People usually stop payment on a check because of a dispute over a purchase or because of a lost or stolen checkbook. If someone stops a check made out to you before you can deposit it and there is no dispute, it was probably done for security reasons. You have the right to collect on the check in civil court and recoup any fee your bank took for depositing a stopped check. However, you have to prove you tried to notify the check writer.
Contact the Payer
Speak to the person who wrote you the check in person or by phone and ask him to issue you a new one. Chances are that this is all you will need to do if you know the payer and there is no dispute over the check amount.
Write a letter to the payer if you are unable to get satisfaction by speaking to him. Make it clear he must pay you back for the bad-check fees and the full amount of the check, and that he faces claims of up to three times the value of the check in small-claims court if he does not pay.
Send the letter via certified mail, return receipt requested. Wait 30 days from the day you send the letter for the payer to make good on the check.The small-claims court process should be used only when there is clearly malicious intent.
File a Claim
File a claim in small-claims court after 30 days have passed by filling out a statement of your claim and paying the filing fee when you present the statement at your local small-claims court office. In the court paperwork, list the payer's name as it appears on the check, whether it is a single name, two or more names as a joint account, a company name, or a person doing business as a named entity.
Then wait five days to make sure no counterclaims are filed against you. A counterclaim can be filed only if you have caused damages to the party who wrote the check. Respond to any counterclaims as specified on the form you receive from the court.
Appear at small-claims court on the day specified for your hearing. If the defendant shows up, the judge or arbitrator will listen to both sides before issuing a judgment. If the person you are suing does not show up, you will be awarded a default judgment, which will be sent to the party who wrote the check.
Be Sure to Follow Up
Allow 30 days for the debtor to pay you. Contact him and offer to settle for an amount less than the judgment. For example, you might ask for the value of the check and the fees you incurred, rather than any punitive damages the judge may award you.
Return to the court and ask for a lien to be placed against the assets or wages of the person who wrote you the check if you are not paid. Pay any necessary fees for process servers or marshals and allow up to 180 days for assets to be confiscated and the proceeds sent to you.
- In the court paperwork, list the payer's name as it appears on the check, whether it is a single name, two or more names as a joint account, a company name, or a person doing business as a named entity.
- The small-claims court process should be used only when there is clearly malicious intent.
John DeMerceau is an American expatriate entrepreneur, marketing analyst and Web developer. He now lives and works in southeast Asia, where he creates websites and branding/marketing reports for international clients. DeMerceau graduated from Columbia University with a Bachelor of Arts in history.