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Guide to Outstanding Checks

By Mike Zaccardi, CMT, CFA · June 06, 2022 · 6 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Guide to Outstanding Checks

Outstanding checks are common for business owners and individuals. They are simply checks that have not yet been cashed or deposited at a financial institution. Since they are still outstanding, the payor (the entity that issued the check) should keep enough cash in their account so they can pay all outstanding checks. The payee, or recipient, should take steps to deposit outstanding checks as quickly as possible to avoid the risk of their becoming void.

To fully answer the question “What are outstanding checks?” there are more details worth learning. This information can help you better manage your financial life and be a savvier consumer. Read on to find out:

•   How outstanding checks work

•   What to do with old checks

•   What risks are associated with outstanding checks.

What Is an Outstanding Check?

Typically, a payor writes a check to a payee, and the payee deposits the check. Funds are transferred into the payee’s account this way. With today’s technology, checks can be cashed without a fee electronically. If you can access your bank account by app, all it takes is a few clicks on your phone.

But with outstanding checks, things don’t follow this flow. An outstanding check is a check that has been issued but not cashed or deposited. It is considered a liability for the issuer until it is redeemed. If outstanding checks aren’t redeemed, they can become void after a certain timeframe, often six months.

An outstanding check can also mean that a check was deposited at a bank but is still going through the process of clearing. This means it is en route to becoming available funds in the payee’s account, but it’s just not quite there yet.

Until it is deposited, outstanding checks are liabilities on the payor’s balance sheet. Small business owners might wonder, “What does an outstanding check mean?” as well as how to deal with it. It can be a challenge, because enough cash must be kept in the account drawn upon to cover outstanding checks until they are cashed. Outstanding checks can complicate accounting because the assumption is that a check gets issued, deposited, and paid. But if it hasn’t been cashed yet, it can throw off bookkeeping.

How Do Outstanding Checks Work?

Once you write a check or sign a check over to someone, the onus is on them to deposit the check. But sometimes, people don’t make a beeline for the bank or use their banking app right away. How often have you received a check, set it aside on your desk, then nearly forgotten about it? It’s not just you.

Business owners know that outstanding checks might take weeks or months to get cashed. Sometimes, checks wind up hanging around uncashed for a while. Or they even get lost.

Typically, though, check cashing is pretty straightforward. A check is simply a document that authorizes a transfer of money from a payor’s account to a payee’s account. When the payee deposits an outstanding check at a bank, a request to move money is initiated. Funds then move between the two accounts. A bank deposits the cash into the recipient’s account once the bank receives the money from the payor’s account. (Cashing a check without a bank account is more challenging, but you still have options to accomplish this.)

So, what is an outstanding check? It’s when the payee neglects to cash or deposit a check (or the check gets lost). This means the check does not clear and does not show on a month-end bank statement. Outstanding checks are a liability for the payee, but once deposited, they are reconciled against the recipient’s account.

A Check I Wrote to Someone Is Outstanding: Now What?

If you wrote a check that is outstanding for more than a few weeks, there are steps you can take to resolve the situation. First, know that outstanding checks expire, often after six months, but sometimes as quickly as 30 or 60 days. Knowing how to stop payment on a check is useful as well if you wish to void an outstanding check. (More on this below.)

Here are more details on managing outstanding checks.

If the Check Is Less Than Six Months Old

•   Track the value of outstanding checks in your account register.

•   Reach out to the payee and ask what happened to the outstanding check.

If the Check Is Older Than Six Months

•   Reach out to the bank to confirm its policy on old or expired checks

•   Issue a stop payment on the outstanding check.

◦   You might have to visit a branch location to make the request, and there could be a fee involved.

◦   Working with the bank to ensure a stale check gets deposited might require time and effort.

◦   Once voided, be sure to mark the old check as voided in your checkbook. Checkbooks can be useful when tracking old checks.

•   Contact the payee about the situation.

◦   Be sure to tell them that you issued a stop payment on the original check.

◦   Work with them to determine another way to be paid.

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Do I Need to Write a New Check?

