Bad Check Laws In The District of Columbia

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Passing a bad check is illegal in Washington D.C. People who write a check without the funds to back it up can face both criminal and civil consequences. If you've accidentally written a check that you realize is going to bounce or otherwise need to know what the bad check laws are in D.C., read on.

District Of Columbia


What is a Bad Check?

Washington D.C.'s laws define a bad check as a check that is written against a bank account that doesn't have the funds to back it up. In other words, if there is less money in your account than the check is worth, the check is bad.

Not all bad checks bounce, however, because banks often honor bad checks and then charge overdraft fees in addition to requiring customers to reimburse them for funds paid that weren't in the account. If a check does bounce, the customer isn't automatically arrested; there's a procedure banks and creditors follow.

What Happens If a Check Bounces

If a check bounces--that is, the bank doesn't honor it because there aren't enough funds in the account--the creditor who tried to cash the check has to send the debtor a certified letter informing him or her that the check bounced. The check writer then has five days to pay the creditor back before the creditor can take any further legal action. Usually, the debtor has to re-pay the creditor by certified check or visit the creditor in person to pay cash.

If the debtor does not repay the bounced check within five days of receiving notice that it bounced, the creditor has two options: pressing criminal charges or filing a civil lawsuit.


Criminal Charges for Bounced Checks

If the bad check was for $100 or greater, the check writer can be charged with a felony. Writing bad checks that are less than $100 are considered misdemeanors in the District of Columbia. In either case, bad check writers can be sentenced to jail time as well to fines and restitution. The consequences for writing bad checks in D.C. include:

1) Jail time of up to 180 days for a misdemeanor and between 1 to 3 years for a felony.

2) Fines of up to $1,000 for a misdemeanor and up to $3,000 for a felony

3) Having to pay back the money you owe the creditor

Civil Penalties

In many cases, creditors choose to sue bad check writers in addition to (or instead of) filing criminal charges. In the District of Columbia, creditors can sue for damages and protest fees. Protest fees are any amounts of money the creditor has to pay to try to prove that you owe the debt if you should choose to dispute a notice that you owe money on a bad check. If the creditor wins the case, you can be required to pay the money you owe and any protest fees the court determines you are liable for.

Other Consequences of Writing Bad Checks

In addition to criminal and civil penalties, people who write bad checks are often putting their bank accounts at risk. If you incur too many overdrafts or your account remains overdrawn for a significant period of time, your bank may elect to close the account. If your account is closed because you wrote bad checks, you will be listed on a special credit report called Chexsystems for up to five years. Most banks use Chexsystems to check the credit of people who attempt to open accounts with them. If your Chexsystems report says that you have had an account closed for writing bad checks, you may not be able to open a bank account at most banks. In this case, you may need to open a bank account at a bank designed to help people with poor bank credit to rebuild their credit. These types of banks often charge higher monthly fees than standard checking accounts in order to cover your risk.

Obviously, you want to try to avoid writing bad checks if at all possible. Writing bad checks causes financial and legal problems and can impact your life for years to come. Always keep track of your bank balance and don't write checks on the presumption that the funds will be there by the time the creditor gets around to cashing the check. If you do make a mistake, don't panic--most banks honor a couple of mistakes each year and simply charge you overdraft fees. If a check does bounce, get the money together to repay your creditor and your bank as soon as you find out about it so that you can avoid potentially serious negative consequences. Bad check laws in D.C. are intended to catch people who purposely write checks that they know are worthless, so if you are responsible about paying your obligations, you shouldn't have any problems.

For further information on writing or passing a bad check and for civil and criminal penalties in other states under the laws of issuing bad checks, please read Bad Check Laws

Find out how to Prevent Overdraft And Bounced Check Fees.
Learn about Fraudulent Checks And Withdrawals.