Checks can make payments inexpensive and easy, but what happens when nobody deposits them? At some point, bills go stale. But the obligation to pay still exists, so it’s best to deal with payments as soon as possible.
Checks Written to You
Unless you have a government-issued check or certified check, it’s wise to deposit checks within six months. After that, you may want to ask for a reissued check. Doing so prevents confusion at the bank and lets the check writer know that you’re ready to collect your money.
Checks You Write
Again, six months is a good rule of thumb. If somebody fails to deposit or cash a check you wrote, they may have difficulty negotiating the bill after six months. However, you still owe the money, and banks can choose to process the payment.
If you write a replacement or substitute check, it’s wise to request a stop payment on the original bill so you don’t pay twice.
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 bills 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 honour old checks. But banks can still process those payments if they believe the review 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 are typically valid for six months after the date written on the bill. 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 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 suitable for. Banks might not accept a cashier’s check for deposit after 90 days because the issuing bank could return the bill 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 tab.
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. Traveller’s Checks
Traveller’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.
Why Waiting Is Risky
You may have valid reasons for holding on to a check written to you, but it’s best to deposit or cash checks as soon as possible, as there are risks involved.
Eventually, the person or business that the check is from might switch banks. If you deposit a statement from a closed account, the bill will bounce, and your bank may charge you fees for depositing a bad review. Insufficient Funds
When somebody pays you by check, they expect you to deposit the bill soon. Presumably, they have funds available when they write the review, but that might change. Most people don’t expect checks to hit their account six months later, so they might no longer have money set aside for your payment. Again, if the check bounces, you’ll owe fees.
If somebody worries that a check got lost, they may decide to stop payment—an order not to pay a bill that has been issued but not cashed—on that check. The bank will then reject your deposit, and it’ll bounce back to your bank unpaid. That said, stop payments are one situation when it may work in your favour to deposit a stale-dated check—because stop payment orders eventually expire. A bank may not be liable for a stop payment if you fail to provide enough information to identify the bill or if you do implement the stop payment order early enough.
Void After 90 Days
Checks may say they’re only good for 90 days (or 180 days). Whether or not that restriction is valid depends on several factors. Your bank may ultimately decide to ignore those instructions and process a check anyway.
Some courts have found those time-limiting statements to be unenforceable but don’t count on that in every case. Still, it’s best to honour any language on a check—either deposit the check promptly or contact the check writer if you can’t make the deadline.
Do Checks You Write Expire?
When you write a check that goes uncashed, you may wonder what to do. You still owe the money, even if nobody deposits the check. If that’s the case, it’s best to keep the funds available in your account for at least six months. After that, leave the money alone or set it aside somewhere else for the inevitable day that you have to make good on the payment. Check with an attorney for specific guidance, and remember that a bank might accept the deposit and try to pull funds from your account at any time.
You don’t get to keep money you owe to somebody else because they fail to deposit a check. At some point, you may have to turn the funds over to the state for safekeeping.
Why You Can’t Buy a Money Order With a Check
Money orders are helpful tools for shopping, and they are readily available. They are a safe form of payment for sellers (as long as they’re legitimate) because there’s almost no risk of a money order bouncing. But that safety makes it challenging to buy money orders with a check – cash is the preferred payment method, and some issuers accept a debit card if you use your PIN. Remember that you also need to pay a fee when purchasing a money order, but the cost varies depending on the value and the financial institutions issuing it.
Money order issuers are careful about the forms of payment they accept. Cash is best because they can be sure that they’re getting paid – they’ve got cash in hand instead of a promise from somebody else.
That’s important because money orders are a form of “guaranteed” payment: the money order issuer guarantees that the funds will be there whenever the recipient goes to cash or deposit the money order. Instead of relying on you (the buyer), the money order recipient can depend on the money order issuer, which is often a large, well-known financial institution.
Checks Are Risky: for the money order issuer to make that guarantee; they need to know that they’re going to get paid by you. Once the issuer prints your money order, the issuer’s money is as good as gone – they can’t quickly get it back from you. If your check bounces, presumably, they can try to track you down and collect the money you owe in the legal system (by taking you to court), but that’s expensive and not something they may be interested in doing.
Ways to Pay for a Money Order
If you’re a fan of writing checks, you still have several options, but writing a personal statement to the money order issuer is probably not one of them.
Pay by Check: Instead of paying with a money order, can you just write a check to the seller or merchant you would make the money order out to? They might generally request money orders, but you can always ask if it’s okay to send a personal check. Especially if you’re a regular customer, that might be fine. However, you might prefer not to send a personal statement. Your reviews reveal personal details that you might not want to share with a merchant. For example, your checks have your full name, address, and bank account numbers, and it might be best to limit who can see that information.
Go to Your Bank: If you’re hoping to write a check for a money order, you might be able to accomplish the same thing – paying out of your checking account – by getting a money order from your bank. Your bank will know if you have the funds available in your account, and they can take those funds immediately (so they’re not taking the same risk that a money order issuer would take by accepting checks). You shouldn’t even need to use a statement – the bank can just transfer the money.
Credit Union Member? If you use a credit union, you might not even need to go to your credit union’s branch. Suppose your credit union is part of a shared branching network. In that case, you can visit thousands of other credit union branches nationwide, many of which will issue a money order for you. Write a Check for Cash Back: Depending on where you buy your money orders, you might be able to write a check for something else (like groceries) and get cashback. Ask the customer service desk or cashiers if this is possible and what the maximum limits are.
