How Long Is a Check Good For?

Discovering an unredeemed check might seem like found money until you consider its expiration date. While some U.S. checks state how long you have to cash them on the check itself, others typically expire in a set number of days after being written. Not only does this encourage responsibility on the part of the check's recipient, it protects the issuer from overdrafts due to lack of funds if a recipient fails to redeem the check before it expires. Generally, you have at least six months to cash a check that does not specify its expiration.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

When a check expires will depend on the type of check and the issuer. It's common, though, to have at least six months to check the check.

Expiration of Personal Checks

The financial institution redeeming a check determines the expiration date of a personal check. The Uniform Commercial Code permits the accepting institution to decide whether it will redeem checks dated more than six months before the date you take the check to the institution. Since banks and other financial institutions typically use computers to process checks, a person might not review the transaction unless there is a reason such as a stop payment order or overdraft. Account holders have the option to stop payment on unredeemed checks but must pay a fee for the privilege.

Expiration of Business Checks

Unless writing on the check states otherwise, business checks, including paychecks, follow the same rules that apply to personal checks. However, many businesses include a statement on the check specifying that it is redeemable for a specific number of days after issuance. If the check does not state "Not valid for deposit after 'x' amount of days" call your financial institution and ask what its rules regarding stale checks are. If it refuses the check because of its age, contact the issuer and request a replacement.

Expiration of Government Checks

Checks from the U.S. Treasury are valid for one year after issuance. The U.S Treasury issues checks from the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration and any other federal agency. Payees must contact the paying agency to request a reissued check. The U.S. Department of the Treasury's website provides the contact information for the various agencies.

If you have a check from your state's treasury without an expiration date, you must contact the state's department of revenue to determine its expiration date and, if necessary, request that the state reissue the check.

Other Check Cashing Considerations

If you are able to cash a check past its expiration date, do not use the funds until you discover that the issuing bank honored the check. The issuing bank can refuse to pay for the check if the account holder placed a stop payment on the check, the account does not have the funds to pay for the check or the account is closed.

If you wrote the check, the only way to guarantee that you will not be liable for it longer than six months is to place a stop payment order on it. An oral stop-payment order expires after 14 days, and a written stop-payment order expires in six months. You must renew stop-payment orders every six months to ensure that you are not held liable for old checks; banks typically charge a fee for each order.

Handling of Unclaimed Money

Companies, banks and government entities must turn the money for unredeemed checks over to their state's unclaimed money department after a period determined by the state. This includes unredeemed paychecks, income tax refunds and cashier's checks. If you have an expired check, search the database or your state's unclaimed property department to see if you can still collect the amount owed.

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