Generally, banks and credit unions don't have to honor checks that are more than six months old, which are called "stale." But most banks will go ahead and honor stale checks anyway, even though they don't have to.
The bank can cash your postdated check at any time, even before its authorized date—unless you specifically instruct it otherwise.
In order to instruct the bank not to issue the funds early, both state and federal banking laws normally require that you give the bank “reasonable” notice of the postdating. Federal law does not provide a minimum time period within which you must notify the bank. Though, you should do it as soon as possible to allow the bank time to process the instructions, and you might have to pay a fee. You should also describe the check to the bank with reasonable certainty. In other words, give the check number, date, amount, and name of payee. Generally, state law says that if you provide written notice about a postdated check, your notice is valid for six months; but if you give oral notice, your notice is valid for only 14 days.
If the bank releases the funds even after you've instructed it not to, the bank might then be liable to you for damages that are caused by honoring the postdated check. That might include reimbursing you for nonsufficient funds fees and penalties you incurred for subsequent checks that bounced as a result of the premature deposit.
Debt collectors and creditors routinely pressure consumers into issuing postdated checks, usually over the telephone. If a collector agreed to wait before cashing the check—but cashed the postdated check too early—you might be able to recover statutory and actual damages.
Federal law restricts what a debt collector can and cannot do with your postdated check. Specifically, under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a debt collector cannot:
You can sue the debt collector in state or federal court for violating the FDCPA. (To learn more about suing a debt collector for FDCPA violations and other steps you can take if a collector violates the law, see What Can You Do If a Debt Collector Violates the FDCPA?)
Under the FDCPA, you can get up to $1,000 in statutory damages. In addition, you might be able to get actual damages (damages based on actual harm you suffered, like nonsufficient fund charges from other transactions caused by the premature deposit), attorneys' fees, and court costs. (Learn more about damages for FDCPA violations.)
The FDCPA does not cover creditors because they are not usually considered to be debt collectors. However, creditors are governed by the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTCA), which prohibits them from engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) may consider the creditor's early deposit of your postdated check to be an “unfair or deceptive act or practice.”
But unlike with the FDCPA, you can't sue the creditor for violations of the FTCA. Instead, you should file a complaint with the FTC. You can do so by visiting its website. The FTC will then conduct its own investigation and, where relevant, take action against that creditor.
Your state's laws might offer additional protection from the premature deposit of postdated checks. For example, it might cover both debt collectors and creditors.
From a legal standpoint, you have the right to sue, get a judgment, and force collections—like by attaching wages or seizing bank accounts. (To learn about bringing a lawsuit in small claims court, see Nolo's Small Claims Court area.)
Also, in some states, a judge could award you up to three times the amount of the check as punishment for the bad check. Check your state laws. (For information on researching state law, see Nolo's Legal Research area.)
The laws governing checks vary among states, although many jurisdictions have similar provisions. If you wrote a postdated check that was improperly cashed or deposited before the date on the check, or you need help filing a suit to collect on a bad check, consider talking to an attorney.