An outstanding check represents a check that hasn’t been cashed or deposited by the recipient or payee. Outstanding checks can have two different states. One state is that the payee has the check but hasn’t deposited or cashed it. The other state is that the check has not yet reached the recipient and is still in the payor’s bank-clearing cycle.
An outstanding check is a liability for the person (i.e., payor) who has written the check. They must make sure that enough money remains in their checking account to cover the check until it is paid. The payee may cash the check immediately or might hold onto it for months. Checks that remain uncashed for long periods of time are called stale checks. Eventually, these checks will become void. This period can range from 60 days to six months.
Sometimes a payee forgets about the check or loses it without notifying the payor. The payor has no control over when the payee will cash or deposit the check. The only thing the payor can do, for a fee, is stop payment on the check. When this happens, the check becomes void. The payee cannot cash or deposit the check once a stop payment has been issued.
The payer’s bank has no way of knowing that a check has been written until the payee deposits or cashes the check. This puts the burden of tracking the check on the payor. Besides the liability it creates, the payor may forget that they wrote the check and spend money allocated for the check. When the payee cashes the check, and their bank tries to pull funds from the payor’s account, the payor will get hit with an overdraft or non-sufficient funds (NSF) fee. The payor must then deposit funds to cover the check. The payor can void these fees using overdraft protection on their checking account.