Stale checks: How long can someone wait to deposit a check?

Stale checks: How long can someone wait to deposit a check?

 

While running errands this afternoon, I stopped by the bank to deposit a check. All of the tellers were occupied with difficult clients. (I'm old-fashioned and go inside to make deposits for my business finances.) While I waited, I eavesdropped on the nearest conversation. A woman was frustrated because she'd just opened a checking account a few weeks ago, and now it was overdrawn. She couldn't understand. “I don't see how that's possible,” she said.

The teller was very patient and very polite. She tried to help the woman figure out where the problem was. Together they went through the woman's checkbook register and compared it to the bank's computer. Finally they discovered the culprit: a $50 check the woman had written on June 21st.

“They deposited that?” the woman said.

“Yes,” said the teller.

“Wow,” the woman said. “It had been so long that I thought they must have lost it. I've already used that money for something else.”

The teller didn't say anything.

“Can they really take that long to deposit a check?” the woman asked.

“Yes, ma'am,” said the teller.

What are the Laws?

In my younger days, I had similar experiences (though never with checks that were just a few weeks old). I'd write a check, and it would remain un-deposited for several months. What a dilemma! Should I use the money to buy comic books? Or should I keep it in my account in case the check actually goes through? Because I toed the line so close to zero, the answer was important.

In my case, every check was eventually deposited and funds withdrawn from my account. This hurt me twice because I, too, had added the money back into my checkbook. Dumb but true.

When I got home today, I looked up the actual law on stale checks. It turns out that a bank can pay or return an old check as it sees fit. According to the United States Uniform Commerical Code, a bank is not obliged to pay a check more than six months old. Here's the full text of the guideline:

A bank is under no obligation to a customer having a checking account to pay a check, other than a certified check, which is presented more than six months after its date, but it may charge its customer's account for a payment made thereafter in good faith.

In other words: the bank isn't required to pay a check more than six months old. But it can if it wants. The bottom line? If you have a stale check outstanding, contact your bank to determine their policy. Don't just assume the funds are free to be spent.

I'm not sure what happened with the woman at my bank today. When I became impatient and left, the manager was helping her. It sounded as if they were going to waive the overdraft fee, but there was nothing they could do about the fact that the woman was still thirty or forty dollars short in her account.

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Eric J.Nisall
Eric J.Nisall
11 years ago

Wow, that is what I call impatient! Only waiting about a month for a check before assuming that it’s never going to be deposited? I’ve gone over some clients’ bookeeping records and found that some checks clear even a year after the issuance date. Lesson here: NEVER assume anything when it comes to money!

Sorry you had to waste your time J.D.

wanda
wanda
9 years ago
Reply to  Eric J.Nisall

i wrote a check to a friend in 2009. We agreed if he passed a test he could cash the check but he did not i kinda forgot about the check. I paid him for the work he did up front. I was thinking he would tear the check up. Being that i paid him for the work he done up front. The second part of it which he failed. i didnt think anything else about it and it is 2011 and the check came up. The bank cashed it anyway talking about a stale check

Ola
Ola
11 months ago
Reply to  wanda

I gave my son a check in December of 2016 for $200. He said he couldn’t deposit it because his account was overdrawn. He asked me to give him cash. I did and told him to destroy the check. Here it is August of 2019, and he has cashed the check. 2.5 years later.. I called my bank and they said it was their discretion to reject it or cash it. Since there was money in the bank, they cashed it. I haven’t spoken to my son in 1.5 years, (his choice) and I don’t even know where he lives.… Read more »

Adam
Adam
11 years ago

I’ve only ran into this situation once. I had a guy hold a check for nearly 8 or so months, and it was for almost $1000. I was starting to think he might have died or something. I didn’t spend it though. Since I had entered it into Quicken when I wrote it my balance was always reflecting it. Through it was weird seeing it there every time I went to reconcile my account. The guy was extra nice though and since he took so long contacted me before depositing it to make sure it was okay to do so.

Nick
Nick
11 years ago

That was really nice of the bank to waive the overdraft fee. I know many banks will do this if you ask and I think its a good policy that helps them keep customers coming back.

xysea
xysea
11 years ago

Actually, a friend paid me $50 for a table I sold him. I waited a week before depositing the check, because I usually do all my banking on Saturday mornings with my regular errands. The Friday night before I planned to go to the bank, he calls me in a panic. Why hadn’t I deposited and cleared his check yet? What?? I asked him what the big deal was; after all, if he had written the transaction in it and checked his balance online or via phone he would know it hadn’t been cashed yet. I don’t understand that mentality.… Read more »

Kris
Kris
1 year ago
Reply to  xysea

I requested a new checkbook register from the teller at my bank. She turned to the teller next to her and asked “What is a checkbook register?” That is a real ‘sign of the times’.
Imagine working at a bank and not knowing what a checkbook register is!

