How long can I wait before cashing a check?

What Is Funds Availability?

Funds availability describes when you can access the money you deposit into a bank account. Federal Regulation CC (Reg CC for short) offers a framework for banks to use when setting their funds availability policies. Specifically, Regulation CC covers two things:

  • Timing for making deposits available to customers
  • Guidelines for disclosing funds availability policies to customers

Under Regulation CC, the timing for when deposited funds will be available is usually based on the type of deposit, when you made it during the business day and, in some cases, the amount deposited.

Banks then can use these guidelines to create and implement funds availability policies. These policies are usually disclosed to you when opening your account initially. Many banks also make their funds availability policies accessible online.

Are stale-dated checks valid?

A personal or business check that’s older than six months is technically considered stale, but that doesn’t mean it’s void, a bad check or that your bank won’t honor it. It simply means the financial institution has the option to refuse the check.

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Watch out for deposit item returned fee

If you try cashing old checks that bounce, you may be responsible for a “deposit item returned” fee. The fee varies from bank to bank.

At Santander Bank, you’ll generally pay $15 per check, while at Wells Fargo and Bank of America, the fee is $12. The fee might even be higher for international checks. Plus, the person who wrote the bounced check might be charged a non-sufficient funds fee from his or her own bank that could be as high as $35.

If the stale check is a nominal amount that doesn’t surpass the returned-check fee and you’re unable to contact the check writer for a new check or to make sure his account is still active, your best bet may be to forfeit the check and call it a learning experience.

How Long Is a Check Good For?

In most situations, a check is good for six months. But there are several exceptions, and there’s no guarantee that banks will reject checks after that time. The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), which most states use as a model for the law, says that banks do not need to honor old checks. But banks can still process those payments if they believe the check is good.

Ultimately, it may depend on the type of check involved, explained in detail below, and what the bank chooses to do.

Personal Checks 

Personal checks are typically valid for six months after the date written on the check. But banks might not notice the date, or they might choose to process stale-dated checks for customers.

U.S. Treasury Checks

Checks from the federal government, such as federal income tax refunds, vary when it comes to the timeline. State and local governments may set their own expiration dates, so if you lose the check or more than six months have gone by, it’s best to contact the agency that sent it to you. 

Treasury checks include those from the IRS, the Social Security Administration, Defense Finance and Accounting Service for the DOD, the Office of Personnel Management, and Veterans Affairs.

Cashier’s Checks 

Cashier’s checks can be complicated, and state law affects how long those payments are good for. Banks might not accept a cashier’s check for deposit after 90 days because the issuing bank could return the check unpaid after that time. If you have a cashier’s check that’s more than 90 days old, contact the issuing bank to get a new check.

Money Orders

Money orders typically don’t expire. However, the money order issuer might start charging fees against the money order, eroding its value and eventually making it worthless. For example, Western Union charges fees to money orders after one to three years. Instead of depositing those old money orders, you may need to contact the issuer to get any remaining value. Other issuers may not charge fees, but they must eventually turn unclaimed assets over to the state.

It’s best to the money order issuer for details—it can get complicated. For example, domestic USPS money orders are good indefinitely, but international money orders can expire.

Traveler’s Checks

Traveler’s checks might not ever expire, and can always be refunded if lost or stolen. As long as the issuer is still in business, you can use those instruments wherever they are accepted.

When is a check considered stale-dated?

"Stale-dated" is another way of referring to a check that wasn't cashed within the usual timeframe. For instance, if a check says "good for 180 days" on the front, then it becomes stale-dated 181 days after it's written.

Why do processing delays occur?

Processing delays can happen for many reasons. The most common reasons are below.

One: It's an unusual deposit. The bank may flag the check if it’s for a considerably large amount, comes from a new client, or comes from an international bank.

Two: There are insufficient funds in the payer's account. Banks typically resend checks with issues, like not having enough money in their account, to the payer’s institution. This causes a delay in processing.  

Three: New accounts. If you’ve just recently opened a new checking or savings account, the bank may hold your check until you’ve built up some history. 

