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WASHINGTON — Soon AAFES customers will see their checks clearing faster and, if they’re not careful, their checks bouncing quicker, too.

Officials with the Army and Air Force Exchange Services said stores worldwide will begin electronic processing of checks sometime in 2006, to comply with new U.S. laws.

AAFES could not give a more precise date for the changeover, but said only that it has been conducting that test about 20 months.

Judd Anstey, spokesman for AAFES, said stores in Kuwait, Iraq, Kosovo and Germany have already begun testing equipment to scan personal checks and transmit that electronic file to the appropriate banking authorities.

All AAFES stores are expected to follow suit by the end of 2006, or at least implement some form of paper check conversion by then.

The Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act, passed in late 2004, was designed to increase the efficiency of bank transactions by allowing digital copies of check to be accepted as official banking records.

Under the new rules, lenders can now release funds upon receiving an e-mailed or faxed copy of those scanned checks instead of waiting for the paper original to be sent to the home bank.

“The major affect Check 21 will have on customers is that individual checks will clear banking institutions faster — within 24 hours in many instances,” Anstey said.

“This means each check writer must be careful and have sufficient funds to cover the amount of the check cashed. Check writers can no longer ‘float checks’ depending on a three- or four-day window before the check is processed.”

John Hall, spokesman for the American Bankers Association, said the Check 21 standards are still in their first stages, and most banks and retailers are still using the old paper check records. All check transactions likely won’t go completely digital until around 2010.

But he said consumers need to be aware of the changes, and get used to the idea that the “float” for checks doesn’t exist anymore.

Anstey said as stores begin their conversion to Check 21 standards, officials will post signs letting customers know about the new procedures and warning them about the shorter time line for cashing the checks.

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