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January 31, 2012 10:09 AM   Subscribe

How do I deposit a check that has only my first and middle names?

I’ve looked around and gotten conflicting answers. One person wrote that one could just write the missing last name, but another wrote that that was fraud. Banking professionals, I need your help!

By the way, I’m living in New York State. The person writing the check is in California. I’d prefer not asking for another check. Also, I’m going to deposit the check by mail.
posted by etoyasu to Work & Money (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience banks rarely look at the name written on a check.

I had a friend in college who had a cancelled check tacked to his wall. He'd made it out to "Charlie Chapin" in a comic-sans sort of handwriting and given it to his roommate for a debt owed. The roommate (whose name was not Charlie Chaplin, by the way) cashed it and cleared without any problem.

YMMV. If you're concerned you could call your bank. I'd just endorse it and send it in. You could also write in your last name with the same colored ink and send it in. If the check was truly intended for you I wouldn't worry about fraud charges. Banks and the FBI have enough on their hands going after real criminals.
posted by alms at 10:13 AM on January 31, 2012

In my experience, your bank is not going to care. Sign the back with your name, write your account number on there as a just-in-case, and carry on. The only entity likely to call attention to the "problem" is the check issuer, and if it isn't a problem for them, then...no problem!

Anecdata: I have what's apparently a name that's hard to spell, and I have never had trouble depositing and getting cleared checks that were made out to very creative variations on my actual name.
posted by rtha at 10:14 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, story number two:

A friend from high school knew a psychiatrist named (let's say) "Harold Williams". He received a check from an upset patient made out to "Harold Fuckhead Williams". He wasn't sure how to endorse it.

In the end he opted to sign his name "Harold F. Williams". The compromise worked. He preserved his dignity and the back cleared the check.
posted by alms at 10:15 AM on January 31, 2012 [10 favorites]

I constantly get checks written out to me with not-quite my name (using my nickname instead of my legal name, using my husband's last name instead of mine, no last name, etc). I just go to the bank and explain it to the teller and they have me endorse it with my account name as well as with whatever is written in the front of the check. No problem.
posted by joan_holloway at 10:15 AM on January 31, 2012

Due to wedding name-change confusion, I have deposited checks made out to "Mudd Notgirl," with no problem.

Don't alter the front of the check. Endorse the back and add your account number below to lessen confusion.
posted by muddgirl at 10:32 AM on January 31, 2012

Nthing "just deposit it."

I used to design checks, way way back a million years ago, and the difference between what people think a check is and how it's actually used is a big gap.

It's not a magic instrument. A check is just a piece of paper with a set of instructions for your bank to follow (primarily, where to get this so-promised money from). This is why a check can, as in famous examples, be written on a napkin or anything at all, technically. I could write you a letter instructing your bank to take $100 from my account at some other bank (with some details that will narrow that down). That's a check. That will work. Eventually. With some extra handling fees for annoying the bank, often. But it will work. The reason checks are usually full of security features is to protect me, the check-writer, from dealing with fifteen other people masquerading as me. These features don't really relate to you, the recipient, at all.

As long as your bank can map it to your account somehow (often just by human judgment), it will end up in your account just fine, and since you're the one depositing it into your account (either in person or via a machine), you are linked to it to start with. It might be dicier if it was just mailed to the bank without instructions.

I've deposited checks written to, like, variations of my name that only had two letters out of eight correct. And some written to, believe it or not, internet handles, not containing my name at all. Send me a check to "rokusan" and I promise I will cash it successfully.

But if you're really concerned, don't count on (i.e. spend) the money represented for 10 business days or so.
posted by rokusan at 10:34 AM on January 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yes, just deposit it. For what it's worth it seems like most checks deposited at ATMs are being deposited automatically without any human even looking at them. I've had checks go that I didn't endorse, for instance. As long as no one complains, I don't think they'll ever even notice.
posted by gerryblog at 10:36 AM on January 31, 2012

That form ate my last edit. I had added:

If you are really depositing it by mail, just send it to the bank with a letter saying "Please deposit this check to my account number 0000-000000-0000. If there are any problems, please contact me at 000.000.0000." and include no other instructions.

That is, don't draw attention to the discrepancy and it should be fine. If they have not contacted you 10 days later, you're golden.
posted by rokusan at 10:39 AM on January 31, 2012

Gerryblog, I have not endorsed (signed the back of a check) in 20 years.