Traveller’s checks: Money order issuers don’t like personal checks, but they might accept traveller’s checks. Unfortunately, it’s probably easier to use one of the other strategies on this page.
Cash advance: If you have a credit card, some money order issuers will let you use the card to get a cash advance, or you can get cash from an ATM. This can be extremely expensive and should be done only as a last resort. Your credit card issuer will charge hefty fees, you’ll pay interest at a higher rate, and your credit card issuer will probably apply your payments to that higher-rate balance last. If you don’t pay off the balance immediately, this becomes especially expensive. Debit Card Cash Advance: if you can’t use a debit card or get to your bank, it might be possible to go to a different bank and get a cash advance using your debit card. You’ll pay a fee, but it might get you out of a pinch.
Can I Write a Check to Myself?
In the age of electronic payments, it’s easy to give money to somebody else, but what if you want to move money between your accounts or just get cash out of the bank? You have several options available, ranging from old-fashioned to high-tech.
Write a Check
A simple option, which might be available to you right now (without opening new accounts or dealing with passwords), is to write yourself a check. You can then deposit the check to another account or just cash it.
To write the check, fill it out like any other check, and put your name on the line that says “Pay to the order of” (or similar). You could also make the check payable to “Cash,” but that’s risky: a check made out to Cash can be cashed or deposited by anybody who has it, so a lost or stolen check can cause problems. Fill in the amount you are seeking. For example, to move funds between banks (if you’re switching banks or adding funds to an online bank account, for example), write yourself a check and deposit the funds into your other account. However, be aware that there might be easier—possibly faster—ways to move the money electronically.
To deposit the check, endorse the back by signing it (add the restriction “For deposit only”). There are several ways to make the deposit:
- By taking a picture of the check with your mobile device and your bank’s app
- By depositing the check at an ATM
- By taking the check to your bank in-person (or mailing it in)
The exact process applies if you’re just trying to move funds between accounts at the same bank (although you might be able to accomplish the transfer online or with a phone call to your bank).
For example, you might want to pay yourself by moving funds from a business account to your account. The names on those accounts are different, so an automated transfer might not be an option.
If you’re getting cash, endorse the check once you’re ready to cash the check at your bank or credit union. To do so, sign your name on the back, and provide identification to the teller. You’ll most likely only be able to cash the check at your bank, although check cashing stores, grocery stores, and other banks might be an option. Keep in mind that you might not be able to cash the bill for the total amount you wrote it for. Banks limit how much is available immediately, and the remainder will be available for withdrawal in several days.
However, if you cash your check at the same bank the bill draws the funds from, they should provide the total amount in cash.
Easier Ways to Get Cash
Assuming you just want some spending money—and you’re not moving the funds to a new bank account—you might not even need to write yourself a check. There are a few alternatives that might be easier and which won’t require you to use up one of your checks:
- Withdraw cash at an ATM using your debit card
- Withdraw cash with a live teller (credit union members can potentially visit a different credit union and withdraw with no fee).
- Pay for whatever you’re buying with a debit card (or better yet, a credit card that you pay off every month because credit cards have better consumer protection features)
In the past, it was common for people to write themselves checks to get cash. In the electronic world, that practice is becoming less common—but sometimes it’s still the easiest option.
Other Ways to Move Your Money
Moving money from one bank account to another doesn’t need to be cumbersome. Writing yourself a check means you’ll have to wait for the bill to get to your bank, and you’ll have to wait several business days for the funds to clear before you can spend any money. Several electronic tools make the process more accessible (and faster).
The simplest method is a bank-to-bank transfer (also known as an ACH transfer), where your money moves electronically from one account to another. To use this option, one of your banks needs to offer a bank-to-bank transfer service (online banks typically allow you to link several accounts – which is one more reason for using an online bank account—but brick-and-mortar banks are increasingly likely to offer this feature as well). Funds typically move through the Automated Clearing House (ACH) network (a network of banks nationwide that facilitate the process of transferring funds electronically), usually for free.
Online services and apps: Third-party services can also do the job if your bank doesn’t provide a transfer service or prefer user-friendly apps. These apps offer an alternative way to access funds in your traditional bank account. The drawback is that it may take some time and effort to set up accounts with those services (and the initial verification or security confirmations often take a few business days).
Moreover, there may be limits on how much you can move in any single transaction—small payments are easy, but larger transfers may take several steps. For example, you might already have a PayPal account that’s linked to a checking account. Using a different email address, you can set up an additional PayPal account linked to a separate bank account. Then, you can send money to yourself and get it from one account to another.
Writing a check to yourself can be a handy way to move money safely: there’s no need to walk around with cash or pay wire transfer fees to get funds to another bank. However, it’s not a way to create money. When you write a check, you need to be sure there will be funds available in the account when the review is deposited.
The receiving bank might accept a bad check and add funds to your account, but eventually, the bill will bounce. When that happens, you’ll have to pay fees, your bank might close your account, and you may even find yourself in legal trouble. If you keep an empty store, you’re more likely to get dinged with inactivity and low-balance fees for an account you don’t want anyway.
Closing an Account?
Make it official: If you’re writing a check to close out an unwanted bank account, you’ll need to do more than just empty the account. Ask your bank to close the store to stay open indefinitely (you can send a letter or possibly make the request online).