How Making a YouTube Channel Taught Me About Banking

Photo credit: Andrew Perry, CC BY 2.0.

When I was 11, I decided to make a YouTube channel. Consequently, and likely due to my youthful vitality, I became deeply intrigued by the system YouTubers used to earn profits through video advertisements and endorsements.

After a brief period of research, I discovered that YouTube paid creators through physical checks, which required a valid bank account. Being 11, I didn’t have the slightest understanding of how banking worked. I did, however, know that I could receive money through PayPal, which only needed an email address. Because of this, I deserted the idea of using YouTube’s standard check-payment system and resorted to using an MCN (Multi-Channel Network) as a middle man that could transfer my earnings to my PayPal while taking a small cut for the service. Because it had relatively easy requirements, I chose to join the Freedom MCN in 2010.

In a mixture of both excitement and embarrassment, I decided to keep this operation a secret from my parents, sisters, and friends. This was particularly easy because at the time I had my own computer and my parents hardly ever checked it.

I had just turned 13 when I decided to try YouTube’s check-payment system, as my calculations suggested it would result in a much larger profit than the MCN due to the intermediate cut. By this time, I had developed a solid understanding of how checking and banking worked, and, through a long and awkward conversation with my father, had discovered that I did in fact have a valid bank account registered under his name. The only problem, however, was that I wouldn’t be able to cash the checks until I was 18. So, with the intention of collecting a compendium of checks until I could cash them all, I began to wonder: do checks expire?

After another short period of research, a slew of bafflingly indirect answers stirred up much more confusion and obscurity than I ever thought such a simple question could. It was vastly more conditional than I had expected, causing me to abandon the idea once again and continue on with my current MCN system.

Then, when I turned 14, I was rifling through my closet when I came across a check written by my aunt from nearly a year ago. She had generously sent me $20 for my 11th birthday and I was ecstatic to have found it—though I didn’t know if I could cash it. Was this check expired? This time I was determined to find an answer, conditional or not.

In short: yes, more often than not, checks do expire, though it’s really up to the bank at which you’re cashing it. After six months, an undeposited check will become “stale-dated,” unless stated otherwise by the writer. In most states, banks aren’t required to honor stale checks and have the right to turn them away.

If you’ve found an old check from months, perhaps years ago, it would be advisable to consider the time and trouble that might be required to cash it. If the value of the stale check is nominal, you may want to consider tossing it. However, if it’s of significant value or financial urgency, you could attempt to cash it at the bank. Sometimes they’ll cash it without question. Generally, however, it’ll be turned down. Assuming this happens, you should call the writer and explain your situation, followed up by politely asking them to give permission to the banker to cash the check. If that too is turned down, you’ll have to ask the writer to rewrite a new one for you—and this time, remember to cash it quick.

I was, thankfully, able to cash the three-year-old check my aunt sent for my 11th birthday through an account my father had registered under his name. I never received a check from YouTube because I ended up dropping my channel around the time I actually began to understand banking, I tried to look the channel up for old times’ sake but couldn’t find it—I guess YouTube channels, like checks, do occasionally expire.

Ethan Wilk is from Arizona and writes in his free time when he’s not binging a Netflix series.

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