What is a Stale Check?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A stale check is a check issued six months or more in the past. If the payee presents the check, the bank may refuse to pay it on the grounds that it is old. This can result in fees for the payee, as the bank will charge for processing the old check. Bank policies about old checks vary, and customers should make sure they know the procedure followed at their financial institutions.

Banks may refuse to cash stale checks, or checks that are more than six months old.
Banks may refuse to cash stale checks, or checks that are more than six months old.

After six months, a bank can deem a check an irregular bill of exchange and decline to honor it. The payee will need to request a new check from the party who originally wrote the draft. In other cases, the bank will go ahead and put the check through, transferring the funds to the payee's account or providing them in cash, depending on how the payee submits the check for payment.

Some banks will refuse to cash checks over six months old.
Some banks will refuse to cash checks over six months old.

For payees, stale checks can be a problem because a bank may accept a check for deposit into a person's bank account, submit it for payment, and then find out that the issuing bank will not accept it. It will be charged a fee for this, and will pass this on to the customer. The payee will not only be out the amount of the original check, but also the added fee for finding out it is too old to deposit. Payees can skirt this issue by entering the issuing bank and asking for the value of the stale check in cash, determining at the outset whether the bank will accept it.

The individual writing the check can also find a stale check to be a problem. Old checks tend to mess up bookkeeping. People may forget about outstanding checks and spend the money, only to get a shock when an overdraft notice arrives because the payee finally made a deposit. Out-of-sequence checks on a bank statement are a red flag that someone hasn't cashed a check, and the customer should go through her records to determine which check is involved.

Banks can provide information about their stale check policy on request. Customers should find out what will happen if they write checks and people try to cash them more than six months after they are written. Some banks will helpfully print the policy on their checks, alerting anyone who handles the check to the length of time in which it will be valid. For parties planning to deposit checks, it may be advisable to ask the teller about the fees for returned checks in the event the issuing bank returns a stale check.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I think people who hold onto checks for six months or longer had better have a really good excuse for doing it. I've written my share of post dated checks in the past, but at least the payee agreed to deposit it promptly. A stale dated check most likely means the recipient either forgot about it completely or has a problem with procrastination. Either way, I'm glad the banks will at least flag stale checks before agreeing to cash them.

I know I'd appreciate a phone call from the bank if someone presented a check I wrote last year. I may not have the money to cover it now.


My landlady could be bad about holding onto a rent payment until it became a stale check. It would really mess up our bookkeeping, since we always had to assume that money was still out there somewhere. We finally started giving her money orders instead of checks, so we could deduct that money from our bank balance immediately and not have to worry about stale checks at all.

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