Q: My wife and I filed our tax returns jointly, and we received a tax refund check that was written out to both our names. We do not yet have a joint bank account. Is it possible to deposit the tax refund check into one of our own checking accounts?
– Daniel P.
Based on the law, it’s important to look at what the check writer put down on the “Pay to the order of” line.
Two party checks are made out to “Party A and Party B” or “Party A or Party B.” Note that there is a major difference between the two.
Quick answer: If a check with two names says “and,” on the “pay to the order of line” then everyone has to endorse the check. Otherwise, any party named on the check can deposit it into his or her individual bank account. This rule still applies if it is ambiguous whether the check is payable to both parties or either party.
What is the difference between “and” and “or” on Two-Party Checks?
If the check states that the funds are paid to either party by using “or” instead of “and”, then either one of the two payees named on the check can deposit the funds into their individual bank accounts.
If the check states that the funds are paid to you and another party, then the check deposit could become much more of a hassle if you do not have a joint bank account with the other party.
It’s also a hassle if you cannot get a signature endorsement from the other party. Some banks go further as to require that all parties visit a branch with government ID to verfity the signatures.
According to Section-110(d) of the Uniform Commercial Code, if a check payable to two or more people is ambiguous in terms of the payee(s), any of the stated payees can deposit the check into their individual accounts.
In every case, all payees must endorse the check with their signatures.
Two-Party Check-Cashing Bank Regulations
Since refund checks from joint tax returns are paid out to both filers, you’ll have to follow your bank’s policy on check deposits that contain multiple payees (each bank has its own policy).
Banks must account for the risk involved in the possibility that a check was written out to multiple individuals and one of the individuals attempt to deposit all the funds into his or her own account.
Some banks can be very strict. For instance, Bank of America requires that both people must have their names on the account that receives a tax refund check with two payees (does not apply for regular checks). Popular online bank Ally Bank has the same policy.
Chase and Wells Fargo requires that, if you want to deposit a check that is payable to two individuals, both payees must go to a branch in person and present government identification to verify the signatures on the back of the check.
Other banks are rather lenient. Citibank and online bank Capital One 360 simply required that checks are properly endorsed by all payees. They don’t stipulate that all payees must provide identification or maintain joint accounts.
If a check is written to multiple payees, big banks may have special rules (otherwise, they follow the law for accepting these checks):
|Bank||Special deposit rules for multiple payees|
|Bank of America||For tax refund checks, all payees must also be joint owners of the account.|
|TD Bank||For tax refund checks, all payees must also be joint owners of the account.|
|BB&T||For all checks, all payees must also be joint owners of the account.|
How To Deposit A Check With Two Names
It would be best to call your bank ahead before you deposit the check. Also, do not deposit the check through an ATM and hope that the bank will accept it.
If the bank finds that the check deposit was in violation of its policies, it may become much more of a hassle to get the situation cleared up.
Tip: In most cases, you would be better off asking the payer to write two separate checks. For checks issued by government agencies, you’d have to contact them for a reissued check.
For tax refunds, you can contact the Tax Help Line for Individuals at IRS by calling the toll-free number at (800) 829-1040 to ask for a new check.
When Payees Find Out Their Checks Were Deposited Unknowingly
There have been many cases where checks are written to multiple people and one of the parties find out that part of those funds belonged to them.
This often happens when the check states “or” in the payable line.
But, it can also happen if one party opens a joint account and forges a signature to deposit checks with “and” in the payable line. Note: This activity is illegal and against the law.
Other parties may not know about the check being deposited without their consent.
Once they find out, it may seem logical to pursue the bank(s). However, that move tends to be ineffective when it comes to retrieving their portion of the check funds.
Ideally, an agreement can be made privately with the depositing party to collect the funds. If not, you would have to take legal action to get the money that belongs to you.
Simon Zhen is a research analyst for MyBankTracker. He is an expert on consumer banking products, bank innovations, and financial technology.
Simon has contributed and/or been quoted in major publications and outlets including Consumer Reports, American Banker, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News – World Report, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, Lifehacker, and AOL.com.