# I wrote a check with an unambiguous but casual written amount - why did the recipient's bank reject it for "invalid written amount"?

I wrote a check for 3495.00. For the written amount, I wrote "Thirty four ninety five and 00/100". When the recipient deposited the check, it was rejected due to "invalid written amount", and the recipient was charged a fee.

I know that the most "proper" written amount would've been "Three thousand four hundred ninety five and 00/100". Second best would've been "Thirty four hundred ninety five and 00/100". Yet, I still don't see anything ambiguous about the way I wrote it originally. I wrote 0 cents, so there isn't any ambiguity about whether the "ninety five" is cents or dollars. And, the written amount is intended to be a verification of the number field.

What is invalid about the written amount here? Does the recipient have a case for getting their fee reimbursed?

• Think about how it would sound verbally. If you were to ask for the price of something and someone replies to you exactly what you wrote ... would that be a clear buying price for you ?
– Hoki
Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 17:40
• That's not unambiguous. The whole point of the written amount is that no one can reasonably argue that a certain number refers to a different place. It's the difference between thousands and hundreds, which you didn't write.
– user26460
Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 18:04
• If someone offered to buy your car for "thirty four ninety five", are you going to assume they meant \$3,945.00 or \$34.95? Also relevant may be how you wrote the number. Was it in a way that could have easily started as `34.95`, but someone else extended the `9` to subsume the decimal point and add a `.00`? (I've always written the cents, even when `.00`, as a superscript over an `xx` to make it clear what the cents are.) Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 18:56
• Why not give OCC a call? They handle relations between consumers and banks. 1-800-613-6743. See also occ.gov/topics/consumers-and-communities/consumer-protection/… and helpwithmybank.gov/help-topics/bank-accounts/… Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 20:30
• I actually write, in letters, "and zero cents". The entire purpose of having both a numerical field and a written field is that, while a bad actor might be able to make a minor alteration to either one in an effort to change the amount, it's (theoretically) impossible to change both to the same wrong amount with only minor alterations. But if you're duplicating part of what you write in both fields, then that part can be altered in exactly the same way in both places, e.g., changing "66/100" to "88/100". Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 17:35

"thirty four ninety five" is not a number. How many currency did you want to pay? Thirty four? Ninety Five? Thirty four hundreds and ninety five cents? Maybe someone else added the "and 00/100" later and multiplied the intended amount by a hundred, the bank has no way of knowing.

You know what the proper way should be, why didn't you use it? So yes, I'd argue you're at fault. On the other hand the recipient should have checked and insisted on a properly written amount, so you might be within your rights to suggest to split the fee.

By the way, "Thirty four hundred ninety five and 00/100" would probably not work either, since it could have originally been "four hundred..." and someone added "thirty" before and "3" in the numeric field. The bank would probably reject such a writing as well.

Write the full amount properly, the tenth of a second you tried to save is not worth the headache you're having now.

• Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 11:22
• Re your "By the way": Do you mean the bank should also reject a cheque over "34,000.00" = "Thirty four thousand and 00/100" because it might originally have been "4,000.00" = "four thousand and 00/100"? Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 14:20
• @HagenvonEitzen Yes, it should at least be "thirty-four" and have "---" before number and text to prevent anybody adding anything before them. Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 14:50
• The whole reason we put \$ signs and tiny zeros over 100 at the start and end of numbers on checks is to mark the ends of the number so no one can add more digits. Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 0:16

Suppose you write me a cheque for "thirty four ninety five" and fill in the numeric amount as \$34.95. I could easily add "and 0/100" to the end of the written amount, connect your decimal point up to your 9, and add .00 to the end. That would then make the cheque identical to the one you're describing in the question.

Using the proper words for numbers largely prevents this kind of fraud. That's the whole point. So the recipient's bank should absolutely NOT accept "thirty four ninety five and 0/100" as a synonym for the amount you intended. That's for YOUR protection.

• How to add 0/100 if, as would be good practice, the empty space is filled with a horizontal line exactly to prevent this? How to add .00? Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 8:59
• @glglgl The OP has already demonstrated that they aren't following good practice, so that's an assumption too far. And good practice is to make sure the text is unambiguous regardless. Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 9:13

The reason it needs to be, in your words, "proper" is that it is a legal, financial, contractual transaction, free from ambiguity. Much as you like casualness, this is not the place for it. You're wrong, they're right.

If your words aren't completely clear, the only reasonable thing the bank can do is ask you to write the check again. And as has been pointed out, the example given is less unambiguous than the OP assumed.

For what it's worth, back around 1970 I was explicitly trained to write the number in words from the very start of the line, preferably WithCapitalizedInitials rather than with spaces between words, to draw a line through any unused space, and to always use a specific kind of phrasing, all to prevent both misunderstanding and forgery-by-alteration. For example,

SixThousandFiveHundredThreeDollarsAnd21/xx---(Dollars)

The word Dollars is optional since the check labels that line as Dollars, though I often write it anyway.

Zero cents could be indicated as No/xx, 00/xx, Exactly, or more commonly by starting to strike through the rest of the line immediately after the last word so there was no space to insert pennies. (There was a time when pennies were much more significant...) I lean heavily toward Exactly.

The only part of that which is at all informal is the convention of using /xx as standardized alternate notation for /100.

