Passing bad checks in an attempt to defraud someone is against the law and is subject to civil and criminal penalties. Accidentally bouncing a check is not a criminal offense, but is subject to civil penalties or fees. States set the laws governing bad, bounced or insufficient funds checks and limit the charges accordingly. In a majority of states, creditors can collect up to three times the amount of the check, plus reasonable fees. If you accidentally bounce a check, ensure that you pay it quickly to avoid civil charges.
The issuing bank and the receiving bank of the bad check both charge fees for bounced checks, which are eventually passed on to the person originating the check. Depending upon the banks involved, these fees may be as low as a few dollars or as high as $30 or more. Some banks offer overdraft protection, charging you a fee when they pay the presented check and withdraw the money from savings or another connected account. Banks can choose which checks they honor and the fees they charge for these services.
Some states allow processing fees in addition to the bank fees, "within reason." Because bounced checks require double handling, additional work to process the check again or collect the money can increase the money owed for the bad check. Businesses usually state up front their charges for bad checks, which are in addition to the charges you pay your bank.
Some states require a 30 day waiting period after a demand for payment before a creditor can file civil charges with the state's appropriate agency, oftentimes a city or county's district attorney's office. This is where check fees get costly and additional charges add on to the original check charge and bank fees for the civil enforcement of payment. Some cities and counties require bad check writers to participate in day-long training in addition to fees to avoid a repeat of such offenses.
Criminal charges ensue when criminal intent to pass checks fraudulently is proven in a court of law. If found guilty, fraudulent check-writing criminals end up with fees and jail time in most states, often up to a year or more. Depending upon the amount of the check, felony charges could occur as well.