Someone recently asked me whether or not checks really do expire. The answer is yes and no.

In theory, checks that are more than 6 months old are “stale-dated.” You’ll see this marked on checks from businesses, generally saying it’s not valid after 6 months. I believe that the bank is supposed to honor that on business checks. But when it comes to personal checks, they may or may not be cashable.

There are no laws preventing a bank from honoring a check even if it’s 7 months old. Or, because it’s stale-dated, the bank is within its rights to refuse to cash the check.

If you’ve written a check more than 6 months ago and it still hasn’t been cashed, it’s in your best interests to either a) make sure you’ve always got enough to cover that check in your checking account or b) get in touch with the person you paid and offer to write them a new check.

Don’t put yourself in a situation where an old check may overdraw your bank account. Being overdrawn can show up on your chex report, which will impact your ability to open checking accounts in other places. This is one reason why it’s so important to keep track of the checks you write–whether in a check register or in YNAB or in Quicken or just in a spreadsheet. Make sure you also mark off when the check cleared.

If you’re on the other side of the balance and have a check that’s more than 6 months old, talk to the issuer about getting a new one. You can try depositing it, but be aware that it might bounce. It’s worth asking someone at your bank what happens if you deposit a check that bounces.

If you haven’t withdrawn the money, you should be fine. But if have less in your account than the check is worth, you may end up becoming overdrawn yourself if it bounces. (This is worth remembering every time you deposit a check, since even unexpired checks may bounce. I once worked for a small business owner who bounced a week’s paychecks because he messed up his payroll. We got them worked out, but the last thing I expected to bounce was my paycheck.)

To sum up:

1) If you write a check, make sure you always have the money to cover it until it clears.

2) If you cash a check, don’t spend the money until it’s cleared.

Overdraft fees are nobody’s friend and they’re only getting worse in this economy. Play it safe when it comes to writing and cashing checks, always make sure that you’re covered.


the weakonomist March 4, 2009 at 8:57 am

I wish I could write on my checks “not valid after 60 days” because it’s simply unfair to force someone to wait that long to cash a check. When paying someone I don’t know I almost always offer cash for the expediency of the transaction.

I’ve had bills take more than 60 days to clear, I’m talking about reputable companies. This is simply unacceptable.

SuburbanDollar March 4, 2009 at 11:12 am

I don’t ever have a problem with my checks going stale, I deposit them when I get them but I sure wish the checks I write would go stale.

Nothing like writing a $20 check that takes 4 months for the receiver to deposit it… blah.

Stephanie PTY March 4, 2009 at 11:13 am

Mmm… about those business checks… I had a leftover affiliate check for $1.70 from July 2008 that I found, so I threw it in with a pile of checks to deposit last month. The deposit was reversed the next day. I’m not going to cry over that $1.70, but it’s a lesson for larger checks!

Penelope @ Pecuniarities March 4, 2009 at 11:18 am

I hate checks. OK, actually I love writing checks – I have a sort of form filling mania and love filling out all the blanks as neatly as possible.

But I hate everything about paying for things in check because it feels insecure – the worry that someone will find a way to change the amount, the check gets lost or stolen in the mail, and the overdraft issue if someone holds on to it for ages.

These days, I only use checks to pay taxes because the credit card fees for taxes are absurd.

And the signs you see at the grocery store and library saying you’ll be charged a $35 penalty if your check bounces just makes me never want to pay for anything by check.

vinelady March 4, 2009 at 12:07 pm

I had a former landlord deposit a check 5 years after I moved out (It was a rental deposit). While it initially cleared…I was able to have the bank return the check as Stale Dated.

Alice March 4, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Don’t know if this is true in other countries, but it’s good to know that here in Canada government cheques never go stale. I used to save up my “baby bonus” (universal child benefit) cheques until I had enough to buy big stuff like snowsuits.

I had a bank teller refuse to honour an older government cheque once, and when I called the government office about it, the person I spoke to was livid.

Mrs Money March 4, 2009 at 6:59 pm

Great post! I manage a bank and every so often this comes up. We don’t cash them if they are over 6 months old but I have seen where they’ve been deposited at another bank and clear our customers’ accounts. I have a pet peeve of people holding on to checks too long!! 🙂

mrsmicah March 4, 2009 at 7:47 pm

@theweakonomist, so far I’ve never had trouble with businesses cashing the check, I guess they want money. But it would be nice if we could be sure they expired at some point.

@Suburban, so far I haven’t had a stale check problem either, I try to deposit them within a week (ATM is accessible but means a side tripe). Ditto on the waiting.

@Stephanie, good reminder!

@Penelope, we had one of those signs at the library. Of course it makes sense for them to penalize you, but between bank penalties and store penalties…that’s a LOT of $$.

@vinelady wow, I guess they thought you wouldn’t notice? Glad to know you can appeal stale deposits!

@Alice, I think they do in the States but I’m not sure. I used to get my tax returns as checks when I was 14 and 15 and they did have a note about expiration. Don’t recall, but I think it may have been a bit longer.

@MrsMoney, you’re the kind of bank I’d like to be with. It’s the wondering that would get me. Knowing you have a policy means no wondering.

MrsMicah's Mom March 5, 2009 at 3:15 am

On the other hand, some of us have a hard time getting to our banks to deposit checks, though I’ve never had one go stale.

Salad Fixings March 27, 2009 at 2:48 pm

“Nice to know in Canada gov. cheques aren’t stale” Exactly. What happens when cheques are coming to an unstable person and you are left holding onto a wad of them and having to clean up their estate. What happens?

mrsmicah March 27, 2009 at 11:10 pm

@Salad Fixings, I don’t know. If they’re from the government, then you could probably just hold onto them. Otherwise, it’s probably better to deposit than to have them expire. Better, but not necessarily good.

Jason Wallace April 17, 2012 at 1:47 pm

It is irresponsible to be paying for anything in paper form these days pre paid debit cards are way cheaper than regular credit cards to use and very easy and clears instantly and is impossible to overdraw

Jason Matthews July 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Great to know because I’ve thought after 3 or 4 months they were no longer good.

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