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Bad Checks: Bad News
For Your Check Record

While credit bureaus keep track of how you handle credit, there are other companies that monitor and report how you manage—or mismanage—your checking account. And, as some consumers have learned, even a single bounced check reported by one of these services may be enough to make it difficult for you to open a new transaction account or get a merchant to accept your check as payment.

Check reporting protects financial institutions and merchants (such as retailers and grocery stores) from losses associated with bounced or fraudulent checks. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a bounced check or other wrongdoing reported to a check reporting service may stay on your record for as many as seven years.

What should you do if a banking institution turns you away because of an unfavorable report about your banking account? First, ask the institution for the name, address and phone number of the company that furnished the report, so you can request a copy and look for incorrect or missing information. Under certain circumstances, such as if you're denied a new account at a financial institution, you are entitled to a free report. Otherwise, the most you can be charged under current rules is $9.

If your financial institution was the source of an error in your check report, it is required by the FCRA to contact the check reporting service and have the record corrected. In addition, if you dispute the matter in writing and the check reporting company doesn't change the record to your satisfaction, you are entitled to add a written statement to your report. And, if you have a concern involving a banking institution or a check reporting service, you may contact the appropriate federal regulator, either a banking agency listed on the next page or, in the case of check reporting services, the Federal Trade Commission.

Also be wary of services on the Internet or elsewhere that offer to help you find a bank or "fix" your check history. These services usually involve a fee, and some may make false or misleading representations.

How can you avoid getting into this predicament? "Frequently balance and monitor your checking account to avoid bounced checks," says Bret Morgan, an FDIC Examiner. "Don't close one checking account before you have established another one. And before closing your account, make sure any outstanding checks have cleared and account fees have been paid."

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