Kimberly
Kimberly
1 year ago
Reply to  xysea

Some people, like me, like to keep their account balance up to date. It helps us to know what is actually in there and what is not. We have bills to pay and other things to do with our money besides waiting for someone to take their time in taking the money we have given them out. Yes, deposit it already. Especially while the money is still in there. I might be on a budget and don’t have time to be waiting to see when and if you have cashed a check or not. It’s just that simple. Why are… Read more »

Robin
Robin
11 years ago

See, this is why I keep $500 in my “savings” account connected to my checking account at my local credit union. Even though it’s not my real “savings,” they only charge me $1 to transfer the money if I overdraw my checking. (I don’t like to keep it in my checking because then I think it’s money to spend. And it’s worth $1 every few months for that.) I’ve been on the other end of this, too. I tutor a lot, and a lot of people pay me in checks. I don’t make it to the bank too often, so… Read more »

Steve
Steve
11 years ago

I work at a bank, and you’re 100% correct…banks do not have to accept checks more than 6 months old and usually don’t. However, there is always wording in bank’s disclosures that say they’re not liable if they do accept them (i.e. if a teller doesn’t notice the date and deposits it).

James
James
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve

You are absolutely correct period after 6 months they do not have to cash the check. We know some checks they have 90 days on it or a hundred and eighty days generally a bank will give you a day or two or three leeway after looking at your account but don’t count on it. If it bounces it’ll come right out of your account.

Patrick
Patrick
11 years ago

I can’t help but think of the Seinfeld episode where he deposits all those checks that he received from his grandma and never cashed. Add Uncle Leo and hilarity ensues. I agree with xysea on people rushing you to the bank. You should always give someone at least a couple weeks to get your check deposited. What frustrates me is the guy who waits four or five months. That’s just ridiculous and inconsiderate. All of a sudden one day a mysterious debit appears for something you paid for long ago. Oh well, that’s what we get for using checks. All… Read more »

Sooz
Sooz
5 years ago
Reply to  Patrick

What’s the most rude is when you send someone a check as a gift and they never acknowledge that they got it and take a long while to cash it.

Gwen
Gwen
11 years ago

My friends and I seem to have a different mentaility then our parents when it comes to checks. Instead of having to write the check (which we had to pay for, somehow) and then give it to them and then they go to the bank, we do everything with paypal. This includes roommate stuff too:rent, utilities, etc. I’ve now used paypal as a mini savings account. Instead of constantly transfering the small amounts, I make one big transfer–usually to my HSBC account, unless it’s for a big amount (like full rent or something). The ‘little’ amounts are starting to add… Read more »

Froggy  Al
Froggy Al
11 years ago

My main concern over an uncashed check is the possibility that it could be lost and used fraudulently. On the other end, as I have to mail checks across the country to my bank, the checks I receive aren’t usually cashed for a week. As far as accounting is concerned, once I write a check, I consider the money gone (and, yes, get annoyed when I see it sitting in my bank account!), and try to be reasonably patient. After 3 weeks, I ask nicely what’s going on (“don’t tell me it is sitting in your glove box, please!”).

ff
ff
11 years ago

When someone to whom you have written a check deposits it, their bank will look at the check and encode it with the amount. (At the time of deposit, some banks might put an additional hold on a check that is stale-dated and technically they have a right to refuse it, but most banks will just process old checks the same way as they would new ones.) Once the first bank accepts the check and encodes it with the amount, everything is done by computer and no one at your bank will even look at the check unless the check… Read more »

Mister E
Mister E
11 years ago

Maybe someone here can clear something up for me regarding post dated cheques? I remember hearing many years ago on a television show that although most companies would hold a cheque if it was post dated (this was in the days before internet bill payment) that the cheque was technically cashable as soon as it was signed, regardless of whether the date is in the future or not. The whole point of the interview was to discourage people from using post dated cheques because of this possibility. Just a couple of years ago I had a big argument with a… Read more »

Jeremy
Jeremy
11 years ago

I’m still waiting for the guy that did my yardwork back in March to cash a check I wrote for $150. My guess is it got lost, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it cashed one day.

Adam
Adam
11 years ago

It is not illegal for banks to cash post-dated checks.

