How Long Are Checks Good for: Do Checks Expire?

Young woman depositing check by phone in the cafe.
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Due to the popularity and ease of electronic payment, the use of paper checks is slowly declining. Despite this decline, paper checks are not yet obsolete, so there might be an instance in which you have to write, cash, or deposit one, and have some questions about the process like “how long is a check good for?” 

Payroll, business, and personal checks all have a life expectancy of 180 days, or six months, from the date written on the check. After six months the check technically becomes “stale-dated”. Once a check becomes stale-dated, it is up to the bank to decide whether it will honor or reject it. This article will answer other questions you might have about the use of checks. 

How Can You Tell if a Check Is Expired?

In the upper right corner of a check is a line that is labeled “date.” Count 180 days past the date written on this line. If today’s date is within 180 days of the check’s date, the check is eligible to be cashed or deposited at a bank or check-cashing location. Legally, banks are obligated to honor checks within the 180 days they are issued, but banks are not required to cash or deposit checks that are past this date.

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Some checks, especially those made specifically for businesses, come printed with a caveat that they are void after only 90 days. Many banks will still accept these checks up to the usual 180-day limit without difficulty, as the 90-day warning is often just meant to encourage the check holder to cash or deposit the check as soon as possible for the sake of convenience for both parties. 

How Long Can a Check Be Uncashed?

No bank in the United States has any obligation to cash checks that are more than 180 days old. However, this does not necessarily mean that all is lost if an expired check resurfaces. It is at the discretion of the individual bank to choose whether or not to cash or deposit an old check. If the bank is familiar with the issuing account and knows that the account holder can support the check balance, the bank can choose to deposit or cash the check anyway. So, although banks can still honor old checks, honoring them is determined on a case-by-case basis.

While payroll, personal, and business checks expire within six months,  money orders do not have a common expiration date. Generally, money orders do not expire, but state laws and issuer rules can influence the money order’s life expectancy. This means that, in theory, you can cash a money order at any point in time. Although, each state and financial institution can instate rules like considering old money orders to be abandoned property or charging a fee after a certain amount of time.

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What Happens if You Don’t Cash a Check?

There is no kind of penalty or fee for not cashing or depositing a check before its date of expiration besides that it might not be accepted by the bank so you might not receive your due funds. However, you might be contacted by the person who issued the check to verify that the check was received and that it has not been lost or stolen. 

The person who issued the check can also contact the bank to verify that the check will not be accepted beyond its expiration, and to place a stop payment order on the check. A stop payment order is a formal request to cancel a check that has not been processed.

What Happens if You Deposit an Expired Check?

When attempting to deposit and expired check, it is possible that the bank will refuse to release the funds, or that the issuing bank and the recipient’s bank will honor the expired check and process it without difficulty. However, if a check is unprocessed beyond its expiration, the issuer might use the funds in other ways. This could lead to the check bouncing — a bounced check occurs when the account holder has insufficient funds. These checks are returned to the bank and the issuer is charged a fee as penalty, however, the recipient can also be charged a fee in addition to having to refund the deposit.

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If you have a check that is expired and you are not sure what will happen if you try to deposit it, it is best to contact your bank and verify the policy regarding this matter. If the bank cannot deposit the check due to its expiration date, you should contact the issuer of the check, let them know about the situation and request a new one.

Final Take

Once you receive a check, the best thing to do is to cash or deposit it as soon as possible, but certainly within 90 to 180 days. Early action will help you avoid issues that might arise upon the check’s expiration, like banks refusing to honor the payment, as well as help you avoid paying returned check fees if it bounces or the issuer’s routing or checking numbers changes

FAQ

Here are some frequently asked questions about checks.
  • Can you cash a two-year-old check?
    • While checks expire after six months, an individual bank may choose to cash a two-year-old check, but this decision will vary depending on where you choose to bank and can be determined on a case-by-case basis.
  • When does a company check expire?
    • Company checks, also called business or paychecks, are similar to personal checks and good for six months. If you have an old paycheck that you never cashed, your best recourse is to contact the company directly and request a new check.
  • When do government checks expire?
    • By law, checks and bonds issued to you by the United States Treasury expire after one year rather than the usual six months. If the expiration date on the government check is beyond one year, you are still entitled to the money owed to you, but you must contact the authorized federal agency that issued the check and request that they reissue a new one.

Jared Nigro contributed to the reporting for this article.

Our in-house research team and on-site financial experts work together to create content that’s accurate, impartial, and up to date. We fact-check every single statistic, quote and fact using trusted primary resources to make sure the information we provide is correct. You can learn more about GOBankingRates’ processes and standards in our editorial policy.

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About the Author

Sarah Horvath is a skilled copywriter with more than seven years of experience in B2B and B2C copy. She specializes in financial and investment writing, though she also has experience with fashion and home maintenance.
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