What is an Outstanding Check?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An outstanding check is a valid check that has been written and presented to the payee, but not yet deposited or cleared. It can take several days from the time that a check is written to the time that the funds are deducted from the account of the person or company that issued it. There are several accounting measures used to track outstanding checks so that financial accounts can be kept accurate and up to date.

Some banks may have a policy of not honoring checks older than six months.
Some banks may have a policy of not honoring checks older than six months.

Once a check is written, the payee must take it to a bank to cash it or deposit it. Some payees do this immediately, while others may take their checks to the bank in batches. After a check enters a bank, it needs to be cleared. This includes processing at the payee's bank and submitting the check to the drawee bank for payment. Electronic processing has streamlined this process considerably, and if the payee and payor bank at the same institution, a check may clear in a single day.

Outstanding checks are those that have been given to the payee but have not been processed for payment.
Outstanding checks are those that have been given to the payee but have not been processed for payment.

While a check is outstanding, the person who wrote it may consider the funds unavailable even though they still show up in his or her account. This is done to avoid an overdraft, where money is taken out and an outstanding check is cashed at the same time, causing a bank account to go into a negative balance. Checks can be written out in a transaction register with the amount being deducted immediately to keep track of how much money should be present in an account.

Some banks will provide lists of uncashed checks, based on the numbers of checks that have cleared, on statements. People can match the numbers of uncashed checks against their own records to determine the total amount in outstanding checks. Institutions and businesses may contact people who have outstanding checks to confirm that the checks were received and that there are no problems. It may be necessary to void an outstanding check and issue a new one if a check was lost, stolen, or never received, for example.

To avoid confusion, an outstanding check is usually void after a set period of time. Checks may be printed to indicate that they are void within 90 days or six months, or a bank may have a policy of not honoring checks older than six months. People who are not familiar with bank policy may want to ask before attempting to cash or deposit an old outstanding check. It may be necessary to ask for a new check to be issued.

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 had an incident a couple of months ago that I am still unsure how to handle. I make homemade crochet items to sell and one of my friends wanted a couple of hats. I made them and took them to her. Her mother wrote me a check for them.

I forgot that I had the check for about three weeks so that part is totally my fault. Once I remembered it, I deposited it. A couple of days later, the amount of the check was taken out of my account and a $15 fee for the check being bad. I still don't understand why I have to pay for someone else's check being bad.

I asked my husband what I should do. He said that I should just let it go because I held the check for so long. I sent my friend an email telling her what happened and that if they ever have the money to cover the check, that would be great. So, I guess as soon as she checks the mail, she will see my message. I was nice about it because I guess it really was my fault.


My favorite magazine had sent me a notice in the mail stating that my subscription was about to run out. Not wanting to miss an issue, I mailed them a check for the renewal fee right away.

A month went by, and I received no new magazine. I checked my bank statement, and the check was still outstanding. So, I called the magazine’s subscription line.

It turns out that they had never received my check. I had to get the bank to stop payment on it, and that came with a fee. I guess it just got lost in the mail, but thankfully, no one tried to cash it.


My employer doesn’t offer direct deposit, so I have to take my check to the bank in person. I receive a check every other Tuesday. We used to get paid on Fridays, but our employer changed the day so that we could avoid long lines at the bank.

I noticed a note on my check that says it is void after 90 days. I can’t imagine anyone waiting that long to cash their paycheck. I have to have mine for groceries and gas every week!

Getting paid on Tuesday is helpful, because not only do I have less of a wait when I go during lunch break to deposit my check; I also can go grocery shopping during the week when the store is less crowded.


I am very meticulous about keeping up with any outstanding checks. Since the area where I live isn’t very technologically developed, I have to mail checks to pay my water bill and gas bill. Often, it takes up to two weeks before they are cleared.

As soon as I mail a check, I deduct the amount from my account using my transaction register. Though I know that my bank statement will not match my records for a couple of weeks, at least I know by how much it will be off. I ignore the fact that the money is still in my account, because I know that it will disappear soon.


The company I work for holds an account at a local bank, and they let all of us employees know that we can get our paychecks cashed for free at that bank. This is helpful to those who don’t have bank accounts.

It sounds strange to think of anyone not having a checking account today, but one of my coworkers does not. She is a tad paranoid and doesn’t trust banks. She keeps all of her money in a lock box, and she pays all her bills with cash.

She had a bank account at one time, but after several misunderstandings over outstanding checks, she decided to get her money out of there. Really, I think she just didn’t grasp how banks work.


There have been a few times when I have come close to letting that 6 month time period expire. Once I received a dividend check from a stock I owned and forgot to cash it for several months.

When I finally came across the check, I only had a few days left. Even though the check was not for a large sum of money, I can see how a lot of outstanding checks would be difficult for accounting purposes.


I like to keep a close watch on my checking account and will try to make sure it is balanced every week.

If I write a check and send it to someone, I am always frustrated if they wait too long before cashing it. Even though I have subtracted the funds from the balance, having a lot of outstanding information and checks that are not cashed can make it more difficult to keep everything in balance.


It seems like the time it takes for an outstanding check to clear your bank account is much shorter than it used to be. I remember there used to be several days before you knew the funds would come out of your account.

If I write a check at Wal-Mart, they immediately process the check and hand the check back to me. I know some people who have had insufficient fund charges because they were counting on more time before the funds actually came out of their account.

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