The boxes are unpacked, the artwork's on the walls, and you've moved on with your life. But hold on – your checkbook still hasn't made the move. If your checks still sport your old address, don't worry; they're still valid and can be used as a legal form of payment. Your address and personal information aren't the most crucial elements of a personal check, but getting around to updating the info sooner than later is a good idea. Luckily, it's also a fairly painless process.
What's on My Check?
That check has a lot more going for it than an outdated address. In addition to the basics like your name and address (current or not), you'll find the check number, as well as blank fields waiting for you to fill in information, such as the date, payee, amount and signature.
Even more important, your checks come preprinted with a magnetic ink character recognition line, or MICR. The MICR line includes the bank's name, your checking account number and the bank's routing number, all of which are printed and magnetically coded, waiting to be scanned by the payee's financial institution. Essentially, this is the information needed to process a check – your address doesn't come into play during this process.
Clearing a Check
So, it turns out you can legally use a check with an old address. But what happens after you sign the check? When a bank clears one of your checks, your address and other personal information is somewhat insignificant. More important is that you filled in all the blank fields correctly, signed it with your authentic signature and that you have enough money in your checking account to cover the payment.
When the check is processed, your signature – unlike your address – will be compared to a signature card kept on file at your financial institution. Most commonly, checks are sent through an electronic, MICR-reading scanner or scanned with your smartphone and a banking app. The MICR scanner takes a digital image of the check and forwards that image to the paying bank. If everything checks out (pun intended) the funds are credited to the recipient's account.
Be aware that it may take several days for a check to process and for the funds to leave your account. In some cases, a portion of the funds may be held as the check is being processed.
The Exception Is Fraud
There is one situation in which having an address on your check that doesn't match your current address could be legally problematic: check fraud.
Check fraud, as the name implies, simply refers to any use of checks with the intent to commit fraud. This may include forgery, theft, paper hanging (writing checks on closed accounts), check kiting (intentionally accessing funds from one bank account before they're moved to another) and counterfeiting or washing checks.
There's certainly a legal line here. Writing a check in good faith that happens to have an old address on it and with available funds is no problem. But if you use your old address purposefully in connection with committing check fraud, you're, of course, on the wrong side of that legal line. Though the penalties vary by state, using fraudulent checks to acquire $500 or less is typically charged as a misdemeanor; $500 or more can put you in felony territory. Both can incur a civil action to cover losses and can also lead to jail time.
Update Your Address
As an old-school, physical payment method, the only way to update your address on your checks is to order a new batch, although nothing is stopping you from crossing out and correcting your old address as a precaution. To update your checks, you have a few options. You can head down to your bank in person with your ID and account info or, in some cases, order new checks straight from your banking app or online at your account login page. If the bank's prices don't jell with you, you can also order checks from third-party sellers online – just be prepared to provide your account number and your bank's routing number. Oh, and don't forget your current address.
As of 2019, there are no laws on the books that prohibit using checks featuring an outdated address.
As a freelance writer and small business owner with a decade of experience, Dan has contributed legal- and finance-oriented content to diverse sources including Chron, Fortune, Zacks.com, Motley Fool and MSN Money, among others.