Crash Course in UCC Check Indorsement Rules for Newlyweds and Why You Should Never Use “And” or “&” When Writing Checks to Newlyweds

January 6, 2012
Check from My Scammer

Image by Telstar Logistics via Flickr

I bet you never thought of writing and cashing a check as a complicated issue, but since check rules are part of the Uniform Commercial Code, you wouldn’t believe how complex it can be. Just try reading the UCC sometime.

However, giving or receiving checks in relation to newlyweds can be a real headache. A newlywed couple in Albany learned this reality the hard way.

According to ABC News, Bank of America sent a newlywed bride packing when she tried to cash checks made out to “Mr. and Mrs. Iorizzo.” Her husband had signed the checks with a “deposit only” restriction. The problem was that Bank of America assumed Mrs. Iorizzo didn’t really exist since the newlywed bride did not change her name for the marriage. The bank notified the couple that all checks made out to Mr. and Mrs. Iorizzo were void since one person on the check did not really exist.

While I’m not a lawyer, the UCC is part of the CPA exam so I’ve read and studied the law. Based on how the UCC is written, Bank of America is wrong to have turned away the wedding checks.

Intent of the Signer is the Rule

According to UCC section 3-110 (a):

…The instrument is payable to the person intended by the signer even if that person is identified in the instrument by a name or other identification that is not that of the intended person.

This small piece of legal jargon is very powerful. Note that I spell my name Shaun and not Shawn, Shan, Sean, Shane, Shawna, Xon, etc…(Yes, Xon). Do you know how frequently I receive checks made out to the wrong name? So does this mean I’ve been an outlaw my whole life cashing checks with a false name? No, the checks with the wrong name are valid, because I am the intended payee.

Clearly the check writer for “Mr. and Mrs. Iorizzo,” intended for the newlywed bride to cash these checks. Could Bank of America make that call though? Probably, with a marriage certificate, which was offered up by the newlyweds.

While the bank was wrong in this situation, you can see how challenging it is to navigate gray-areas caused by small inaccuracies.

Why the Check Does Not Have a Fictitious Name

By the bank manager stating that Mrs. Iorizzo does not exist as a person, he is trying to establish that the check has a fictitious name. This occurs when someone, without any interest in the check, is named as a payee. However, the check was a present to both newlyweds, so both individuals have an interest in the check.

Use the Word “Or” and Not “And” When Making Out a Check for Newlyweds

The situation above would easily have been avoided if the check signer had made the check out to “Mr. or Mrs. Iorizzo.” Under the UCC, the “or” language makes the check “alternatively payable” to either of them. Thus, the signature of just Mr. Iorizzo is enough to deposit the check. In doing so you also adhere to the social politeness of making out the check to both individuals.

You can also make the check out to “cash,” which means whoever holds the check can cash the check. However, doing so carries risks if checks are lost or stolen.

“And” in the Payee Description Requires All Payees Listed to Sign the Check

Another reason to avoid “And” language when describing the payee is that it sets up a situation known as joint payees. In order to deposit such a check, both payees must sign the check. Not a big issue, but certainly a more onerous complication.

Newlyweds should observe how the check signer has designated payees before heading out to the bank. If they’ve used an “and” both newlyweds must sign. You don’t want to have to travel back home for another signature.

But, take my advice on the “or” language and save your family and friends a banking hassle.

Update:

Pete Iorizzo, the referrenced, newly married groom in the article above, linked. Thanks for the link and happy future banking experiences to you and your bride!

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7 Responses to Crash Course in UCC Check Indorsement Rules for Newlyweds and Why You Should Never Use “And” or “&” When Writing Checks to Newlyweds

  1. Jai Catalano on January 6, 2012 at 11:40 am

    I HATE BOA but I think in today’s world BOA is just being cautious. Also they don’t know the law…

    They have every right to be but it’s a GREAT argument to blog about. Thanks for the read…

    • Shaun on January 6, 2012 at 12:12 pm

      It’s probably policy to reject these types of checks and I’m sure they feel the liability of accepting ambiguous checks is higher than denying them. Still, its good to know the law and to write checks with “or”

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  6. Courtney on May 7, 2012 at 6:06 am

    I just got married and have received a check written out to me but written with the surname of my step father. This present was given by someone who is not close to my family and assumed that I had taken my step father’s name when I was a child but I did not. I.e. my step fathers name is Jones so the check is written to Miss Jones but my actual maiden name is Miss Smith. Is it possible to actually deposit this check into my bank account?

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