What happens to old checks?
January 13, 2010 8:30 AM   Subscribe

Do checks (personal bank checks) expire?

In late 2007 two people wrote me checks for $300 each. As I'm mostly an electronic banker, these were put on a counter to deposit next time I physically went to a bank. Then in a fit of housecleaning, yadda yadda yadda, I found the checks last week.

I've taken them to the bank and deposited them now. I intentionally put them in an account that is rarely used so if the $600 is rejected as a deposit there won't be any overdrafts, etc. But the suspense is killing me.

Assuming the individuals who wrote me those checks still have those same accounts open now, and assuming each has the funds in their account, will those checks clear? Or will the time since the date on the checks cause my bank to reject the deposit?

If the bank rejects the deposit, will it be my bank or their bank that refuses to clear the funds? To whom will the checks be sent if not deposited? etc, etc, etc.

Just curious how this will play out now that I've toppled the first domino.
posted by arniec to Work & Money (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've always heard 90 days from issue.
posted by anti social order at 8:32 AM on January 13, 2010

A number of Google hits here.

Regardless of whether the institutions are entitled to dishonor the draft under applicable law (presumably U.C.C. Article 3, if they're personal checks, it's kind of a dick move to deposit them that long after they were made if you haven't checked (geddit?) with the drafter--who presumably knew they had enough money in their account at the time the instrument was made, but may not now.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:37 AM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Definitely call the folks who wrote the checks to let them know you've just deposited them -- and to make sure the accounts are still open.
posted by amtho at 8:45 AM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've talked to my credit union about counter checks (cashiers checks) and they seem to explicitly be 6 months. I would assume that if there isn't an expiration date on the check (many company checks have 'valid for 180 days after date of issue' printed on them) they'll try and run it. I'd definitely want to let them know that you were going to be cashing checks three years late, unless these are people you don't like.
posted by jeffkramer at 8:47 AM on January 13, 2010

Response by poster: To clarify: I'm not on speaking terms with either of the issuers. Were relations more amicable I'd probably have either laughed it off and not deposited the checks, or asked for new checks. However they have never followed up with me asking why I haven't deposited their checks, so I don't really feel morally obligated to follow up with them either, especially since, again, we aren't on speaking terms.
posted by arniec at 8:47 AM on January 13, 2010

Nthing the comments above: Even if the checks haven't technically expired, it's still not very nice to deposit them after so much time, without contacting the checkwriters first.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 8:47 AM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Cf. Seinfeld. Make sure they have money in the accounts.
posted by domnit at 8:47 AM on January 13, 2010

The relevant section of the U.C.C. is Section 4-404, actually. Basically, the bank can choose to pay the check or not as it sees fit, unless the payee has put a stop on the check in question in the intervening two years (in which case, of course, it will not be paid.) My impression is that banks don't actually look at the dates on checks unless asked to by a customer, so it's not unlikely that the payment will sail right through the paying bank's automated system and be credited to your account. That said, I wouldn't run out and spend than money for a few weeks at least.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:49 AM on January 13, 2010

I was once told that a cheque (UK) had an expiry of 6 months. When i tried to pay that cheque in, the teller refused to accept it.

I'd be very surprised if they were accepted after over two years. Make sure you don't get charged a fee for a bounced cheque.
posted by Solomon at 8:50 AM on January 13, 2010

Sorry, I should have previewed first. If you're not on speaking terms with the issuers, it seems like this is only going to reopen old wounds and put yourself in a bad light. I personally would have a hard time justifying that for $600. But this is drifting away from the question of check expirations and more into the territory of loving one's enemy.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 8:50 AM on January 13, 2010

I just cashed 2 checks that I got for christmas last year without any problem. Wachovia had no problem cashing them.

If they are people you aren't on great terms with, send them an email letting them know to expect a withdrawal from their account.
posted by TheBones at 8:52 AM on January 13, 2010

They definitely expire in New Zealand (6 months) but that's probably not very helpful. Contact your bank.
posted by gaspode at 9:11 AM on January 13, 2010

Echoing Johnny Assay.

According to the United States Uniform Commerical Code, a bank is not obliged to pay a check more than six months old. Here's the full text of the guideline:
A bank is under no obligation to a customer having a checking account to pay a check, other than a certified check, which is presented more than six months after its date, but it may charge its customer's account for a payment made thereafter in good faith.
In other words: the bank isn't required to pay a check more than six months old. But it can if it wants. The bottom line? If you have a stale check outstanding, contact your bank to determine their policy. Don't just assume the funds are free to be spent. And if you deposit a stale check, don't just assume the bank will accept it.

I'd say that if the funds are still there after a month, you're good to go.
posted by jdroth at 9:18 AM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

The UCC section jdroth quoted above is right. The usual practice is to just pay the checks though (since it's much more of a hassle for the bank to deal with a returned check). If they have the funds, you should be ok. Even if they placed a stop payment order on the checks, I believe those have to be renewed every 6 months. If they're drawn on a US bank, they should clear within 10 business days at the most, but you can ask your bank for their timetable as well.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:13 AM on January 13, 2010

What you've done is a pretty dick move. Basically, unless these people have been holding an extra $300 in their bank accounts for you for the last two years, you've put them at risk of overdrafting if your checks clear. And we've all read enough stories about serious monetary penalties for overdrafting to know that this could cost them quite a lot of money.

Unless you were looking for a way to hurt these people, I'd call your bank and see if you can get them back. Because basically, what you're doing is saying, "I screwed up my finances, and now, because we're not speaking, I feel justified in screwing up yours as well." If you're worried about "morally obligated," I'd say that you're morally obligated to avoid screwing up other people's lives without provocation.
posted by decathecting at 10:35 AM on January 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

I wrote a check for $100 last year, and it was never deposited. I emailed at the time and did not get a response.
Check was deposited a year later - and I was fortunate that I had money in my acct to cover it.
If you didn't miss the $600 before now, not sure why you're doing this to them without warning.
posted by chickaboo at 10:42 AM on January 13, 2010

In the context of forward-dating checks, I have heard that banks don't even care what the date on the check is. I wonder if that applies here too, and so they wouldn't even notice when it was written. Do they even capture the check date?
posted by smackfu at 10:42 AM on January 13, 2010

I have to agree that even if you are not on good terms with these people, depositing these checks was a dick move without notifying them first. Regardless of whether the issuing bank decides to honor them or not, you should really try to get them back from the bank.
posted by katemcd at 11:08 AM on January 13, 2010

I tried once to deposit a check a year after it was written (it was from my grandmother for my birthday). The teller wouldn't accept it because it had surpassed some time limit (it was something like 6 months but I can't remember the exact number). This was at Wachovia.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 3:41 PM on January 13, 2010

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