You may have found an old check and thought this was "found" money, but it could come back to bite you. Cashing that old check might end up costing several times its value in fees. This could happen because banks are not obliged to cash a check older than a few months. However, the date on stale checks is sometimes taken as a guideline, not a hard rule.
You can deposit a check of any age, but the bank is not required to cash a check older than six months other than a certified check -- a check guaranteed by a bank -- according to US Legal. Thus, it is up to discretion of your bank to cash a stale check.
In 2011, paper check processing is mostly automated, so bank officers rarely review the date on a check. The bank can also cash a check if it believes the payer agrees that the bank should cash it. In most cases, only a stop payment is a clear signal from the payer that the check should not be cashed.
The biggest risk you face when cashing a stale check is that the bank refuses it and charges you a returned check fee. Banks usually charge a fee to the payee when they cannot cash a check. This fee is usually $15 to $20 in 2011. If you have a check for a small amount, such as a dividend from a stock, you risk the bank hitting you with fees that exceed value of the check.
A stale check or one past its expiration date does not mean you cannot collect on the debt. However, you may have to pursue the payer to reissue the check or pay you in some other form.
In practice, banks will cash checks up to a year old, according to Chuck Jaffe of Market Watch. It may take extra time to cash an old check because the bank might need to flag the check and review its legitimacy. Call the issuer of the check to ask if the routing number for his account has changed before cashing it -- the check cannot be cashed if it has an outdated routing number. The payer may talk to the bank to cash the old check to avoid the extra costs and time reissuing a check.