Know your rights: You may still collect on a check after payment is stopped

By Richard Alderman

I did a small construction job and was paid with a check after I completed the work. I deposited the check in my account, but it was returned because the person who gave me the check stopped payment. I went to his bank and they said it was not their problem. How do I get paid? Why doesn't his bank owe me the money?

The bank does not owe you the money because a bank generally has no liability when a check is written by one of its customers. A check is simply the customer's order to the bank to pay money to someone else. The bank usually pays the check, and that is the end of the matter. But if there is not enough money in the account or the customer tells the bank not to pay (by issuing a stop payment order), the bank will promptly return the check and it has no further liability. You should always view a check as the customer's promise to pay, not an obligation of the bank.

Fortunately, however, you are not out of luck. When a check is not paid, the person who wrote the check remains responsible. I suggest you let the person know you expect him to promptly pay the check, with cash this time, and that if he doesn't pay, you will file a claim in small claims court. If you do have to sue, you can collect the amount of the check plus and fees your bank may have charged and the costs of filing the lawsuit.

In October, my boyfriend purchased a car and I co-signed. We broke up, and he moved out of state and took the car. He has been sending me payments and so far everything is fine. I was wondering, from a legal standpoint is there anyway I can take him to court to get my name off the note?

As I have said many times before, don't co-sign unless you are prepared to pay. Unless the creditor agrees to change the note, there is nothing you can do to get your name off the note unless he agrees to refinance in his own name. The creditor is not going to just let you take your name off the note. That is why they asked for you to co-sign in the first place. In fact, if he stops paying, they probably will just go after you rather than chasing down the car in another state. My advice is to try to get him to refinance in his own name as soon as possible. If you do have to pay, you have the right to go after him to be reimbursed.

Can I be arrested for not paying my credit card bill? The debt collector said he is sending the police out to my house if I don't promptly pay.

You cannot be arrested if you don't pay your credit card bill. There is no debtor's prison in Texas. If you don't pay the money you owe, you may be sued, but you cannot be put in jail. In fact, the threat to throw you in jail for not paying your bills violates both federal and state debt collection laws. For more information about what may happen if you don't pay your bills and your rights under our debt collection laws, visit my website, peopleslawyer.net.

My employer requires a doctor's note, or our sick day will be credited as a vacation day. Usually, when I am sick, a trip to the doctor is not necessary. I now have to go to the doctor and incur these costs, when it really isn't necessary. Is this legal?

Basically, as far as the law is concerned, your employer establishes the rules, and you have to follow them. There is no requirement that your employer give you paid sick days or vacation days. If the employer gives you these days, it has the right to establish the requirements for eligibility.

Still looking for a holiday gift? Give the gift of knowledge. Pick up a copy of the latest edition of my book, "Know Your Rights!" available online or at your local bookstore.

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a Web page at www.peopleslawyer.net.