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How Long is a Personal Check Good For?

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Many people have uncovered a misplaced personal check and wondered: "How long is a personal check good for?" It's an important question, because unlike checks issued by the government and employers, personal checks do not contain any information indicating it must be cashed within a certain time frame. Understanding how to handle an outstanding personal check is crucial because you don't want to spend the money reserved for a personal check only to have it finally cashed after a long period of time.

Time Frame on Personal Checks

The law covering personal checks does say that banks do not have to pay any personal check that is more than six months old - the point at which it becomes stale - according to the U.S. Uniform Commercial Code. But here's where things get tricky: Some banks do pay out on older, or stale, checks while some do not. The key point here is that if you have a personal check that is six months old, there's a chance you may not get paid. Conversely, if you have issued a personal check that hasn't been cashed for six months, that doesn't mean a bank won't cash it soon.

How to Handle Stale Personal Checks

  • Be conservative. The safest way to go is to be conservative. That means if you wrote a personal check six months ago, don't assume that it's been lost or misplaced, or that the payee simply doesn't want your money. After all, would you knowingly not cash a check? Instead, reserve enough money in your account to handle the check. Since banks can honor stale checks if they choose, you run the risk of one or more charges if you decide after six months to include the money from that check in your account. The fees can pile up. Let's say the outstanding check was for $100. After six months, you wrote four checks totaling $100, and then the outstanding check was cashed and the $100 taken out of your account. Instead of one fee for insufficient funds, you'll have to pay four separate fees for the number of checks that bounced.
  • Contact the bank. Banks can implement whatever their own policies when it comes to stale personal checks. Contact the bank in question and ask how long they honor personal checks. If you know an 8-month-old personal check you have won't be honored, you can contact the payer and ask for a new check. Likewise, if you know a check you issued won't be paid, you can spend that money in your account and decide whether to contact the payee to see why the check wasn't cashed and perhaps offer to make repayment.

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