Jeremy Osborn: Designer, Educator, Writer

Aug 14

Deposit a check with the iPhone

My bank USAA recently announced they would be updating their iPhone app to allow users to deposit checks by taking a picture of it and uploading to the USAA service. It so happens that I hit the sweet spot, not only must you have (obviously) an account and an iPhone but they currently only allow customers who have insurance through USAA to make iPhone deposits. I fit this profile so I decided to give it a shot. To make a long story short, it worked great, but here are some of the details:

  1. Once the USAA app is open, logging in with my name, password and pin turns out to be the most difficult step. Because I use a fairly long and ornate combination of numbers and letters (due to it being my financial information and all), I was stuck tapping back and forth between the iPhones number and letter keyboards.
  2. After that ordeal, I chose to deposit into my Savings Account  (I could have also deposited into Checking). You can see here I deposited a whopping twelve cents. (Why do I have a pitiful 12 cent check lying around?  The irony  is that this was a credit from Sprint after I canceled my cell phone service.)


  3. Next I was asked to take a picture of the front of the check. This was the part I was most worried would fall apart, merely because I have a second gen iPhone therefore no autofocus. But I framed the check as best as possible. After taking the picture I was given the chance to redo or submit the image. I went ahead and submitted.
  4. Next I needed to take a picture of the back. They gave me instructions on how to sign the check including the standard practice of adding my account number.


  5. After submitting the photo of the back of the check I was given a thumbnail preview of my two images and asked to verify them. The thumbnails looked pretty dim to me, but I submitted anyway. As the images were uploading and going through whatever verification process they needed to on USAA’s side a message appeared asking me not to “navigate away from this page, answer calls, or allow your device to auto-lock”.


  6. The deposit was accepted! I was now 12 cents richer and ready to paint the town red on Sprint’s dime (literally). I also was reminded by USAA to immediately write VOID on the check and then either destroy or file the check away.


Conclusions: Depositing my check via iPhone rocked. USAA’s only branch is in Texas (I live in Massachusetts). They’ve apparently been on the forefront of remote depositing for  few years, I usually use a “home deposit” service that requires a scanner, but using the iPhone is actually faster, more fun and will likely be my preferred method from now on. I don’t quite understand what’s happening on the backend, is there some sort of character recognition software involved or perhaps a real live “human” double-checking the numbers? Whatever the case, it makes my life easier, so I’m on board.

5 Responses to “Deposit a check with the iPhone

  1. Brendan says:

    Pretty awesome, I’ve used it a couple of times now myself. When do they release the app that lets me make a cash withdrawal from my phone?

  2. Jason says:

    I wondered about what’s happening on the backend as well… based on the various error messages I’ve gotten from Deposit@Home, I’m guess they have some sort of image recognition technology that detects certain predetermined areas of the check for proper sequences of numbers (routing and account). They probably can’t detect whether it is indeed your signature or not, but they can detect whether or not SOME text scribblings are there. Then, I’m sure all checks are given some sort of probability of fraud rating, then those with a high rating are screened by real people.

    Very interesting, nonetheless!

  3. Sorry for commenting Off-Topic – which WP theme do you use? It looks great.

  4. Jeremy says:

    Thanks. The theme is actually one I created from scratch.

  5. John says:

    I don’t imagine the things happening on the backend are too different that if you were to deposit your check in a branch at a local bank.

    When you deposit a check in person, they run the check through a scanner. When you get your bank statement, you will typically see images of all of the checks you deposited that month. It’s all done digitally. It’s just that until this point, the banks weren’t willing to give us our own scanners :-)

    The only area where I can see it being very different is the endorsement recognition. In a bank, someone can read your endorsement. But with Deposit@Mobile, something does have to recognize that you have endorsed the check. If you have not endorsed the check, it throws and error. While I don’t think it knows *what* you are writing, it probably looks for a certain amount of contrast between that area and the rest of the check. Of course, I’m no genius, but this would make sense to me.

    Lastly, though there is a high probably of fraud with this type of technology, USAA has a cult-like following and most people love working with them. Given their customer base, I would imagine they are at a lower risk for fraud that the banks you see on every corner. Everyone who uses this feature is required to have a USAA credit card. If the check doesn’t go through, the card gets charge for the amount of the check plus a fee. I imagine if this happens too many time they revoke your privileges to use the service. But again, this is all just speculation.

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Jeremy Osborn's Blog

This is the weblog of Jeremy Osborn, a designer, educator and writer living in the Boston area. I write here about design, technology and other matters. Subscribe to the RSS feed and follow me on Twitter.

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