It happens to all of us: we are emptying out our wallet or find a birthday card with a check inside from weeks or months ago. Or a rebate for some computer equipment you bought.
Take heart, chances are good you can still cash that check.
Here’s the most important thing to remember; personal checks are typically valid for up to six months after the date written on the check.
Most states follow the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) as a model for their laws, which states that banks do not need to honor old checks. However, some banks might choose to cash a check older than six months at their discretion for their customers.
It also depends on where the check came from. If it’s a monetary gift from Aunt Hilda for Christmas, or a rebate for a dishwasher you purchased, remember the six-month expiration date. But U.S. Treasury checks, such as federal income tax refunds, are actually good for one year after issue.
In fact, any government-issued checks can be cashed within 12 months.
If you have checks even older than this, you should contact the agency that owes you money and ask for a replacement. Then give yourself a kick for misplacing something of value!
Here is a more thorough explanation about check cashing:
Personal checks are typically valid for six months after the date written on the check. But it’s possible that banks might not notice the date, or they could choose to process older dated checks for their customers.
U.S. Treasury checks, such as federal income tax refunds, are good for one year after the date they are issued.
State and local government checks can expire whenever state law allows. Contact the local agency for details and ask them if you can even request a replacement check.
Cashier’s checks are quite a bit more complicated, and state law affects how long those checks are good for. However, banks might not accept a cashier’s check for deposit after 90 days because the issuing bank may return the check unpaid after that time. If you have a check that’s more than 90 days old, contact the bank to get a new check.
Money orders typically don’t expire. But the money order issuer might start charging fees against the money order, decreasing its value, and eventually depleting it down to zero.
For example, Western Union (one of the most widely used venues for money orders) charges fees to money orders after one to three years, depending on state law, so you can’t just go ahead and deposit old money orders. Instead, you may need to contact the issuer to get any remaining value.
Other places where the money order was issued may not charge fees, but they must eventually turn unclaimed assets over to the state where they came from. Contact the money order issuer to get this straightened out—it can get take investigation on your part. For example, domestic U.S. Postal Service money orders are good indefinitely, but international money orders can expire.
Traveler’s checks typically may not ever expire. As long as the issuer is still in business, you can use the checks.
You’re busy, we get that, and little slips of paper like checks can easily get misplaced. But when you’re sorting through paperwork, you might be lucky enough to find them. You may have your reasons for holding on to a check written to you, but it’s best to deposit or cash checks as soon as possible for the following reasons.
Closed accounts: Eventually, the person or business that the check is from might switch bank, or close the account for one reason or another. If you deposit a check from a closed account, the check will bounce, and your bank may charge you fees for attempting to deposit a “bad check.” This is a check that someone wrote from an account that is no longer active.
Insufficient funds: When somebody pays you by check, they expect you to deposit the check soon. You can assume that they have funds available when they write the check, but that might change for any number of reasons. Maybe the rent was due, or they overspent their budget. For whatever reason, they didn’t expect the check to hit their account six months later, so they might not have money set aside for your payment anymore. And once again, when the check bounces, sadly, you are the one that will owe fees.
Stop payment: If somebody is worried that check has been lost, they may decide to order a stop payment on that check. Their bank will reject your deposit, and it will bounce back to your bank unpaid. This is far more likely to be done with a business, not a personal check. Stop payment orders eventually do expire, so oddly enough, if the check is really old and dated, the order may be reversed, and you can go ahead and deposit it. So, stop payments are one situation when it may actually work in your favor deposit a stale-dated check—because stop payment orders eventually expire.
There are some checks that come your way, typically business rather than personal checks, that will be clearly printed with an expiration date. Sometimes say they are only good for a specific number of days. Many large corporations put the length of time that a check is valid on the face of their checks. For example, a check may state, "Valid for 90 days from this date" or "Not valid after 180 days."
Whether or not that restriction is valid depends on your bank, which may ultimately decide to ignore those instructions and process a check anyway.
However, it’s a good idea to follow all directions on the check. Either deposit the check quickly or contact the check writer if you can’t beat the deadline. The same goes for a situation where you find an old check that’s well past the expiration date.
The safest way to deal with checks is to deposit them immediately, not stash them in your wallet and forget about them. This will save the person who wrote the check time and irritation. They won't have to wonder why you have not cashed the check. Do them and yourself a favor, and head to your bank or scan it into your account ASAP.