Most lawyers are aware that funds held in trust cannot be disbursed until they are fully cleared. Deposits submitted electronically or by wire speed up the process, as does cash. Credit card payments are generally settled and in your account within one to three business days. Checks are usually the slowest to process and are not “cleared” until they are collected and paid by the issuing bank, even if the lawyer’s bank has a policy of making funds available in a shorter period of time. See Sylvia Stevens, Waiting for ‘Go’ Dough: A primer on disbursing client funds, OSB Bulletin 21 (June 2006).
The Professional Liability Fund recommends:
For an ordinary transaction with an established client or known third party, wait three banking days for locally written checks, five banking days for checks written within Oregon, but outside your local area, and ten or more banking days for out-of-state checks. Note, that checks for
$5,000 and over may be held by banks for seven banking days, whether drawn on a local, instate, or out-of-state bank, therefore allow sufficient time for these checks.
To avoid the growing problem of check scams, wait at least ten banking days before disbursing funds in the following circumstances: (1) the transaction is with a new client or a client you are unsure about; (2) the check is very large; (especially compared with the extent of legal services
provided, if the check is a retainer); (3) the check is from an unknown third party; or (4) any aspect of the transaction raises (or should raise) your suspicions. Remember that drafts or other instruments may take longer than ten days to process. To verify that funds have been collected, ask your bank to contact the issuing bank.
Source: “Frequently Asked Trust Account Questions.” From the PLF website, select Practice Management > Forms > Trust Accounting.
How to shorten bank holds
- Ask for cash, wire transfers, or electronic fund transfers.
- If those methods of payment aren’t feasible, take a cashier’s check, USPS money order (but not other money orders), or certified checks, which can provide up to $5,000 within one business day.
- Deposit in person with a bank employee. Remote deposit capture or deposits at ATMs can take longer to clear.
When are holds applied?
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