There is no quick, black-and-white, answer, but you should not rely on any information that tells you that the check isn't good after six months. Here's why: if a check is more than six months old, your bank has two options, either it can refuse to honor the check because of its date, or it can honor the check if it is not aware that you don't want it paid. To tell the bank that you don't want the check paid, you would have to have a stop payment order in effect.|
The reason the Uniform Commercial Code (the law that applies to this question) allows banks this choice is that banks process checks with automation that doesn't usually provide the bank with an opportunity to review the date on every check. Usually, banks only see the date if there's another reason to visually review the check -- overdraft, stop payment, a misread of the check data, etc.
The question you didn't ask -- whether you should stop payment on an old outstanding check -- has an equally unsatisfying answer. If you aren't able to prod the payee of the check to negotiate it, you are left to weigh the risk of having the check show up to be paid and the size of the check as compared to the fee you'll have to pay for the stop payment. If the risk of the check showing up is small enough (or the size of the check small enough), you might not want to pay for the stop payment. On the other hand, if the check is big enough to upset you financially if it shows up to get paid, the stop payment fee might be worth it. Just remember that you'll need to make this choice every six months, because stop payments are valid only for that length of time.
Finally, just to confuse matters a bit, consider that stopping payment won't have anything to do with whether or not you owe the money that the check was intended to pay. If you paid a bill with that check, the bill may come back to haunt you if the check is refused due to a stop payment order.
Published on BankingQuestions.com 11/29/06