In a comment you said,
I'm not suggesting scratching anything. I don't know how banks talk to each other, but presumably my bank would just tell the other bank to please send over $800. And if they want it in pennies they'll say pennies. If you know how banks talk to each other and you know they have no way to handle this simple issue, you can answer that below (sourced if possible)
Although others have effectively answered the question (can you do this?) I am adding an answer to explain the mechanics behind why.
The check processing system in the US is based on centralized clearinghouses acting as middle-managers between different financial institutions. When someone has an account at a bank, and they write a check which is eventually cashed at that same bank, there is no middle man required - the check is "on us" and it is processed within that bank's own core system.
However, if a check is written against an account at bank A, and it is deposited or cashed at bank B, there needs to be some mechanism for A and B to communicate. This communication has two basic requirements:
- The banks must be able to actually exchange money
- The banks must be able to agree that the check is legitimate and they must be able to agree on exactly what the check says so that their transactions will balance
The actual order of operations is a bit complicated, mainly because of the manual nature of a check. When the customer deposits the check at B, they tell B what the details of the check are (specifically, the amount) and B makes a provisional transaction against the customer's account for that amount. Depending on the deposit mechanism, the bank may verify some details of the check at the time of the deposit (i.e. a teller will look at it and make sure you wrote the right number on the deposit slip). Usually, there is a "hold" on that deposit, until the details are verified - but in some cases, some or all of the amount is available instantly, or at least prior to the details actually being verified.
After you've deposited the check, your bank B will transmit details about the check to the central bank they use for clearing checks. These central banks will have connections to other financial institutions, and they will have a settlement account for each bank, allowing them to move money back and forth from bank to bank as checks are processed. The central bank will receive the check's details and pass them on to the bank which owns the account that the check is written against. This is facilitated via the routing number on the front of the check, in the lower right corner - the routing number tells the central bank which of it's customer banks to send the check to.
In the old days, the actual physical checks would be sent back and forth between the central banks and the financial institutions. Legislation in the early 2000's allowed banks to submit digital images of checks instead, so it all happens digitally these days - if you give a paper check to your depositing bank, they will just scan it and use the digital copy as the source of truth.
So - after the central bank receives the check details (which consist of a financial transaction with the depositing bank plus the actual digital image of the check itself), they pass that info on to the issuing bank. The issuing bank basically gets a message that says,
Your customer gave $800 to someone at Bank B. Here is an image of the check. Please verify the check and give us the $800 so we can settle with Bank B.
Bank A loads all of these messages and images into their check processing system, they make sure they own the account listed on the check, and perform other basic fraud and identity verification processes. Then, they create a financial transaction in their own core system which removes the money from their customer's account and deposits the money in their clearing account with the central bank.
Once that process has happened, the check is considered cleared and the central bank moves the money from Bank A's clearing account to bank B's clearing account, in addition to sending a message back to Bank B to let them know that the check cleared. At that point, Bank B will release the hold on the transaction in the account that their customer deposited the check, and the whole job is done.
When Bank A receives the transaction and the image of the check, they may find that things don't look right to them. Maybe the account number doesn't exist, or there isn't enough money in the account, or the check looks fake, or anything else fails their processing rules. In that case, they would transmit a message back to the central bank that the check is not legitimate, and the central bank would pass that message on to Bank B, and Bank B would cancel the deposit transaction into their customer's account. Rejected transactions for insufficient funds are straightforward, but rejected transactions for just about any other reason are often logged into a fraud management system to give the bank another data point to help stop check fraud.
Sometimes, Bank A may take a very long time to clear the check, and Bank B may release the hold automatically after a certain number of days even though the check hasn't been cleared. This is worth noting because some times, the check will bounce even after the funds have been released. Some scammers try to rig the system to cause this to happen as a way to commit various types of check fraud.
