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When I opened my Bank of America account years ago, I was given >50 checks. So far I've only made 2 checks. Therefore, I'd like to dispose of all my checks except for a few ones, to reduce the number of items in my place. Is it ok throw away my unused checks? Will my bank complain if in a few years I ask for a few more checks and they realize that I didn't use most of the checks they initially gave me?

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    Checks usually come in booklets of 25 or 50, so tearing out a bunch from one booklet and throwing them away is not going to significantly reduce your item count.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 12 at 16:02
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    Sidenote: remember that checks are very useful in a natural disaster when communication and transport networks fail. You won't be able to use cards, which includes ATMs. Without road transport, merchants end up getting stuck with all the cash and no way to cycle it back to consumers, plus people will hoard cash.
    – user71659
    Sep 12 at 22:06
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    @FranckDernoncourt wrap a rubber band around them, now you have one item :)
    – user253751
    Sep 13 at 8:06
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    @user71659 But are people actually going to take checks in a situation like that? Sep 13 at 15:23
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    I still find it interesting that checks are still a thing in the US. In Germany they went out of fashion more than 20 years ago. Sep 14 at 17:34
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Is it ok throw away my unused checks?

No. If you feel that you want to get rid of them. You should destroy them. Put them through a shredder. Burn them. But don't throw them away.

If they aren't destroyed then somebody could use them to empty your bank account.

Will my bank complain if in a few years I ask for a few more checks and they realize that I didn't use most of the checks they initially gave me?

No they won't complain. The part of the bank that wants to sell you new checks will be happy to do so. That new box of checks costs money. Check their website to see how much they charge.

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    Checks cost money where you are? Wow.
    – SiHa
    Sep 13 at 11:39
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    @SiHa A box of new checks does cost money. Until a few years ago the credit union didn't charge for a box. Banks have charged even longer. Of course my most recent boxes of checks is more than 10 years old.... Sep 13 at 12:27
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    @SiHa Most places charge for them now. Usually your account service fees would cover a certain number of basic cheques a long time ago - when cheques were the main way to make a payment, but those fees now get used for other things you now get for free (chip+pin cards, online services, etc). It costs banks something like £1 (I see you're in the UK) to even process a cheque these days, so most are not in the habit of providing free ones any longer. They'd really prefer you used other methods.
    – J...
    Sep 13 at 16:17
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    @James_pic: Your checks have all the information necessary for a third-party to either A) Print new, blank checks or B) Use ACH to withdraw money from your account. This is discussed in more detail on money.stackexchange.com/q/4350/71414 . Another fun think people can do is call your bank and ask if their (non-existent) $10,000 check from you is going to bounce. If the bank says no, they know you have at least $10,000 in your account.
    – Brian
    Sep 14 at 13:43
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    If you don't have the time/equipment to properly destroy them, at least write the word "VOID" in large, inked letters across the front before you toss them. That will eliminate the most common problem (someone forging your signature to pay for something out of your account).
    – bta
    Sep 14 at 19:50
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Unless your account includes "free checks" as a benefit (and I doubt BoA has this) then whenever you need more checks you will pay for them. It's relatively common to provide an initial supply of checks with a new checking account but not reorder checks. Those are usually ordered from the bank or a 3rd party check provider.

So it doesn't matter, one way or the other you will pay for new checks in the event you need them in the future.

But don't just "throw them away" as they contain information that could be misused by a bad actor. Shred them or otherwise make them unreadable before disposal.

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    If you have enough balance, you can temporarily switch to an account that gives you actual "free cheques", and you literally get free cheques. Even if you do not have enough balance, you may be able to switch to said account, pay one month of service fee, and order an "unlimited" amount of cheques to offset the fee. I remember being able to pick very nice backgrounds for my cheques once I did that.
    – Nelson
    Sep 12 at 15:30
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    @Nelson if OP has used less than 1 check per year so far, it's unlikely they will get enough benefit to be worth structuring their choice of accounts around the benefit of getting "free" checks...
    – stannius
    Sep 12 at 19:42
  • I would add that even if the bank account is closed, you should destroy the checks securely. Someone can still use them and you will be contacted by law enforcement and/or the bank if/when that happens, potentially repeatedly.
    – JimmyJames
    Sep 13 at 17:43
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    @JimmyJames In some cases, a check coming in for a closed account will actually cause the account to be re-opened. You can be surprised by an "account overdrawn" notice and fees on an account you thought you closed months ago. You will at least have to go through all the hassle of closing the account all over again, possibly with a ding on your credit report until the check is proven fraudulent. Definitely a good reason to destroy old checks thoroughly.
    – bta
    Sep 14 at 19:55
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Is it ok throw away my unused checks?

