Cheques and paper items are declining steadily, yet they remain one of the most popular payment methods for many businesses in Canada.
Writing a cheque
When writing a cheque, it's important to use dark ink so the information shows up well in images If writing a cheque by hand, we recommend you use a ball-point or roller pen with black or blue ink. On the computer, use at least a 10 point font and dark ink colours (black, blue or dark purple). You should include the amount of the payment in words since it serves as a backup if the amount in figures is unclear. It's acceptable to wrap the amount onto two or more lines.
Accepting and depositing a cheque
When you're given a cheque, make sure all the necessary fields are complete and that it has a signature on the front.
If a cheque is for more than one person or company, it needs to have the other party's signature on the back of the cheque. Or, if someone is giving you a cheque made out to them, it also needs their signature on the back. For example, if the cheque is for your company and John Smith, you need John Smith's signature on the back to deposit it. Signatures on the back of cheques are called endorsements. If you're unsure whether a cheque is acceptable, check with your financial institution.
When preparing your deposits, review the date on each cheque.
Cheques shouldn't be deposited before their due date. Given the large volume of cheques and automated processing, some items may slip through. If the recipient deposits a cheque you wrote early, you should contact your financial institution. Your financial institution can return the cheque, up to and including the day before the due date.
You will need to make other arrangements for payment, as you can't deposit a returned cheque.
Cheques are considered stale-dated after six months, unless it is a certified cheque. A stale-dated cheque means that the item is old, and not necessarily invalid. Financial institutions may still honour these items, but there is no obligation to do so. Government of Canada cheques, money orders and bank drafts do not 'stale-date'. Cheques issued by provincial governments are treated as regular cheques and may be considered stale after six months. To learn more about cheques, view Module 03 (Cheques) of our educational video series – the Payments Canada Learning Exchange.
Can we use an electronic signature or stamp on cheques?
Payments Canada rules don't address this. You should ask your financial institution, since it is likely covered in the account agreement you have in place with them.
The signature will need to be positioned so that it doesn't interfere with any other information and have sufficient contrast to ensure a clear cheque image.
How long can an FI place a hold on funds?
Federally regulated financial institutions are required by law to limit the hold period on cheques. Payments Canada rules and standards do not address holds on cheques, but the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada's (FCAC) website has helpful information on your rights and responsibilities.
A cheque deposited into my account was returned. Why?
Cheques can be returned for many reasons, including for non-sufficient funds (NSF), a stop payment by the person who wrote it and more. Payments Canada does not have access to payment items, so we are unable to find out why an item was returned. You should consult your financial institution directly for more information.
When a cheque I've deposited is returned, is there a time limit for my FI to withdraw funds from my account?
Once your FI receives a returned cheque, it will generally withdraw the amount of the cheque from your account as soon as possible. This is usually addressed in your customer account agreement with your FI.
What happens if a cheque I deposited is returned because the customer placed a "stop payment" on it?
You have the option of asking your FI to send the item to the issuer's FI "on collection" (i.e. outside of the clearing system), if they offer this service. If not, you'll need to contact your customer to obtain payment in another way.
Are FIs required to follow conditional statements, such as "Void after 30 days," on cheques?
FIs are not obligated to follow conditional statements on cheques. Your FI might offer this service – ask them, or check your customer account agreement.
If a cheque clears your account but the conditions have not been met, you must notify your financial institution within the "next business day" return timeframe through the clearing system.
What do I do if a fraudulent item clears my account?
Report any suspicious account activity to your FI as soon as possible. They are in the best position to help you.
How do we write the name of the payee on a cheque? Does it have to exactly match the name on the account?
Payments Canada rules and standards do not address how the payee's name has to be written on a cheque. We recommend that you consult your financial institution for advice.
If a cheque is returned, can it be re-deposited and re-processed?
If an item is returned, it cannot be re-deposited and re-processed. This helps control the risk of duplicate items entering the clearing system.
You need to ask the payor for a new cheque or a different form of payment. You can also ask your financial institution to see if there are other options available to you.
Can cheque images be used as proof of payment?
Yes. The Canada Revenue Agency accepts images of cheques. Both the federal Evidence Act and the parallel legislation in most provinces and territories permit the admissibility of electronic records in court proceedings.
Can I print my own cheques?
Yes, you can print your own cheques. However, they must be in accordance with Standard 006 and include a Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR) line at the bottom (printed in magnetic ink).
We recommend that you contact your financial institution and present a sample of your printed cheque to avoid any potential processing problems.
Do you have a list of software providers and/or cheque printers that are compliant with Standard 006?
Payments Canada has a Cheque Printer Self-Accreditation Program (CPSAP) where cheque printers attest to Payments Canada that their cheques are compliant with Standard 006.
Cheques printed by a self-accredited printer are exempt from routine Standard 006 testing.
Cheques not produced by suppliers within this program could be subject to testing by your FI.
For more information, including a list of self-accredited cheque printers, consult the CPSAP page.
What are the recourse and return timelines for a cheque?
Payments Canada's Rule A4 (Section 5-7) details the applicable return reasons and timeframes for paper based items.
Section 5 outlines the standard time limitation for return where the Drawee must return a cheque to the Negotiating Institution the business day following receipt of the cheque by the first organizational unit of the Drawee that is able to make or act upon a decision to dishonour the cheque.
Section 6 outlines the exceptions to the standard time limitation for return.
Any recourse outside of the time frames indicated is to be settled outside of the rules.
What are the cheque endorsement requirements?
The Bills of Exchange Act addresses the negotiation of an item by endorsement in section 61. An endorsement in order to operate as a negotiation must be written on the bill itself and be signed by the endorser and must be an endorsement of the entire bill.
Each financial institution has the right to determine which items they will or will not accept and may return a cheque through the clearing within the next business day time frame (in accordance with Payments Canada Rule A4 section 5) for any reason payment is refused or cannot be obtained. Each financial institution has their own internal policies and risk tolerance when determining whether or not they will refuse or accept a payment item.
Can I deposit a third-party cheque?
It's up to each financial institution to decide which items they're willing to accept, so you should ask your branch.