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What is a Canceled Check?

Tricia Christensen
Updated: May 16, 2024

A canceled check is a check that has already drawn funds on the designated account. In a bank statement, a customer may receive either his original canceled checks showing that these checks have been paid or copies of each. Usually, the institution from which the money is drawn, a bank, stamps the check to indicate funds guaranteed on the check have been given to the person or institution that received it.

Should someone ever need to prove that he's made a payment, he can use a canceled check as a receipt. From time to time, human error means a payment is not recorded, especially to other banks, credit card companies, or various utility companies. By showing the canceled check to any institution that questions whether the person made a payment, he essentially proves that he has. Financial experts recommend that people hold on to this proof of payment until their next bill shows a record of the payment.

People can also use canceled checks to prove business expenses, although it’s also a good idea to hold onto original records or receipts of business transactions. The old check doesn’t really tell what the person made a payment for, only that he made a payment. This may not be sufficient evidence for someone who needs to justify business expenses to the company he works for or to tax agencies, like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Some people will hold onto their canceled checks for years, which is largely unnecessary. Usually once the person has verified that someone has received his payment, he can get rid of the check. This does not mean he should simply throw it out in the garbage. Though someone else usually can’t use the check itself again, it contains information that could be used to access the person's bank account.

For instance, these documents still contain the routing number of the bank and the bank account number. The check may also reveal other personal information, like the account holder's address, telephone number, and even driver’s license number. Generally, it’s a good idea not to include driver’s license numbers on checks, and to only include address and phone number. People may not even need to include a phone number, and if a company requires it, the account holder can write it in and initial it.

The main trouble with a canceled check is the routing number and bank account. More and more, people are able to make payments or purchase things on the Internet with this information only, especially if they also have the account holder's full name. It therefore makes sense to shred old checks once they are no longer needed so that no one can gain access to valuable information about the bank account.

SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a SmartCapitalMind contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon990025 — On Apr 02, 2015

I happen to have in collection of very old cancelled checks from a very old acquired business establishment, with other related records. They are as late as the early twenties. Could they still have any meaning to collectors?

By Mykol — On Nov 10, 2012

I am just as guarded with the information that is on my checks as I am with my credit cards. I put only the least amount of information required when I order checks. If I have the choice of paying a bill either by credit card or debiting it from my checking account, I always choose my checking account.

There is a lot of concern about putting your financial information on the internet like that, as there should be, but information on your checks is just as valuable as what is on your credit or debit card. If someone has your routing number and bank account number, they can make purchases just like they can with a credit card.

I have a small business and I still request copies of canceled checks in the mail for my business. For me this is just part of my bookkeeping and I would rather have the proof in my hands than rely on the computer to show me I have paid someone.

By julies — On Nov 09, 2012

@LisaLou -- At least you got rid of your old canceled checks on a regular basis. When my mom recently passed away I was going through a lot of her paperwork and files and found years and years of canceled checks.

These were stored in boxes and were kept well organized but there were a lot of things in there that she could have gotten rid of. I think she was just afraid to throw any of that banking information away so held on to all of it.

I think check writing will eventually become obsolete. I don't even carry a checkbook with me anymore, and none of my kids do either. I still have checks and a checkbook but very seldom do I order new ones because I hardly ever write one.

By honeybees — On Nov 09, 2012

I remember when banks first started encouraging people to go paperless. They never used to charge a fee to receive your canceled checks in the mail, but started doing this when they wanted people to use online banking. I can see how this would cut down on expenses for the bank. It took me awhile before I felt comfortable doing my banking online, but now I can't imagine doing it any other way.

By LisaLou — On Nov 08, 2012

I like to keep all my banking records for at least 10 years. This used to mean I had fat files full of canceled checks that came in the mail every month. Every year when I did my taxes, I would get rid of the files from 10 years ago to make room for the new year.

Now that I do most all of my banking online and very seldom write checks anymore I don't have to worry about storing all those canceled checks in my filing cabinet. If I need proof that a payment was made I just have to sign into my bank account and can print off a copy of a canceled check.

By cloudel — On Nov 08, 2012

I put all of my canceled checks into a shredder. I've had my account cleaned out before by someone who got my debit card number from something I ordered online, and I don't want to risk getting cleaned out again by someone getting my account information off of my old checks.

I have a checkbook with carbon paper behind each check, so I have a record of every check that I write automatically. Once all of the checks are gone out of the checkbook, I will store the carbon copies in a safe place until I think it's time to shred them.

I pull them out of the checkbook one by one and feed them to the shredder. I also shred my bank statements, because I don't want anyone to find out how much money I have in my account.

By Oceana — On Nov 07, 2012

I wrote a check to a person who had threatened to sue me if I didn't give him the money he demanded. This was ten years ago, and I still have the canceled check in my possession. I don't want him to ever be able to say that I didn't pay him and try to get more money out of me.

By OeKc05 — On Nov 07, 2012

@orangey03 – I love not having to store all my old canceled checks in my filing cabinet anymore. I have gone paperless in just about every way possible, but some companies still require checks instead of online payments, so I do have some canceled checks to view online.

I wish that every business were set up to receive online payments. Think of all the paper we would save if checks were no longer necessary!

By orangey03 — On Nov 06, 2012

I remember a long time ago, my parents used to get their canceled checks back from the bank in the mail. They would arrive with their bank statement.

They would file these canceled checks with their other receipts and keep them for a year or so. They had manila folders stuffed with records like these.

Now, they do most of their banking online. The canceled check images have been scanned, and they can view the images whenever they log in and click on them.

By anon58274 — On Dec 31, 2009

It may an error that the bank made. That is, they rather debited someone's account instead of debiting the person's account. Therefore the bank has to credit the one's account which was wrongly debited to settle the error made by the bank. dealing with this in the bank reconciliation statement, the amount should be added to the unpresented cheques/checks. By Francis Allotey Odoom Baidoo, a student at St. Augustine's College Cape Coast, Ghana.

By anon8602 — On Feb 17, 2008

My ex canceled a check in my account on Feb 12 but the funds are still showing available in my account. How long does it take once a check is canceled to clear an account? He gave me cash to cover the amount of the canceled check, but now it shows I still have the canceled check as funds?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a SmartCapitalMind contributor, Tricia...
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