You can use a smartphone to take pictures of your paper checks and send those images to your bank for deposit into your account. It's all done within the bank's app that you install on your smartphone. The phone's camera is used directly from the app. You can also use a tablet to do this, but if you have a phone, its smaller size will generally make the task easier.
Since the bank requires fairly precise placement of the check, taking photos of a check within the bank's app does require some precision. With a bit of planning and some simple equipment, it's possible for a blind person to do this quickly, reliably, and independently.
Most banks allow mobile depositing of personal checks, business checks, cashier's checks, and government-issued checks. This includes tax refunds and stimulus checks. Usually, foreign checks, third-party checks, money orders, and traveler's checks are not allowed, but this varies slightly from bank to bank.
Depending on the bank, funds deposited via mobile check deposit may be available as soon as the next day. Some banks will make part of the check available right away, with the rest available the next business day. Most banks have a limit on the amount of funds you can deposit via their app in a day, in a week, and in a month.
Your bank probably has apps for both Android and iOS. For this article, I have used an iPhone 12 Pro and an iPhone SE 2020 running the banking apps for Wells Fargo, Suntrust, and a Federal credit union.
Although there are many different sizes of checks, for the purposes of this article we will discuss two sizes, the smaller personal check size which is 6 inches by 2.75 inches and the larger business check size which is 8.5 inches by 3.5 inches.
Preparing the Check
Before you start the depositing process with your phone, you first have some orientation to do. You need to know which side of the check is the front, and you need to know that the print on the front is oriented for reading.
Of course, there are many ways that you might know the orientation of the check. You could keep track of which way it comes out of the envelope; you could use the perforation line along one edge; and if you receive a check from the same person regularly, you could ask them to make a tactile mark on the check in a strategic location. I am sure there are other ways as well. If none of these work, determining the orientation of the check can be done fairly easily with a scanning app.
Most scanning apps are trying to be helpful and they read text whether it's right-side up or not. I found a few popular scanning apps on my iPhone that will give you orientation information. Prizmo Go, a very simple scanning app whose developer has taken accessibility very seriously, has an Orientation Detection button at the top of the main screen. When this is set to off, the app will only read text when it is right-side up. The stand-alone version of KNFB Reader announces "The page is upside down" while the version now included as part of the free NFB Newsline app just doesn't read anything when the document is upside down.
You also need to know the amount of the check. If the check was printed by a machine, this isn't too difficult to read with a scanning app. If the check was handwritten, this certainly presents more of a challenge. I have had good results with Seeing AI's handwriting feature.
All of the bank apps I have used have required that the back of the check be signed and not just stamped "for deposit only." So, once you have located the front of the check and you know it is right side up, turn the check over, flipping it on its long edge. Many checks, especially the smaller personal checks, have a printed line "Do not write, stamp, or sign below this line." This is usually about 1.5 inches from the left end of the back of the check.
Sign the check, parallel to its short side, as close to the left end as you can. I sign my checks on a slightly soft surface so I can feel the impression made by the pen. This enables me to easily keep track of which side of the check is which during the scanning process.
Most banks also want you to write "For deposit only at [name of bank]." I had a self-inking stamp made for this purpose so I stamp the check just below my signature.
Scanning the Check
I have used apps for depositing checks from three different banks and the process is almost exactly the same for each. There are six steps. For some banks, you may select the account first before you select mobile deposit. And some banks allow you to enter text in a memo field. Once you launch the bank's app, do the following:
Select mobile deposit.
Select the account you want the money to go into.
Enter the amount of the check.
Photograph the front.
Photograph the back.
Press the Deposit button.
That sounds reasonably straightforward and it is. The only steps that need a bit of extra attention are steps 4 and 5, the ones that require taking a photo of the check.
The Wells Fargo app offers three tips for photographing your check: - Place check on a dark-colored surface that is not reflective and is well lighted.
Position camera directly over the check, not angled.
Fit all four corners inside the guides.
All of these tips are important, but the third one is the most difficult for a blind person to do without assistance.
I have found that the dark surface needs to be very dark. In fact, a black surface works quite well. If you don't have a very dark surface such as a piece of black paper or cardboard, then try a dark tablecloth, placemat, or even a chair cushion.
Another important consideration is lighting. Be sure that your primary source of light is strong, and coming from a direction that is not going to cast any significant shadows, such as from above you. I scan my checks during the day on a table in front of a window. This way, I know that the surface of the check is getting a lot of good, strong light.
Most banking apps have evolved to include some sophisticated features. For our current purposes, a very helpful feature is autocapture. This is where the app keeps looking at the check and when all four corners are visible and the app thinks it is properly lighted, the app snaps the picture itself.
Now, let's photograph the check. This process can be done with or without the assistance of additional equipment. I will first describe the process of photographing the check with just a smartphone. Then I will describe the additional equipment that can help make the process a whole lot easier and more reliable.
Scanning the Check Using only the Smartphone
Select Scan Front of Check with the App. The app will almost certainly change to landscape orientation. Orient your phone so that its long axis is parallel with the long axis of the check.
