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Check 21 Frequently Asked Questions

Understanding Check 21

What is Check 21?

Check 21 is the abbreviated name for the Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act. This is a federal law that was signed on October 28, 2003 that has been in effect since October 28, 2004. One of the provisions of this new law permits banks to replace original checks with "Substitute Checks".

Why do we need a new law?

Traditionally, banks have relied on physical transportation to deliver checks between banks for payment. This is expensive, time consuming and the delay in processing these items can have a significant impact on the banking system and our economy. Check 21 provides a new option: legal acceptance of paper reproductions of original checks. This reproduction is called a "substitute check" and is produced from a digital image of the original check. Now banks can send check images electronically, reducing dependence on transportation that can be impacted by uncontrollable delays, such as weather or natural disasters.

Is electronic check processing secure?

Electronic check processing is not new to the financial industry and is a safe and reliable way of processing payments. It uses technology that has been developed and tested to process your check information securely.

What is a substitute check?

A substitute check is a paper copy of the front and back of the original check. A substitute check is slightly larger than a standard personal check, so it can contain a picture of your original check. A substitute check must be printed in accordance with very specific standards so that the substitute check can be used in the same way as the original document.

Can I choose not to have my checks processed in this way?

No. Under this new law, any financial institution involved in the check clearing process may replace your paper check with a substitute check.

How will Check 21 affect me?

Now that Check 21 is in effect, every bank is required to accept substitute checks, just as they currently accept your original paper check. If you receive your checks or electronic images of your checks with your account statement, you will begin seeing substitute checks.

Will Check 21 affect the time it takes to clear my checks?

In some cases, yes. Because substitute checks do not have to be physically transported between locations, checks may clear faster. While you should always have sufficient available funds in your account before writing a check, now it may be more important as your checks may clear faster than before. Click here for a copy of West Suburban Bank's Funds Availability Policy.

Will all of my cancelled checks be in the form of a substitute check?

No. At first you will probably see very few substitute checks. Over time, more of your cancelled checks will be replaced by substitute checks.

What happens to my original check?

The financial institution that creates your substitute check is responsible for maintaining the security of your original paper check. In most cases, the original check will be destroyed (truncation).

When is a substitute check legally the same as the original check?

A substitute check is legally the same as the original check if it accurately represents the information on the original check and includes the following statement: "This is a LEGAL COPY of your check. You can use it the same way you would use the original check".

If you receive a substitute check that is not legally the same as the original check and you suffer a loss related to the substitute check, Check 21 provides you with a special procedure that you can use to get your money back.

Can I use a substitute check as proof of payment?

Yes. You can use a substitute check as proof of payment because it is legally the same as the original check. For instance, the IRS will accept your substitute check as proof of payment. If you do not have a substitute check but have a copy of an original check or a copy of a substitute check, you usually can use these documents as proof of payment.

What should I do if something is wrong with my substitute check?

A substitute check must show the front and back of the original check and be printed in accordance with very specific standards. If you receive a substitute check that appears to have a problem, such as it contains a bad picture of your original check, contact customer service at (630) 652-2000.

What if I receive a substitute check representing a fraudulent original check?

Check law provides protection against fraudulent checks so that generally you are not responsible if you notify us in a timely fashion. If you receive a substitute check of a fraudulent original, contact us immediately at (630) 652-2000.

Are there any charges associated with Check 21?

No. At the current time, no fees will be assessed for the use of substitute checks.

What are the benefits of Check 21?

Check 21 provides several safeguards for you as a check writing consumer. Checks 21 helps speed check clearing, making your account more accurate. And because checks clear faster, banks will be able to identify fraudulent items sooner and minimize customer inconvenience. It can also make your financial information more secure because the check does not have to be physically transported.

How am I protected under Check 21?

Current law protects you against erroneous and unauthorized check payments. In addition, Check 21 contains a number of new protections for customers. For example, Check 21 contains a special refund procedure (expedited credit) for a consumer who suffers a loss related to a substitute check he or she received.

Where can I go for more information about Check 21?

There are numerous resources on the web for Check 21, here are some that we found useful:

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