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How Long are Undeposited Checks Good?

Written by Nickel - 19 Comments

How Long are Undeposited Checks Good?

Just over a year ago, my wife wrote a small check for an end-of-the-year school function of some sort. The check was made out to the school, but it was collected by another mom. A month or so later, I noticed that it still had not cleared the bank.

At the time, I assumed that it had just gotten lost in the shuffle and that it would eventually re-surface, perhaps when school started again in August. Well, it didn’t. And ever since then, this seven dollar check has been hanging out in MoneyDance waiting to be reconciled.

Over the weekend, I decided to ask the bank how best to handle this. At this point, I’m pretty sure that this check has been lost and/or forgotten, never to resurface again. Nonetheless, I wanted to check with the bank before completely forgetting about it.

Since I was already logged in, I clicked the “chat” icon in the Bank of America web interface and was soon connected with Jonathan. I explained the issue and this was his answer:

“Check are good for 180 days (unless otherwise noted), so if the check came from your personal checkbook, it would be void by now.”

That’s about what I figured, but I wanted to be sure, so I asked if he was 100% sure that Bank of America would refuse payment of the check if it ever resurfaced and got deposited. His reply:

“Yes, that’s correct.”

Good to know.

In fact, under the Uniform Commercial Code, banks in the United States are not legally obligated to pay checks older than six months (link). Of course, this leaves some wiggle room. Your bank may not be required to honor an old check, but they might choose to do so. You would thus be well-advised to check with your bank before ignoring an old check in your register.

Since it’s such a small check, I’m not worried about it showing up in the future and causing an overdraft. It is, however, possible that we’ll eventually close that account and that the check will subsequently re-surface. I thus printed a pdf of the conversation and dumped it into Evernote on the off chance that I ever need proof that I was told the check was void and wouldn’t be honored.

For the record, I would happily write a new check if I could figure out who to pay. Unfortunately, the school was just a pass-through entity in this case, and the money was ultimately destined for someone in the classroom. Thus, we have no idea who we owe.

Published on April 23rd, 2012
Modified on May 8th, 2012 - 19 Comments
Filed under: Banking

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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19 Responses to “How Long are Undeposited Checks Good?”

  1. 1
    Mark Says:

    So in other words, it all depends on the teller who handles the check.

  2. 2
    Smart Military Money Says:

    Nickel,
    Good to know BofA’s policy, but I’d imagine 180 days isn’t a universal policy. Local banks and credit unions might have very different terms.

    Mark, what makes you say it depends on the teller? I’d hope that any BofA teller would honor what is a company-wide policy.

  3. 3
    Nickel Says:

    Mark: Not exactly. Even if the check is deposited and credited to the payee’s account, it *should* be returned as unpayable by BofA when it’s processed. That being said, I’m not entirely confident that BofA’s system would catch the date discrepancy and refuse payment. But at least I have their answer in writing.

    SMM: As I noted in the article, 180 days is the legal minimum. They are obligated to accept it if presented for payment within 180 days, but can choose to honor it beyond that time if they wish. Apparently BofA’s policy is to not honor checks beyond 180 days, but others may be different. So yes, check with your bank or credit union.

  4. 4
    Modest Money Says:

    I’ve been personally denied from cashing an old check before. At the time I had no idea that checks actually expired. Unfortunately it was a gift from my grandma and I didn’t have the nerve to ask her for a replacement check.

  5. 5
    Brianne Says:

    If you send a payment via billpay with Bank of America, the check will expire after 90 days. The money is taken out of your account as soon as you issue payment, but if it isn’t cashed then the funds will be returned to you after 90 days.

    (This happened to me recently, when I sent a check to a friend and she tried to cash it four months later.)

  6. 6
    Tom Says:

    Sorry sir but you were given terrible advice. A bank “may” refuse to pay a check after 6 months but almost certainly will still pay it. The easy out is that they are not required to refuse it.

    If it goes through a teller to be cashed they should in theory refuse to cash the check assuming they notice the date. If it is deposited however the odds of anyone looking at the check are extremely slim (like winning the lottery type odds). Even if a deposit is handed to a teller they typically don’t look at the checks being deposited if there is more than a few of them. All your bank has to do is say they paid the check “in good faith” which basically means they didn’t bother looking at it and just assumed that it was not stale dated.

    Think about how check processing works. It is nearly entirely electronic now and there are several millions of checks being paid every day. It is simply impossible for a bank employee to look at them all or even 0.001% of them. And before you ask, no computers can not check the dates for you. It is true that banks use some sort of optical recognition to determine amounts on checks now but it simply won’t work for dates as there are too many formats used to write dates and many people will use words instead of numbers which the software has a much harder time with. Even with the numbers a human must still balance every transaction when the software misreads a number.

    The same rules apply for post dating a check. If you post date a check, your bank will most likely pay it even before the date you specified unless you specifically notify your bank not to pay it. There is a provision in the UCC that covers this as well and a bank can charge you a fee for that service.

    Source: I’ve worked retail banking for 3 banks including US Bank and 2 much smaller community banks.
    Also, http://www.bankersonline.com/o.....1203j.html

  7. 7
    Nickel Says:

    Tom: Thanks for your comment.

