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What would happen if you wrote a check to yourself and then deposited it into the same account you had written it from? (I could use an ATM to avoid interacting with a teller who will likely question this.)

What if the check is for more than the account balance? If I have $100 in my account, I can't normally write a $1,000 check, but $100-$1000+$1000=$100.

I have no need to do this, but I'm just curious what would happen.

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    A black hole will form inside the ATM that will consume the universe.
    – littleadv
    Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 23:57
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    @littleadv More precisely: Due to a critical loophole in the underlying OTP-system written in Erlang it will create an infinite loop in trying to process such transaction, eventually spreading the resources for such a request throughout the various data centers, resulting in an enormous energy-consumption which will cause massive blackouts which in turn affect the installed energy-shield placed around UY Scuti, a hypergiant with a radius around 1,700 times larger than the radius of the sun, which eventually decides to go supernova destroying the whole universe..
    – iLuvLogix
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 17:45
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    This reminds me of the time I used Apple Pay to send my wife money. It went into the same bank account that it came out of; but I wanted those transactions to be there for budgeting purposes, so I could earmark a certain amount of money to different budgets.
    – GendoIkari
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 19:28

3 Answers 3

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The answer will depend on your bank. Once upon a time, most banks actually did all your transactions at the end of the day (batch processing) and they deliberately did all your deposits first and then all your withdrawals to minimize overdrafts. These days, everything is done as it happens. The most likely scenario is this:

  • your balance will be increased by the amount of the deposit, and a "hold" for that amount will prevent you withdrawing cash at the ATM until the deposit has been completely confirmed
  • if you have "cash back" or a similar arrangement with your bank, you may be able to withdraw some money or the hold may not be for the entire amount
  • when the envelope is opened at the end of the day (or immediately if your bank has you slide the cheque into the machine without an envelope) the system can confirm that you did deposit a cheque for $1000. This doesn't release the hold, but it is a necessary step in the process (some people might deposit say a store receipt or other non-cheque item as part of a fraud.)
  • probably overnight, the bank will reconcile the deposits. If the cheque was on another bank they would arrange clearing it. If it's on themselves, they'll process it. It's unlikely any system will notice you wasted everyone's time writing a cheque to yourself.
  • when the cheque clears, your balance will go down and it's possible you'll be charged service charges if they are per cheque at your bank. If you withdrew cash using your cash back, you'll be in overdraft and get a signficant service charge; there's also a very large chance your cash back privileges will be revoked. It's possible you could be pursued for fraud or kiting, though that typically involves multiple banks and is much harder than it used to be.

So probably you could manage to get yourself a balance snapshot that would fool someone into thinking you had more money than you did. There is no other reason to do such a thing, and it is in general a fairly suspicious thing to do.

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    the banks actually notoriously ordered transactions to maximize the overdrafts, not to minimize them. So in this scenario it would not be inconceivable for the bank to deduct the check amount, charge the overdraft fee, and then add it back as a deposit.
    – littleadv
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 15:58
  • speak for your own banks, @littleadv -- perhaps one did, but I have a family member who worked in batch processing before "online processing" was a thing, not only at several banks but at IBM who did it for some banks, and deposits-before-withdrawals was the convention everywhere we were aware of Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 16:00
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    It's not a new thing... article 1, article 2, there were numerous class action suits, I'm not making this up.
    – littleadv
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 16:03
  • @littleadv I think you're both mostly right here. AFAIK the re-ordering of transactions only occurred with outgoing transactions. (At first glance I don't believe the lawsuits are about re-ordering deposits too?) I've witnessed the outgoing transaction re-ordering first hand, which I once described in the last paragraph here. I didn't know until just now that this resulted in lawsuits, but I'm pleased to hear this.
    – TTT
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 3:11
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If you had money to cover without the check probably nothing. The ATM will withdraw and the redeposit when it processes the check since it's a valid transaction. No human will ever look at it.

If you do not have the money to cover it this is called check kiting.

Usually this is done between bank accounts. Not sure it will work well in the internet age, but the way it works is for you to write a check from bank A and deposit it in another account in Bank B. For this to be illegal, you have to write the check for more than is in Bank A.

Money is deposited in account B because the bank trust you.

Now you write a check from Bank B, back to Bank A. Suddenly you have enough money to cover your first bad check from A to B.

More banks = more lag between when money is deposited and banks settle up.

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I can only describe what happens when I deposit a check written by another member of the same credit union. Because it is written by another member, the check is treated as an instant transfer of funds. The teller pulls the funds from one account and puts it directly into the other account. The check is set aside, because it will not have to go through the normal processing stream for checks from other banks. I have access to the funds without having to wait. They may not know 100% that the check isn't fraudulent but they know the funds existed at the moment I presented the check.

In your situation writing a check to yourself is similar. Because the check is being deposited via the ATM, the bank will probably delay giving you access to the funds. I would expect that the system would either null the transaction, or reject it if there was insufficient funds.

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