The House yesterday voted overwhelmingly to limit the amount of time financial institutions can hold checks before giving customers access to their funds.
By a vote of 282 to 11, the House agreed that for three years after enactment of the law, local checks must be made available for withdrawal in one to three business days. Most out-of-state checks could be withdrawn on the seventh business day after being deposited in banks. Savings institutions and credit unions would have an extra day's hold.
After three years, local and in-state checks could be withdrawn the next business day after deposit, and all other checks would be available by the fourth business day.
The House bill included exceptions to protect banks against customer bankruptcy, fraud and check-kiting. The limits on check holds do not apply to new accounts and checks larger than $5,000.
The Expedited Funds Availability Act, which had 146 sponsors, is considered a victory for consumers, who have had to wait up to three weeks in some cases to get access to their funds. It was strongly opposed by the banking industry and the Federal Reserve Board, which claimed it would increase check fraud.
Testimony before the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee showed that more than 99 percent of all checks are paid the first time through the collection process; of those returned, half are paid the second time through.
Chairman Fernand St Germain (D-R.I.), who shepherded the bill through the House, blamed the opposition on the banks' reluctance to give up what he termed the bonanza resulting from the float, in a reference to the use of funds by banks before they are turned over to customers. He estimated floating at $290 million annually, and said financial institutions reap $3.5 billion a year from returned-check fees.
Although the debate lasted six hours, the fate of the bill was never in doubt. Rep. Norman D. Shumway (R-Calif.) tried to scuttle the measure by substituting legislation that would have set no check-hold limits, but would allow the Fed to regulate the holds. The Shumway measure was defeated, 211 to 80.
But Shumway succeeded in watering down St Germain's original bill. He persuaded the House to pass an amendment, by a 156-to-146 vote, that allows financial institutions to make exceptions to the check-hold limits when an institution "reasonably believes" that the writer or recipient of the check "has become, or is about to become, subject to bankruptcy, receivership, or when the [bank] reasonably believes that a situation involving fraud or kiting exists."