When dealing with outstanding checks, you may wonder if there’s a limit on how long someone has to cash a check. There often is. Knowing when a check expires is an initial step before deciding whether to write a new check. If a check is outstanding for less than six months, you should not write a new one. Contact the payee to find out more about the situation. That also serves as a friendly reminder to have them deposit it. If more than six months have passed, that check may well be expired and considered void. A new check would have to be written or another method of payment could be used.

If you do write a new check, it may be safest to request that the old one be returned or ask for proof that it’s been voided. Otherwise, in rare cases, you might wind up with both the old (outstanding) and the new check being cashed, which would leave you with a financial loss.

A Check Issued to Me Is Outstanding: Now What?

You should take all reasonable steps to cash or deposit outstanding checks. If you wait too long, the check can go stale, and the money might be then considered “unclaimed property” and wind up being handed over to the state. If it has been more than six months, contact the issuer to resolve the matter. If the sticking point is that you don’t have an account into which you can deposit the check, you can easily open a checking account. It can take just minutes to do so online.

Risks of Outstanding Checks

There are many risks to outstanding checks.

•   One of the major ones is that it bounces by the time an attempt is made to deposit it. This is one of the reasons why knowing what to do if a check bounces is important.

•   You may wind up being charged overdraft fees and non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees if the outstanding check is deposited and then bounces.

•   Outstanding checks also become stale and worthless after a certain period.

•   In business bank accounts, outstanding checks can cause hiccups in accounting if not tracked well.

Reasons Why Checks Aren’t Cashed

There are a number of reasons why checks don’t get cashed and wind up being outstanding:

•   Lack of urgency. A person just doesn’t get around to depositing it.

•   Simply forgetting about them or not keeping tabs on them properly.

•   Loss. Checks can be misplaced or even thrown away.

•   Mail and delivery problems that interfere with the check getting to its recipient (this can involve having an old address on file).

Avoiding Outstanding Checks

While there are many risks with outstanding checks, there are simple steps you can take to avoid them.

•   Keeping a balanced checkbook goes a long way toward preventing a check from being forgotten.

•   Maintaining a tidy desk and filing cabinet for important documents like checks can help you deposit funds promptly.

•   If you wrote the check, calling a payee to remind them that a check is outstanding is a wise tactic.

•   Using online bill pay services can help you dodge the headaches that can come with paper checks.

Banking With SoFi

It’s important to know what an outstanding check is and the potential risks that go along with them. Many checks remain outstanding which can cause risks to both the person holding a check and the entity that issued it. Fortunately, with today’s technology and mobile banking capabilities, it’s easier and faster than ever to deposit checks.

SoFi can help you avoid glitches due to outstanding checks. You can sign-up for real-time mobile alerts that notify you when a check hits your account with our mobile banking app. Banking with SoFi means you have access to paper checks and can make no-cost, peer-to-peer (P2P) money transfers to anyone with a US-based bank account right from your phone. What’s more, when you open your accounts with direct deposit, you can earn a top-notch 1.25% APY.

Bank better with SoFi.

FAQ

Is an outstanding check bad?

Outstanding checks are not bad per se, but it’s generally wise to promptly deposit or cash checks so that they do not expire. Checks that remain outstanding beyond a certain time frame could become void, so if you hold such a check, you might be out of luck if you then wish to deposit it. Also, outstanding checks can make it hard to determine an account’s available balance, which can lead to bounced checks and overdraft charges.

How do you handle an outstanding check?

If you wrote a check and it is still outstanding, you should consider contacting the recipient to confirm they received it. That might give the payee a nudge that they should deposit it. If you possess an outstanding check, it’s good to deposit it as soon as possible to avoid having it go stale.

Is an outstanding check a debit or credit?

A bank’s reconciliation process will subtract the balance of outstanding checks from an account’s balance on a statement. There is no journal entry for this transaction since the checks were recorded when first issued. The bank makes an entry in its general ledger when it voids a check, however. In that case, a debit of cash is entered and a credit back to the issuing account is made to offset the debit. The voided check is removed from the outstanding checks list.


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