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A "bounced check" is a check that cannot be processed by the bank because the party who wrote the check has insufficient funds to cover the amount of the check. (To my understanding it is a non-formal term; in other words, it's not the terminology the bank would use.)

I've heard this term used in the following ways:

  • The bank charges me a fee for any bounced checks that I cash, so make sure you have enough money in your checking account!
  • I must not forget to deposit my paycheck today or my rent check will bounce.

A ball bounces, but a check just flutters to the floor. How did the term "bounce" come to mean a check that lacks funds?

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Shorter than saying it boomeranged. :) – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Aug 16 '12 at 22:49
up vote 5 down vote accepted

The term comes from the fact that the cheque was stamped RD (refer to drawer) and returned to the payee. It appeared to bounce out of the bank and back to him.

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Insufficient-funds checks (so-called rubber checks) may be marked RD in England and Wales, per wikipedia; does that happen anywhere else? What do they do in Scotland? – jwpat7 Aug 16 '12 at 22:58
@jwpat7 English, Scottish and Irish banks use the same clearing system, so I suppose it's the same. They might use a slightly different rejection message though: Scots law is different. What happens in the US? [Interesting that that Wikipedia page calls such cheques both hot and cold!] – Andrew Leach Aug 16 '12 at 23:09
@AndrewLeach: In the US, essentially the same: the bad check (!) is returned to the payee, with some notation indicating why (often "NSF" for "non-sufficient funds"). The logic is that the check itself represents the drawer's promise to pay, and so the payee should keep possession of the check until payment is actually made. In particular, the payee can try to cash the same check again later, in hopes that the drawer has deposited more money. – Nate Eldredge Aug 17 '12 at 0:50
@NateEldredge- Yes, and I always wondered why they chose non-sufficient instead of insufficient. – Jim Aug 17 '12 at 2:37
@Jim You should ask that as a separate question! I'm curious too. – Chan-Ho Suh Aug 18 '12 at 1:21

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