Kate
Kate
11 years ago

June 21, that’s just a month. Maybe she should have read the bank’s policy when she opened that account instead of playing dumb now and getting a refund of a fee that she should rightfully pay.

Paul
Paul
11 years ago

A few years ago a friend of mine was taken to small claims court over checks he had written to his babysitter, but she hadn’t cashed. In fact she had been holding the checks for *years*, saving them up from all her clients until she had enough to purchase a new car. She went to cash the checks one day, and found that my friend’s checks were no good, since he had closed his checking account for one reason or another (possibly for all these outstanding checks!). The judge ruled that my friend was obligated to pay the babysitter for… Read more »

Bryce
Bryce
11 years ago

I can never understand why people in the states pay for groceries or gas with checks. There are debit cards, credit cards and cash. Very few places here in canada even accept checks. I think those places probably accept chickens and animal pelts for payment as well.

Chris
Chris
11 years ago

semi related. I lost another 10$ when i found a rebate check yesterday that expired a month ago. i’ve now lost at least 90$ forgetting to desposit rebate checks :(. boo!

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

@Mister E
According to the United States Uniform Commercial Code, a bank doesn’t have to look at the date of a check. In other words, yes, a check is cashable as soon as it is signed. Postdating means nothing. However, if you contact the bank and let them know you’re writing a specific post-dated check, they’re supposed to honor that.

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

@Bryce
Ha! Love the animal pelt comment. I think checks are largely a generational thing. I know many older people use them a lot even today. But I know many younger people who have never written a single one. Me? I use both. I’m sort of stuck in the middle! 🙂

Isabel
Isabel
11 years ago

I am completely unable to relate to this woman. A few weeks? Is she crazy?? I rarely (3x a year, maybe) have a reason to go to the bank. So I routinely hold checks until I have enough of them to warrant the 20 minute drive across town. Why would I do otherwise?? I typically don’t need the money right away. As for myself, if I’ve written a check — that gets entered into my register and the money is considered gone…I don’t care if someone takes YEARS to cash it. I operate from my Excel balance, not my ATM… Read more »

deepali
deepali
11 years ago

my bank is online, so everything gets mailed in. as much as possible, i hate dealing with checks and would love everything to be electronic!

Nicky
Nicky
11 years ago

I have to second the comments wondering what planet this woman was on thinking a cheque that was only a few weeks old couldn’t be cashed. But this is exactly the sort of person who needs to be reading GRS – I bet this isn’t the first time she’s had an overdraft charge. In Aus I believe a cheque is valid for 13 months from the date on it – in part for at the start of the year when you forget to change the year when dating it. Although most places refuse to take personal cheques at all and… Read more »

Jon
Jon
11 years ago

Although it’s a minor point that probably doesn’t affect the section actually quoted, calling the UCC the “United States Uniform Commercial Code” is a bit misleading. The UCC is a uniform recommendation from a private organization to every state legislature on how its commerical code should look. While it’s true that every state (I think) has adopted a UCC, all provisions in all states’ UCCs are not necessarily the same, e.g., New York never passed either the 1990 or 2002 amendments to Arts. 3 (negotiated instruments, including checks) and 4 (bank deposits). Likewise, the courts of any particular state may… Read more »

Adam
Adam
11 years ago

On a semi-side note:
All of my banking is done online (USAA). They have recently started an awesome feature, in which you can simply scan any checks you get and they will automatically process them. You don’t even have to move from your desk.

I wouldn’t be surprised if other banks are offering similar services.

Nancy
Nancy
11 years ago

I have three checks that are outstanding. In the case of two of them, it’s been over seven years. The third has been outstanding for about a year now. One of the checks was written out to a company that I was working for at the time. I believe the check just got lost in someone’s paperwork and eventually filed away. The second check was for a magazine subscription, and I believe that it had the misfortune of being in one of the confiscated shipments of mail during the Anthrax scare. The third check was given to a slightly flaky… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

Thanks, Jon, for the clarification. I admit that I know nothing about the Uniform Commercial Code, and tried to be very careful when writing about it. Obviously, not careful enough. 🙂

My main point with saying “U.S. UCC” was to specify that it was a U.S.-based think, and not (for example) Australian. I didn’t mean to imply that it was government-sponsored. Poor communication on my part, coupled with a lack of understanding.

