Stop Payment Orders On Checks Only Last Six Months

Jennifer says National City Bank has contacted her fiance to inform him that the stop payment order he placed on a check is about to expire, and he’ll have to pay another $32 fee to renew it for six more months. She writes, “Have you heard of stop payment now only being ‘suspend payment for six months’? This seems to me to be extortion.” We’re going to come down on the side of the banks in this case—but because of the recurring nature of the fee, it might just be cheaper to close the account.

The problem with a permanent stop payment is that it places the responsibility on the bank to watch out for that specific check forever, or until their bank policies determine the check has expired. No, we don’t think it should cost a consumer over $5 a month to ask the bank to catch the check, but is anyone really surprised that the fee would be set at a level that generates a profit?

Unfortunately—and this is what concerned Jennifer too—experienced scammers may also be aware of the six month window. Attorney Mary Beth Guard tells Bankrate:

“Say you wrote a check for a vacation scam. The scammers know you’ll put a stop-payment on it, but they also know that unless there’s a special agreement with your bank the order will be valid for only six months. They may wait until after six months to cash the check. If your checkbook is stolen it may be best to close the account and open a new one.”

Which brings us to your other option. Jennifer says that she in fact “advised [my] fiance to close the account.” We agree, but not because his current bank is behaving any worse than other banks. Depending on the amount of the check and your bank’s check expiration policies, it may actually be a more cost effective solution.

Before you place a stop payment:

  1. Determine the details of your bank’s check expiration policy (or if it even has one);
  2. Find out the stop payment fee;
  3. Estimate the relative cost (in overall trouble as well as fees) of relocating your checking account to another bank, or in switching your account to a new number at the same bank.

Once you can figure out how many six month renewals it will take to block the check until it expires, you’ll know the true cost of blocking that check, and you can determine whether getting a new account will be the cheaper choice.

You should also know that an oral stop payment order only lasts 14 days—you’ll need to go into the bank and place a written order for the 6 month policy to kick in.

“Stopping a check payment is expensive” [Bankrate.com]
(Photo: Getty)

Comments

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  1. cashmerewhore says:

    Not only does it only last for a period, but if the check is present the day you initiate the stop pay, there is a good possibility it will clear and you get to go back to the bank and try to get your $30 back.

    I still wish my bank would tell me how old the check has to be before it “expires”. Thankfully my stoppays are a year, and I’ve had to do two over the last 10 years (mainly because who writes checks anymore?).

    • cashmerewhore says:

      @cashmerewhore:

      **presented.

    • esd2020 says:

      @cashmerewhore: It’s complicated. There’s no magic universal expiration date after which a check becomes stale. I believe a bank is not *obligated* to clear a check more than 6 months old, but they certainly can and do. Truth is, they probably don’t even look unless it’s over a certain amount.

      • mac-phisto says:

        @esd2020: really, they don’t *ever* look. checks are presented against account electronically in batches – date is not included in that file.

        the only people that will notice a date during processing are the people that handle the physical check – a cashier at a store that truncates checks, a teller at the depositor’s bank, maybe an operations clerk, rarely a clerk at one of the nation’s few remaining clearing houses, & quite possibly no one at all.

        when the “check” is presented to your account, here’s what the bank “sees”: trace/sequence # (ties check to a specific batch), account number, check number & dollar amount. electronically submitted & truncated checks may also contain the maker and a reference.

  2. Tank says:

    The Uniform Commercial Code, Article 4 says:

    § 4-404. BANK NOT OBLIGED TO PAY CHECK MORE THAN SIX MONTHS OLD.

    A bank is under no obligation to a customer having a checking account to pay a check, other than a certified check, which is presented more than six months after its date, but it may charge its customer’s account for a payment made thereafter in good faith.

    Doesn’t mean they WON’T pay it, it just means they don’t HAVE to pay it.

    • howie_in_az says:

      @Tank: Do you know if one can write things on the check like ‘VOID AFTER 90 DAYS’ or whatever and, more importantly, if banks will honor that?

  3. Can you add your own wording to a check to make it invalid after a certain date like is written on some checks. Is that legal? If so, I see a trip down to Office Depot to have a stamp made in many peoples future.

    • Zeniq says:

      @Git Em SteveDave loves this guy–>: Yeah, what about rabate checks that say “Not valid after 60/90 days?”

