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, and you'll have an old check on your hands. The rules for check expiration vary according to the different types of checks.
How Long Is a Check Good For?
The maximum length of time you have to cash personal checks or business checks is regulated by federal law, and California does not have any laws that reduce or extend this time frame. 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 the check becomes more than six months old, the check becomes stale.
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The bank is not legally obligated to honor the check and may reject it after that time. However, some banks may give you a little breathing space if you forget to cash your check by the deadline.
Cashier's checks and certified checks are not as simple. Theoretically, cashier's checks do not have expiration dates since the bank guarantees the funds. However, some banks will put expiration dates on their checks, so you have to look at each one for a disclaimer.
Generally money orders, such as those issued by Western Union, and traveler's checks do not expire, Since they are prepaid with the cash upfront, there is no risk of insufficient funds. However, some issuers may add fees to cash checks or money orders after a year or so from the issue date.
By law, U.S. Treasury checks, such as an IRS tax refund or checks issued on behalf of other government agencies, expire one year from the date of issue. Fortunately, all is not lost since you can ask the authorizing federal agency to reissue a new check. Local government checks have expiration dates that vary according to each state's law.
In most situations, you have six months to cash a check in California.
Depends on the Bank Policies
While the bank or financial institution does not have to honor a stale check, it's actually up to the bank what happens next. The issuing 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 a 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 reissue the check. In most cases, you shouldn't have any issues. Don't let it go for 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 they 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 check fee varies by bank, but we're talking somewhere in the region of $15.
Common Questions About Stale or Expired Checks
Some FAQs about expired or stale checks include:
What Happens if I Don't Cash a Check Within 180 Days?
The Uniform Commercial Code states that banks have an obligation to honor checks up to 180 days from date of issue. After that time has passed, you can still deposit the check in your bank, but the issuing bank may or may not honor the check.
What Happens if I Deposit an Expired Check?
Depending on your bank's policy, they may or may not give you credit for the deposit, and you'll have to wait to find out if the issuing bank honors the check.
How Long Do I Have to Deposit a State of California Check?
The state of California follows federal law, which means checks issued by payers in the state of California are valid up to 180 days.
What About Payroll Checks?
Payroll checks follow the same rule as other types of checks, except federal and local government-issued checks. Payroll checks are, therefore, valid up to 180 days.
Remember to Check the “Void Endorsement”
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 checks have disclaimers explaining that they are valid for a shorter period than six months and have specific expiration dates. It's fairly common for payroll checks to carry the endorsement "Void after 90 days," for example. However, the purpose of this disclaimer is to encourage the recipient to cash the check as soon as possible.
If a Check Says “Void After 90 Days,” Can It Still Be Deposited?
Yes. Payers sometimes indicate that their checks are void after 90 days, but this is simply a way to encourage the payee to cash these checks sooner rather than later. Even though the check has a disclaimer on it, checks are still valid up to 180 days.
Do Blank Personal Checks Expire?
A blank personal check is a check that has been signed by the authorized signer but is missing the name of a payee, the date and the numerical and written amount. Anyone can take this type of blank check, fill in the necessary information and cash the check. This check would then be valid for 180 days from the date on the check.
However, if the authorized signer filled in the date but left out the amount and the name of the payee, the check would be valid only from the date on the check.