The Common Law

Personal finances – consequences of writing hot checks

I bounced a check at a local store. They want to charge me $50 for the bounced check. That seems like a lot of money. Can they really charge that much?

That is a lot of money. In fact, it's so much money that it is illegal. According to Texas law, the store where you bounced the check may charge you "a reasonable processing fee of not more than $30." Let the store know that you are aware that Texas law only requires you to pay $30, and then be prepared to pay that amount.

I bounced a check, and now the store is threatening to press criminal charges against me if I don't pay the amount I owe immediately. Can they really do that?

You can be held criminally responsible for writing a bad check. The only good news for you is that the store cannot refer the matter to the district attorney's office for criminal prosecution until 10 days after you have been notified of the bounced check.

Under the Texas Penal Code, a person commits an offense if he passes off a check knowing that sufficient funds do not exist to cover it. In most cases, the offense of issuing a bad check is a class C misdemeanor. You can forget about trying to argue that you had no idea that your account did not have sufficient funds to cover the check. This law presumes that an issuer of a bad check knows that he or she did not have sufficient funds.

The store could refer the matter to the Travis County District Attorney's Office, which can prosecute people who issue bad checks. But before the store can turn your name over to the district attorney's office, it must properly notify you that there are not sufficient funds to cover the check. After you have received the notice, the law gives you 10 days to make full payment of the amount owed before the matter can be referred for criminal prosecution.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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