You may think cheques are things of the past. But they're still a valid form of payment, even if they're not used as much as online bank transfers or card payments (such as debit and credit cards) these days.

Here, we'll go through how cheques work, how long they are valid for, and what to expect when it comes to cheque processing times.

What is a cheque?

A cheque is a formal, physical document that instructs the account holder’s bank to pay someone a certain amount of money. The funds come from the account holder's account and are transferred to the recipient's account.

For a cheque to clear (a term for when a cheque results in a successful transfer), the person who has written the cheque must have sufficient money in their bank account to cover the transfer.

How long does it take a cheque to clear?

If you've received a cheque and paid it into your bank, it usually takes two working days for the funds to show up in your bank account and be available to spend.

If you're a Starling customer and deposit a cheque using the app, you’ll need to hold on to the physical cheque until it's cleared and you've got the money in your account. You’ll receive a notification when the money comes through.

If you post a cheque to your bank to deposit it, it will take longer than two working days as the postage time will need to be factored in. Cheques received by Starling before 3pm on a working day should be cleared by 11:59pm the next working day.

Starling doesn't process cheques at weekends or on bank holidays.

Why does a cheque bounce?

Most cheques bounce (the term for an unsuccessful transfer of funds) when there isn't enough money in the person who wrote the cheque’s bank account to cover the transfer. A cheque might also bounce if:

  • It was classified as fraudulent
  • It was blank or wasn't signed correctly
  • The amount written in words doesn’t match the amount written in numbers
  • It was written more than six months ago

Unlike some banks, Starling doesn't charge fees to the account holder or recipient if a cheque bounces or is rejected.

How to write a cheque

When writing a cheque, you need to include the:

  • Name of the person you are going to pay
  • Date you're writing it (needs to include day, month and year)
  • Amount you want to transfer in words, written in full and followed by the word ‘only’
  • Amount you want to transfer in numbers (this must match the amount in words)
  • Your signature

Paying in a cheque

Cheques can be paid in using banking apps, by post, at a bank branch or at the Post Office.

If you're a Starling customer, the easiest way to pay in a cheque (worth less than £1,000) is through our mobile banking app. The smartphone you use for the Starling app will need to have a functioning camera that can capture the details on the cheque.

This method of paying in a cheque, known as cheque imaging, can be done from anywhere, provided you have an internet connection. The only downside is that because it can be cleared so quickly, it's difficult to cancel the cheque if you change your mind about paying it in.

For Starling customers, cheques worth more than £1,000 will need to be posted to us. You’ll need to add your surname and 8-digit Starling account number at the back of the cheque.

Depending on who you bank with, you may also be able to pay in cheques at the Post Office or at a bank branch. For the Post Office, you’ll need to complete a paying-in-slip, and write your account number and sort code at the back of the cheque. Cheques paid at the Post Office usually take up to five working days to be cleared. Starling customers can only deposit cheques in the app or by post, not at a Post Office or branch.

How long are cheques valid for?

Cheques can usually be paid in up to six months after the date they were written. Although they don't technically expire, many banks will not let you cash a cheque that is more than six months old.

How to cancel a cheque

If a cheque you've written has been lost or stolen, or you’ve made a mistake (such as writing the wrong name), and need to stop a cheque, contact the bank that issued your cheque book as soon as possible.

What is a banker’s draft?

A banker’s draft (corporate cheque or banker’s cheque) is similar to a cheque but can't bounce as they are paid in advance.

You can request a banker’s draft through online banking or at a bank branch. The bank will then debit the funds from your account and issue you with a cheque you can then fill out and use to pay a person or business.

Banker’s drafts can be useful when you need to deposit large sums of money. Some banks will charge a fee and will need 24 hours notice.

Unfortunately, Starling doesn't offer banker’s drafts or cheque books, we only allow you to deposit banker's drafts and cheques you've received.

Future of cheques

Although cheques are a valid form of payment, many businesses now only accept online bank transfers and won't let you pay by cheque. For banks, the future of cheques lies in cheque imaging, which is offered by many banks and enables customers to deposit a cheque simply by taking a photo of it through their banking app.

Even so, you will probably find it easier to make payments through online banking, debit and credit cards, and digital wallets such as Apple Pay and Google Pay.

Other resources

What are Direct Debits and standing orders

Bank accounts explained: Sort code and account number

Interest rates: What are APR, EAR and AER?

What is Bacs? A guide to Bacs payments

What are Faster Payments and how to they work?

What is CHAPS? CHAPS payments explained

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