Place the phone on the check with the phone's camera in the exact center. Then, using both hands, raise the phone very slowly, being careful to keep the phone level and raise it straight up. When the entire check is visible to the app, the app's autocapture feature will take the picture. In most cases, you will know that the picture has been snapped because you will hear VoiceOver say "Portrait" when your phone is returned to portrait orientation. I have been successful with this method but it usually takes quite a few tries.
If the app does timeout, there is usually a Retry Autocapture button and a Manual Capture button. Wells Fargo didn't seem to mind how many times I retried the autocapture. I found the Manual Capture considerably more difficult because I had to decide myself when to take the picture, and double tapping on the Take Picture button was not easy while holding the phone with two hands and trying not to move it very much.
Additional Equipment to Help with Scanning the Check
To increase the likelihood of success, there are several possibilities for tools that work well to make scanning the check more consistent.
To provide the necessary dark surface and to keep the check exactly where I want it, I purchased a black magnetic chalkboard. These come in a variety of sizes. The smaller versions are less than $10 from Amazon. The one I purchased, called "U Brands Square Magnetic Chalk Board, 14 x 14 Inches, Frameless, Black, Marker Included (468U00-04)," works great. I use a couple of magnets to provide a top and bottom border for the check just to keep it from moving around unexpectedly.
To hold the check at the correct height, I have used a scanning stand with a phone holder. The optimal height for a personal check is about 7.5 inches, and the optimal height for a business check is about 10 inches. Such stands help keep the phone at the proper height above the check but they don't help with the placement of the check relative to the phone.
Another really great option is a new device available from LV Tablet Stand. This company started by making a 3D-printed stand to assist low vision users by holding a tablet at a convenient viewing position. The tablet stand consists of two parts: a platform for holding the phone or tablet and a base. They offer two platform sizes, standard and large. Both sizes can accommodate any size phone but the larger platform is meant for larger tablets such as the iPad Pro 12.9.
The phone or tablet is held in the platform by a spring-loaded stop at one end with a sliding stop that is fixed into one of several slots to hold the device snugly in position. The platform can be locked in any position from fully vertical to fully horizontal.
There are two optional bases, the desk base and the portable base. The function of the base is to keep the tablet platform stable on a flat surface. The only difference between the two bases is that the portable base is a bit smaller so it can fit in a backpack for using the tablet stand on the go.
Now, they have a third option, the LV Tablet Stand with Check Scan Accessory. This is the large tablet platform with the additional parts needed for repeatable check alignment. � The Check Scan Accessory consists of two parts: a Check Holder and a Check Alignment Base. The holder and base shapes fit together for consistent and easily repeatable check placement.
The Check Holder is a 9.5-inch by 4.5-inch thin flat rectangular piece with 2.5-inch high uprights on both ends. With the rectangular part on the table, the focal distance from the camera is 10 inches, which is the auto-focus distance for large checks. The inner width matches the size of a large check and there is a top-edge bumper for consistent check placement. When the holder is flipped over onto its legs, the focal distance is 7.5 inches, which is the focal distance for small checks. There isn't a raised bumper on this side as placing the check nearly anywhere on the platform seems to work.
In the center of the stand base is a round, vertical post. This post has two protrusions extending from the top that fit together with protrusions on the underside of the tablet platform. This causes the platform to be precisely positioned horizontally and restricts it from rotating, essentially locking the platform in place 10 inches from the table's surface.
At the base of the central post, there are four flat feet that extend about 4 inches in each direction forming a "plus" shape. Two of the feet are narrower than the other two and form a 90-degree angle for the Check Holder to fit into. One of the feet has a series of 1, 2, and 3 raised dots along its length to align with a corresponding raised line on the Check Holder. The Check Holder can be moved along the length of this foot, as necessary, so the line on the Check Holder can be positioned next to one of the three different tactile marks.
To help with quick alignment, two corners of the rectangular portion of the check holder have a quarter circle cutout which fits against the post of the Check Alignment Base.
The first time you use the Check Alignment Accessory, you have to determine the optimal position for your phone and the check holder. These positions will vary somewhat depending on the size of the check. So, whenever you receive a check that is a different size from one of the sizes that you have previously used, you will almost certainly need to establish new optimal positions for your phone and the Check Holder. If you keep track of the phone and holder positions for each size check you receive, you will easily be able to repeat the process the next time you receive a check of that size.
After that, you simply run the bank's app, enter the necessary info, place your phone on the tablet platform, place your check in the Check Alignment Holder, and because there is consistent and repeatable placement, the app will take the photos in seconds.
Since it is a bit easier to use the app when the phone is in your hand and not in the phone holder, I find it works best to enter all the information on the mobile deposit screen before I place the phone in the phone holder. This way, I only have a few flicks to scan both sides of the check. Alternatively, you could use your phone with a Bluetooth keyboard or other input device to make this process easier.
The LV Tablet Stand with Check Scan Accessory costs $75.
Depositing the Check
After the requested information has been entered and both sides of the check have been photographed, activate the Deposit button. Most apps will respond in a few seconds to tell you that your deposit has been successful. Most banks also send you an e-mail giving details of your deposit. The banks recommend that after you deposit the check, you keep it for 10 days in case there are any questions. I have deposited more than 50 checks in the past couple of years and there has never been a problem with a mobile deposit.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
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