There are several reasons why you may need to write a check. For instance, some businesses will give you a discount for writing a check instead of swiping a card. This is because they will save money by not having to pay a processing fee.
So if you are going to fill out a check, making sure you are doing it the right way is key if you don’t want there to be a hassle. To help you with this, here are six simple steps on how to write out a check properly.
6 Steps for Writing a Check
First, notice that there are numbered fields on the check. Throughout this tutorial, we will talk about each numbered field and its purpose so that you can use the proper check format.
1. Date the check in the top right corner
Any format of date is acceptable. For example, April 1, 2017, 4/1/17, or any other format. However, consistency is key as it helps you to more easily recognize a check that may have been stolen from your account. For instance, if you always date your checks in this format: 1 April 2017, a forged check will easily be identified if the check date is written in a different format.
2. Add the person you are paying in the “Pay to the order of” field
This is where you write down to whom the check is made payable. In the case of this tutorial that would be Target. It is important to write neatly when filling out your check and to include the first and last name or the entire business name of the payee (the person or business to whom the check is being written).
3. Write the amount that you wish to pay in numbers
Again, it’s important to be neat and precise here. Make a clear distinction between dollars and cents with a decimal point or by underlining the cents number in order to avoid confusion about the designated amount. This confirms the amount in written form so that there is no confusion on how much should be paid. So in this example, it would be $20.21.
4. Hand-write the dollar amount using words
Neatness counts here as well because banks will, on occasion, double check the written amount should they be unable to read the numbers in the amount box. Write out the dollar amount of the check clearly as shown in the box below. For this check example, it would be Twenty dollars and 21/100.
5. Fill in the Memo field on the bottom left
People don’t often use the memo line when writing a check, but it can be important when it comes to a potential payment dispute. Whenever paying a bill, we suggest writing the account number in the memo line. Or, if the check is for paying rent, write “April 2017 rent” in the memo line.
Using the memo line when writing a check helps secure your checking account and protect you against possible payment disputes. It also can be used to help track your spending so you can know how much money you’re spending in each budget area. In this example, it would be Clothes.
6. Sign the check in the bottom right
This is possibly the most vital part of the check writing process. Companies won’t accept checks without a valid signature. Since each person’s signature is unique, the signature on your check has the capability of protecting you from potential check-writing forgers.
When writing a check, be sure to make your signature neat and write it as you usually would on any other formal document. See Your signature goes here box in the example below.
Your check should look similar to this when it is completed:
There are three more pieces of information that you should be aware of when it comes to the format of a check.
This is specific to your banking institution and is found on the bottom left of the check. It is also used when you give your employer information to receive direct deposit as well as setting up automatic payments.
This is self-explanatory, however, just know that you can find this number directly to the right of your routing number.
Your checkbook is set up in a numerical sequence, so if you write a lot of checks over the years, it makes it easier to go back and confirm payments and ‘check’ disputes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Write a Check With a Pencil?
Only write checks with a pen, preferably blue or black ink. Although you can write checks in pencil, anybody with an eraser can erase all of the information to change the dollar amount and the recipient’s name.
Why Would Someone Post-Date a Check?
People will typically post-date a check when they know there are not sufficient funds currently in the account to cover the check. They are waiting for a deposit to come in so that the check will not bounce.
They may also post-date the check because that is when the bill is due. You need to be careful because when writing a check because it’s legal tender. Just because there is a future date on the check, doesn’t mean that a bank won’t cash it on an earlier date.
Why Are There Two Fields for the Amount on a Check?
Two fields make absolutely clear what the amount of the check is supposed to be. Writing the amount twice also helps eliminate fraud as well as the incorrect amount being debited from one’s account.
Now that you know the basics of writing a check, you are prepared for when there aren’t other payment options such as cash or automatic payment.
Can I Write a Check to Myself for Cash?
Yes, you can write a check to yourself to cash it out. In the “Pay to the order of” field, you can write a check to yourself by writing your own name or by writing the word “Cash.” You will also need to sign the back of the check like you’re going to deposit the check into your checking account.
For your own financial security, don’t write a to check to yourself until you’re already at the bank. If you were to accidentally lose the check, a stranger could potentially cash your check for the written dollar amount. You can also ask the teller how they prefer you address the “Pay to the order of” field to avoid confusion too.
You might try this option if you have accounts at multiple banks, don’t want to pay an ATM fee, or you have to withdraw more than the maximum daily ATM withdrawal amount.
Why Is It So Important to Write a Check Correctly?
If you incorrectly write a check, the depositing bank might not accept the check. Many businesses charge returned check fees–between $20 and $40–plus any applicable late fees because they’re not receiving correct payment by the due date. A simple mistake can easily cost you $40 in fees if you don’t catch it in time.
What Are The Most Common Check Writing Mistakes?
All of us have made a mistake when writing a check and had to start over. Some of the most common mistakes include:
- Writing the wrong date or year (this usually happens in January)
- Forgetting to sign the check
- The dollar amount fields don’t match
Depending on the error, it’s usually easier to write a new check. If you don’t have an extra blank check with you, you can strike a single line through the error and write your initials beside it. After that, write the correct information in the proper field.
The depositing bank can still reject the check if it’s difficult to distinguish the correct information from the errors.
How Do I Write a Voided Check?
Occasionally, you will need to void a check if you incorrectly write it or to set up direct deposit with your employer, charity, or automatic monthly bill payments
Just like you write a check in pen, use a pen to write “VOID” on the front of the check. Each person does it slightly differently, as you might prefer to write the word once in giant letters or write the word in each of the five fields.
If you’re writing a voided check to schedule automatic monthly payments or deposits, you usually don’t have to fill in any of the five fields. However, you might decide to write a brief note in the memo for your personal record.
Is a Personal Check a Certified Check?
No. A personal check is one that you write by hand with a pen. Certified checks–which are sometimes called official checks or cashier’s checks–are printed by your bank to verify the check has sufficient funds.
You may need to use a certified check for the following financial transactions:
- Closing a home mortgage loan
- Buying a car without a loan
- Applying for a Passport
If you have an online bank account, you can request an official check online or by phone. For those who bank locally, visit your hometown branch, and they will immediately issue you the printed check. With either option, you must have enough money in your account to issue the certified check. The bank immediately withdraws the funds from your bank account. So make sure you have enough cash to cover the check amount plus your regular expenses.
Writing a check might feel like a “lost art,” but it’s still a very important skill to know. We don’t pay for everything with plastic or a digital wallet yet, and many businesses prefer a check to cash for large purchases because it’s more secure. Now that you know how to write a check correctly, you don’t have to worry about having to rewrite your check or getting charged those pesky returned check fees.
Do you have any questions when it comes to filling out a check? If so, please let us know in the comments below.