It provides me no benefit.
posted by rokusan at 10:40 AM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

If your bank offers atm deposit just do it. I've deposited many checks with varying iterations of my name and have never had that questioned at an ATM. This is especially true if the amount isn't too large.
posted by jourman2 at 11:03 AM on January 31, 2012

I think you're going to be fine, but these days, anytime I'm concerned about a check, I snap a photo with my phone cam first. I've never had to use 'em, but it's good to know I have a record if there's a problem.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:07 AM on January 31, 2012

If you attempt to deposit it by mail, what's the worst that could happen? The bank sends you the check back along with a letter requesting a matching name. Actually, the worst that could happen is a couple of months wait while you and the bank do a paperwork dance and you spend a long time trying to figure it out. But seriously, just send it in like normal, and they can contact you if they have an issue.
posted by aimedwander at 11:14 AM on January 31, 2012

I remember once endorsing a gift check to my de facto guardian at the time as something along the lines of "Firstname Lastname, Endorsed Against My Will, Under Duress and Without Consent". That was a looooong time ago, before everything was auto-scanned and electronically recorded without any human being setting eyes on the thing - and my guardian had no problem whatsoever cashing it, even though there was no evidence to suggest that I was a minor, or that said guardian had any legal authority over me at the time.

So yeah, I would imagine you're golden.
posted by mie at 11:21 AM on January 31, 2012

Adding to the endless chime of "nobody gives a crap." The only way I could imagine anyone will blink is if it happened to be on a counter check (no payer name) and for a very large amount. Standard checks and <>
Particularly when there's so obvious a connection to who you really are. Every once in a while we do an art show and someone write a check to our doing-business-as name. I deposit those checks into our consumer account and nobody blinks or asks to see proof we have such a business.

Remember, the bank is more than prepared to reverse that deposit if anyone says boo and you're an existing customer. They're not worried about whether your cousin endorsed the check and handed it to you to deposit. If there's an issue they have several months to turn around and garnish that money.
posted by phearlez at 11:40 AM on January 31, 2012

You endorse it by signing it twice, first with the way your name is given on the check (first and last), then by endorsing it below that with your first and last name. You don't alter the front.

Former banker here. Technically, this is the official way to deal with this. In practice, unless the check is for an amount way out of the ordinary for your account, you can write just about whatever you want on there and it will get deposited. If you deposit it in the ATM without any endorsement, there is a chance (depending on your bank) that it will get sent back for no endorsement. If you write anything at all, it probably won't.

If you bring it to a teller, they might ask you about the discrepancy and your account title or ID will back up your story (though I HIGHLY doubt they'll even notice). Unlike the processing ATM deposits, when they process teller deposited check in the "back room" they assume that one human has looked at already (the teller) so they tend to let more weird stuff slide.

Tellers usually also have a stamp they can use that says "Deposited to the account of the named payee" or something similar and has some other relevant stuff on it. It is a catch-all for endorsement issues. Basically the teller is saying, "I looked at this transaction and I think it's legit." If the amount of the check is way higher than normal for you, I would ask them to use that stamp maybe even in addition to your two endorsements.

In either case, the onus is usually on the check writer to notify their bank if the wrong person cashed the check. That is why (among other reasons) you used to get checks returned and why you can look at images of the checks you've written once they've been cashed.

TL; DR: Sign with whatever and deposit it. You'll be fine.
posted by VTX at 11:57 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wow, you have really understanding banks. Mine will refuse a cheque for any reason whatsoever. A donor recently made out a cheque to a non-profit I volunteer for with the name (something like) "People's Place" instead of "People's Space" and it was refused. If your bank is picky like mine, you'll have to go back to the cheque writer and get a new cheque written.
posted by arcticwoman at 12:36 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

My mom frequently sends checks made out to my kids (for birthdays, Christmas, etc.). I've had no problem depositing these checks via the ATM or cashing them outright via teller.

It's a bit different since I'm the parent, but the bank never checks to make sure I'm actually the parent. They just hand over the money.
posted by tacodave at 1:58 PM on January 31, 2012

Agreed with many others; my relatives have returned to using my maiden name on checks to me, even though I now have a completely different last name from either married or maiden name. I just sign it both ways when I endorse it and I've never had a problem.
posted by fiercecupcake at 4:20 PM on January 31, 2012

My widely-used nickname is not an obvious derivation of my first name, and I have often had trouble depositing checks. One day a bank employee told me that I could add an Also Known As name to my bank account - I've now done so with accounts at two different banks, and each time I had to speak with someone higher up than the teller in order to get the thumbs up. It's slightly more trouble than a one-time problem is worth, I suppose, but for a recurring name issue it's nice to have an account-based solution.
posted by treefort at 8:47 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I still do not understand why anyone would ever endorse a check they're about to mail.

Why turn an instrument that's payable to you into one payable by anyone who happens to find it?

In 20+ years of depositing checks at tellers and machines, by mail and in person, at nine or ten banks in the US and Canada, I have never needed to endorse a check. (Yes, occasionally a newbie teller will ask me to, but then she'll stumble badly when I ask her to explain why, and take it anyway.)
posted by rokusan at 12:00 PM on February 1, 2012

Literally no one has ever explained to me how a check works, rokusan. I endorse my checks because that's what my parents taught me to do, so thanks for your explanation.

Does writing "For deposit in account XXXX" actually do anything? Because I still do that when I'm mailing a check or giving it to someone else to deposit in my account, but maybe that's useless too.
posted by muddgirl at 12:12 PM on February 1, 2012

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