A check is a formal slip of paper that allows you to transfer funds from your checking account to another person. However, even if you write a check correctly, banks and credit unions may still limit whether it’s valid after a certain period.
Depending on the type of check, some banks and credit unions can reject it if you hold on to it for too long. So, how long is a check good for to cash or deposit?
How long are standard checks good for?
Most standard checks are good for six months. After that, things may get tricky. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, checks older than six months are considered “stale checks.” Federal law does not require a bank or credit union to honor such checks – though certain states may have different requirements.1
This six-month timeframe is set by the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), a set of laws governing all commercial transactions in the United States.2 Once this time limit is reached, it’s up to the bank or credit union to decide whether they still want to let you deposit or cash the check.
Every bank and credit union handles stale checks differently. Some may still process them if they believe funds are available in the account to cover the payment. However, some may refuse to honor the check. To be safe, deposit or cash the check before the six-month period is up.
9 check types and when they expire
Depending on the type of check, some become stale after six months, and some are still good after 180 days. Here are the nine most common types of checks and when they may become invalid.
1. Certified checks
A certified check is a personal check reviewed by a bank to ensure funds are available in the account holder’s checking account and that the check won’t bounce. Compared to regular personal checks, certified checks offer more security and give the recipient peace of mind that the check is legitimate. While certified checks typically won’t expire, they could be subject to state unclaimed property laws.3
2. Federal tax refund
Depending on your preference, you can have your tax refund deposited directly into your bank account, or you could choose to have the IRS mail a check to you. If you opt for the latter, you must remember to cash or deposit the check within a certain time, or it’ll become invalid.
Federal tax refund checks are good for one year from the issue date.4 If your check is older than a year, contact the IRS at 800-829-0115 to request a replacement check.
Set up direct deposit with the IRS and get your tax refund up to five days early when you direct deposit with Chime and file directly through the IRS.5
3. Money orders
Like personal checks, money orders are secured forms of payment. However, instead of pulling funds directly from your checking account, money orders are prepaid, which means they won’t bounce due to insufficient funds. Since money orders are prepaid, they typically never expire, and you can cash them out anytime.6
4. Personal checks
A personal check is a paper slip from your bank or credit union, signed by you, that instructs your financial institution to transfer a specific amount of money from your checking account to the payee’s account.
How long is a personal check good for? Under federal law, banks and credit unions are not required to accept personal checks older than six months.7
5. Treasury check
An example of a treasury check would be the checks from the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act issued to millions of Americans during the pandemic. All U.S. Treasury checks have a treasury seal on the top left corner and are printed on watermarked paper that reads “U.S. TREASURY.”8
The U.S. Department of Treasury voids uncashed treasury checks after one year. To replace an expired treasury check, contact the federal agency that authorized the payment.
6. Cashier’s check
A cashier’s check withdraws money from the bank’s funds rather than your personal checking account and is signed by a cashier or bank teller. In short, a cashier’s check is backed by your bank’s funds and guarantees the funds will be available when the check is cashed.
Cashier’s checks are useful for ensuring a check won’t bounce or when you want to securely make or receive large payments. How long a cashier’s check is good for depends on the bank and the local laws. Some may have a “void after 60 days” or “void after 90 days” disclaimer on them for when to void the check, while some may never expire.
7. State or local government check
Checks issued by federal agencies – like the federal tax refund checks – are typically valid for a year, but this timeframe could vary on the state level. If you find an old state or local government check, contact the agency that issued it to determine whether it’s still valid.
8. Business check
Unlike personal checks that withdraw money from a personal checking account, business checks – like paychecks from an employer – pull funds from a business checking account.
So, how long is a business check good for? Like personal checks, business checks typically become invalid after six months. However, in some cases, businesses may have “void after 90 days” or “void after one year” printed on their checks.
9. Traveler’s check
A traveler’s check is a check that you purchase at a bank or credit union and take with you when you travel. Once you’re abroad, you can use the traveler’s check instead of cash or exchange it for the local currency.
Traveler’s checks never expire. You can cash them as long as the issuing financial institution is still operating.
Deposit or cash a check as soon as you can
The simplest way to prevent your check from going stale is to deposit or cash it as soon as possible. Learn how to make mobile check deposits to eliminate the hassle of taking a trip to the bank or ATM. If you have an older check, contact the issuer first to confirm whether it’s still valid. If not, ask if they could re-issue it.
Remember, while paper checks are still a common banking method, they’re susceptible to fraudulent activities like check kiting, forging, or tampering if they land in the wrong hands. So, try to reduce the use of paper checks altogether and take advantage of your bank or credit union’s online banking features.