What Is a Stale Check?

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A stale check is one that is presented for payment six months or more past the date on its face. Banks are under no obligation to cash a stale check unless it is a certified check; however, the institution can cash the instrument if it appears to be a payment made in good faith. Each financial institution may have its own policy on whether to pay or decline these checks.

Stale checks can be dangerous to a consumer who chooses not to balance his checkbook and only refers to his account balance to determine whether or not he has money available. It can be easy to forget an outstanding check over the course of six months; if one suddenly is presented for payment, it can put the account holder into overdraft, racking up fees. It's best to contact anyone who may be holding a check beyond a few months to determine if the check has been lost and what is causing the delay.

If a check is refused for payment due to being out of date, the holder must contact the original payer and obtain a new check to replace the stale one.

A stop payment order can prevent the bank from cashing a stale check, but these orders often have an expiration and the check may be negotiable after it expires.