Whether it’s a returned security deposit or a birthday gift from your grandparents, checks aren’t totally obsolete yet. While checks are useful for transferring large sums of money between people, they’re often slower to deposit than other transfer methods, like a wire transfer or a Zelle payment.

How long it takes for a check to clear depends on the check’s amount, how it’s deposited and your specific bank or credit union’s policies.

How long it takes for a check to clear

Usually, it takes about two business days for a check to clear. That can vary from check to check, though.

It’s important to review your financial institution’s deposit agreement, which will specify how long they typically hold checks for. Banks may withhold check deposits for several days to ensure that the funds are available and the check doesn’t bounce before you spend that money. If you spend the funds and then the check bounces, you could incur a fee.

There are a few factors that might cause a check to clear faster than two days. Banks are generally required by law to make the first $225 of a check deposit available by the next business day. For example, if the check is deposited on a weekend, it’s considered to be deposited on Monday, so the first $225 of the check will be available on Tuesday.

Some checks are designed to clear faster than a standard check, and these will become available in full by the next business day. These checks include:

Depositing a check at a bank

Depositing a check at a bank or credit union branch is often the quickest way to have access to those funds. As long as the check is deposited before the institution’s specified cut-off time, it should be available within a day or two. While the cut-off time for a branch deposit can vary, it can’t be earlier than 2 p.m., by law.

Mobile check deposit

Mobile check deposit, which allows you to deposit a check by taking photos of it through your bank’s mobile app, typically takes the same amount of time as an in-person deposit, though it may take a bit longer to process in some cases.

Mobile check deposits come with cut-off times, too. At Bank of America, for example, a mobile check must be deposited by 9 p.m. ET (for Eastern and Central time zones) or 8 p.m. PT (for Mountain and Pacific time zones) for it to clear by the next business day.

Reasons your check deposit might be delayed

If a check is taking longer to clear than your bank’s typical processing time, it’s probably because the bank placed an extended hold on it. The bank will likely notify you of any holds on the deposit receipt (if the check is deposited at a branch) or the deposit confirmation screen (if the check is deposited through an app). The institution may also notify you by email or mail if a hold comes up after the time of deposit.

Some reasons a financial institution may extend a check’s hold include:

  • There’s reasonable cause to believe the funds are uncollectible (such as suspected fraud).
  • The check has been redeposited.
  • The check amount exceeds $5,525. (Note: Only the amount that’s over $5,525 can be held for longer.)
  • The receiving account is new or has been repeatedly overdrawn.
  • The check is from an international bank.

In these cases, the financial institution may hold the check for up to a week, after which the funds will clear or the check will bounce.

Other ways to send money to someone

There are a few alternatives for sending money that are quicker than depositing a check.

One reliable way to send money is through a wire transfer. If a domestic wire transfer is initiated before the institution’s cut-off time, the funds are typically available in the recipient’s account within the same day. However, wire transfers can be expensive. Domestic outgoing wire transfer fees average about $26, according to Bankrate research. Fees are even higher for international wire transfers.

Another option for sending money, made possible through financial technology, is to make a peer-to-peer (P2P) payment. Some common P2P payment services include Venmo, Zelle and PayPal.

If your bank offers Zelle through its mobile app or online banking system, this may be the fastest way to send money to someone — the funds are typically available within minutes if both parties in the transfer are enrolled in Zelle. Other P2P payment services may offer an instant transfer option for a small fee.

Bottom line

In most cases, a check should clear within one or two business days. There are a few cases in which a check might be held for longer, such as if it’s a large deposit amount or an international check.

Make sure to review your bank’s policies for what to expect in terms of check hold times. It’s important that the check clears before those funds are spent so you don’t incur any fees.