Finally, and perhaps as the most relevant point to your question, Bank A has options other than literally just "Yes" or "No" when they clear the check. Effectively, there is a "yes, but..." option. In fact, Bank B has this option too, when they verify your deposit (whether it happens immediately, i.e. a teller in a branch, or slightly offline, i.e. processing a mobile deposit capture). Either bank can correct your transaction such that it matches what they interpret the actual check image to represent. That is an important point: from both bank's perspectives, they are legally obligated to respect what the check says. Banking regulation requires them to do so, since the check is a regulated financial instrument. Going into a bank and telling them, this check is for $1000 but I only want $800 would be equivalent to handing them a $20 bill but telling them to only deposit $14 into your account. They simply can't do that, they are obligated to respect the "face value" of the instrument and they have no way to destroy or correct for the difference.
So, to answer your question in that context, if you deposit a check that clearly says $1000 on it, but you write down $800 on the deposit slip (or in your mobile capture software), one of several things will happen:
- Your bank will catch the "mistake" and correct it. You will see a deposit of $1000 even though you put $800 as the amount.
- Your bank will catch the mistake and reject it. They will cancel the transaction and tell you why they cancelled it.
- Your bank will miss the error (not likely!) and submit the $800 transaction to the other party's bank. That bank will correct the amount and tell your bank to give you $1000 instead of $800.
- Same as #3, but the other bank will reject the check and tell your bank to give you no money.
Whether either bank rejects the difference or corrects it likely depends on their own processing rules and their interpretation of regulation, as well as details about the check (if it passed or failed fraud detection measures, a "fishy" check with a mismatched amount is more likely to just get rejected). Also, the difference in amount is important, some check cashing software will automatically fix transposed digits (you typed in $1000.13 even though the check says $1000.31).
How likely is it that either bank will miss your sneaky plan and give you the $800 instead of the check's $1000? Not likely at all. Modern banking software is very good at catching basic things like numbers not matching, and they use complicated scoring routines to determine if their decision is trustworthy or not - any image they can't reliably process is dumped to a queue for manual review. And both the manual reviews and the automated processing jobs are manually and independently audited within a given bank, so in the off chance that the image goes through incorrectly, it is often caught in an audit anyways. Not to mention that this entire error handling process effectively happens twice by two different institutions, so any systemic gap or problem in one institution's processing logic will likely be caught by the other party.
So - ultimately - your plan will not work unless you happen to get lucky and evade the processing functions designed to verify check deposits, which isn't likely.
I am editing to clarify: in your exact situation, you basically have the following options:
- Reject the check - void it and give it back to the person who wrote it. Tell them you need a check for the smaller amount.
- Reject the check, and tell them you want to be paid the same amount through a vehicle that actually allows refunds or adjustments to transactions (i.e. PayPal, after which you can do a partial refund) So, they PayPal you $1000 and you refund them $200.
- Accept the check and cash it for the proper amount, then write your own check back to them for the amount you wish to reject. Or, get a cashier's check for that amount and give it to them, so there's a record with a third party (the bank you got the cashier's check from) of your attempt to refund the money.
- Accept the check, cash it, and use another vehicle to refund the difference (again, i.e. - PayPal, if you know their email address and you know they are a PayPal user).
Of course, you've already stated that you basically don't want to do these options, and with any of them, there's a potential chance that the other person will reject your attempt to adjust the amount - I'm simply listing them here for the sake of completeness. Also, it's worth mentioning that depending on why you want to only accept a portion of the money, and who the other person is (and what their intentions are), these options may or may not be good ideas - for instance, if you are currently in the midst of falling for an overpayment scam, returning part of the money via a mechanism that's not reversible is a surefire way to cause yourself financial loss. Or, returning part of the money via a mechanism which isn't explicitly linked to the initial transaction may be a bad idea if this is part of some contract or payment dispute process. And so on - we really can't evaluate the legitimacy of these options based on what you've presented in your question, so proceed at your own risk.
But, to be clear, there is no way to do this just using the original check you already have.