Checks are a quick and easy way to receive payment, but what happens if you forget to deposit them? Like most things in life, at some point, they're going to expire. The maximum length of time you have to cash a personal check is regulated by federal law, and California does not have any laws that reduce or extend this period. However, some banks may give you a little breathing space if you forget to cash your check by the deadlines.
Cashing a Stale Check in California
Under the federal Uniform Commercial Code, a check is good for six months. The state of California uses the UCC as a model law for state law and has not changed this position. You therefore have six months to cash your check in California. After that period, the check becomes stale. The bank is not legally obligated to honor the check and may reject it after that time.
Watch Out for Void Endorsements
The six-month clock starts ticking from the date written on the check, not the date you were handed the check. Double check this date to make sure the check is not post dated, which means the six months will start running later than you thought. Some types of check are valid for a shorter period than six months. It's fairly common for payroll checks to carry the endorsement "Void after 90 days," for example. This type of check is good for only three months, so you need to act fast to get it cashed on time.
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Depends on the Bank Policies
While the bank does not have to honor a stale check, it's actually up to the bank what happens next. The bank may choose to give you some wiggle room, especially if the check is just a few days late. Plus, the cashier may not even look at the date on a check, so there's a chance it will get cashed.
It also depends on the type of check. For instance, a bank may be more lenient with a payroll check from a reputable business than they are with a check written from someone's personal bank account. The bank will probably refuse the check if there's reasonable doubt as to whether the paying bank will pay the money. Otherwise, they may go right ahead and cash it. Ultimately, it depends on the bank policies. It definitely is a good idea to speak to the bank before throwing an old, uncashed check in the trash.
The Payer Still Owes the Debt
Just because you forgot about the check does not mean that you're not owed the money. People cannot refuse to pay money they owe to you because you lost a check. Call the payer and apologize for your forgetfulness, and ask them to re-issue the check. In most cases, you shouldn't have any issues. Don't leave it too long, however. In California, you have four years to collect a debt that's recorded in writing, and two years to collect a debt that was created orally. If you forget about the check for longer than this period, then you may be out of luck.
Caution When Cashing a Stale Check
If you decide to cash a stale check anyway, then understand that you are taking a risk. So much time has passed since the payer wrote the check that he or she may have forgotten about it, and there may not be enough money left in the payer's account to cover the check. Most banks will sting you with a "deposit item returned" fee if the check bounces. The fee varies by bank, but we're talking somewhere in the region of $15.