Is there a legal or industry standard for the definition of a "returned" transaction?

I recently had my Empire District electric bill auto-payment declined, and the electric company charged me a $20 "returned check" fee. The state utility regulator allows them to charge a fee for "returned" transactions, but the regulations do not mention anything about a declined transaction.

As you know, a transaction can be declined for a variety of reasons- I have had utility bill auto-payments declined because my banks systems were down for maintenance when the charge was attempted, because the bank marked it as possible fraud, or because I got a new card and the transaction went through before I could update it, and because I didn't have enough funds at the time of the transaction... never before has an electric utility (or anyone else) ever charged me a fee because of this- I usually get an email or, my old electric coop would usually call me to let me know- I would correct the issue and the everything was good.

I have called and complained, to no avail, to Empire, and I have now filed an informal complain with the Missouri Public Service Commission. If the informal complaint does not produce results, I will have to file a formal complaint- It would be great if you could point me to sources, in case this goes to a formal hearing before the commission, that define the difference between a declined and a returned transaction. My google-fu seems to be failing me, so I place my hope for justice in you! :) Thanks.

edit: I believe it was setup as an ACH transaction. The transaction was declined by my bank. It was not a check.

  • Was this transaction via credit card, check, ETF, etc...?
    – Michael
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 18:20

1 Answer 1


An ACH is essentially presented for payment the same way a check is. Some merchants even refer to it as an electronic check payment option.

If you do not have the funds to in your account to cover it when it presents (or an overdraft arrangement on your account), it will be returned for NSF (insufficient funds) just like a check.

A declined transaction, on the other hand, refers to a credit card or checkcard; where authorization must be obtained for a transaction before it can be completed.

A good way to identify the difference right off the bat: if you are providing your bank account number and your bank's routing number it is an ACH or EFT transaction. If you are providing a card number, expiration date, and security code, it is a credit card transaction.

I know it's not what you want to hear; but it sounds like it was correct for them to charge you a fee if the transaction was returned.

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