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On some of the bills I've seen mentions to add account number on check's memo line, but on others - no mention. Hence's this question.

For the sake of example, suppose I've got bill from internet provider "Cheezenet". The bill does not mention to add "acc#" to memo line. If I've made the bill payable as directed to "Cheezenet" but put on memo line "internet bill" only, no "acc#", will that check still be process ? If yes, how ?

  • 1
    A company will make every effort to collect your money and apply it to the appropriate account. If all their efforts fail then they may mail the check back to you, call you, or shred/void the check and make note of it in the system so that if somebody calls to confirm payment then they have a trail of actions taken. – MonkeyZeus Jul 24 at 15:18
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Normally, the check will get processed regardless of what appears on the memo line. You're generally sending the check back along with (a portion of) the bill and the bill is going to have the account number on it.

Adding information to the memo is helpful when something goes wrong and your check gets separated from the bill or you make a mistake and damage the account number on the stub you're sending back. If the two get separated, it's much easier to figure out what account number to apply the payment to if it's on the check. The company may be able to figure it out based on the name and address on the check as well but that's not always possible (and may rely on someone in the mail room taking some additional initiative).

In the vast majority of cases, it's not going to matter. But it's a relatively easy backstop to put in place for the small fraction of cases where it does matter.

  • In all cases, checks I mail have detachable slip that does have the account info, so what I am getting from your answer is that in 99% of cases checks should get processed, and that one 1% of "what if xyz happens" is what adding account number to the memo is supposed to handle. Correct me if I'm wrong there. – Sergiy Kolodyazhnyy Jul 25 at 20:31
  • @SergiyKolodyazhnyy - Correct. The account number is just a backup in case the slip gets missed, damaged, or separated. – Justin Cave Jul 25 at 20:48
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Usually checks have a name and address on it, which normally match what is on the bill. This covers the vast majority of cases. If you are using old checks that does not have updated information, they might be able to match the name and the amount, possibly even by just the first name and amount if you recently got married. One example where you might have an issue is where a non custodial parent pays a medical bill for their child and none of the contact information matches. Even if you have multiple accounts for an address, you can still piece together which account the check goes to.

This is why it is always a good idea to have your updated phone number on your checks so if there is an issue matching it to an account, they can call you.

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In the UK, the only personal information on a cheque is the account holder's name. Even the bank address might just be a PO Box number. It's not normally possible to match a cheque to an individual (unless the name is very unusual). This one's quite old, but it's a good example:

Cheque address detail

Even if your cheque does have your name and address (and even phone number), the cheque is an instruction to the bank to pay the payee. There is no requirement to put any other information on the cheque to make that transaction happen, so it will happen if the payee asks their bank to credit the payment against one of their accounts.

In accounting for the payment within the payee company, the bank balance needs to match payments against customer accounts. However, even if it's not possible to match the cheque against a particular invoice, it will still be processed: the company will pay it into their bank and for accounting purposes it will be matched against a suspense account.

Suspense accounts are a kind of "dummy customer account", an internal escrow if you like, where money can rest until its proper place is known. They are a fundamental feature of double-entry bookkeeping.

The end result is that you have paid the company, and your bank should be able to tell where that cheque payment went. The company may not know you have paid them: if that's the case, they will ask you again, and that's when you give them details so they can find your payment in their suspense account and allocate it against your customer account.

The reason that the company will process the cheque instead of returning it is — apart from the lack of identifying information on the cheque — they want to be paid for the service rendered. If they were to return the cheque, even to the bank it's drawn on, they're giving up that payment and will be down on the deal.

  • I am in the U.S. and with all my checks I return a detachable slip, which does contain account information and name matching on the checks (which is what other answers hinted at). Is it the same for U.K. - adding detachable slips to the mailed check ? Suspense account is interesting, never heard of that before. +1'ed for interesting information – Sergiy Kolodyazhnyy Jul 25 at 20:28
  • @SergiyKolodyazhnyy Oh, yes: there's generally a tear-off portion of a bill (especially something like a utility bill or credit-card bill) that should go with the cheque, or you can use yourself to pay into a bank. This answer describes what happens if the cheque gets separated from that, or you don't return it at all. – Andrew Leach Jul 25 at 20:30
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First, the clerks who open your payments are human beings, and it's decent of you to not waste their time.

The first and normal way is that you include the payment slip in the return envelope. This payment slip positively identifies your account. It typically has "machine readable" features such as bar codes, MICR, or OCR-friendly fonts, which allow a high level of automation - scan both sides of each paper, identify the slip and OCR the numbers/barcode off it, then identify the check and submit the image through the clearinghouse system.

If the slip is definitely associated with a check, they don't care whose name is on the check.


Now, if the slip and check get separated, this will probably get direct human intervention. They will attempt to match it to one of their accounts. The evidence they will use are:

  • The name and address preprinted on the check
  • The account number you wrote on the "memo" line
  • The minimum payment (or statement balance) versus the amount of the check

They will consider it a certainty if both are present and match; even a partial match will suffice. I omit numerals 7-12 when writing a credit card number:

 4688 13xx xxxx 5041

They will see an account with my name/address, and also ending in 5041, and be satisfied that they have the right account.

For instance I have two accounts with one bank. If I simply sent a check with no slip and no account number, they would not know what account to apply it to.

If there is still ambiguity, they'll then compare the check amount to an amount they suggested on the bill. Suppose I write a $245.31 check. I have 3 accounts there: the "statement balances" are $10,431.44, $245.77, and $3544.13. The "minimum payments" are $245.31, $10.00, and $81.14. They will apply it to the first account.

If they cannot match it to a particular account with any measure of certainty, if they can uniquely identify a single customer from the address info, they may call you on the phone. Otherwise, they will return the check to the street address on the check, unless they captured a return address on the envelope. By the time you get the check and letter back, and you pay it again, your payment might be late.

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Let's say that you send a check to your electric company, but, you forget to include the payment stub, or they lose the stub...

They might look up your name.

Let's say the bill is in your spouse/partner's name.. And, their address, not yours, and, you don't put the address or account number on the check, and they have no idea how to process the payment.

They will either

  • Return it to you (not likely, as there are mailing costs)
  • Shred it and ignore it.
  • Shred it and note it in some system somewhere.
  • Cash it, and note it in some system somewhere.

I used to process a lot of checks. We didn't ignore them. We made every effort to figure out where to apply the payment.

I paid a bill once, and they claimed they never got it. Well, they did get it, and somehow didn't apply it to my account. After I sent them a copy of the bank check image, they suddenly found it, credited my account, undid the late fee, interest, etc.

The account number on the memo line is a great idea for the case where you forgot the stub, or they get separated.

99.99% of the time, if you make a good-faith effort to pay a bill, there aren't problems. Sometimes it does take time and research.

If you know that the name/address on the check do not match the bill, then include the account number on the check. It can save you a lot of phone calls, email, snail-mail and faxing to-and-fro to get things straightened out.

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