When Does a Personal Check Become Stale Dated?

by Todd Duvall

Bread goes stale. Cookies do, too. But what about personal checks? If that birthday check from Aunt Nellie is still floating around your house months after your birthday, you could be in for a surprise when you try to cash it.

Six-Month Limit

Personal checks don’t expire. But they do become what is known as “stale dated.” Simply put, a check becomes stale dated six months after it was written. After six months, banks have the option of refusing to deposit or cash any stale-dated checks. Why the sixth-month limit? Simple. A lot can change over that period. Companies go out of business. People close their accounts. And an account that may have been flush when the check was issued may be empty several months down the road.

What to Do With a Stale-Dated Check

Let’s say you find Aunt Nellie’s $50 check stuffed into your junk drawer — but it was written more than six months ago. Now what? You can return the check to Aunt Nellie, explain the issue, and ask her for a replacement check (with the current date, of course). Or you can find out if your bank will accept a stale-dated check. Sometimes your financial institution won’t notice the old date and will accept the check. Assuming that Aunt Nellie has $50 in her account, you’ll be good to go. Or the bank may agree to accept the check, but will place a hold on the amount of the deposit to make sure the check clears — and the money is in your account — before releasing the funds for you to spend.

What's the Rule

There is no law or hard-and-fast rule that banks must adhere to regarding stale-dated checks. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., if a check is presented for deposit more than six months after the date on the check, it is reasonable for the bank to assume that the check may be uncollectible — and therefore the institution can refuse to deposit or cash the check. This guideline is included in the Uniform Commercial Code as well.

What About Business Checks

In many cases, larger businesses — such as insurance companies, financial institutions and corporations — print “void if not cashed within xxx days of the above date” on any checks they send out. (The length of time is typically 90 to180 days.) The same goes for most government checks, such as tax return checks and Social Security checks. For state checks, the rules can vary by state. And since cashiers checks have already been paid for in cash, they do not have an expiration date.

About the Author

Based in the Pacific Northwest, Todd Duvall has been a writer since 1983. He has written for various local, regional and national clients, winning numerous awards. Duvall received a Bachelor of Arts in communication from Washington State University's Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.

Photo Credits

  • Keith Brofsky/Digital Vision/Getty Images