Have you ever played a game of “Beat the Check”? Your rent is due tomorrow, but you don’t get paid until Friday, so you write the check today an, on payday, you run to the bank to get your paycheck deposited before it has a chance to clear. To stretch out the time, you write yourself a check from another account to cover the deficit, knowing that will take a few more days to clear. This is called “floating” a check.
I think most people who write checks have tried to rush a deposit in before a check clears.
In 2004, the Check 21 act went into effect, which turned the game on its head. This law gave check recipients an option to make a digital copy of a check, slashing processing time. Instead of boxes of checks being transported around the country, the check began getting scanned and instantly transferred, along with all of the encoding necessary to keep the digital checks organized. This dramatically cut the amount of time it took to clear a check. What was once a week was reduced to as little as 48 hours.
Now, as technology improves and banks update their infrastructure to match, the “float” time has been reduced even further. Many banks are using image control systems to instantly convert all incoming checks to digital format. Within a couple of hours, these images can be transmitted to the Federal Reserve, to be transmitted nearly instantly to the issuing bank. If both the issuing and the receiving banks are using modern image control systems, it is impossible to float a check. “Beat the Check” is a thing of the past. It’s like betting on purple at the roulette wheel.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the funds are instantly available. That would eliminate the banks being able make use of the funds during that time. Don’t expect the banks to make a habit of allowing you the use of your money before the federal regulations demand it.