If you hold onto a personal check for longer than six months, there's a good chance you won't be able to cash it. Under the federal code that regulates these matters, a bank is under no obligation to honor a check that is presented six months after it was written and dated, unless it's a certified check. However, the decision to cash older checks is ultimately left up to the bank.
Generally speaking, you have up to six months to cash a personal check before it expires. That being said, banks can choose to accept checks at their discretion.
Cashing After Six Months
Many banks will honor a check after six months unless they suspect you're up to no good. In some cases they may hold the check and call the issuer to verify that it's real, although they're under no obligation to do this. If it's a personal check from a friend or relative, as a courtesy, consider letting the person know before you cash it. The writer might have assumed you have already cashed the check and may no longer have money in the account to cover it.
Exceptions to the Rule
Many checks, particularly those from government agencies or large companies, contain fine print that voids the check after a certain period, such as 90 days. However, certain government checks may prove good for up to a year. If you find yourself with an expired government check, hold on to it. You're still entitled to these funds, but will now have to contact the agency that wrote the check to have a new one issued to you. Depending on the agency, you may have to send a brief explanation of why you need to have a check reissued. Your request for a reissued check will be reviewed, and if approved, you will be reissued a new check. However, it can take several weeks before you receive the new one.
Checks That Don't Expire
While personal checks are subject to expiration dates, that's not the case with certain types of checks. If you find an old traveler's check, you're in luck. They are considered a cash equivalent and do not expire. American Express advises customers with old traveler's checks to either use them on a future trip, or simply treat them like cash for local purchases. The same holds true for uncashed certified or cashier's checks, unless the check has an expiration date printed on it. When you find an old check, it's always wise to call the bank and find out the check's current status before attempting to cash or deposit it into your own account.
- Cornell University Law School: Uniform Commercial Code -- 4-404 -- Bank Not Obliged to Pay Check More Than Six Months Old
- First Quarter Finance: How Long Is a Check Good For? Expiration Dates for All Check Types…
- American Express: Travelers Cheque Service Center
- Treasury.gov: Check Claims - Missing Federal Check Payments
Alan Sembera began writing for local newspapers in Texas and Louisiana. His professional career includes stints as a computer tech, information editor and income tax preparer. Sembera now writes full time about business and technology. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Texas A&M University.