As with food, checks can also go stale. How long do you have until an outstanding check becomes stale? The “expiration date” on personal checks is commonly accepted as six months after the date of issue, which is approximately 180 days old. This is what is meant by a stale or stale-dated check.
What Is the Effect of a Stale Check?
Allowing the amount of time to elapse for a check to become stale can create multiple issues in claiming the payment. If you are the recipient or payee of a stale-dated check, you will want to know your options for cashing or depositing the old check.
The Uniform Commercial Code mandates comprehensive guidelines for financial transactions including the expiration of checks. A check that has not been cashed within that 180-day timeframe is known as stale or stale-dated. However, this doesn’t apply to a cashier’s check.
New checks should bear an issue date at the time they are drafted. Stale checks are uncashed checks that have been issued for at least a length of time 180 days from the issue date.
Ultimately, a stale-dated check is one that is at risk of not being honored. Allowing a check to become stale increases the chances of the funds becoming unclaimed property. The longer you wait to cash or deposit a check, the greater the chance that stale check is bad. In this situation, a check will be returned for deposit at a later date when the funds might not be available.
Can You Cash a Stale-Dated Check?
While the UCC places banks under no obligation to cash stale checks, many banks and credit unions may go ahead and cash the check even beyond six months. The disclaimer here is that banks are not under any obligation to honor a stale-dated check. Further, banks are not required to cash a check for non-customers.
A bank may require due diligence before cashing an old check. Most banks will require identification, but it is a good idea to call ahead and ask. If you have a bank account at the same bank, it will help, and many banks charge non-customers for check cashing.
Banks might still decide to cash the check or allow a deposit, but the issuer may not have the funds in their checking account or savings account to cover the check. Additionally, the check writer or financial institution might outright reject the transaction. A stop payment order might have been placed on an uncashed check for security purposes.
A returned check is one that has been declined to be honored by a bank. This often happens if there are insufficient funds in the account. Essentially, this is a bad check. Allowing too much time to elapse can increase the chances of a returned check.
Can Stale Checks Be Reissued?
For a payroll check, it is best to contact the employer to reissue the check. Stale checks can create bookkeeping issues for business owners. Payroll checks are often void specifically after 90 or 180 days and this will be printed on the check, and these checks likely will not be cashed or deposited after the number of days indicated. In any case, the bank will make any final determination on rejecting or honoring a check.
Government checks, such as U.S. Treasury checks and tax refund checks, typically are good for a year. If a government check is lost or stolen, you will have to contact the issuing government agency. For example, IRS.gov indicates that a taxpayer should contact the IRS directly to initiate a trace before the replacement check can be reissued.
Personal checks can be replaced by the issuer, so it is best to reach out directly to the person who wrote the check. That way, they know to have enough funds in the account to avoid a returned check or becoming overdrawn. There is also a chance the check writer might have issued a stop payment thinking the check had become lost or stolen.
Ultimately, if a stale check is uncashed for too long, the funds will go into the escheatment process whereby the money will become unclaimed property per state law. At this point, the check is not cashable, and you must file a claim directly with the state to recover it.
Hashaw Elkins is a financial services and tax professional, as well as a project management consultant. She has led projects across multiple industries and sectors, ranging from the Fortune Global 500 to international nongovernmental organizations. Hashaw holds an MBA in Real Estate and an MSci in Project Management. She is further certified in organizational change management, diversity management, and cross-cultural mediation.