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If someone’s paid you with a check, you only have so long to cash or deposit it before you could run into problems getting the bank to honor it.
Maybe you tucked that check into a pocket and forgot about it, or you’ve been stuck at home for months — you know, because of a worldwide health crisis — and couldn’t figure out your bank’s mobile deposit process. If you delay cashing or depositing the check for too long, it could “go stale,” and you might be scrambling to cash it months later.
So, how long is a check good for? It can vary, but generally, checks older than six months may be difficult to cash or deposit. Follow this guide to learn why that is and what options you may have if you’re hanging onto an old check you want to cash.
- How long is a check good for?
- How long are different types of checks good for?
- What should I do if a check I received goes stale?
- What should I do if a check that I wrote hasn’t been cashed yet?
How long is a check good for?
Federal law doesn’t require banks to honor checks that are more than six months old. Beyond that, banks can set their own policies — some financial institutions will still process a stale-dated check if it believes the funds are still good. Others may refuse to honor it. That goes for checks you write and the ones you receive.
Businesses and government agencies may also set further time limits on a check. For example, they might add “void after 90 days” on a check to limit how long it can be cashed. But banks can choose whether to honor that date, too.
How long are different types of checks good for?
The type of check affects how long it’s good for. Here are some main examples.
- Personal check — Banks have no obligation to honor personal checks more than six months after the date written on the check. If you need to cash a check after that point, a bank can decide to either honor or decline it.
- Cashier’s check — There’s no set “expiration date” on these checks because it depends on the bank and the state where the bank operates. But a cashier’s check that sits too long may become subject to the state’s abandoned property laws.
- Treasury check — Government checks issued by the U.S. Treasury Department, such as federal tax refund checks and other government benefits, are valid for one year from their issue date.
- Certified check — These do not have an expiration date, but they’re subject to state laws regarding abandoned property.
- Traveler’s check — This type of check functions like cash, and you can buy them from a bank. These never expire.
- Money order — Domestic money orders don’t expire, but cashing one late could cost you. The issuing company may deduct a fee from the check amount if you don’t cash the money order within one to three years.
- Business check — Every business can decide how long the recipient has to cash the check. The business may put an expiration date on the check, and if you miss the time frame, you’ll need to ask the company for a new one.
What should I do if a check I received goes stale?
It’s a good idea to cash a check as soon as possible. But if you forget about it and the check resurfaces months later, you still have options.
First, look at the date on the face of the check. Was it written more than six months ago? Head to your bank and explain the issue. Some banks may be willing to cash a stale check. But the bank may not be able to cash older checks if the writer of the check closed their account, placed a stop order on the check or has insufficient funds.
In these cases, one option is to reach out to the check writer and ask them to reissue the check. If you’re not able to work things out with the issuer, you might consider talking with an attorney about getting a substitute check some other way, maybe by taking the issuer to small claims court.
Some checks are so old that they may fall under “abandoned property” laws. Financial institutions must hand over unclaimed money to the state after a certain period, usually five years. The state will hold on to the money until you file a claim for it that proves you’re the rightful owner of the property.
What should I do if a check that I wrote hasn’t been cashed yet?
When you write a personal check, the recipient generally has six months to cash it. It can be a frustrating experience if the receiver waits too long: You might forget about your obligation to honor the check and risk an overdraft if there’s not enough money in your account.
Contact the recipient if it’s approaching the six-month mark and the check hasn’t been cashed yet. Figure out if they’ve been intentionally holding the check, misplaced it or just forgot about it. You may need to send a replacement check if the original one is missing. If you can’t reach the recipient, you may need to put a stop payment order on the original check — an action that could result in fees from the check recipient if they’re a creditor.
It’s a good practice to cash checks you receive as soon as possible. While you generally have six months to do so, it might be best to set a rule for yourself. For example, you’ll cash checks within one week of receiving them, then follow up to make sure the funds hit your account.
To avoid a bounced check (and accompanying check fees), be sure to balance your checking account regularly. Check your online account for transactions you may not recognize, and keep an eye on outstanding checks that haven’t been cashed yet. Being proactive about your account can help you keep any checks from going stale.