A stale check is an undeposited or uncashed check that may be too old to be processed by a bank, credit union, or other financial institution. A stale check is also referred to as a stale-dated check or an expired check. The length of time that a check is considered to be valid will vary from state to state.

If you’ve been given a personal or business check, it’s important to understand the check validity period. Most personal checks have a maximum time-frame that they can be presented to a bank before they become stale, which is usually 180 days (6 months) from the date on the check.

In basic terms, a check becomes stale if it has been in one’s possession for 180 days or more. After six months from the day of issuing the check, rules have been made so that checks may not be deposited into one’s checking account once they have become “stale”

A check is usually payable at the time it is negotiated or presented to a bank for deposit or cash; however, a person may no longer be able to deposit or cash a check after it has become stale-dated.

If you receive a check that is more than 180 days old, depending on the circumstances, a bank may refuse to honor the check and will not allow you to deposit or cash the check.

Some business checks will have “Valid For 90 Days” noted on the check. The issuing bank may not honor a business check if it is presented after the 90 day period.

Can A Payroll Check Become Stale?

A payroll check is issued for wages that you earned. Payroll checks are treated differently than regular personal or business checks.

The amount of time a state will hold onto your unclaimed check varies from state to state, but most states will hold onto your uncashed paycheck for at least one year after you leave a job. Your payroll check will not become stale and remain valid during your state’s waiting period.

If you do not pick up or otherwise receive a payroll check during the time period established by your state, your payroll check will be considered abandoned and will go into your state’s unclaimed property unit. Your state will act as a custodian for your property and will return your money upon showing proof that you are the owner or that you have the right to claim the property.

Do Banks Honor Stale Checks?

Generally speaking, banks or other financial institutions have the right to refuse or reject a stale check. Checks can become stale or outdated after a certain amount of time has passed.

States that follow the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) for bank deposits determine the timeframe for how long a check is valid at 180 days or 6 months from the check date.

However, it’s up to the bank’s discretion if it will allow a stale check to be processed. It’s best to confirm with your bank before you attempt to deposit a stale check.

If you wish to cash a stale check at the issuing bank, then you will need to get approval from that bank before presenting the stale check.

In either case, banks are under no obligation to accept a check once it is deemed stale. Some banks may even charge a fee for depositing or cashing a stale check that’s older than 6 months.

If the bank that issued the check does allow a person to cash a stale check, it will usually depend on the following factors:

  • The account owner’s or payor’s approval
  • Whether the account is still open and in good standing
  • The name on the check matches the name on the account
  • There are sufficient funds to cover the check
  • The name of the payee matches the ID of the person cashing the check

On the other hand, if a bank allows someone to deposit a stale check into their account, it will usually depend on the following factors:

  • The issuing bank is still in business
  • The payor’s account is still open and in good standing
  • Whether there is a stop payment order in effect
  • The amount of the funds have been verified as available
  • The depositor’s average daily account balance
  • Whether there are enough funds in the depositor’s account to cover the check if it’s rejected
  • Placing the funds on hold until the check clears

If the stale check is returned for any reason, then your bank may charge a fee for returning the check back to you and reversing the deposit if the funds were not placed on hold.

What Can I Do if My Bank Honored a Stale Check without My Permission?

Verify the bank’s policies and procedures to see if they provide a remedy or a reimbursement for lost funds or fees you may have incurred because your bank accepted a stale check. Typically, if a bank honors your check in good faith, absent a stop payment order, they may not be at fault for allowing a check you issued to be processed and allowing the funds to be debited from your account.

If the bank is at fault, you could explore filing a claim in court, but a bank is typically only liable for honoring a check if there is an issue other than the date of the check such as a forged signature or the check was counterfeit or fraudulent.

In some cases, if your bank was negligent – e.g., your bank failed to perform due diligence in verifying the check, then you could request to be compensated for any losses or damages.

Is There Anything I Can Do to Prevent a Stale Check from Being Honored?

There are a few things a person can do to prevent a stale check from being honored by a bank. The easiest and most effective way is through a check stop payment order.

Specifically, a customer or any person authorized to draw on the account can request their bank to flag the account to stop the payment of the outstanding check. A stop-payment order is designed to stop the check from being processed and prevent the withdrawal of funds from the account.

A stop-payment order is effective from six months to one year depending on the bank, but most banks will allow you to renew or extend a stop-payment order if the check is still outstanding. It’s important to note that when you contact your bank to order a stop payment that you have verified that:

  1. The check has not been deposited
  2. The check has not cleared your account
  3. You have the correct check number
  4. You have the correct amount of the check
  5. You have the correct name of the payee or recipient

A bank will, in good faith, do all it can to stop payment on a check, but a bank will not guarantee that the check will not be processed. If a bank is unable to stop payment on a check, your funds may be debited and you may be responsible for any fees including the fee your bank charges for stop payments.

Another thing you can do to prevent a stale check from clearing is to freeze your account. Typically accounts are frozen if checks have been stolen or there is other possible fraudulent activity, but you can request to have your account frozen.

Freezing an account will prevent all outstanding checks from clearing. It will also prevent you from making any deposits as all transactions will be effectively stopped or “frozen” until you unfreeze your account.

What Can I Do If A Bank Does Not Accept A Stale Check?

If your bank will not accept a check made out to you or your business because it is now considered “stale”, then there are a few things you can do to attempt to recover the amount you were paid.

One solution is to try and cash the check at the payor’s bank. If possible, try to go to the branch where the payor’s account is located as they may have a banking relationship with the person or business that wrote you the check.

Another solution is to contact the person or business that wrote you the check and ask them if they would issue another check to replace the stale one.

A last resort would be to seek a legal remedy through the court system. The amount of reimbursement you are seeking will determine which court to file your claim in.

Do I Need a Lawyer For Problems With A Stale Check?

If you have a problem with a stale or expired check, it’s best to consult with a financial lawyer who can advise you on the best course of action. There may be legal remedies available to you as well as other steps an attorney can help you with to resolve the issue.

A lawyer can help you understand your rights and what actions you can take to protect yourself. If you have any questions or concerns, it’s always best to speak with a lawyer before taking any action.