Mrs. Micah
Mrs. Micah
11 years ago

Getting to one of our bank’s ATMs is really a hassle for me. It’s easy enough for Micah, so I’ll send checks with him. But if they’re my checks, I still don’t want to send him every time I get a check. So I’ll deposit them once or twice a month. Fortunately, never had one bounce. An employer did once bounce a paycheck for my coworker. I got mine in first, but apparently he didn’t have enough money for all of us. Whoops. (Small business.) Fortunately, he followed up and deposited more money then reissued her paycheck. One of the… Read more »

Annette
Annette
11 years ago

I so love the chicken and animal pelt comment! Too bad the only store in our town likely to take a chicken is the farm supply, since they don’t take checks, they probably won’t take the chicken either. Now that must have made for a fun trip to town, not to mention when the merchant returned home for the night with assorted chickens, eggs, some veggies and a few smelly pelts. I LOVE my debit card!

Brandon
Brandon
11 years ago

A few years ago my wife and I bought my mom a used car. The check I wrote for that ($1500) didn’t get cashed for over 7 months! I was starting to think I was either very lucky or in trouble with the seller (thought maybe I made an error). He didn’t think to get contact information from me and we were in the process of moving so my mail was being forwarded. Anyway, about 3 weeks after I seriously considered moving the money, the check came in. I was more relieved than disappointed, nothing is free, and I feared… Read more »

Patrick
Patrick
11 years ago

As for the UCC, being a baby lawyer myself, it is difficult to make generalizations nationwide regarding what the law is or is not because all states have different codes. As mentioned before, the UCC is a guideline but is adopted for the most part by all the states with their own nuances. That said, the UCC is the only good gauge for what the law IS in this area, so J.D. is perfectly fine in using it to say what the law is. Otherwise, he would have to post 50 different explanations to every question like this one.

Michele
Michele
11 years ago

we do courtesy resident tax withholdings on our payroll, in January I paid taxes to another city. I noticed in April that the check still had not cleared and since we have a 90 day notice on the check I called to see if they got the check. They did, their bank cleared it, and they got the money. Somewhere between our bank and theirs it went poof. I called our bank and they basically told me that this was common and that the other bank might find it, but for a small amount (under $100) that they would not… Read more »

Ed
Ed
11 years ago

Checks are a generational thing, I work in a retail setting and it is mostly older people, 50+, who write checks.
Very rarely do I see 40> write checks. I just opened a checking account for my daughter and the credit union didn’t even offer any checks!
I went to Chase to open a checking account (for a cool $200 coupon) and they gave me one book, but I don’t plan on using them.

Jennifer Minson
Jennifer Minson
11 years ago

When I was in college (20 years ago!) I worked bookkeeping at a small town bank. We touched every check and caught all kinds of stuff all the time.

Sybbis
Sybbis
11 years ago

Business, at least, can avoid this. I don’t know if you can get personal checks the same way, but you can get business checks printed to read “VOID AFTER 90 DAYS” or 180 days or whatever. You’ll still legitimately owe the money to the person, of course, but that particular check will be void if not deposited relatively promptly and you have recourse to go back to the bank and get it reversed if they honor it.

But one month would be short even for that.

Funny about Money
Funny about Money
11 years ago

I wonder if the “VOID AFTER NN DAYS” notation actually works, if it’s true that a check is valid for an indeterminate period. Sometimes government agencies issue checks with that notation, which suggests it’s probably effective. It would be a good idea have that printed on your checks if it would protect you from overdraft charges when someone decides to cash your check after the turn of the next decade. Like other commenters, I also am not interested in driving to the bank every other day. I save customers’ checks until the end of the month and then deposit them… Read more »

Scott
Scott
11 years ago

First off, I work at a local credit union. Obviously I have been trained differently than large banks, etc. RE: ff: Most checks are stale dated after 6 months, unless specified by the check. IE: Not valid after 90 days or something similar. However, say for instance you wrote a check in December of last year and the person you wrote it to just cashed it yesterday. When you get your monthly statement for July, you can dispute anything on your account for up to 60 days past the date you received your statement. At the credit union I work… Read more »

Jennifer
Jennifer
11 years ago

Ha, I am one of those wreakers of havoc on people’s checkbook registers. I just deposited eight checks to the bank, dated variously from May or so. My excuse is that I gave birth to my first child at the beginning of June, but in reality, I’ve been like this ever since I started receiving checks. It’s just one of those things that frequently slips my mind.

plonkee
plonkee
11 years ago

I’m another person that cashes cheques pretty slowly. Yes, it’s reasonably easy for me to get to a bank, but only if I go at lunchtime, and I’m often in meetings and so on.

I tend not to deal in cheques, but make the assumption that once I’ve written it, the money is gone.

Don
Don
11 years ago

I have one very strict policy with checks (when I do use them, which I try to avoid). I warn the receiver (and write a note on the back of the check) that if it isn’t in process of clearing out of my account in 30 days it’s canceled. So far I’ve had to follow through on this twice.

