Budgeting Credit

How To Write a Check

Did you read the title of this blog and ask yourself “Wait, there are still people out there writing checks?” And surprisingly, the answer is yes. So if you’re wondering how to write a check, you’re in the right place.

In a world where we can pay for things by tapping our phones on a cash register (or something like that), it makes sense that it’s rare for anyone to write a check to pay for anything. But in fact, billions of checks are used annually in the United States alone. So apparently, many more people know how to write a check than you may realize.

There are many times when writing a check is an ideal way to access and spend your money.

For example, let’s say you lost your credit or debit card while shopping, or after a night out. After immediately contacting the bank to cancel your lost card and order a new one, it may take anywhere from five to seven business days for a new card to arrive. But, you need to go grocery shopping tomorrow.  This is when you (and anyone else you have to feed) are going to be thankful that you have those checks!

So dust off that checkbook and get ready to learn how to use it. 

In this short blog, we’re going to show you how to write a check, and share some important information about how checks can be used to move money around safely and securely.  

Writing a Check 

For a check to be cashed by any bank, it must display the following information: 

Your Information 

Your full name is printed here to identify you as the payer.  If it is a joint account, the names of anyone authorized to withdraw funds are also listed. Address information can also be printed here but can be left off for security reasons. 

Date 

Your checks are no good if you don’t write the date. Checks are only good for a certain amount of time (we’ll talk about that in a minute), so their creation date must be listed. Write the date on the line that asks for it and you’re good to go.

Pay To The Order

This is where you write the name of the person or company the check is issued to; it’s the line that starts with “Pay to the order of.”  The payee is the party that will be authorized to cash your check. 

Dollar Box 

Displays the dollar amount of the check in numerical form (ex. $1,000 or $150.89). This is, hands down, the easiest part of writing the check. 

Amount Line 

This is where you write the amount in words (ex. “One hundred, fifty dollars and eighty-nine cents.”). Cents can also be written as a fraction on the amount line. This can be strangely difficult as many people aren’t used to writing an amount in words.

This is, hands down, the most difficult part of writing the check. Why? Because turning numbers into words is hard, people. We’ve lost a lot of checks messing this one up, so we’d like to offer some advice to you novices: Just sound it out. Trust us, it helps!  

Bank Information

The name of the bank from which the money will be withdrawn. This information is very useful to the payee in deciding where to cash it. The check may be subject to processing fees if it is cashed at a financial institution other than the one listed on the check.   

Memo Line 

This is a line at the bottom left-hand corner of the check where you can describe what goods, services, or debt it is paying. 

For example, you may use a memo line to list the month your rent check should be applied to. While memos don’t need to be filled out to make a check valid, they quickly identify what it was written for, which can make categorizing your spending easier.

Payer Signature 

This is where your signature goes, which authorizes the check. Before you give the check to your payee, be certain that it is signed so they can cash it.  

MICR Line 

Do you know those numbers in that weird font running along the bottom of the check? Those are important identification numbers printed in a form called Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR). With protocols varying from country to country, the MICR section can contain a combination of these three sets of numbers, primarily used by the bank cashing the check: 

Account Number: Identifies the account the money is coming from. This should be listed already and you shouldn’t have to write your account number on the check.

Routing Number: A 9-digit number in the bottom left corner that identifies the bank the money is in. Also known as an American Bankers Association (ABA) Number.  

Check Number: The check number is printed here again in the bottom right corner, for quick reference for the computers being used to process or clear it.

How To Write a Check: Six Simple Steps 

Now that you know the parts of your check, you can write a check properly using the steps below: 

  1. On the date line, write the date you’re writing the check or the date at which it will be backed by funds in your bank account. 
  2. Write the name of the payee on the proper line so that it reads “Pay to the order of [PAYEE].” Make sure that the person or company’s name is spelled correctly. If it is a bill, look for payment information on your receipt.  If you’re paying an individual, the name should match the name on their ID. 
  3. Fill the dollar box with the amount you wish to make the check good for.  
  4. Write the amount of the check on the amount line. Remember to take your time, this is the hard part
  5. Write any additional information on the memo line (ex. “For July rent”). Again, you shouldn’t have to write your account number as it should already be listed.
  6. Sign your name on the signature at the bottom. Remember, you must sign the check to authorize it for your payee.

Can I Write The Check To Myself?

Any person with a valid ID can cash a valid check that you write—including yourself! Writing a check to yourself can be a quick way to access your money. 

Let’s say, for example, you have two bank accounts and need to move money from one account to another to cover bills or other expenses. If your bank doesn’t support same-day transfers, those funds may not appear in their destination account for one to three business days. However, if you cash a check drawn on that first account, you can then immediately deposit that money into your destination account.

So in a situation like this, feel free to write the check to yourself!

Do Checks Cost Money?

Writing paper checks does come at a cost to you. Checkbooks usually hold 100-125 checks and can cost up to 30 cents per check. For example, a book of duplicate checks (checks that leave a carbon copy behind in the checkbook to help keep track of purchases) will cost more than a book of standard checks. 

Some banks also provide checks for free for their customers, while other banks charge for checks.  Check with your bank to see what your options are, and then shop around for the best rate among other retailers—especially your favorite big box stores.   

How Long Is a Check Good For? 

It is very easy to misplace or lose a paper check; although important, we’re talking about a relatively small document.  But should you be lucky enough to find an uncashed check made out to you, you will usually have up to six months from the issue date to cash it. 

Some checks will have their expiration date written or printed on them. Once a check is past its expiration date, banks are no longer legally required to honor it.  

What’s a Bounced Check? 

A bounced check is a slang term for a check that can’t be cashed with the funds in the account it’s drawn on.

If you write a check to a person or business, and it bounces, your bank may just cover the withdrawal anyway—and put you on the hook for the check amount, plus penalty fees for insufficient funds (also known as “NSF” Fees). Policies vary across financial institutions, so be sure you know the terms set by your bank or credit unions.   

Fill Out a Check

So, now that you know how to write a check, and how to fill out a check properly, you can incorporate it into your personal finance toolkit. 

Although it takes a little bit more time and effort to learn how to write a check and keep track of them, the practice will put you in a position where you are taking a deeper look at your financial health.  Instead of just glancing at your balance on your phone or laptop, proper check management will have you looking at your incoming and outgoing money more carefully.

For the times that you can’t swipe, writing a check is a great alternative.

References:

https://www.thebalance.com/bounced-check-315339

https://www.investopedia.com/personal-finance/how-write-check.asp