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You now have just one year to cash your federal government check.

Until now, a government check was good indefinitely. But a new law going into effect Sunday requires recipients to cash their checks within 12 months."Americans are sitting on more than $2.5 billion of U.S. government checks" more than a year old, according to Andy Montgomery, a spokesman for the Treasury Department's Financial Management Service.

"There are nearly 6 million of those checks out there - in boxes, desk drawers, attics, you name it," he said. "Some are decades old."

The Financial Management Services said that 427 pre-1956 checks averaging $65.42 were presented for payment during 1988. Many of them, it said, were found by recipients or their estates who came to the service to determine whether the checks were still "good."

The oldest check was issued to a woman in Nebraska on April 15, 1919, for $1.01 in interest on World War I Liberty bonds. She was not identified.

The largest check was made out to a Michigan man for $8,606 in unspecified compensation on April 9, 1954. The smallest was a 2-cent tax refund issued to a Massachusetts man on April 19, 1946.

To remind recipients of the new time limit for cashing government checks, checks dated Oct. 1 and later will bear the phrase, "VOID AFTER ONE YEAR." The new law also requires that checks written prior to Oct. 1 be cashed no later than Sept. 30, 1990.

The Financial Management Service emphasized, however, the time limit does not affect the government's liability. But if the time limit is exceeded, the person holding the canceled check will have to apply to the agency that wrote it for a replacement.