Four: ATM deposits. If you deposit a check through an ATM or make a mobile deposit through a banking app, the bank can hold it to verify it. 

When you deposit a check, you’ll receive a receipt recording the transaction that indicates when the allocated funds will become available. Keep this with you in case any issues arise with the balance.  

Banks can override holding time, though this doesn’t usually happen. Your bank will most likely intervene for any financial emergencies if you’re a longstanding and reliable customer or if the hold on the check is longer than necessary. That said, sorting this out will require a physical trip to the bank. 

What to do about suspicious checks

According to Federal Trade Commission data, over 27,000 people reported fake checks in 2019, resulting in more than 29 million in total losses. 

You can take the following steps to prevent this from happening to you:

Step 1: Avoid checks. If you’re unsure about the check writer or whether the funds are actually valid, this is the safest option. 

Step 2: Contact the bank. Try contacting the payer’s bank to determine if the funds are genuine. If the check is fake, the contact information included will be useless, so look up the branch’s customer service number yourself.  

Step 3: Wait 30 days. Unfortunately, weeks can pass before you find out if a check was legitimate or not. Don’t deposit the check if you think it may be fraudulent. However, if you’ve already done so, refrain from spending that money for at least 30 days. Give yourself a window to confirm that the check is genuine in order to avoid fees or debt. 

Different types of checks

With each type of check payment, you can expect a different set of rules and expiry dates.

Personal checks

With the personal check, if the check hasn’t been cashed after 180 days or six months, it will be considered invalid.

US treasury checks

US Treasury checks² are valid for up to a year after they have been issued, and they are usually related to federal tax returns. They can be tricky to get hold of if you don’t cash them within a year.

Cashier’s checks

With cashier’s checks, it varies according to the banks, so there are no hard and fast rules. While many banks will print a deadline on the checks, others won’t.

Traveler’s checks

Traveler’s checks³ don’t have a defined expiry date, so the only condition for cashing them is that the bank is still around.

You can also choose to have your traveler’s checks exchanged for the local currency, although you may face a bad conversion rate when cashing in.

💡 To avoid bad conversion rates and hidden fees, you can try the Wise account next time you travel abroad. Wise is up to 4x cheaper for spending abroad than US bank accounts or PayPal.

You can also find more tips on travel money options in this guide to travel money.

Money orders

Domestic postal money orders⁴ will never expire or accrue interest.

With that being said, there’s a strong chance that you’ll be hit with a service charge if you don’t cash out the money order with a year or two. This charge will be taken from the original sum of money.

Can You Cash a Check Without a Bank Account?

If you got a check on your name, but don’t have a bank account, you’re probably wondering whether you’ll have to open one to cash it. Well, the good news is that you don’t necessarily need a bank account. To cash a regular check, you won’t have to open an account to cash it, and you can do it in any bank. However, certain banks will charge additional expenses before you can cash it. You can also cash it from other places like Wallmart, your local gas station, grocery store, your employee, etc.  But how long does it take to get the money? The fastest way to cash a check and have the money in your pocket (or account), is to go to the drawer’s bank. This is because the bank can access this account immediately and get the details regarding the check, amount, as well as other account details. They’ll need to make sure that the person who wrote the check has enough funds, get a bunch of papers and confirmations before they can let you draw the money.  Another advantage of cashing the check in the drawer’s bank is that you’ll probably get 100% of the amount. No additional expenses will be charged. The same rule doesn’t apply when cashing it in any other bank. What you’ll need is:

  • Your ID, Driver’s license or any legal document that proves your identity
  • The check with the drawer’s name, account details, signature, etc
  • Debit card to transfer the money to, or you can get it in cash 

The clerk will check your documents. They’ll also check the drawer’s account to make sure their account is valid, that there are sufficient funds on their account, etc. 

How Long are Different Types of Checks Good For?

Different types of checks have different expiration days. The 6-month rule is a general rule, but that doesn’t apply to all types of checks and money orders.

How Long are Personal Checks Good For?

