Published in: Credit Cards | Nov. 20, 2018
How to Write a Check
By: The Ascent Staff
Writing checks has become a lot less popular in recent years, as alternatives like debit and credit cards and mobile payment systems have become more readily available. Yet no matter how technologically savvy you are, you will inevitably still face situations in which you'll need to know how to write a check in order to pay for something. This step-by-step process will take you through writing a check and understanding everything that goes on behind the scenes with this payment method.
What a blank check looks like
Even before you write anything on it, your blank checks already have a lot of vital information on them. Your name typically appears at the upper left, and each check is preprinted with a sequential number to allow for easier tracking. The name of your bank will appear somewhere on your check as well.
Image source: Getty Images.
The most important part of a blank check is on the bottom line. You'll find three sets of numbers there. At bottom left is the routing number, which is a unique identifier assigned to your bank that tells the electronic payment systems that process modern-day checks which financial institution will provide ultimate payment on the check. The middle numbers are your account number at the bank. Finally, you'll see the check number again on the right side of the bottom line.
Now, you're ready to write a check. Here's what to do next.
1. Write in the date.
The date typically goes at the top right, often with a line that says "Date" on it. You can use any date format you want, but it's important to use the current date, because banks can reject checks if they're presented for payment too long after the date on the check. Postdating checks for a date in the future is a common practice, but it's largely ineffective, as most people who receive such a check can deposit it immediately without waiting until the future date.
2. Write in whom you want to pay.
On the line marked "Pay to the order of," put in the person or company you're paying. If the name is shorter than the space provided, draw a horizontal line after the name through to the end of the space provided. That way, if your check is stolen, no one can write in their own name to try to cash the check.
3. Write in the amount in numbers.
At the end of the "Pay to the order of" line, there'll typically be an empty box. Sometimes it will have a dollar sign in front of it, and on some checks, the box will have a different color of shading from the background of the check. In this box, write the amount you're paying in numeric format, using decimals for cents. For example, you'd write in "528.00" in the box if you wanted to pay $528.
4. Write in the check amount in words.
On the line below, you'll see a blank space that typically ends with the word "dollars." In this space, write out in words the dollar amount of the check you want to write, along with the phrase "and xx/100" where you'll fill in the "xx" with the number of cents in the payment. Again, to deter tampering, draw a horizontal line through to the end of the line once you're done writing the amount. The words should agree with the number in the space above it. Using the same example above, you would write "Five hundred twenty-eight and no/100" in the box, and then draw a horizontal line from the end of what you write to the preprinted "dollars" at the end of that line.
5. Write in any necessary information on the line provided.
Most checks come with an extra line near the bottom left. It's sometimes labeled "Memo" or "For" or a similar description, while other checks just put the line there with no further explanation. On that line, you can put additional information that's important either to you or to the recipient. For instance, if you're paying a bill, your billing number often goes in that box, while brokerage companies will often ask you to put in your brokerage account number there if you're making a deposit.
6. Sign the check.
Your check isn't valid until you sign it. Your signature typically goes on the blank line at the bottom right, and some checks will have the word "Signature" under that line in order to avoid any confusion. The signature should match what's on file with your bank.
Writing checks is becoming a thing of the past, and can even expose you to fraud, but you can still run into situations where it's valuable to know how to write a check. Follow the six steps above, and you won't go wrong using a check to pay.
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