Fact Checked

What is an NSF Check?

Kathy Heydasch
Kathy Heydasch

An NSF check is a check that has “bounced”, a term used to refer to a bank’s declination to provide funds from the account listed on the check. This is typically because the account has insufficient funds to cover the transaction. A bounced check is called an NSF check because it is an abbreviation for non-sufficient funds.

When a person writes a check that he or she knowingly believes to be fraudulent, this is known as writing a bad check. Depending on the circumstances, this can be a crime punishable by law, usually a misdemeanor. Local jurisdiction will apply in most cases where an NSF check is involved.


In order to prove that the writing of an NSF check constituted a criminal act, one must answer affirmatively to the following questions. Was the check dishonored by the bank upon which it was drawn for insufficient funds? Did the writer of the check know beforehand that the check would be dishonored? Did the writer of the check give the item for present consideration, meaning was the check supposed to be cashed on or after the date it was presented?

There are usually fees that apply to a person writing an NSF check. Typically, the merchant or vendor will charge a fee for a returned check. In addition, the bank will charge an NSF fee if it covers the amount on the check without funds in the account to cover it. This is called an overdraft charge because the account has been debited more than the amount in the account. Overdraft protection is available if one has a savings account at the same bank as the checking account. It automatically takes funds from the savings to cover the amount of the check. There is typically a much lower fee for using overdraft protection, and this method avoids any disruption from the merchant because the amount on the check has been covered.

A person convicted of fraudulent check writing may be prosecuted by local or state officials as a misdemeanor. The accused party will face criminal court proceedings. In some cases, however, the recipient of the NSF check can sue the writer in civil court. There, the wronged party can sue for damages and, in some cases, associated court costs.

There are other methods of fraudulent behavior when it comes to check-writing. One may post-date a check in hopes that the clerk accepting the check will not notice. Another technique of fraudulent check-writing is called kiting. This occurs when the writer of an NSF check intentionally uses multiple accounts to pass imaginary funds from account to account.

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