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Check 21: New law ends checking traditions
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Notification rules
The only customers that banks are required to notify about Check 21 changes are those who receive their original checks with their statements and those who have a dispute and request a copy of their original check.

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The ABA says many institutions will be alerting all of their checking account customers to changes that will come with Check 21. During interviews for this article, both Washington Mutual and Bank of America said they would be notifying all of their checking account customers about Check 21.

Many banking sites already have detailed information about Check 21 and what it will mean to consumers. Some sites are better than others. Gulf Coast Educators Federal Credit Union in Pasadena, Texas, makes it quite clear that there's an increased risk of checks bouncing because they'll clear sooner.

"We try to do that as a credit union -- be upfront and progressive with our members," says Terrie Wollard, senior vice president. "We always try to educate our members that when writing checks there's nothing to stop the merchant from coming in directly and getting their money. People have to assume responsibility, but we're trying to help the transition to Check 21."

Customers who provide the credit union with an e-mail address will be notified if there are insufficient funds to cover a check and they'll be given a few hours to do something about it.

"We'll e-mail you in the morning and give you the chance to make a deposit and have the check late paid for a $6 fee," says the credit union's Web site.

According to Wollard, it's all part of providing good service.

"We're member-centered, so the decision wasn't a difficult one. We need the fee income like most institutions to help us stay viable. But we're not looking to gouge customers."

Even though paper and electronic checking systems may coexist for several years, it's evident that the paper check's traveling days are numbered. There was a time when credit card receipts were returned with the monthly statement. No doubt consumers will become accustomed to relying on copies of checks to resolve disputes the same as they now have to rely on copies of credit card receipts.

As Mark Budnitz put it, banks can make this process easy or they can make it miserable. If your bank tries to make it miserable and you know you're in the right, complain. If the issue isn't resolved contact the appropriate regulatory agency.

It's far more likely that the bulk of problems under Check 21 will arise from consumers getting dinged by nonsufficient funds fees. It's critical that consumers make sure there's enough money to cover checks. Few institutions will zap you an e-mail and generously give you a few hours to make good on a check that's over your balance. Most will sock you with a hefty nonsufficient funds fee instead.

Good money management will help save you money and, for consumers at least, make the hoopla over Check 21 as overblown as the Y2K kerfuffle.

 

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: April 4, 2005
 
 
More stories by Laura Bruce
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 RESOURCES
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