How Long Is a Check Good For?

How Quickly Do You Need to Cash That Check?

Check with "account closed" written on it, close-up
••• Glowimages / Getty Images

Checks are cheap and easy tools for payments, but what happens when nobody deposits them? At some point, checks can expire. Still, the obligation to pay doesn’t go away, so it’s best to deal with payments as soon as possible.

Checks written to you: Unless you have a government-issued check or certified check, it’s wise to deposit checks within six months. After that, you may want to ask for a re-issued check. Doing so prevents confusion at the bank and lets the check writer know that you’re ready to collect your money.

Checks you write: Again, six months is a good rule of thumb. If somebody fails to deposit or cash a check you wrote, they will have a hard time negotiating the check after six months. However, you still owe the money, and banks might process the check anyway. If you write a replacement check, it’s wise to request a stop payment on the original check.

How Long Is a Check Good For?

In most situations, a check is good for six months. But there are several exceptions, and there’s no guarantee that banks will reject checks after that time. The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), which most states use as a model for state law, says that banks do not need to honor old checks, but they can do so under certain circumstances.

Ultimately, it depends on the type of check involved and bank policies.

Types of Checks

Personal checks are typically valid for six months after the date written on the check. But banks might not notice the date, or they might choose to process stale-dated checks for customers.

U.S. Treasury checks, such as federal income tax refunds, are good for one year after issue. If you have old checks, you can contact the agency that owes you money and order a replacement.

State and local government checks can expire whenever state law allows. Contact local agencies for details, or to request a replacement check.

Cashier’s checks are complicated, and state law affects how long those checks are good for. However, most banks won’t 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 issuing 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, eroding its value and eventually making it worthless. For example, Western Union charges fees to money orders after one year (or three years, depending on state law), so you can’t just deposit old money orders. Instead, you may need to contact the issuer to get any remaining value. Other issuers do not charge fees, but they must eventually turn unclaimed assets over to the state. Contact the money order issuer for details—it can get complicated.

For example, domestic USPS money orders are good indefinitely, but international money orders expire.

Traveler’s checks do not expire or lose value over time. As long as the issuer is still in business, you can use the checks.

Waiting Is Risky

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 you have a safe place for the money.

Closed accounts: Eventually, the person or business that the check is from might switch banks. If you deposit a check from a closed account, the check will bounce, and your bank will charge you fees for attempting to deposit a bad check.

Insufficient funds: When somebody pays you by check, they expect you to deposit the check soon. Presumably, they have funds available when they write the check, but that might change. They don’t expect the check to hit their account six months later, so they might not have money set aside for your payment anymore. Again, when the check bounces, you’ll owe fees.

Stop payment: If somebody is worried about a check getting lost, they’re likely to stop payment on that check. Their bank will reject your deposit, and it’ll bounce back to your bank unpaid. That said, stop payments are one situation when it may actually work in your favor deposit a stale-dated check—because stop payment orders eventually expire.

“Void After 90 Days”

Checks sometimes say they’re only good for 90 days (or 180 days). Whether or not that restriction is valid depends on several factors. Your bank may ultimately decide to ignore those instructions and process a check anyway (some courts have found the statements to be unenforceable, but don’t count on that in every case). Still, you’d be wise to honor any language on a check—either deposit the check quickly or contact the check writer if you can’t beat the deadline.

Do Checks You Write Expire?

When you write a check that goes uncashed, you may wonder what to do. You still owe the money, even if nobody claims the payment. In those cases, it’s best to keep the funds available in your account for at least six months. After that, leave the money alone or set it aside somewhere else for the inevitable day that you have to make good on the payment. Remember that a bank might accept the deposit and try to pull funds from your account at any time.

Unfortunately, you don’t get to keep money that you owe to somebody else just because they fail to deposit a check. At some point, you may have to turn the funds over to the state for safekeeping. Ask regulators about local escheatment laws for complete details.