Did you know that post-dated cheques and stopped cheques can cause you considerable grief?
Yesterday, I discovered that my (current) bank, the Bank of Montreal, had processed and withdrawn funds from my account despite the fact that the cheque I had written was post-dated for about a week later. When I called the customer service line expecting some sort of redress for what I perceived to be BMO's negligence, I was told that they would do nothing, that they had done nothing wrong or negligent in any way, since the bank is under no obligation to prevent funds from being withdrawn early. If sufficient funds are in the account, then it is paid no problem. What if sufficient funds are not in the account I asked, would there not be NSF charges incurred? The answer unfortunately seems to be yes, I would be on the hook. If a had a problem I should speak to the cheque recipient who had presented the cheque early. Conclusion: the date you write has no significance and is no protection. Post-dated cheques are not a reliable or trustworthy hassle-free method of managing bank account cash inflows and outflows.
A Google search uncovered this Canadian Payments Association FAQ on Cheques that confirms the optional, non-obligatory, one might say at the convenience of the banks, nature of the usual practice to tell the recipient that it is only to be presented on the due date. Note the red highlighted weasel words should and may.
" Under CPA Rules, a post-dated cheque is not eligible for clearing and therefore should not be deposited before the due date. However, given the large volume of cheques and the degree of automated processing, some post-dated items may inadvertently slip through. Under Rule A4, Section 6(b), a payment item may be returned through the clearing by a CPA member financial institution for the reason "post-dated" up to and including the day prior to the due date."
Even granting there might be some unstated necessity to exempt the banks from the legal responsibility for their incompetence in providing the service a post-dated cheque is intended to do, the symptomatic attitude "if we at the bank screw up, it's you the customer's problem to fix" is, shall we put it politely, annoying. Unfortunately, I see no solution but to either harass the bank if material losses like NSF charges occur, or not to write post-dated cheques at all.
Paying electronically is just as fraught with uncertainty and bank freedom. You must pay a couple of days in advance since the banks do not guarantee even then that the payment will occur instantaneously on the due date - BMO's blurb from the Agreements for Everyday Banking states its huge leeway in the section on automated services: this
"However, we may require up to five banking days:
- to process any deposit, including any transfer between Accounts;
- to act on bill payment instructions."
and on the website, BMO gives itself this liberty:
"For future-dated bill payments, please ensure you have sufficient funds in the account you have selected at least 1 business day prior to the payment date." i.e. they may withdraw the payment a day early as I have seen happen. Not very impressive in the computer age I'd say.
The other problem I came across while looking for information on the above. When you put a stop payment on a cheque, you are still exposed to it being cashed and having to pay anyway. The simple version explanation of how this can happen is in Before you write a cheque, take note of this little known law that appeared in the Vancouver Sun. A more complicated nuanced explanation is Lost and Stolen Cheques, Bank Drafts and Trust Cheques: Some Modest but Partial Solutions in the March 2009 Advocate. As the title of the article states, problems can arise from cheques that are lost or stolen. The basic though not perfect solution is to a) cross all cheques, that is, draw two parallel diagonal or vertical lines across the cheque; b) add the words, "for deposit only by payee - non negotiable"; c) add the words "not payable more than X days after date". Or they suggest using a wire transfer since that puts the bank on the hook.
I wish it were possible to get protection by adding the words "not payable before date" to counter the prematurely expectorated post-dated cheque but I guess the Bills of Exchange Act that created this reality seems not to have contemplated the value of enabling people to pay with certainty only on a due date and not before.
You also have to the crossing by hand since it seems there aren't any companies in Canada offering cheques pre-printed with the crossing done. Surely the banks and cheque printing companies know the advantages. Why don't they begin offering pre-crossed cheques? In the UK, such cheques are commonly available.