British actor Noel Coward said it best: “If you must have motivation, think of your paycheck on Friday.” All the hard work that you put in day after day really pays off when that paycheck hits your bank account.
But what happens when you get the “insufficient funds” memo from your employer, of all people? Here’s your play-by-play on what do if your paycheck bounces.
1. Contact your employer right away
Go straight to the source and politely explain what happened. In the best case scenario, your employer or payroll administrator will apologize for the mistake and cut you a new check within a few days. If not, then you’ll need to complete a few more steps to get your hard-earned dollars.
Write down who you talked to, when you talked, and what you both agreed to. Remain calm at all times and ask if you can get a written confirmation that you’ll receive a replacement check by a specific date. This is important.
2. Inform your bank
While you wait on your replacement check, call your bank’s customer service line and explain the situation. You’ll need to do this because depending on your type of account and balance at the time of deposit, your financial institution may hit you with an overdraft or insufficient funds fee. These fees can range from $27 to $35.
Here’s when that written confirmation from your employer will come in handy: Request a one-time waiver of that pesky fee for depositing a bad check. Your bank is legally entitled to deny your request, but it’s worth a shot when you have a clean record or have been a customer for several years. Once again, write down who you talked to, when, and what was said (aka The 3W’s).
3. Make sure that bills get paid
This is particularly important if you had any automatic payments that were timed with your paycheck. Immediately contact all people and organizations to which you were going to pay using your paycheck. If you set up automatic bill payments online, you may be able to cancel some or all of them through your customer portals as long as they haven’t been processed already.
If those payments have already been processed, then your best bet is to contact customer service right away over the phone. Explain the situation to your rep and ask for options to arrange alternate forms of payment, including paying at a physical location, providing a routing number and checking or savings account over the phone, or mailing a check (FYI, that mailing address may be available on your statement). Remember to track The 3W’s for all of these calls.
Don’t forget to politely request to have any applicable penalty fees waived or reversed. Some companies are able to stop the fee from hitting your account at all and others will revert a fee generally within 48 hours. If you’re still hit with a penalty, document it.
4. Gather proof that the check had insufficient funds
Just in case you may have to lawyer up, start a “Bad Check” folder. Include in this folder:
Notes from your initial talk with your employer.
Notes from the visit or call with your bank.
Notes from your talks with people and companies that were counting on that payment;
Proof that the check bounced (printout of your bank statement, physical paycheck mailed back to you, or photo from check with insufficient funds stamp if available on your statement or online portal).
List of fees applied from your bank (if any).
List of fees applied from companies (if any).
5. Check back with your employer on the promised date of payment
Hopefully, you don’t have to wait until the very day of payment. But when you do, then you have every right to remind your employer about the deadline.
Got your payment? Good.
Is your employer “ghosting” you? Then, keep on reading.
6. Beware over 15- to 30-day late payments
If there’s a major bill that you just can’t cover, such as rent, car loan payment, or mortgage payment, be proactive and reach out to those companies.
For starters, these companies may have a higher amount due when you pay past a certain date. For example, most mortgage lenders make payments due by the first of the month, allow a grace period until the 15th of the month, and start charging a higher amount on the 16th of the month and on. Once your payment becomes 30 days past due, your creditor will report it to the credit bureaus.
When there’s potential for a 30-day late payment, inform your creditor in writing and request that your potential late payment not be reported due to a situation outside of your control. Send a letter explaining your situation via certified mail, keep a copy for your “Bad Check” folder, and expect a response within 30 days (also for your folder).
7. Notify your state’s Department of Labor
Still waiting? Contact your employer again and inform them that you require payment or you will be forced to contact the U.S. Department of Labor. In case of no response, then report your employer to your state’s Department of Labor office backing up your statements with your “Bad Check” folder.
Once your complaint has been filed, you’re highly likely to get your paycheck … and possibly a bit extra. In Hawaii, for example, employers who fail to pay wages have to pay back a sum equal to the amount of unpaid wages and annual interest rate of 6 percent from the date that the wages were due. In addition, nonpaying Hawaii employers who can’t provide a reasonable explanation are also subject to a fine ranging from $100 to $10,000 and imprisonment up to one year.
The employer may also have to provide remedies to cover additional costs, such as late fees and reasonable attorney’s fees. Labor laws and filing fees vary by state, but one thing is certain: You’ll get paid.