    • mac-phisto says:

      @Git Em SteveDave loves this guy–>: yes, that’s completely legal. any conditions built into a check (for example, “void after 60 days” or “two signatures required for amounts over $500) must be met for a check to be good.

      here’s the problem: there’s very little human contact during check processing anymore & computers can’t read dates or signatures. so, the onus is on the account holder to make sure that conditions are met.

      even when they aren’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean your bank will help you. however, it does still secure your legal right to dispute payment in court.

    • rick_in_texas says:

      @Git Em SteveDave loves this guy–>: I’ve cashed many a rebate check after 90days. It’s part of their NEW scam. They send you an invoice and check that appears to have been sent 80 days ago and thus give you a 10 day window in which to cash the freaking rebate. Some of them even have LESS than 3 days. Of course if you only go to your bank on weekends (like me) then you probably are already behind the date. I’ve NEVER had one returned. Then again I don’t wait another month to do it. It is usually within 7 days.

      I hate rebate tricks like that one.

      So my point is that putting “void in XX days” isn’t worth much to me so don’t expect it to work everytime.

  4. nsv says:

    It’s been several years since I had to stop a check, but the fee was about the same as well as the stop order expiration. I stopped the check, and six months was enough time to get the check back and write a new (corrected) one.

  5. mavrick67 says:

    “Doesn’t mean they WON’T pay it, it just means they don’t HAVE to pay it”

    Bingo!, as long as the routing or account numbers havent changed, you could take a 10 year old check to the bank and get it cashed. A sharp eyed teller might cash it, but I’d bet 5 to 1 against that.

  6. mavrick67 says:

    Bingo!, as long as the routing or account numbers havent changed, you could take a 10 year old check to the bank and get it cashed. A sharp eyed teller might CATCH it, but I’d bet 5 to 1 against that.

    sorry about the typo

  7. MaytagRepairman says:

    While I was out of town last Thanksgiving I came home to find my apartment burgularized. My checkbook was missing so I placed a stop order on the entire range of checks. I was informed that Wamu stop orders only last 6 months.

    Since they are blank checks I didn’t have much of an option — get a new account number, bank elsewhere, or forever have this hanging over my head.

    Since I had just taken out a mortgage through a local credit union and I have had better satisfaction with credit unions in the past I decided to just transfer all of my banking to them.

    • Franklin Comes Alive! says:

      @MaytagRepairman:

      Sounds like you did what I would have in the end, but the least painful way to deal with this is probably just to close your account and open a new one, whether at the same bank or another one.

      • losrocks says:

        @Franklin Comes Alive!: that’s not foolproof either, though. i had a checking account that had been closed for a couple years. i threw out the checks without destroying them (big mistake, i learned from it), and suddenly i was getting calls from collectors.

        turns out, somebody has dumpster-dived my expired checks, and was using them. merchants were accepting them, and i was getting blamed.

        it ended up fine, but only after several months of runarounds and police reports and constant hassle.

        • GirlCat says:

          @losrocks: Thank you! You just justified the entire afternoon I spent feeding a lifetime’s worth of old checks into my shredder. I kept thinking Oh, I’m being totally paranoid.

  8. MD4Prez2032 says:

    I used to work for Bank of America and the expiration date for checks is six months, which is normal for most banks in the US.

    The thought behind it was that if you put a stop payment on the check, it will last for six months and then by that time the check will have expired. Now this does not count for reoccurring payments that are automatically taken out of your account. The thing is, however, expired checks will still go through the system and out of your account.

    • glater says:

      @MD4Prez2032: “The thing is, however, expired checks will still go through the system and out of your account. “

      Uh, if its still processed and the money goes away, isn’t that the same as “not expired”?

  9. stacye says:

    Next up on The Consumerist: bank reopens checking account as a “courtesy” after closed for 6 months because a check was cashed when the stop payment expired.

    • NightSteel says:

      @stacye: I came in here to say this. I could definitely imagine one of the bigger banks just reopening your account with no notice because a check from it came in. Change banks. It’s the only way to be sure.

    • @stacye: It’s happened already many times and been reported here, just not with a stopped check–that we’ve heard of. Since they admit they will cash a stopped check after 6 months, it’s obvious that they WILL reopen your account for you in this situation–even if you closed it specifically due to having checks stolen/stop payments.

      In conclusion, if you ever have a blank check stolen, or a high-value check that you put a stop payment on, you have the following options:
      1. Continue putting a stop payment order every 6 months and paying to do so. Good luck if you have a book or box of checks stolen. Maybe $300 a month in extortion, OOPS i meant “Stop payment renewal fees.”
      2. Close your account. Too bad after 6 months the checks can be used again and they’ll open your account, pay the scammers/thieves, and bill you (plus overdraft fees) for their trouble.
      3. Flee the country. Good luck ruining my credit when I live 8000 miles away.

