More than 24 billion checks flowed through the U.S. banking system in 2010, according to a Federal Reserve noncash payment study -- 44 percent of them written by consumers. Even as debit cards, credit cards and online payments are used more and more frequently, personal checks offer a written record of transactions when plastic can't be used or statements don’t suffice. However, when you forget to deposit a check, you risk not collecting your money and being charged fees.
Article 4 of the Uniform Commercial Code, or UCC, outlines check processing standards and procedures for U.S. banks. It states that banks don't have to accept a stale check -- one that is more than six months, or 180 days, old. After six months, the odds of being able to collect a stale check drop. However, not every stale check gets rejected; tellers often overlook dates. You might still be able to deposit that birthday check you found in your desk drawer.
No Expiration Date
Checks are debts that the issuer promises to pay. The fact that a check remains uncashed does not erase that debt; nor does the UCC prohibit a bank from honoring it when it goes stale. According to certified public accountant Nancy Church, even checks that carry "void after" dates for bookkeeping purposes can be cashed unless the bank has received special instructions.
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An outstanding personal check plays havoc with the issuer's ability to balance her bank account. Before trying to deposit her old birthday check gift, give her a call or shoot her an email to give her a heads up about the situation and confirm that she hasn't changed banks. You might have to ask for a new one if more than a year has passed. Checks that old usually need to be replaced, according to Chuck Jaffe, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch.
Your bank might be willing to accept a stale personal check, but, unless you're a good customer, be prepared to pay a returned check fee if it can't be processed. The UCC gives banks discretion in determining when, and if, to impose processing fees. Check first with the manager to learn your bank's policy. Deciding to pursue your money could mean you have to weigh how much the check is worth against any potential bank charge. (Ref. 4)
- U.S. Federal Reserve: Federal Reserve Study Shows More than Three-Quarters of Noncash Payments are Now Electronic
- FDIC: FDIC Law, Regulations, Related Acts; 6500 Consumer Protection
- Free Online Law Dictionary: Uniform Commercial Code
- MarketWatch: Found an Old Check? Deposit It at Your Peril
- Not-for-Profit Accounting Help: Outstanding Checks vs. Stale Dated Checks
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images