Do Checks Expire? How to Handle an Old Check

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Updated on Friday, November 20, 2020

Unlike cash, checks have an expiration date. While waiting a few days or even weeks to cash a check likely won’t be a problem, if you wait several months, you may not be able to.

When do checks expire, and what should you do if you find an old check? That all depends. In this article, we’ll cover the expiration guidelines for different types of checks, as well as what to do if you come across an old check.

How long is a check good for? Expiration rules by check type

In general, checks typically are good for about six months, but the expiration window can be shorter, longer or nonexistent. The exact time at which a check will expire depends on the type of bank and the bank’s discretion, as shown in the table below.

Types of Checks and When They Expire
Check TypeWhen It Expires
Personal checkTypically six months
Money orderDo not expire, though may be subject to issuer fees and “abandoned property” laws in some states
Cashier’s checkVaries by issuing bank
State/local government checkVaries by state, though typically six to 12 months
U.S. Treasury check12 months
Traveler’s checkDo not expire

How long is a personal check good for?

These bank-issued paper slips allow account holders to pay an individual, business or other organization without the immediate exchange of cash. Once received, the payee must cash the check at a bank or check-cashing institution. Do personal checks expire? Yes, and much faster than the other types of checks covered in this article. Though you should cash the check as soon as possible, you typically have six months, or 180 days, to do so.

How long is a money order good for?

A money order is a secured certificate of payment that is issued by a third party, such as a bank, grocery store, post office or financial service like Western Union. While money orders technically don’t expire, that doesn’t mean they infinitely retain value.

While some issuers, such as the USPS, will honor the full value of a money order indefinitely, other issuers will charge a fee after a certain amount of time has passed. If you have a money order, the best way to determine the expiration date is to check with the issuer.

Fees aren’t the only potential issue. Uncashed money orders can also be subject to state abandoned or unclaimed property laws, which means that, after a certain number of years, the money is turned over to the state, and the payee must file the appropriate paperwork to claim the cash.

How long is a cashier’s check good for?

Much like a personal check, cashier’s checks are issued by a financial institution — such as a bank or credit union — and used as a form of payment. These checks are guaranteed by the issuing institution, as opposed to your personal account, and are often used for large purchases.

Cashier check expiry dates are determined by the issuing institution. In some cases, they may expire in two to six months, though they can be valid as long as the bank is in business. Your best bet is to examine the check to see if there is a “void after” or expiration date.

How long is a state or local government check good for?

State and local government checks, like tax refunds, do expire, but check expiry dates vary from state to state. Typically, you can expect a local or state government check to expire within six months to a year.

To find out, examine your check for government check dates that indicate when it will expire. Even if the government check has expired, you are still entitled to the money. You’ll just need to contact the issuing entity and request a new check.

How long is a U.S. Treasury check good for?

Checks issued by the U.S. Treasury, including federal tax return checks, are good for one year after they are issued. Like state or local government checks, if your Treasury check has expired, you’re still entitled to the money and can request to have a check reissued.

How long is a Traveler’s check good for?

Traveler’s checks are paper slips issued by financial institutions and traditionally used while traveling nationally or globally. They can be used as cash and will not expire. The only time you may have an issue using a traveler’s check is if the issuing bank is no longer in business.

What to know before trying to cash a stale check

If you have an expired or stale check, the resolution depends entirely on the type of check and the issuing entity. In some cases, you may still be able to access the funds, but it may not be easy. In other cases, the funds may be unavailable or reduced due to fees. As such, it’s always a good idea to cash a check as soon as you receive it.

If you find yourself with an expired check on hand, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Honoring the check expiry date is up to the bank’s discretion: If you find an old check, the best thing to do is contact the bank. The bank has the ultimate say in whether or not it will still honor the check and allow you to cash it. Though some may allow you to cash an expired check, others may uphold the original expiration date.
  • The issuer’s account may have closed: Just because a bank allows customers to cash expired checks doesn’t mean you can access the funds. Because the check is tied to the issuer’s account, if their account number has changed or is closed for any reason, you won’t be able to cash the check and may be responsible for return check fees.
  • There may be insufficient funds: Assuming the bank allows you to cash the check and the issuer’s account is still open, you may face another challenge if the issuer doesn’t have enough money in their account to cover the check. This can cause financial issues for them and may result in a return check fee for you. Though you’re not obligated to contact the issuer, doing so can prevent issues for both parties.
  • A stop payment may have been issued: Another scenario that can make it difficult to cash your check is if the issuer placed a stop payment order on the stale check. If that’s the case, you won’t be able to access the funds.

What can you do if you write a check that goes uncashed?

Finding and attempting to cash a stale check can be a hassle, but waiting for a check to clear can also create issues. It’s easy to forget about a check that was written months ago. And unfortunately, when the recipient finally does cash the check, your account may no longer have the funds to cover it. That can lead to overdraft fees, bounced check fees or issues meeting other payment requirements. Even if you do have enough funds to cover the check, the unexpected withdrawal can wreak havoc on your budget.

An uncashed check doesn’t necessarily mean the recipient is still holding onto it. The check may be lost or stolen, and since your account number and routing number are located at the bottom of the check, your account security can also become an issue.

If you’ve been waiting for a check to be cashed, there are a few things you can do to avoid unwanted issues:

  • Contact the person or entity to whom you wrote the check.
  • If you’re unable to contact them or they’ve revealed the check has been lost or stolen, immediately put a stop payment on the check. You can then write them another check.
  • If the check is six months or older, contact the bank and inquire about its check expiration policies.
  • Make sure your account maintains the funds to cover the check. You can do this by moving money to savings or meticulously balancing your account until the check is cashed.