Personal, business, and payroll checks are good for 6 months (180 days). Some businesses have “void after 90 days” pre-printed on their checks. Most banks will honor those checks for up to 180 days and the pre-printed language is meant to encourage people to deposit or cash a check sooner than later.

If you’ve been given a check, it’s best to cash or deposit it as soon as feasible. If you hold onto a check for a while you run the risk of the account number or routing number changing or the check writer may have forgotten about the check and spent the money on something else. This may cause you to have to pay returned check fees.

How Long are U.S. Treasury Checks Good For?

By law, U.S. Treasury checks are good for one year after the date on the check. This means that federal tax refund checks are good for one year as those are issued by the U.S. Treasury. After that time, you’re still entitled to money the government owes you, but you’ll need to contact the issuer of the check and request a new check.

How Long are State/Local Government Checks Good For?

Checks from the state or local government agencies will expire according to state law. So, how long a state tax refund check is good for will vary from state to state, but generally it’s 6 months to a year. If you have an expired state tax refund check, you should contact the state and request a new check. Just like with the federal checks, you’re still entitled to what the government owes you.

When you receive a check from a governmental agency, read the check and look for anything that tells you when it expires. The best bet is to deposit or cash the check before the expiration date.

When do Cashier’s Checks Expire?

Cashier’s checks are a type of “official check” and the rules surrounding them can be complicated. There’s no set or specified expiration date for cashier’s checks. Some say cashier’s checks don’t expire, while others claim a cashier’s check is stale (out of date) after 60, 90, or 180 days. Cashier’s checks are backed by the issuing bank and, theoretically, should be valid for as long as the bank is in operation, but some banks will put expiration dates on the checks themselves.

It could be difficult to cash a possibly expired cashier’s check or to get a replacement cashier’s check. If you receive a cashier’s check, look for a “void after X days” disclaimer and make sure you cash or deposit the check before then. If you discover an old cashier’s check, contact the issuing bank and ask them what they need from you to handle the transaction.

Cashier’s checks are a special type of check and they’re typically used for larger transactions. Read our article about What’s a Cashier’s Check if you’d like more information about cashier’s checks themselves.

When do Money Orders Expire?

The expiration of money orders depends on the laws of the state and the rules of the issuer. Generally speaking, money orders don’t expire, but they could become so old that they fall under abandoned property regulations or the value is eaten with fees.

It’s important to read the fine print as provided by the issuer. After 1-3 years, Western Union will charge a fee against the value of the money order. If this goes on long enough, the money order will be worthless. U.S.P.S. money orders do not expire and retain their value indefinitely. As long as there are post offices, you can cash a U.S.P.S. money order.

Please note that it’s always possible that Western Union or U.S.P.S. have changed their rules. Contact the issuer of your money order to find out if they have an expiration date or charge fees against old money orders.

Money orders are a substitute for checks and generally used for lower value transactions. If you’re trying to figure out if a cashier’s check or a money order would better suit your needs, read our article Cashier’s Check vs Money Order.

How Long are Traveler’s Checks Good For?

Traveler’s checks do not expire. If you have some old traveler’s checks, you can cash them with the issuer or spend them at home just as you would when traveling. If the issuing bank is still in existence, then the traveler’s checks are still valid.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

A bank can place a hold on a cashier’s check if it has reasonable cause to believe that the check is uncollectible from the paying bank. Banks can also place a hold on cashier’s check funds if the total amount of cashier’s checks deposited in a single day exceeds $5,525.

A funds availability delay or delayed funds availability refers to the holding period banks impose when crediting deposited items to a customer’s account. Banks can place a hold on checks if there’s a possibility that the check may not clear. Any deferred funds availability policy should be spelled out in the bank’s funds availability disclosure.

A funds availability disclosure is a document banks are required to offer to customers in order to be compliant with Regulation CC. This document must outline the bank’s funds availability policy in accordance with Regulation CC guidelines. Banks are required to provide a funds availability disclosure before a new account is opened, when periodic statements are provided and at the customer’s request.

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