How to Track a Check

It may seem like a check you've written might hit your bank account with the speed of sound these days, and that's somewhat true. You can be bombarded by bounced check or overdraft fees if your personal finance recordkeeping isn't accurate and you're not prepared. But the unfortunate reality is that "tracking" a check you've written isn't quite as efficient and streamlined, even with online accounts and other advances in technology.

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There's inevitably a gray area of time between your payee cashing or depositing the check and what your own bank can or will tell you about how the process is coming along. But this doesn't mean you're totally without options.

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How Long Do Checks Live?

Your check will remain alive, well and cashable for six months after you write it and date it. Section 4-404 of the federal Uniform Commercial Code provides that a bank does not have to cash or deposit a check after six months, although it can do so if it chooses. You might be in limbo for half a year if your payee doesn't take action to cash or deposit it.

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Check at the ATM

Perhaps the easiest way to monitor your check's progress is to keep an eye on your checking account balance at an ATM. The Goodwill Community Foundation suggests simply going to an ATM, entering your PIN and tapping "Account Balance."

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This will reflect whether the missing-in-action check has yet hit your account, but it only works if you've kept adequate records and you know what your balance should be with or without that check clearing.

Most tracking options require that you've kept a careful record of your checking account activity.

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Check With Your Bank

You can also go to your bank's website to access your bank account. Most banks and credit unions are set up to provide their customers with this courtesy. You'll be greeted by a detailed record of every deposit you've made, every check number that's been presented for payment and every ATM or electronic withdrawal or payment you've made, pretty much up to the minute.

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The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency points out that you can always do things the good, old-fashioned way if you don't have access to the internet. Go to or call your bank or credit union to inquire whether the MIA check has been presented for payment.

Check Your Monthly Bank Statement

Your bank statement should provide still more information about the check when you finally receive it, usually after the close of the month. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) indicates that you should be able to tell from your statement for that account number whether a paper check was presented for payment or the transaction was processed electronically. This can sometimes happen if you write the check to a major business, such as your electric company. Your statement will also tell you the date on which the check cleared.

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Keep Good Records

Most of these options require that you've kept a careful record of your checking account activity. It's particularly easy to lose track of withdrawals you've made if you regularly use your account's debit card and don't make an immediate note of having done so. You won't know exactly how much you're supposed to have in your account if you don't keep track. And, keeping track means being sure direct deposits have been made on time.

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And keep in mind that a deposit you make might not be immediately available to cover checks that are presented to your account for payment. HelpWithMyBank.gov indicates that banks are typically only legally obligated to make $225 of a deposited check available in your account on the next business day following the date of deposit. The balance, if any, should be available the day following that. And banks do have the right to extend these hold periods under certain circumstances.

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If You Have a Problem

Maybe you issued a personal check a month ago and there's been no sign of it being presented to your account for payment. You can simply stop payment on the check. It's just a matter of notifying your bank or credit union that you don't want the check to be honored, then going through its procedure for doing so. A stop payment order is valid for six months under the terms of Section 4-403 of the Uniform Commercial Code.

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This six-month deadline assumes that you don't simply make an oral request for your bank to deny payment. You'd only have 14 calendar days if you don't follow up by filing the necessary paperwork with your institution, according to the CFPB.

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