There is nothing wrong with informality, but legal and financial documents are generally not the right place for it. Yeah, it would be nice if we could be sloppier about it, but the rules are there and get enforced for good reasons. If you want to be less formal, there are always credit cards; they don't use the numerals-versus-words crosscheck at all so the issue doesn't arise.

(By the way, if anyone else's script has degenerated as badly as mine has: while I was taught to write the check in script so a break in the continuous line could help expose an alteration, I've been using "printed" handwriting on checks for decades, for readability's sake.)

• If the words and the numbers conflict, the words control. Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 14:07
• Good catch, edited. And if the words can't be reliably interpreted, the check is miswritten. Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 14:47
• (I agree that camelCase wasn't the right description, but I don't think "PascalCase" is a widely enough understood term, so I've chosen to go explicit. Good catch, though ) Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 17:13
• (Added mention of "Exactly") Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 22:20
• From personal experience, using "c" instead of "/100" for the cents is accepted. Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 23:28

In the US there is a specific way of writing the "legal amount", i.e. the amount spelled out in English, on a check. The Code of Federal Regulations (31 CFR 240, I think it is) is pretty explicit about it.

When processing checks, banks' proof-of-deposit systems use handwriting recognition software to read the legal amount and the "courtesy amount", written in numerals, and to compare the two.

If the software reads a legal amount that isn't in the expected format it rejects it, reports a mismatch. If it's caught by the bank of first deposit, they reject it there and then. If it's caught by the paying bank it sends the check image back through FedWire to the bank of first deposit as a "bad return".

In either case, no human made that decision, just a machine adhering rigidly, as required by law, to the rules laid down in the US CFR.

• 31 CFR 240 only applies to checks drawn on the US Treasury.
– Mark
Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 1:35
• @Mark, where does the Code define and describe "checks"? It's been a dozen years since I worked on proof systems; you could easily know more than I do. Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 17:51

Does the recipient have a case for getting their fee reimbursed?

IMHO, yes. If not from the bank, then from you.

I believe the fee is mostly to deter fraud attempts. If the check was deposited at a teller and it was accepted, then there's an extra bonus argument that the teller thought the check was valid (enough) too.

I assume you have already given the person a new check. When they deposit it, they should request the fee be reimbursed, since the re-issued check validates it wasn't a fraud attempt.

If the bank doesn't budge on refunding the fee, then I believe you should reimburse the fee yourself, since you caused it in the first place. (I once had a water leak in my condo and it damaged the unit below me. Their insurance covered it minus their deductible, and so I wrote them a check to cover their deductible, because I felt like it was the right thing to do. Your scenario seems similar.)

• OT, but shouldn't your liability insurance have paid for the water damage in the first place (or in fact you personally if nobody were insured -- not out of feeling, but liabilty)? Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 14:15
• @HagenvonEitzen right, like I said, our insurance policies covered it, minus our deductibles. I paid my neighbor's deductible for them. I don't think "fault" was assigned to me like sometimes happens in car accident's, in which case the other person typically doesn't have to pay their deductible. AFAIK my neighbor wasn't ever reimbursed by their insurance company for their deductible. If they were, they didn't tell me... hehe.
– TTT
Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 15:21
• @TTT you wrote, “Their insurance covered it”. Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 22:34
• @RonJohn Yeah- their insurance covered the damage to their unit, and my insurance covered the damage to mine, so I'm not sure what isn't clear. I made an edit to highlight that my neighbor was out of pocket for their deductible, which I paid, though I'm not sure if that's where the confusion was.
– TTT
Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 8:08
• @RonJohn II don't remember the exact reason, but we each had to pay our own deductibles. What I was trying to say in that comment was it's possible my neighbor's insurance company was later reimbursed by mine- I'm not sure. And if that happened then I assume they were reimbursed for the deductible as well, and "forgot" to mention it to me. :)
– TTT
Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 1:09

Call me a cynic but...

If the bank is allowed to charge a fee for rejecting a cheque, they're going to look for any excuse to reject a cheque.

In this case, you've not written a real number. Whilst it's arguably obvious what you meant, it's easy enough to justify rejecting it so obviously they're going to err on the side of rejecting it and collecting their fee.

• The tiny amount the bank gets as a fee for the rejection is trivial compared with the amount of hassle they will get, and money they will lose, if they pay \$3495 and you later claim you mean \$34.95 or \$495. That's the reason they reject. Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 20:02
• And if somebody altered your check and your bank cleared it, you'd be screaming about why they didn't spot this obvious fraud. Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 20:36

Almost all the answers given to this question are ludicrous, because they depend on the notion that one must compute the set of strings describing a number that cannot be modified into different valid strings by extension. Firstly, all the sets proposed (as of the writing of this answer) are incorrect. Secondly, nobody can compute that set mentally; it would be a challenging problem for a computer-science student.

Legally, a check is valid if it unambiguously describes an amount of money.

Your state may have further rules on checks. Your bank may also. However, in practice, a bank can choose to reject a check for almost any reason. To force a bank to honor a legal check that the bank declined to honor would doubtless cost much more than it would be worth it to pursue. Thus, we adhere to certain formats of check to hopefully avoid this scenario.

• The other answers are pointing out that the amount written is ambiguous.
– Mark
Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 21:47