Stopped payment doesn’t stop debt

Q. I did a small construction job and was paid with a check after I completed the work. I deposited the check in my account, but it was returned because the person who gave me the check stopped payment. I went to his bank and they said it was not their problem. How do I get paid? Why doesn’t his bank owe me the money?

A. The bank does not owe you the money because a bank generally has no liability when a check is written by one of its customers. A check is simply the customer’s order to the bank to pay money to someone else. The bank usually pays the check, and that is the end of the matter. But if there is not enough money in the account or the customer tells the bank not to pay (by issuing a stop payment order), the bank will promptly return the check and it has no further liability. You should always view a check as the customer’s promise to pay, not an obligation of the bank.

Fortunately, however, you are not out of luck. When a check is not paid, the person who wrote the check remains responsible. I suggest you let the person know you expect him to promptly pay the check, with cash this time, and that if he doesn’t pay you will file a claim in small claims court. If you do have to sue, you can collect the amount of the check plus and fees your bank may have charged and the costs of filing the lawsuit.

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