How Long Is a Check Good For?

Here's what you need to know about stale checks.

Banks are not under any legal obligation to honor a check after six months, however, they do have the latitude to approve a check older than six months based on their own judgment. A check is typically good for six months and should be honored even if there’s a disclaimer saying it’s not valid after 90 or 180 days — though that remains less than certain from a legal perspective. However, there are also any number of reasons not related to age that can result in an old check not clearing, so it’s important to understand some of the rules surrounding old checks.

Keep reading to learn if you can cash an old check, or skip ahead to your section of interest:

Can I Cash an Old Check?

You may be able to cash an old check, but it will depend on a number of factors. After six months, the bank can simply opt to reject the check because it’s too old — it’s what’s referred to as a “stale-dated check” or simply a “stale check.” What’s more, many people don’t pad their checking account, so cashing a check they might have forgotten about could easily lead them to overdraw. As such, when there has been a delay in your depositing or cashing a check, it’s well worth your time to contact the check’s original issuer and have them issue a new check, or to simply inform them that you’re about to make a deposit so that they’re prepared.

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Are Checks Really Void After 90 Days?

The short answer is no. While many places will issue checks with language saying they’re void after 90 or 180 days, those are technically empty threats. However, there aren’t many advantages to testing your luck here. There is no guarantee that you would win in court if you challenged the issuer — the case law exists but isn’t concrete¬†— and the check’s issuer always has the right to stop payment on the check. So, while the language doesn’t actually render the check void after that time, it might also just be fair warning that this firm has a policy of stopping payment on checks after 90 days to avoid confusion. As such, it’s once again advisable to contact the issuer to get a new check if you’ve exceeded 90 days regardless of the legality of that language.

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How Long Should You Give Someone To Cash a Check?

The fact that any bank has the ability to cash a check any time before six months can be a double-edged sword when you’re the issuer. In particular, different personal habits about how people handle checks can make for an awkward situation when you’re waiting on someone to complete the transaction. You don’t know whether they’ve lost the check or if they’re just taking their time.

If you really can’t maintain a high enough balance in your account to cover the value of the check indefinitely, it’s worth reaching out to the person who has the check. If you’re not in contact with this person, you can always just stop payment on the check and wait until they contact you after trying to cash it to issue them a replacement.

At the end of the day, though, this is as much a matter of social decorum as anything else. The keyword here is “should,” and given that it involves your finances, it might be worth it to come off as a little rude to get a clear answer about what’s happening with your check — especially if it’s been more than a week since you wrote it.

Learn: How To Write a Check in 6 Easy Steps

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How Long Is a Paycheck Good For?

Based on its age alone, you should still be able to deposit a paycheck within six months. Your paycheck isn’t effectively any different from a personal check. However, once again, it’s probably well worth contacting the payroll department at your current/old job to get them to reissue a check before you deposit it. What’s more, if the company suddenly goes bankrupt or runs out of startup capital, your paycheck won’t be good regardless of how old it is, so it’s almost never going to be worth it to hold on to a paycheck if you can avoid it.

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Also See: How To Cancel a Check in 6 Steps

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What About Other Kinds of Checks?

There are completely different rules surrounding things like cashier’s checks, money orders or even certified checks, so don’t assume you’ll be able to treat these like you would a check from a friend, business or employer. Checks issued by the U.S. Treasury actually have a longer grace period and should still be good after a year. However, cashier’s checks and money orders both have more complicated rules that can vary by state — it depends on how the local laws regarding unclaimed property are written — so be sure to do your research before you try to cash one.

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About the Author

Joel Anderson is a business and finance writer with over a decade of experience writing about the wide world of finance. Based in Los Angeles, he specializes in writing about the financial markets, stocks, macroeconomic concepts and focuses on helping make complex financial concepts digestible for the retail investor.