Facebook Twitter



Those of us who put money in the bank one day and spend it the next will be happy as hoot owls about the new law forcing banks to stop sitting on checks for a week or more.

Living on the edge of insolvency is difficult enough without finding that money you thought was yours is floating for days in Never-Never Land while your creditors are screaming for cash.The Expedited Funds Availability Act, which went into effect Sept. 1, imposes tight limits on the check-holding policies of banks, savings and loan associations and credit unions.

The bottom line for depositors is that they can start using their money much more quickly than they could have before:

- Local checks, checks drawn on institutions within the same federal check-processing region, must be available for withdrawal no later than the third business day following the day of deposit.

- Checks drawn on an institution in a different check-processing region must be available for withdrawal no later than the seventh business day following the day of deposit.

- Cash, cashier's checks, checks drawn on the same bank and checks issued by federal, state and local governments must be available for withdrawal the next business day.

- The first $100 of a day's check deposits (local or non-local) must be made available the next business day.

This means you can cash a Social Security check in a day, a company paycheck in three days or less and a personal check from your brother in Montana in a week at the most.

It means that you'll have at least $100 to spend immediately, even if the check came from some faraway city.

There are exceptions to the new rule. Deposits on new accounts may be held for nine days. Large deposits (over $5,000) may be held longer than usual. Deposited checks previously returned, or believed to be uncollectable, may be held longer.

But the clear purpose of the legislation is to prevent banks from earning millions of dollars in interest on "floating" deposits that can't be used by the people who made them.

At least eight states - California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York and Rhode Island - have similar laws, but the new federal law is tougher than most.

Consumers Union calls the federal new law a "great victory" for consumers who pay a fee - often around $25 - every time they write a check that bounces against a deposit that hasn't yet been made available.

Consumerists argue that long check holds to protect banks against forgery and fraud are a form of overkill that penalizes all depositors in an effort to thwart a dishonest few.

Bankers opposed the legislation in Congress, claiming it "does little" to further the interests of either consumers or the financial services industry. The Utah Banker's Association said local consumers won't notice much of a change by the new law because the problem of banks holding people's funds too long never surfaced in Utah.

"The check-hold problem doesn't exist in most places," said a spokesman for the Consumer Bankers Association. "It mainly happens at big banks in big cities, where people don't know each other."

He said banks are particularly leery of accepting total liability for a forged cashier's check that might have been deposited in an account one day and taken out the next.

Like it or not, the new law will force banks to clear checks faster. By September 1990, the maximum hold time will be reduced to two days on local checks and five days on checks from out of town.