicking here.
  • Contact the state’s consumer protection agency for information on state laws that apply to checks and substitute checks.


  • When we use substitute checks, your checks may be processed faster. Be sure you have enough money in your account to cover the checks that you write.
  • Always review your account statement to make sure the charges are correct.
  • If you receive something other than a substitute check, be aware of your rights to resolve errors under other state and federal laws.
  • Contact us right away if you notice an error in your account.

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