Bad Checks


A bad check is a check the bank will not honor. There are two kinds of bad checks.

  • Non-Sufficient Funds (NSF) checks: A check is NSF if there is not enough money in the account to pay it or the account is closed.
  • Stop Payment checks: The person who wrote the check told the bank to stop payment.

If you are given a bad check, you can sue for the amount of the check plus bank fees. You can also add damages to your claim.

Before you sue for a bad check

If you only want to sue for the amount of the check plus bank fees, you can file a small claims case right away.

If you want to sue for the amount of the check plus damages, you must first send a demand letter to the person who gave you the bad check.

If you send a demand letter and are paid the amount of the check and bank fees within 30 days, your claim is resolved. You can no longer file a lawsuit.

The Demand Letter

Your demand letter must request that you be paid the full amount of the check, any bank fees and the cost of mailing the demand. It also tells the person who gave you the bad check, that if they do not pay within 30 days of your mailing the demand letter, you can sue for the check plus damages.

Your demand letter must include legal wording that comes directly from the California Civil Code 1719. Use our sample demand letter.

You must send the demand letter by Certified Mail with Return Receipt Requested. This proves that your letter was sent.

Calculating damages

If you send a demand letter but are not paid, you can sue for the amount of the check plus three (3) times that amount in damages. The least amount of damages you can ask for is $100 and the most is $1,500.

Here is an example of damages for a $400 check:

$400 (amount of check)
x 3 (3 x damages)
= $1,200 (total damages)

Add the damages to the original amount of the check:

$400 (amount of check)
+ $1,200 (3 x damages)
= $1,600 (total you can sue for)

How to sue

To begin your small claims case, you need to file a Plaintiff’s Claim with the court clerk.

Are damages always awarded?

Sometimes there are valid reasons for stopping payment on a check. For example, if the goods or services paid for with the check were never delivered or were defective. Stopping payment for this reason is called a good faith dispute.

If the person who wrote the check can prove that a good faith dispute exists, the Judge might not award any damages.

What should I bring to court?

Bring evidence to prove your claim, including:

  • The bad check;
  • A copy of the demand letter;
  • The certified mail receipt; and
  • Proof that a good faith dispute does not exist.
Court forms are available at California Courts - Forms. Select "Small Claims" from the pull down menu. Forms are also available at the Court Clerk's office.
County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. Last change: May 19, 2015