Brandon
Brandon
11 years ago

That whole argument is nonsense if he’s recording it in the register. That is a big assumption right there 🙂 I have sat on checks for a while in my life, and oddly I had a dream last night that I found a check from like the 1930s addressed to my great-grandmother or something and tried to find out if there was any way to cash it (though with inflation, the check itself might have been worth more historically than the amount on it lol). I have also tried to take a check that had a date one year old… Read more »

LC
LC
11 years ago

The same thing happens to me when I write checks to my parents for gifts or repayment of something. They accept it but then never cash it. And it’s on purpose – I think it’s because they don’t want to take our money but it really screws up our record keeping!

xysea
xysea
11 years ago

lol @ Brandon

Well, it took me a long time to see the benefit of a check register. After all, I never wrote many checks and I (before now) never had too much money that I couldn’t quote you to the penny where all of it was or was going…

But since I’ve been doing better and I have a couple of accounts now, I keep the register religiously.

If I write it in the register the money is gone. I don’t care if they wait 1 or 10 months to cash it.

Becky@FamilyandFinances
11 years ago

My husband had a situation similar to #31 (Michelle). He wrote a check out to his mom for about $7000 to pay her back for a loan he had with her. She cashed the check, but it never cleared through his account. So, she had her $7000, but he still had his $7000, too! Eventually, he called the bank about the check not going through. They said there was nothing they could do about it and that the $7000 was free to spend. This was over 5 years ago and nothing ever came of it. My husband eventually made an… Read more »

Bill
Bill
6 years ago

Maybe your mom never actually cashed the cheque. Sometimes moms are like that with their kids!

Luke
Luke
11 years ago

I have a hard time understanding why you would wait months to cash a check. I find that my normal errands, grocery shopping, hardware store, etc. take me past my bank at least once a week. Also, if one of my own checks takes a while to clear I get annoyed, so I see it as a courtesy to someone that wrote me a check to cash it within a couple of weeks. Would you be ok if every check you wrote got cashed a year later?

Mister E
Mister E
11 years ago

I guess I should have mentioned that I’m Canadian when I asked my question. I’m reasonably certain that it works the same here though.

Thank you JD and others who chimed in.

xysea
xysea
11 years ago

I suppose, Luke, that it would depend on what was going on in my life. I don’t actually deal with too many checks given to me. I have a lot of electronic deposits, and checks to deposit are rather rare.

However, to me it shouldn’t be an issue – if the person recorded in the register and deducted it from the balance, then it’s accounted for. If, at the end of the month it’s still in the account when you reconcile your bank statement, why not follow up? I mean, if it’s that important to you.

Kristen
Kristen
11 years ago

I have recently decided to leave TD Banknorth because of their overdraft policy. They recently transferred money from my savings to my checking and charged me the $5.00 OD fee to cover an amount that was pending! With the surge in gas prices I have come across a number of gas stations that will apply a temporary hold of anywhere from $50 to $100. I happen to drive a hybrid, so we never put more than $38-$40 in the tank. So in this case, keeping a register wouldn’t even matter, I’m getting penalized based on charges that won’t ever go… Read more »

Jib
Jib
11 years ago

I have tried to stop using checks if at all possible. Currently I only write 1 check a month. And that is for my rent. I could probably set that up in bill pay with everything else, but just havent gotten around to it.

With bill pay or debit card (or cash) you dont have to wait long at all for the money to come out of your account. Much easier this way.

—-
Austin Hike and Bike

Shalom
Shalom
11 years ago

Re “Void after 90 days”-type wording on personal checks Hi, I’m another commercial lawyer weighing in here. The UCC doesn’t specifically address what happens when you write things like “void after 90 days”(these phrases are called “restrictive legends”) on checks. If a bank didn’t tell you that it won’t comply with restrictive legends, under the UCC (as implemented by that bank’s particular state) it would be obligated to comply with them. But of course banks don’t want to have to look for restrictive legends on every check they get, and they don’t want to be liable for not complying with… Read more »

MattJ
MattJ
11 years ago

I guess I don’t understand the attitude, here. If you provide me a service and I write you a check in exchange, then when I notice that you haven’t cashed it after a while I’m going to contact you and find out what’s wrong. If you’ve lost the check, then I’ll cancel it and find another way to pay you. People like Paul’s friend really didn’t notice that their babysitter wasn’t cashing their checks? Really? Did they think the babysitter was working for free? I wouldn’t have waited until writing the second check before asking her to start cashing them… Read more »

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