Last Updated on January 11, 2023 by pf team
With so many ways to transfer money or pay bills electronically, you might think checks were quickly becoming a thing of the past. But in 2020, the Federal Reserve processed over 14 million commercial checks daily.
Millions of households also use checks, and checks remain a common way to send and receive money. A check won’t last forever, though.
Checks can become stale-dated, losing their value if they are too old. If you receive a check, be sure to cash it or deposit it right away.
How long are checks legally good for?
The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) governs checks regarding payment dates. For non-certified checks, banks do not have to honor checks older than 180 days. Cashier’s checks, however, are not governed by the UCC. So, rules can vary from bank to bank.
However, in all cases, the best strategy is to deposit or cash a check you receive right away. You’ll also find exceptions to the 180-day rule. For example, you can cash a U.S. Treasury check for up to 1 year after the check was dated.
How long are different types of checks good for?
Different types of checks may follow different rules regarding their expiration dates. Personal checks, payroll checks, and business checks have the shortest shelf life.
1. Personal checks
A personal check is good for 180 days from the date printed on the check.
2. Payroll checks
As uncertified funds, payroll checks follow the same pattern as personal and business checks. A payroll check is good for 180 days after the date printed on the check.
3. Business checks
Business checks are good for 180 days after the date printed on the check. However, banks may honor a business check that is older than 6 months. UCC guidance for banks does not prevent a bank from honoring an older check.
Some business checks indicate that the check is void after 90 days. However, many banks will still honor a check older than 90 days. The 90-day messaging encourages the payee to cash or deposit the check promptly.
4. Cashier’s checks
Bank-certified funds, including cashier’s checks, aren’t governed by the UCC. So, expiration dates may be longer than 180 days. Instead, each bank itself may limit the length of time they will honor a cashier’s check.
The money for the cashier’s check is set aside in an internal bank account. If unclaimed for a certain amount of time, the bank must turn the money over to the state as “unclaimed.” This time frame also varies by state.
For example, in California, the funds allocated for uncashed cashier’s checks become unclaimed property after 3 years. Some states use a longer 5-year time period.
5. Money orders
Unlike checks, money orders don’t expire. However, a money order can lose value after a certain amount of time passes. So, similar to checks, it’s wise to cash or deposit a money order right away.
Money order providers often assess a service charge for uncashed money orders. This fee reduces the value of the money order. For example, here are some service charges for popular providers:
- MoneyGram: The service charge for MoneyGram varies but applies one year after the date on the money order. Not all states allow the service charge.
- Western Union: In some states, Western Union charges a service fee for money orders older than 1 to 3 years. Rules vary by state. However, if you have an old money order, Western Union requires that you follow a refund procedure rather than deposit the money order.
- USPS: The U.S. Postal Service does not charge a service fee based on the age of the USPS money order. Because rules vary by state, check the back of your money order to determine how much the service charge is if the money order is older than 1 year.
A traveler’s check is a cash equivalent, so they do not expire.
- American Express: Traveler’s checks from American Express do not expire, and you can use them on future trips. You can also redeem unused checks.
- Visa: Similar to other providers, traveler’s checks from Visa do not expire. Even at death, unused traveler’s checks become part of the deceased’s estate.
7. U.S. Treasury checks
Checks issued by the U.S. Treasury Department expire after 1 year.
- Tax refund: Deposit your tax refund within 1 year of the check date.
- Social Security: Federal law requires that all SSA benefits be paid electronically to a bank account or a special Mastercard debit card.
- Department of Defense (DOD): Like other U.S. agencies, checks from the DOD are also good for 1 year.
- Veterans Affairs: Pensions, disability, or other benefits paid through Veterans Affairs by check are good for 1 year.
You can request a replacement check if you have a U.S. Treasury check older than 1 year. Contact the issuing agency for a replacement check if needed.
8. State and local government checks
Expiration dates for state or local government checks can vary. Here are some examples:
- Texas: A check issued by the Texas State Treasury is called a warrant. In most cases, Texas State checks are good for 2 years. However, some types of checks may expire sooner.
- California: By comparison, California’s warrants are good for 1 year. The state can replace checks older than 1 year.
If you are a payee (the person receiving the check)
If you receive a check, cash or deposit the check as soon as possible. Waiting may lead to several types of risk to your funds, such as:
- Insufficient funds: Bank balances can change in an instant. By depositing the check promptly, you can reduce the risk of the check bouncing.
- Stop payment: The person or entity who issued the check can also place a stop payment request. If you promptly deposit the check, it may clear before that can happen.
- Closed accounts: The person or entity who issued the check can also close the account from which the check is drawn.
- Void after 90 days: Most checks are good for 180 days, but some checks state they are void after 90 days. Deposit the check quickly to avoid trouble.
- Deposit Item Returned (DIR): If you deposit an old check that bounces, most banks charge a fee. For example, here are the DIR fees from some leading banks: Bank of America: $12, Wells Fargo: $12, TD Bank: $15, U.S. Bank: $19, Chase Bank: $12
- Bank’s discretion: While UCC guidance does not prohibit a bank from honoring a staled check, the bank may choose not to honor an old check.
If you are a payer (the person writing the check)
As the payer, it is crucial to be sure you deposit enough to cover the check amount to avoid fees:
- Overdraft fees: Your bank may offer overdraft privileges. But in most cases, you’ll still pay a fee for if your account goes negative.
- Nonsufficient funds fees: If you do not have overdraft privileges or have reached your overdraft limit, you may also face fees for nonsufficient funds (NSF).
- Account closing fees: Banks can also close your account if the balance remains negative or if you have several bounced checks. This step can result in additional fees.
Overdraft fees vary based on how the bank funded the shortfall. But here are some examples of NSF fees for leading banks: Wells Fargo: $35, U.S. Bank: $36, TD Bank: $35, Bank of America: $35, Chase Bank: $34
How can I cash an expired check?
In most cases, you cannot cash a check more than 180 days old. Reach out to the person or institution that issued the check to ask about a replacement check.
Do the stimulus checks expire if not cashed?
Like other U.S. Treasury checks, stimulus checks are good for 1 year after the date issued. However, you can request a replacement check if your check has expired.
Do checks expire if not written?
Unused checks don’t expire. However, bank routing numbers or account numbers may change if your bank merges with another bank. If you have old checks, be sure the routing number and account number are still valid.
Does a company have to reissue an expired check?
If you find an old paycheck that has expired, your employer may be able to issue a replacement. However, after a certain amount of time, the employer may have to turn the money over to the state as unclaimed funds. The time period varies by state, but the unclaimed funds’ surrender usually happens within 3 to 5 years.
Do checks expire if not cashed?
Technically, checks don’t have an expiration date. Instead, they become stale, which means they are out of date. For personal, business, or payroll checks, banks do not have to honor checks older than 180 days. Government checks may be valid for more extended periods.
How do you get an expired check reissued?
If you have a stale-dated check, reach out to the issuer to ask about a replacement check. In some cases, the funds may be turned over to the state as unclaimed funds if enough time has passed. Check with the issuer first and then with the state.
While checks may not have a fixed expiration date, they can become stale after a certain amount of time. You may not be able to cash or deposit a stale-dated check.
So, when you receive a check, cash or deposit the check promptly. This step helps avoid problems and reduces risks such as bounced checks. It also makes bookkeeping easier for the payer.