      I think I’ll choose #3 if this ever happens to me.

  10. TheWraithL98 says:

    most banks have a policy of not taking checks past 6 months. virtually every printed check has a disclaimer on it (this check is good for XXX days from the date…), and personal “manual” checks are the exception.

    but really, who writes manual checks anymore? it’s like the 8 track tape of buying items. those visa commercials are pretty accurate, every time someone does try to use a check, the line comes to a grinding halt.

    i personally have online banking where instead of writing a check at all, i go online to my bank’s site and make the payment and for those payments that can’t be done electronically, they mail out a printed check on my behalf – with the “this expires” on it presumably.

    • Landru says:

      @TheWraithL98: “but really, who writes manual checks anymore?”

      The elderly, poor people, folks likely to be taken advantaged of. That’s who writes manual checks anymore.

    • DrGirlfriend says:

      @TheWraithL98: I write 2 checks: one to my landlord (writing a manual check and handing it to him is more efficient for me than logging into my bank’s website and having them mail him a check), and one to my hairdresser, so that she won’t have to pay credit card fees for my payment. I could pay her with cash but, I don’t. So even though I rarely use them anymore, they are not *completely* obsolete.

      • El_Fez says:

        @DrGirlfriend: “but really, who writes manual checks anymore?”

        What – you don’t do any business on ebay? I dont trust paypal as far as I could throw one of their servers – so that leaves money order, check and cash (which while I’ll admit is a risk, I’ve never lost any in the mail) for me.

        • TheWraithL98 says:

          @El_Fez:

          didn’t ebay just announce they were going all paypal?

          and for the other replies, i know there are some cases where writing a check still does make sense, but they are few and far between, and there are almost universally alternatives, and none of them have the downside of the “floating money” problem that define checks.

        • nsv says:

          @El_Fez: You won’t be writing checks for eBay purchases soon.

          [pages.ebay.com]

          Beginning in late October 2008, checks and money orders will no longer be allowed as payment methods on eBay. All items appearing on eBay.com must be paid for using either:

          * PayPal (funded by PayPal account balance, credit card, debit card, bank account, PayPal Pay Later, PayPal Buyer Credit or eBay gift certificate)
          * Credit or debit card payment to a seller (through a seller’s Internet merchant account)
          * ProPay
          * Payment upon pickup

    • harvey_birdman_attorney_at_law says:

      @TheWraithL98:

      Presumably?

    • Tedicles says:

      @TheWraithL98:
      I still pay ALL my bills with ‘manual checks.’ Ever since I found out that my bank (and pretty much all banks) will give your money away to anyone who asks for it via direct deposit. That little thing you sign to authrize them never even goes to the bank, they just keep it in case they get in trouble down the road

  11. bikeoid says:

    The US Banking system is so obsolete – I like the system used in Switzerland for example. No more book of checks to get stolen and risk being arrested for passing bad checks. No Stop Payment issues. No unauthorized withdrawals because your checking account number was leaked – you must pre-approve all electronic withdrawals from your account.

    They use “Payment Slips” where the account owner authorizes the payment. The downside is that there is no cooling off period, where you could change your mind after issuing a check and decide to stop payment.

    • jswilson64 says:

      @bikeoid: Is that what it’s called, a “cooling off period” ?? I thought changing your mind and stopping payment was called “fraud.”

      (except in the case of purchases with a contract specifying a cooling-off period)

  12. quail says:

    I’ll vouch for the fact that no one eyballs the checks passing through. In doing banking for my step-father I discovered scads of checks written for cash were he forgot to sign the check. They all went through. Seems he’d get to talking with the cashier at the grocery store and totally forget to sign it. They in turn forgot to check. The bank honored each one without a phone call. (Note: all of this was 15 years ago.)

  13. I had maintenence people in my apartment about a month ago. When updating my spreadsheet with the checks I write (maybe 2-3 a month), I noticed that the numbers were askew. I always notate when I write checks. I asked my husband to make sure that he hadn’t taken one for whatever reason, and he hadn’t. So I called USAA where I have my checking accounts, and explained the issue to them. They can’t FULLY CLOSE my account. Ever. If whoever took those checks buy something with “instacheck” or whatever it’s called, the account can be automatically reopened! I asked what the heck was the point of me even attempting to close my account, if that’s the case. The representative couldn’t offer me an explanation. Anyone else heard of this issue?

