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What is An Outstanding Check?

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Maybe you’ve heard the term before but you don’t really know what it means. You know what a check is, but you don’t know what the outstanding part means. So, what is an outstanding check? Put in simple terms it is a check you have written that has not been deposited yet.

What is An Outstanding Check?

Another term for the same thing is uncashed checks.

If you’re like me and a lot of other people, each month you dread balancing your checkbook, but you sit down and grudgingly do it anyway.

You look at all the checks you have written and check them against the checks your bank has cleared.

Then you look at the un-cashed checks that haven’t cleared yet and subtract that amount from the balance your bank shows. 

The issue with a check that hasn’t cleared yet is that it makes your bank balance look bigger than it actually is.

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Reasons for an Outstanding Check

There are a number of reasons you might have a check that hasn’t cleared your bank yet.

These are the most common:

1. The check was lost – It is possible that the person you write the check to lost the check and hasn’t noticed or forgotten about it.

This can easily happen if the check amount was low and the person deals with a lot of checks. It might have simply slipped through the cracks.

2. Lost in the mail – If you mailed the check to someone it could have been lost. It is also true that if the person mailed the check to their bank for deposit it could have been lost in the mail.

3. They aren’t in a hurry to cash it – Again, if the amount is small the person might not be in a rush to cash the check.

This happens with the guy that mows my lawn. I give him a check each week as I don’t want a big bill at the end of the year.

Even so, he waits three weeks to cash the checks. 

That means he cashes three checks at once and all three checks are outstanding for a few weeks.

I don’t really like it and wish he would cash them each week, but in the end, it really doesn’t make much of a difference.

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The Issue with Outstanding Checks

The biggest issue with having an outstanding check is that your bank balance will look bigger than it really is.

At first, this isn’t that big of an issue for the check writer, but in time it could be.

Let’s say months have gone by or even a year or two. 

That stale check is still hanging out there waiting to be cashed.

You may get to the point that you have forgotten about the check or you think there will never be a claim for payment against your account.

You decide the money is now yours and you spend it.

Sure, that can be tempting, and what’s the chance that the respective payee will deposit a check months later?

You might be surprised.

I had an outstanding check once that was outstanding for two full years.

Then one day, when I didn’t have a lot of money in my checking account, which was normal for me back in those days, the check got cashed.

Ouch…

This can be a real issue if you have used the money for other expenses.

Now, you can have even bigger issues such as bounced checks and bounced check fees.

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What to Do About An Uncashed Check

So, what should you do?

It is kind of a pain having this check just hanging out there for months or longer.

If you find yourself in this position, contact the person you wrote the check to and ask why it hasn’t been cashed.

If they lost the original check, you can always put a stop payment on that check and issue a replacement check.

The stop payment is important because you don’t want a double payment going to the person.

Just because you are issuing them a new check doesn’t mean they won’t find the original check at some point and cash it as well.

With the stop payment on the first check, you won’t have to worry about that.

Just make sure you have the person’s current address if you are going to mail the check. You don’t want this new check going to an incorrect address and then finding yourself back in the same situation.

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To Sum it All Up:

In a perfect world, all of the checks you write would be cashed immediately and your bank account and checkbook would match perfectly, but that’s not always the case. For a number of reasons, a check may take longer to clear than expected. The best thing you can do is keep an eye on it and don’t double-spend that money. If push comes to shove, contact the payee and see why they haven’t cashed the check.

Closeup of a pile of mail on doormat

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Bad checks text concept isolated over white background

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