Lots of things come with an expiration date: coupons, promotional offers, money orders, that container of yogurt in the back of your fridge. But, what about checks?
Do Checks Expire?
Most checks expire. The only types of checks that do not expire are bank drafts, traveler’s checks, and certain types of money orders.
When Each Type of Check Expires
Personal checks older than six months are sometimes called “stale-dated” checks. Banks/credit unions have no obligation to deposit or cash a check older than six months, but whether or not to cash a stale-dated check is ultimately at the individual bank’s/credit union’s discretion, depending on the funds available and the financial institution’s relationship with the customer. If you’re a good customer and rarely overdraft your account(s), or have a mortgage, you’ll be more likely to get your old checks cashed.
If your bank/credit union allows you to cash or deposit a stale-dated check, remember that the check may still not clear. Sometimes, issuing institutions won’t honor the check if the account no longer holds sufficient funds or if the holder of the account requested a stop-payment on the check.
Like government checks, payroll checks will often have expiration dates printed on them. If not, they usually expire six months after their issuance.
Major businesses or corporations will often print expiration dates on their checks, and these expiration dates aren’t negotiable. Large businesses need to closely manage the flow of funds in and out of their accounts, so they’re stricter when it comes to expired checks.
If a business doesn’t print an expiration date on their checks, the check will typically have the same expiration policy as a paycheck or personal check. Call the business directly to make sure this is the case.
Cashier’s Checks/Teller Checks/Certified Checks
Cashier’s checks, otherwise known as teller checks or certified checks, don’t have expiration dates unless the bank/credit union specifies a guaranteed-funds time frame which will be printed on the check itself. If no time frame is specified, it’s good practice to call the bank/credit union and double check that no expiration date is in place.
Government checks carry funds from the United States Treasury and are valid for a year. If your government check is older than a year, it’s considered expired.
You can request a new check by contacting the paying agency. If the check was issued by your state government, your state revenue department can inform you of the check’s expiration date and reissue you one, if necessary.
Traveler’s checks work like cash and are backed by guaranteed funds. Because of this, they don’t expire.
Depending on the state, MoneyGram and Western Union money orders may accrue service fees if they are used one to three years after they were issued. Western Union’s customer service claims that their money orders expire after one year. These fees are extracted from the principal amount of the money order, and are usually non-refundable, depending on the state in which you live.
Fidelity Express money orders will accrue fees of $2.00 per month after they are purchased and additional fees will be applied after two years. Money orders purchased from the United States Postal Service don’t expire, but if you lose the order or need to return it, you’ll have to produce the receipt to get a replacement. Replacements for Fidelity Express and USPS money orders are available up to two years after the original money order was purchased. Fidelity Express will refund you lost money orders with a $20 service fee.
Money orders that go several years without being cashed are classified as abandoned property and are turned over to the state agency. If you recover a money order that’s several years old, contact the issuing bank or institution to see if it can be cashed.
All service fee conditions are printed on the money orders themselves.
How to Avoid the Problem of Expired Checks
In all cases, the best practice is to deposit or cash checks promptly or at least before six months have passed. Late policies vary by state and by financial institution, so contact your bank and the issuer of the check to make sure funds are available. The sooner you have the money in your possession, the better. Then you can put it to work for you.
Check to see if your financial institution offers an app for mobile deposits. With such an app, you simply take a photo of the front and back of the check and the check will be processed. If you can deposit your check directly from home instead of having to go to the bank, you’ll be more likely to avoid forgetting about a check until it’s expired.
If you do have to cash an old check, especially a personal check, practice proper check etiquette. Call the person who gave you the check and make sure they still have sufficient funds in their account. You don’t want to cause them to accrue overdraft fees because you’re cashing late.
How long is a check good for? Typically a check is good for six months. But, each type of check comes with its own rules as listed above. It’s also best practice to cash checks as soon as it’s convenient.