It Happened to Me: The ATM ate my Check!

ATM check deposits: they're so convenient, except when they're not!

This Saturday, I stopped by a bank to deposit my check. The bank teller window wasn't open, but I deposited my check into the ATM as usual. I have made many deposits with the ATM of both checks and cash and have never had a problem before. But this time, something went wrong.

I could tell something was up when the ATM was taking way longer than usual to process. Eventually the screen went blank.

I wanted to write about my experience here so that you know what to expect if your check gets eaten by an ATM. 

What Happened Next:

  • The ATM knew that my check might have not gone through, and spat out a receipt with a phone number to call. If your ATM doesn't give you a receipt like mine did with all the info on it, take a picture of the ATM with your phone. This will not only help you remember which machine you used, but record the time of the event as well. You will need to know exactly which machine and what time the event occurred to file your claim. You can look up what number to call by googling your specific bank.
  • I called the number, and after an infuriating phone menu, spoke to a customer service rep.
  • The customer service rep transferred me to the claims department.
  • The claims department rep took down the information about the eaten check. They wanted to know the amount, the terminal ID number (printed on the receipt), and when it happened.
  • I took down a confirmation number and agreed to receive email correspondence
  • Within a few days, I received a provisional credit in my account for the amount of the eaten check. This is entirely based on what I told them. They are basically letting me borrow the amount of money I claimed I lost, but it doesn't mean they are done with the claims process yet.
  • Over the next few weeks, they will investigate. This is not a fast process!

So what can you do to protect yourself in a world where ATMs eat your checks?

Drop your checks off with a teller. There are problems with this, too. A few years ago, a teller at my bank switched two numbers on my deposit slip and my paycheck went into someone else's account! They fixed the issue, but it was a mess!

Set up direct deposit when you can. Not only does it save trees, postage, and trips to the bank, but many checking accounts reward those who direct deposit by waiving fees. It also reduces the chance for human error.

But by far the most important thing you can do is keep an emergency fund.

The chances of one specific thing going wrong, like an ATM eating your paycheck, is actually quite low. However, the chance of something going wrong in general is... well, inevitable. As they say, sh..tuff happens. Cars break down, medical bills happen, the payroll department makes mistakes sometimes. ATMs eat checks. If your default account balance is zero, one mistake- whether it's your fault or not- means a costly overdraft.

Always have an emergency fund, or at least a buffer in your account. If I were living paycheck to paycheck, this whole ordeal would have been way more stressful than it was. Because I have a habit of keeping a buffer in my account for emergencies, I came through this situation without much worry. I am sure that my bank is going to take its sweet time figuring this whole thing out, but I'm not biting my nails.

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