What is a Substitute Check?

Mary McMahon

A substitute check is a legal copy of an original check, treated legally exactly like a valid check. Substitute checks are made by digitizing originals, storing the data, and reprinting it in a new document when a legal copy of the original check is required. The original check may be destroyed or returned to the person who wrote it, depending on bank policies. Banking reforms have led to increased reliance on substitute checks alone by many financial institutions and their customers.


A typical substitute check is larger than a regular check. The front includes a detailed copy of the front of the check, and the back shows what the back of the check looked like, including endorsements and stamps from the payee, the bank, and the check processor. Substitute checks must also have a line indicating that they are legal copies of original checks. A simple copy of a check is not a substitute check.

Bank customers who are accustomed to the return of their original checks with their bank statements may receive substitute checks instead. This allows them to maintain legal checks for their records. People can use original checks as proof of payment in the event of legal disputes and may retain them for tax records and other purposes. The ability to access the original check or a legal substitute is important, and bank customers can also ask for reprints of specific substitute checks if they need them.

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One area where a substitute check can be useful is in a dispute over a payment. If a check is forged or altered, the customer will want a legal copy of the check to contest the payment made on the check. Likewise, if a mistake is made in check processing such as reading 20.00 as 200.00, the original or a legal copy will be needed to dispute the charge. Bank customers can request substitute checks to use in such disputes, pointing to the disparity between the amount documented on the substitute check and a charge or demonstrating that an aspect of the check has clearly been falsified if the check is being disputed.

Some banks may charge fees for providing people with copies of substitute checks. Bank customers can check the policies at their banks to learn more about how such checks are handled. It is important to be aware that electronic copies provided in online banking are not legal substitute checks, nor are other kinds of copies sent with bank statements, unless they include the statement that they are legally considered equivalent to the original check.

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