How long are cheques valid for?

Writing a cheque may seem old-fashioned, but they’re still considered a useful method of payment. Find out how long cheques are valid for and how they’re evolving.

Writing a cheque may seem old-fashioned, but they’re still considered a useful method of payment. Find out how long cheques are valid for and how they’re evolving.

Alex Hasty
Insurance and finance expert
minute read
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Posted 3 MARCH 2021

What is a cheque?

A cheque is a written money order from an account holder instructing their bank to pay the person or business named on the cheque a specified amount of money.

With the ease and convenience of mobile banking apps and direct bank transfers, many think writing a cheque has gone out with the dinosaurs. In fact, younger generations might not even know what a cheque is.

But while the use of cheques has fallen in recent years, they’re far from extinct. In 2019, 257 million cheques were processed, so they’re still a popular form of payment.

How long are cheques valid for?

Technically speaking, cheques don’t have an expiry date. But, in practice, banks will usually reject a cheque if you try to pay it in or cash it more than six months from the date of issue – that’s the date written on the cheque. So if you’ve forgotten about a cheque and it’s more than six months old, the best thing to do is ask the person who gave it to you to write another.

Are cheques being phased out?

No. There were plans to phase out cheque books in the UK by 2018, but the Government, along with The Payments Council, agreed to scrap the target date and let people continue to use cheques for as long as they’re needed.

For some people and businesses, cheques are their preferred payment method. And the good news is that many banks now use digital technology to make the cheque clearing process faster and easier.

What is cheque imaging?

If you still want to write cheques but also enjoy the convenience of mobile banking, then cheque imaging gives you the best of both worlds.

Cheque imaging is a way of paying in a cheque using your bank’s mobile app on your smartphone. You can use the app to take a photo of your cheque with your smartphone camera. The app will read the details, then put the money into your account. You can still pay a cheque into your account at your branch if you prefer, but cheque imaging saves you a trip and can be done from anywhere with an internet connection.

Not only is cheque imaging more convenient, it speeds up the clearing process. The traditional paper-based process takes up to six days. With cheque imaging, a cheque is usually cleared and the money in your account by the end of the next working day.

Just be aware that if you write a cheque, digital imagining also means the money will leave your account sooner. Only write a cheque if you have enough money in your account to clear it imminently.

It also means you’ll have to act fast if you need to stop the cheque for any reason. Contact your bank as soon as possible. If the cheque’s already gone through, they might not be able to cancel it in time.

Benefits of digital cheque imaging:

  • convenient – you can pay your cheque in from anywhere
  • fast – cheques are usually cleared by the end of the next working day
  • secure – in-built security checks when you use your app
  • notifications – you can quickly see if the money’s gone in or a cheque has bounced
  • can be used to clear other types of payments, like postal orders, bank drafts and government payable orders

Downsides to digital cheque imaging:

  • quicker clearing times mean you might not be able stop a cheque in time
  • when you write a cheque, the money will leave your account sooner – you’ll need to make sure you have funds to cover it straight away
  • there may be limits on cheque imaging deposits
  • cheques can only be processed in pounds, not other currencies

How to write a cheque correctly

To write a cheque correctly, you’ll need to write:

  • the name of the person or business you’re paying as it appears on their bank account
  • the date
  • the amount in words followed by the world ONLY – this stops anyone changing the amount
  • the amount in numbers followed by a line so no extra numbers can be added
  • your signature – it must be the same as the one on your bank records

Even if you use cheque imaging, fill in and keep the stub in your cheque book for reference.

Only write a cheque if you have enough money in your bank account to cover it.

What is a ‘bounced’ cheque?

A bounced cheque usually means the person who wrote it doesn’t have enough money in their account to pay for it, so it won’t be cleared and will be returned. You might also be charged a ‘bounce’ fee by your bank.

Other reasons a cheque might bounce:

  • the bank spots that a cheque is fraudulent
  • it’s not been signed correctly
  • it’s not been signed at all
  • it’s post-dated
  • mistakes haven’t been corrected properly – corrections need to be signed or initialled
  • the amount in words doesn’t match the amount in numbers
  • it’s over six months old – although cheques don’t have an expiry date, most banks will reject them if they’re more than six months old

Did you know?
It’s a criminal offence to write a cheque if you already know it will bounce or are planning to stop it.

How do I stop a cheque?

If you need to stop a cheque for a genuine reason – for example, you wrote the wrong name – you should contact your bank as soon as possible so they can cancel it. They might charge a fee for this.

What is a bank draft?

Simply put, a bank draft is a cheque that the bank writes on your behalf, instead of you writing it.

You need to pay in the amount before the bank agrees to write the draft, so there’s no risk of it bouncing. For this reason, bank drafts are considered more secure than personal cheques.

Bank drafts are usually used for larger amounts, or if a person or business won’t accept a personal cheque.

Most banks will want 24 hours’ notice to prepare a bank draft and some may charge you for it. It might be quicker to make a direct bank transfer instead.

What are the alternatives to cheques?

While cheques can still be useful, thanks to digital technology, there are quicker, safer and more convenient ways to pay and get paid:

  • Online banking Allows you to make and receive bank transfers and set up payments – some banks also let you make international money transfers via online banking.
  • Debit card When you pay with a debit card, payment is instant and the money is taken straight out of your current account. You can also use contactless payments up to the value of £45 per transaction.
  • Credit card A flexible way to buy things and pay for them later, although interest will apply if you pay by instalments rather than the full amount.
  • Mobile payments Digital wallets, like Apple Pay and Google Pay, are linked to your credit or debit card, enabling you to make contactless payments securely from your iPhone, Android smartphone or wearable device without physically using your card.

Can I deposit a cheque that’s not in my name?

No. Cheques are crossed with ‘A/C Payee’. This means that only the person whose name is on the cheque can deposit it into their bank account.

Can I cash a cheque if I don’t have a bank account?

It’s possible to cash a cheque without a bank account through a cheque cashing retailer or money-lending service. However, you’ll be charged a fee, which is usually high. It’s a service that’s best avoided, if possible.

If you can’t get a regular bank account, for example, you have a poor credit history or you’ve only just moved to the UK, you might still be able to open a basic bank account. You won’t earn interest or have an overdraft option, but you’ll get a debit card and have basic banking features so you can pay cheques into your account.

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