Insufficient Funds

When a checking account does not hold sufficient money to cover all the transactions that it involves

What is “Insufficient Funds”?

“Insufficient funds” is a checking account status where the balance is deficient. It is a banking term that may appear as a notice in bank statements or receipts. The insufficient funds status describes the scenario where a checking account does not hold sufficient funds to cover transactions.


Insufficient Funds



  • “Insufficient funds” describes a checking account’s status which is not sufficient to cover all the transactions that draw money from it, for example, check payments, cash withdrawals, electronic payments, etc.
  • Insufficient funds can lead to insufficient fund penalty/fees if the bank refuses the payment or overdraft fees if the bank accepts the transaction and overdraws the account.
  • Insufficient funds may result in legal issues, including criminal charges.


Understanding Insufficient Funds

“Insufficient funds” is a bank account status that is also known as non-sufficient funds (NSF). If a transaction draws money from a bank account while the account balance is lower than the amount drawn, the account will thus be in the insufficient funds status. The account holder will receive a notice on the bank statement or receipt.

Transactions that can lead to such a status include check payments, cash withdrawals, automatic electric payments, etc. For example, A writes a check to pay $5,000 to B, but there is only $4,500 in A’s checking account. When B tries to deposit the check, the bank that A keeps his account with will most likely refuse to transfer the money and issue an insufficient funds notice to A.

It is often referred to as a bad check or a bounced check. A may request the bank to make the transaction in the insufficient funds status, which is known as overdraft, and typically incurs a fee.

Another example can be automatic payments for utility bills through a bank account. When the account does not hold enough money, but the utility company is still trying to draw payments from it, it will result in insufficient funds for the account.


Fees Related to Insufficient Funds

The insufficient funds status often incurs additional fees to account holders. The charges can be insufficient funds fees or overdraft fees. Hence, account holders should be cautious about their account balances to avoid such fees.


Insufficient Funds Fees

An insufficient funds fee is charged by the bank as a penalty when a payment presented by check is refused due to insufficient funds. In the U.S., the fee is from $27 to $35 conventionally. Account holders can avoid such fees by linking another account, such as a credit card or a savings account, as a backup source of funds.


Overdraft Fees

Insufficient funds may also end up with an account overdraft. Account holders can opt-in overdraft policies when opening their bank accounts or request the bank for an overdraft when the insufficient funds status occurs. In such a situation, the bank will accept the check and overdraw the checking account.

For example, an individual with $100 in his checking account but made an electronic check payment of $150 for his video streaming subscription. According to the embedded overdraft policy, the bank will allow the payment to flow through and overdraw the account balance to -$50. An overdraft fee will also be charged, further reducing the account balance.

Many banks offer the overdraft line of credit to customers, which helps to cover any transactions with insufficient funds up to a certain amount. Applicants need to meet certain credit score and credit profile requirements for approval.


Legal Concerns of Insufficient Funds

“Insufficient funds” not only results in additional fees but can also cause legal concerns. Knowingly issuing multiple bad checks or in large values may lead to criminal charges. In some jurisdictions, the criminal charge for insufficient funds involves fraud.

In the U.S., many jurisdictions oversee bad check restitution programs (BCRPs) to deal with insufficient funds checks. The program allows recipients of such types of checks to collect money from local attorneys in their districts. The local agencies will follow up with check writers to collect the funds, and check writers can avoid criminal charges by making the payments in exchange. Typically, all the charges can be dropped if the bad check writers can make up their payments within six days.


Learn More

CFI offers the Capital Markets & Securities Analyst (CMSA)® certification program for those looking to take their careers to the next level. To keep learning and advance your career, the following resources will be helpful:

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