Differences Between Single & Duplicate Checks

There are several differences between single and duplicate checks.
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The availability of debit cards, electronic wallets and online bill pay services has made the use of paper checks less common. Still, checks can be incredibly useful in managing personal and household finances. When ordering paper checks, consumers are usually offered the option of single or duplicate checks. Duplicate checks are typically a bit more expensive but can also help check-writers more effectively manage their finances, according to SUNY Geneseo Federal Credit Union.

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The Value of Paper Checks

Technology has made it easy for people to make payments and transfer funds electronically. As a result, many individuals and businesses have stopped writing or using paper checks. Using debit cards, bill pay systems or bank drafts eliminates the hassle of carrying paper checks, writing them out to an individual or business and then waiting for the receiver to deposit the check so that the funds can be taken out of an account. Similarly, payees no longer have to worry about whether a check will clear or bounce for insufficient funds.

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However, paper checks do have some advantages over electronic payments, particularly for check-writers:

  • It is possible to more closely track a paper check than other means of payment. The payor can monitor his or her accounts to determine when the check is cashed and the bank then provides a copy of the canceled check to the payor. If there is any dispute about payment, someone who has paid with a paper check will be able to document if, when and how the check was cashed, as well as the person or business unit responsible for cashing the check.
  • As an article in Money.com notes, some businesses do not accept credit or debit cards. While such businesses are increasingly rare, they do exist. One example of such a business would be a mom-and-pop landlord who owns just a few rental units and doesn't care to deal with credit or debit cards.
  • Utility companies may charge an extra fee for credit card or debit card payments. They will, on the other hand, accept paper checks by mail or at payment locations at no extra cost.

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Single vs. Duplicate Checks

Paper checks are sold in books of duplicate or single checks. Single checks are simply a book of checks that can be filled out and used as needed. Duplicate checks, sometimes also written as "cheque duplicate," pair each paper check with a thin piece of printed carbon paper that, unlike the paper check, can't be torn from the pad. As the payor writes out the check, the details are imprinted on the carbon paper, which remains in the pad. The payor now has a copy of the paper check that includes all of its details, including the date, the amount of the check, the check number and the name of the payee.

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Personal Finance Recordkeeping

One problem that many people have had with paper checks in the past is that of personal finance recordkeeping. As MyCreditUnion.gov notes, registering each check and calculating your new balance is critical to effectively managing a checking account, but the reality is that many people forget to enter each check they write into the check register and, of course, to calculate the balance after each deposit to or withdrawal from the checking account.

The failure to track paper checks, and to keep a paper record of withdrawals and deposits, is a primary cause of bank overdrafts. It's a particular problem for those who write paper checks because payees can take days, weeks or even months to deposit a check. Without a written record of the check payment, it is easy for the payor to forget about the check until the payee deposits it, possibly leading to an overdraft, bounced check or unexpectedly depleted finances.

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Duplicate checks provide a reminder of the written check and can make check-writing more convenient: If someone writes a check while in a hurry and doesn't have time to add the check and balance information to his check register immediately, he'll still have the duplicate to work from when he gets home and is able to update the register with his new balance.

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