  14. ionerox says:

    Bah, this is not news. When I was a bank teller (for two different banks) 6 months was the standard stop payment time.

    If you lost a book of checks, or had some stolen- ALWAYS close the account and open a new one. And then make sure any ACH deposits or recurring auto-bills are switched over immediately. Ask the bank to make sure that the closing notation on the account references the reason why it was closed.

  15. katylostherart says:

    ok so things like my paycheck have a 90 day expiry term and yet if i write a check it’s good infinitely?

    yeah i really like that idea…

  16. kc2idf says:

    Don’t cheques expire after 6 months? I thought they did.

    At any rate, my credit union only charges $15 for this. The only time I have had to use this, the cheque turned up about a week later, having been destroyed in the mail, so I didn’t get a chance to determine whether or not the cheque itself expires or when.

    I did, however, have another bank in the past refuse to deposit a cheque that was over 6 months old (I procrastinated — it was only for $5). I don’t know if this was governed by bank policy, state law, or federal law.

  17. Trai_Dep says:

    So computer bits magically switch themselves off after six months, turning stopped checks into good ones?
    Or, is that banks flip the switch, reactivating the heftily-surcharged stopped check so that they can sip twice (thrice…) more at the till?

    $30 dollars for a teller clicking a checkbox on their screen is robbery. I’m unsure what to call it when they turn it into a recurring revenue stream.

    • XTC46 says:

      @Trai_Dep: The check numbers probabaly get purged after 6 months and need to be readded back to the “stopped check database” If you leave a database alone without continuously cleaning it up, it becomes encubered and slow. Assume that 100 checks a month are stopped at a given bank. With their current process they have 600 checks after 6 months. That means that every check needs to be checked against 600 numbers to make sure it isnt fradulent. Over time, without purging old data, the number of things to check against becomes huge and slows down the process dramatically. This then costs the bank money, and in turn, costs you money.

  18. AgentTuttle says:

    I learned about this a few years ago when I stopped payment on a check to the scammers at PICK RED PLUMBING. They sat on the check for 6 months and then cashed it.

  19. Trai_Dep says:

    (sorry about the lack of close-the-bold mark)

    …And does anyone think that each bank has some poor Bartleby manually scanning each check the bank receives, looking out for stopped checks? Of course not – it’s done automatically, tens of thousands a times a day (hour). Adding one line of code – that’s already there – to check if it’s stopped is no more work that the usual routing activities they do to all checks. No extra work or effort.

    Yeesh, what a scam. How about we subtract $1 billion of bailout aid to any bank that does this, per stopped check, applied twice a year? Seems fair…

  20. Bog says:

    One line I add in small but clear print under the amount line is “Void after 90 days of date.” Legally this is binding. (I often run my checks through my printer.)

    I have had a few checks that were cashed 90 days after the date over the years. One the bank caught and returned, the vendor had to ask for another check and new they were dumb for waiting to cash it. The other I ended up making the bank eat it. The third ended up going in to limbo somewhere between the two banks. No charge to me. The bank(s) accepted a technically void check.

    • @Bog: I’m sure that in general today’s banks would ignore that line, give your money away for a 3 year old check, and not reimburse you for their failure to read. You’d have to sue them to get your money back.

  21. llcooljabe says:

    Isn’t a check stale after 6 months anyway? I’ve had a check I forgot to cash, and the bank refused because they said it was stale dated.

  22. microbreak says:

    Unless explicitly stated, checks do not expire… it is up to the bank whether they will honor them or not.

    Also, future dating checks is no guarantee that a bank will not honor the check before the date shown.

    As for the OP, I used to work for a bank (US Bank) and our customers had the option to choose between 6, 12, and 24 month durations for stop payments…I’d be surprised if this wasn’t true at other banks. The longer the duration, the costlier the fee for issuing a stop payment.

    And yes, as someone noted earlier, the stop payments aren’t guaranteed until a 24 hour period elapses from when you initially place it.

  23. guymandude says:

    This is really easy people. Have printed on your checks “VOID after 45 Days”. This whole notion that it is the banks who can say for how long a check is negotiable is wrong. It is up to them IF YOU DO NOT STIPULATE how long the check is good for. SO! Stipulate on your check how long the drawing party has to negotiate the check. Afterall it is YOUR signature that animates the instrument not the banks.