The Many Causes of Returned Checks

Updated on June 25, 2010

What do all those strange acronyms mean?

Most of us have been there at least once in our lives; a check deposited or written to someone was returned by the bank. It may be stamped with things like NSF, UCF, UTL, etc. What does that mean? Did I do something wrong? These strange and seemingly cryptic messages can be confusing, so here's a list of some reasons why a bank may return a check.

NSF or ISF - Not Sufficient or Insufficient funds

This one is pretty self explanatory. The account that the check is written off of doesn't have the funds to cover the value of the check. In most cases the check can be redeposited, unless otherwise noted on the check itself.

UCF, UFH or UF - Uncollected Funds Hold or Uncollected Funds

In this instance, the check has been returned because the account it was drawn off of does not yet have the available funds. It's a little different than insufficient funds because the balance is present but not yet collected. For instance, John may have deposited a check for $500 on Monday, and also written a check to Steve for $500 which he deposited to his account the next day. Since the initial check that John deposited won't clear until Wednesday, the check he wrote to Steve is returned because John's initial deposit has not yet been collected. These items are typically eligible for redeposit.

UTL - Unable to Locate

Checks are returned for this reason because the bank cannot locate the account associated with the presented item. This could be for a number of reasons, but the most likely cause is that incorrect information has been provided. Sometimes these items will indicate exactly which information is wrong, such as the account number or routing number. These items can not be redeposited; a new item is required from the account holder.

NCI - Non Cash Item

Returns for this reason are typically due to things like promotional offers, rebate coupons or gift certificates mistakenly being deposited as checks. Since these items are in fact not checks, they can not be redeposited.

UA or NA - Unauthorized or Not Authorized

Items are returned for this reason because the account holder disputes the authenticity of the payment, or the account has a special instruction such as 'no debits' or 'no drafts.' These items can not be redeposited.

RTM - Refer to Maker

Items returned with this code indicate that the payee should contact the account holder to inquire about why the item was returned. Banks will not give this type of account information to anyone but the account holder, and both parties may need to correspond in order to resolve the issue. This code is typically used when no other return codes apply.

Stop Payment

Checks are returned for this reason because the person who initially authorized it has revoked their authorization. This option is available to account holders as long as they place the stop payment before the item in question is presented for payment. The account holder gives specific details about the check to the bank, who then return those items unpaid with the code Stop Payment. These items are not eligible for redeposit.

Account Closed

Items returned with the code Account Closed mean just that: the account associated with the check has been terminated. These items can not be redeposited because the account no longer exists, and a new check drawn off of a different account is required.

Frozen or Blocked Account

Returned items with this code are the result of the bank being required to stop all activity on the account in question. This could be due to an IRS tax lien or wage garnishment, a court order or other legal action. These items can not be redeposited.

Stale Dated or Expired Check

These items are returned because they have passed the expiration date set by the check issuer. Checks can expire after as little as seven days, or as many as one hundred and eighty, as determined by the individual institution. These items also can not be redeposited.

Post Dated

Items are returned for this reason because they are dated for some time in the future, or otherwise indicate that they are not valid until a future date. These items are eligible for redeposit on or after the date in question.

Endorsement Missing

This occurs when the payee does not sign or stamp the back of their check, and is not the fault of the check writer. An endorsement is typically the check receiver's signature or a 'For Deposit Only' stamp. These items can be redeposited once they have been properly endorsed.

Endorsement Irregular

The most common cause for checks being returned for this reason is because the endorsement is illegible, doesn't match the sample on file, or was written below the line that says 'do not write below this line.' These items could possibly be redeposited if the error is correctable.

Signature(s) Missing

Items are returned for this reason when the check writer did not sign the check, or only one signature is present when two are required. These items can be redeposited once the missing signature is obtained.

Signature(s) Irregular

If the bank's sample of an account holder's signature differs noticeably from the one on the item or appears damaged or altered, it will be returned for this reason. In this case, a new item must be obtained for deposit.

Altered or Fictitious Item

This return code indicates a discrepancy between the bank's records of the account holder and the item presented. Write overs, cross outs and other alterations should be initialed by the account holder, but may not always stop the item from being returned. This code may also indicate that the presented document is a forgery. Do not redeposit these items.

Item Exceeded Dollar Amount

Some accounts are set up with daily or per item dollar amount limits. The account holder is aware of these limits and items returned for this reason are not eligible for redeposit.

Hopefully this will be the only place anyone will see these codes. Feel free to visit my related hub about common check writing mistakes, which should help avoid having items returned for these reasons.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • profile image


        6 months ago

        i had my pay roll check returned as refer to maker but is endorse to me on the back of it rdc service with my bank info what should i do if i cant get in touch with employer should i take it to employer bank????

      • profile image

        Marta Cardoze 

        2 years ago

        Hi Jimbody!

        How do you call when a check is blurry or fuzzy?

      • profile image


        3 years ago

        hi what is the meaning if the check is returned by the bank and the reason is FREE ITEM? thanks

      • monicamelendez profile image


        7 years ago from Salt Lake City

        Wow I had no idea that there were so many reasons for returned checks. Learning a lot today :)

      • profile image


        7 years ago


      • profile image


        8 years ago

        tons of thanks.helped me a lot

      • jimbody profile imageAUTHOR


        9 years ago from Chicago, IL

        My pleasure, thanks for the feedback!

      • PegCole17 profile image

        Peg Cole 

        9 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

        Hi Jimbody, I loved this refresher course on Banking terms. It seems like a hundred years ago I was a teller, bookkeeper, new accounts person at a small bank in Florida. Brought all the fond (!) memories flooding back. Thanks for an informative, well-written article.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)