At a minimum, use permanent ink to write the word "VOID" across the face of each check in large letters. This will prevent one of the most common forms of fraud, where someone finds your blank check, forges a signature, and buys stuff using your money. Signatures aren't verified on every check received, so it's better to make it obvious to any potential recipient that this check isn't valid.

Using a chisel-tip marker to black out the account numbers is also helpful. Most checks are processed by scanners that read those numbers optically, like a barcode. Blacking them out prevents them from being scanned normally and makes it much harder for a malicious actor to use them.

Completely destroying the checks is the even safer option. Shred them if you can. For a small number of checks, I usually just cut them apart with scissors. Most of a check is empty space, the only parts that really need to be destroyed are those with personal/account information. I'll tear the check into quarters, then take the piece that has the account numbers on it and cut that part into smaller pieces.

Will my bank complain if in a few years I ask for a few more checks and they realize that I didn't use most of the checks they initially gave me?

This is a very common thing to do, and I can't imagine any bank complaining about it. When people move, they normally order checks with their new address on them. Old checks with the previous address normally never get used. Or, if you're like me, it takes until May before you write the correct year on things so half your checks end up voided out and re-written. Banks don't expect to see all of their checks get used.

The only time a bank might complain is if you were taking an unreasonable number of free checks and only using a tiny fraction of them. In a case like that the bank wouldn't prevent you from getting more checks (you still have to be able to use your account), they'd just start charging you for them.

What the bank will pay attention to is problems with the check sequence. If the bank gets check #408 from your account and their records show that they cashed another check #408 last month, you'll get a call from their fraud department. A lot of fraud systems also trigger on large jumps in sequence. I once had to use the "emergency check" that I kept hidden in my wallet. That thing had been in there for years. I got a call when it reached the bank because they saw a sequence of checks come in with numbers like 1019, 1020, 33, 1021, 1022, etc. The huge break in continuity was a red flag for them. Small discontinuities are usually okay as are jumps forward, but large jumps backwards look suspicious. Any time you discard a bunch of checks, keep the last one so that you know where to start when you reorder. Accidentally ordering checks whose numbers overlap with your old checks can create a rather annoying problem to untangle.

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    Most banks read the pre-printed numbers on checks magnetically, not optically. The account and routing numbers are typically printed using magnetic ink which permits magnetic ink character recognition (MICR). It's been that way since the late 1950's/60's. As a result, using a pen to blacken out the account and routing numbers won't prevent that data from being read. OTOH, it will, probably, result in any human who happens to look at the checks to think something's wrong.
    – Makyen
    Sep 15 at 3:01
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    ^ +1 to @Makyen. While a marker might obfuscate it to the human eye, the magnetic ink found on most checks can still be read. Certainly, you might prevent a bank that uses an OCR scanner from processing that check, but any institution or individual with magnetic reading equipment (still very common) can extract the account number. Plus, you could more than likely hold the check up to a light & make out the MICR numbers behind the marker, since the magnetic ink is heavier and will not allow as much light through. Once you have the account number, you can do nasty stuff like ACH transfers.
    – Spencer D
    Sep 15 at 10:29
  • Just another +1 and to add that virtually all financial institutions in the US still use MICR to read (check scanners snap an image of the front and back of the check and read the MICR information simultaneously). I work in check processing, and have never seen an institution use OCR for the MICR line. Sep 15 at 13:21
  • @Makyen - I was thinking more about the sort of equipment a store would use when you pay with a check and they scan it to turn it into a debit transaction. Some of those (particularly the cheaper models) use the same sort of optical scanner used by barcode readers.
    – bta
    Sep 16 at 1:51

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