    Given that (a) the check is out there in the wild, and (b) we can’t do anything to locate and destroy it, what advice would you give? Leave that account open forevermore on the off chance that the check might re-surface one day in the distant future? Or contact the bank, as I have done, and get a written response stating that they won’t honor it (after already having waited a year) so we’ll have something to throw back in their face if it ever re-appears and creates problems?

    Or something else?

    I do agree that it’s unlikely that they’d be able to catch this issue and stop the payment from going through given how automated everything has become, which is exactly why I contacted them the way I did — as opposed to calling them and getting a verbal answer.

  8. 8
    Tom Says:

    I would keep the written response to throw back in their face if I were you. Feel free to close the account whenever you want though as it won’t hurt you any. The only thing that will happen to the depositor will be that the check gets returned to them and they are (most likely) charged a fee for the return.

    These small associations run by parents/volunteers are the worst offenders. I wouldn’t assume that the check will never surface again as it is not uncommon that the parent stuck them in the back of a drawer only to resurface months or even years later. If its possible I’d advice a friendly reminder to whoever is running this that your check was not cashed. You might not want to write a replacement check though as the original could still be in the back of a drawer waiting to resurface. :)

    Ultimately its $7 so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. ;)

  9. 9
    amy Says:

    I once had a check get cashed 2.5 years after I sent it. So you have to be careful. I have heard nightmares of accounts reopened for bad checks and then by the time the person figures it out there have been months of fees collecting.

  10. 10
    Financial Advice for Young Professionals Says:

    This kind of reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry cashes all of his grandma’s old checks and causes an overdraft :)

    I haven’t had this happen to me, but I have written checks before with a later date so that they couldn’t be cashed until then when I had sufficient funds. But even this does not work, the teller’s don’t look at the dates, they just deposit them. I wrote a check and put the date down as 2/15, but sent it out on 2/1 and the bank let them deposit it on 2/1! Overdraft! haha

  11. 11
    John Says:

    Its not your fault the school or the school’s bank overlooked your contribution. The high road is to contact the school I suppose and inform them of the oversight. The easy road is to just let it go. No harm is really being done in either case. But checking with the bank was a good move. If it had been ok to cash the check, someday that could cause inconsistencies in your accounting and that’s never fun.

  12. 12
    TFB Says:

    Because checks are processed by machines I don’t think they will be able to catch the handwritten date, at least not every time. They will pay it when it comes in no matter what their policy says. If you complain then they will reverse it.

  13. 13
    BG Says:

    My wife recently wrote a check with the year: 1012. The check was technically 1000 years old the day she wrote it. Absolutely no problem going through the system: the date means nothing.

  14. 14
    Jason Says:

    It’s on the bank of deposit to verify whether the check is valid not the paying bank according to regulation J. However, there is an after effect process of having the paying bank challenge the check once it’s cleared. The thing is that your time frame for such a claim is three years from the date the statement is printed which shows the payout date for the check. .

  15. 15
    PA Banker Says:

    Unless there is a stop payment order in effect on the item, Banks reserve the right to pay stale dated (checks more than 180 days old) or post dated (future dated checks). Human eyes rarely look at checks anymore, and the check can, and will slide through the cracks and could cause you overdraft fees. View your BOA disclosures and I’m sure you will see that the advice given to you by the customer service representative was inaccurate.

  16. 16
    Kim Says:

    As a bank teller for over 15 years all I can say is: Never, ever, ever trust that a bank will not clear a stale dated check. Never trust that a bank teller will always catch the date or that they will not deposit or cash a check that has ” expired “.
    The absolute only recourse you have is to place a stop payment on the check. And expect to pay a hefty fee to do so. Way more than $7.00 I assure you.
    My guess is your checkbook accounting will forever and always be off by $7.00. That just might bug me enough to pay for a stop payment! But, as a bank teller I must always balance to the penny. In the end it will be up to you.

  17. 17
    NC Nonprofit Says:

    Here’s my related question – I wrote two checks to a contract worker (one in November 2011, one in April 2012) that she says she never received and has not cashed. She would like checks re-issued to her. Stopping payment on the first checks will cost $36 each. 1) Should she pay the stop payment? 2) Should we pay the stop payment, assuming it’s true that she never received the checks? 3) Should we send replacement checks without stopping the originals, and in some way indicate that they are replacements? IOW, if she cashes both sets of checks do we have any recourse?

    If the problem was with the US Mail, it doesn’t seem fair for her to be penalized. OTH, we contacted her for months about the first check with no response, so it doesn’t seem fair for our nonprofit to be penalized either.

  18. 18
    Dhiraj Says:

    Hi,

    I also had a chat with Bank of America on this matter. It is true that if the check belongs to Bank of America and if someone tries to cash it in Bank of America 6 months after its date then Bank of America will reject it. BUT if the person whom you give this check has an account with some other bank which has policy to accept checks after 6 months also, then Bank of America will not stop them. The check will be deposited in that case. This is official answer as per my chat with Bank of America customer care. So it is never safe to leave check like that even if it is old one.

  19. 19
    Derrick Says:

    Lost a $4000 check from a client and didn’t know it. 8 months later found it went to the bank they would not take it. Client would not return emails or calls or voice mails or answer the door. She did not want to pay me. 1 year later I cashed the check in the same month it was written and I got my money. Never came back to bite me.

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