If a client wrote the word “Final” on the memo line of a check, is he still obligated to pay the balance of his bill?

Client did not let us know of any charges he disputed on his last bill, so did not pay it in full. He did not put “Paid in full”, only the word “Final” and that was not legible. Can we take him to small claims court for the rest of the bill and expect a good outcome?

Asked on November 30, 2011 under Bankruptcy Law, Pennsylvania


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Such a marking on the memo line of a check has no legal significance. In other words, it is not binding. By cashing it, you gave up none of your rights to collect the full sum owed. The reason is that if someone owes money, they may not unilaterally change the amount owed (or the terms of payment) by merely making a notation on a check. There is a common misconception that the memo line has legal force; it does not. This line for informational purposes only. While it helps to identify the reason that a check was written, it in no way binds the recipient. Bottom line - if it was that easy to alter the terms of a payment everyone would do it. 

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