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Cashing your Next US Check in the UK

Cashing a US check in the UK can be a blessing and a curse, as Peter East explains
Published on August 18, 2020

411 Bank

A second Coronavirus Stimulus Check might be on its way soon, but if you agonised over cashing in your last one, getting another payment in the post might be a blessing and a curse.

Whenever Congress makes their minds up, you’ll have to find your preferred way to cash in your check which is getting more difficult as time goes on.

Unfortunately there aren’t many straightforward options to cashing in checks as their popularity decreases exponentially in the UK. Here are your options, with information on how to do it, what charges you might incur and what issues you might expect along the way.

Depositing with your UK bank account

If you can deposit your check this way you should. Depositing with a UK bank account guarantees you fairer charges, industry standard security and, depending on your bank, fast access to your cash. The system is far from perfect though.

To pay the check into your account you have to go your local branch. In the UK they’re fairly abundant, they might not be on every high street like in the US but they'll rarely be more than a 20-minute journey away. You need to take your check, ID and your bank details.

When you arrive you need to show the cashier your check and they’ll hand you a specific depositing document to fill out with your bank details. Depending on the amount, you might be referred to an account manager to discuss your options.

Cashing in checks means you need to follow your bank’s Negotiation and Collection process. For speed and ease, you should go for negotiation. Negotiation means funds will be added to your account in 1-10 working days, before the check has even cleared.

Charges for negotiation aren’t comparatively low. At Lloyd’s, for example, they charge 25p for every £100 you’re trying to deposit into a business account, whereas Santander charge a flat £10 rate on their checks.

However, each bank’s process for cashing in international checks is different. If you didn’t consider how easy it is to deposit a check in your UK bank account when opening it, you might be in for a nasty surprise.

Barclays require you to come into your local branch for a discussion with a member of the team, and HSBC need to you call them for more information before either of them will say their charges up-front on the website. There are already more hurdles than you’d otherwise hope for.

If you opt for cashing by collection, your wait can take up to seven weeks. This is where your bank waits for its US counterpart to confirm the transaction, and actually involves posting the check back to the bank in the States. The process comes with the risk that the bank might just reject it.

Whilst they’d prefer negotiation, banks decide whether to recommend proceeding by negotiation or collection on a case by case basis so there’s no guarantee you’ll get the option you want.

After all this you’ll still have to grapple with your bank’s near arbitrary exchange rates. The biggest complaint of numerous American expats coming to the UK is the percentage you bank might knock off the total payment. For smaller amounts, it's probably not extreme, but for anything larger, most notably your stimulus payment, you could feel conned.

Using a friend’s UK bank account

UK banks and their account opening requirements can contribute to financial exclusion, where people cannot access the most basic of banking facilities. If you can’t confirm your UK address you might be able to seek the help of a local friend or family member.

Using your friend’s account comes with all the pros and cons of using your own UK banking account, but with obvious security risks.

Make sure this is actually a trusted friend or family member and not a fraudster posing as a concerned citizen offering a helping hand. The process is the same as the other process only you’ll have to accompany your friend to a branch of their bank. You’ll have to relinquish the check and assign it to them, you’ll still have to bring a form of ID to prove the check is yours.

You’ll have to make your friend aware of all the fees they’ll encounter just in case the bank charges them if the check is later rejected.

This process comes with a small but nonetheless irritating extra layer before you get your funds. Once the check clears, which we’ve clarified could take between one working day for negotiation to seven weeks for collection, you then need to decide the best way to transfer the money to you. You could use a prepaid banking account or challenger bank or simply have all the funds in cash.

Other alternatives?

Checks are a dying breed of payment method in most European countries so the mechanisms to cash them in in the UK are slowly disappearing. Regular alternatives like currency exchange stores and pawn brokers aren’t as willing to help out as they might have been a decade ago, and anyone who does offer to help might not provide the same level of security as a bank might.

To be on the safe side, we’d recommend going the bank route.

Conclusions

If you tell a British friend that your stimulus payment is being sent by check you’ll probably be met by several funny looks since checks have started to go out of fashion in the UK. If you do receive any funds from the US again, it’s worthwhile asking for an electronic international transfer. These involve less fees, less waits and allow you to use a wider variety of banking services, meaning you can get money on your prepaid card or modern challenger bank without a branch on the high street.

But, since the IRS probably won’t decide to start paying that way any time soon, once you’ve done it once, you’ll find your favourite way to cash in your check and, at the very least, you’ll get less surprises.

Peter East is a professional content writer for Suits Me, an award-winning alternative personal current account provider. Peter has training in BA Journalism and has an interest in political and data journalism. He has experience in e-commerce and financial technology and, when not on the lookout for new stories, has been developing a new podcast

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