Words Mean Something — Except to Wells Fargo Bank

Several months ago I called Wells to ask how long a personal check was good for. I had written a large check some eight months before and I was getting tired of holding that much money in checking. And I had asked that company at least four or five times to please deposit the check.

The answer was that personal checks were good for six months after which they expire. A new check would probably have to be written before the merchant could get their funds.

To be sure, I looked up both the Uniform Commercial Code and Nevada law on the matter. Turns out Nevada essentially incorporated by reference the entire UCC, which is a non-binding set of guidelines or best practices developed by the commerce industry in the United States.

This is Nevada law:

“NRS 104.4404  Bank not obligated to pay check more than 6 months old.  A bank is under no obligation to a customer having a checking account to pay a check, other than a certified check, which is presented more than 6 months after its date, but it may charge its customer’s account for a payment made thereafter. (Added to NRS by 1965, 851)”

Hmm. Discretionary and not absolute. Oh, well, I was sure Wells would take care of me as a 25 year customer. They didn’t.

Two weeks ago that merchant deposited my check and Wells returned it for insufficient funds. In other words, I bounced a check, the first time, I think, in over twenty years. I suddenly became massively overdrawn on my checking account.

I called Wells to ask why they didn’t return the check on the grounds that the check had expired. Checks never expire was the new answer. What? They can expire if Wells wants to, I said. You’re under no obligation to cash them according to Nevada State law.

Over the next ten days or so I talked to everyone imaginable and all repeated the same thing: checks never expire and we have no discretion in the matter. But no one would provide me with a document stating that and no one one would transfer me to legal.

Today, Wells e-mailed to tell me that the first person I talked to was in error and that they apologized for saying that checks expired. The Wells employee e-mailed me a policy document that she said showed their obligation to always cash a check.

That document doesn’t. It clearly has permissive and not mandatory language. Look at this from their Deposit Account Agreement dated May 28, 2021.

We may, without inquiry or liability, pay a check even if it:

• Has special written instructions indicating we should refuse payment (e.g., “void after 30 days” or “void over $100”),
• Is stale-dated (i.e., the check’s date is more than six months in the past), even if we’re aware of the check’s date,
• Is post-dated (i.e., the check’s date is in the future), or
• Isn’t dated.

I called the woman who sent me this and asked if she had actually read it. She said she had. I said it doesn’t say Wells will pay a check, it says Wells may. You have complete discretion just as the UCC mentions and the NRS allows.

She said the document was hazy but she had no control over drafting it.

What? I said a bank can’t have a written policy and at the same time have employees stating a different policy. Otherwise, what is the point of having any written policy at all?

The bottom line is I am still on the record for having bounced a check and Wells is on the line for having the poorest customer support.

This is the only time I have ever called Wells with a problem and they totally failed me. Worse, they don’t even understand their own policy and have line personnel making up policy as they see fit. I’m not a lawyer but I have worked for too many good ones to accept this nonsense from a bank.

But you can’t change people or institutions that don’t want to change or don’t care. Hmm.

By thomasfarley01

Business writer and graphic arts gadfly.

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