Are you a first-time checking account holder or have you been using checks for a long time? Whatever the case may be, understanding your check’s parts is important especially when something untoward happens. For example, if your check gets lost in the mail, what information should you tell the bank so they can cancel it?
1. Address and Check Number
If you look towards the top left-hand side of a regular check, you will see the following details: full name of the account holder, street address, city, state, and ZIP code. However, you may encounter some checks that have the address of a business manager or accountant in place of the account holder’s address.
Occasionally, some banks would put a driver’s license number and work or home telephone number in this part of the check. On the top right-hand corner of the check, you will find the check number. The bank prints this number in sequential order so that you can keep track of the checks you write and help you identify a particular check in case it is lost.
When you write a check, this is the space where you should write the date when you supposedly issued it. In many cases, that date is the actual date that you prepared the check although you can also issue a “post-dated” check or one that carries a future date. The date you write on this portion basically determines how long the check can stay valid for negotiation. The date does not necessarily tell the holder when he can deposit the check.
If a check is post-dated, there’s a reason why the issuer did it. It is best to communicate with the check writer to ask why. When determining the validity of the check, it is crucial to verify that a check is not too old. Look for markings like “Not valid after 90 days” or an issue date that’s already more than six months.
3. Pay to
Below the account holder’s address is the “Pay to” field (on the left side of the check). It carries the name of the person or entity to whom the account holder is writing the check for. This can be an individual’s name, a company name, or a business name. If you are writing a check to yourself to get some cash from your bank, you could write your name or simply “Cash” in this field.
4. The Amount (Written Numerically)
Use this space to indicate the amount of the check using numbers. For example, if you want to issue a check for one hundred dollars, put “$100.00” in this field. Using numbers instead of words (as you will see in #5) allows for faster reading of the amount in a glance. In case there is a discrepancy between the amount in numbers against the amount in words, the bank will use what amount the issuer wrote out in words.
5. The Amount (Written Out In Words)
If you were to issue a check for $100, you should spell out the words “one hundred” in this line. The usual practice is to add a long hyphen after the last word so that nobody can alter the amount by adding additional words – for example, adding “fifty” so it becomes “one hundred fifty” dollars. The amount that you write in words is the official amount of the check. This portion, with the amount the issuer wrote in words, is most probably what he intended to pay.
6. Memo Line
Underneath the bank’s address is the “Memo” section where the check issuer can write a short explanation of what the check is for. This is particularly handy in your record-keeping. For example, if you wrote a personal check to the plumber who repaired the sink, you can write “Plumber’s fee – September” in this space.
7. Signature Line
This will carry the authorized signature of the person who issued the check. In case you are the recipient of a check with a missing signature, you might have a problem negotiating the check and your bank might charge additional fees in case the check bounces. You should go back to the person who issued the check to you to correct the error.
8. ABA Routing Number
Officially, this is the bank’s unique ABA (American Bankers Association) routing number which identifies a particular bank within the US banking system. They use magnetic ink to print these numbers so a computer program that has a Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR) program can read and process them. This system of check processing, although several decades old, is popular all over the world even up to today.
9. Checking Account Number
This identifies the account number where the funds to pay the check will come from. This is more for the use of the bank and if you’re the check’s payee, this is hardly relevant information.
10 & 11. Check Number
This number identifies the individual check among several pieces in one check booklet. Typically, the appearance and printed details on each check remain the identical – except the check number. As an extra control and to avoid confusion, the check number appears in two places on the face of the check.
Why Not All Check Look The Same?
Technically, any piece of paper can serve as a negotiable instrument like a check so long as it contains all the necessary information and the drawer or account holder places his signature on it. In banking practice, banks have the liberty of changing visual designs on the face of the checks for branding – but they have to retain all the relevant details and conform to the ABA’s physical check security requirements.
If you’re using pre-printed checks that your bank gave you, chances are, every check that you have would look a lot like the example we’ve shown here. The bank would have printed all the details, such as your name and address, the check number, ABA routing number, and account number, on the face of each check. You now only need to fill in the date, the payee’s name, the amount in numbers and the corresponding amount in words on their respective spaces – preferably without any error or alteration. To finish the entire process of writing a check, you just have to affix your signature on the line.
Why Do We Still Use Checks?
Checks are a payment mechanism that has been around for a long time. That isn't to imply they don't have a role in modern society. In some circumstances, paying a bill with a personal check is not just the best, but the only option. Some smaller companies still accept checks (though they may not accept your credit card), and many landlords and real estate agents do as well. You can mail a check to the IRS to pay your taxes. In fact, some businesses may charge you an additional processing fee if you pay a bill with a credit card rather than a check.
Furthermore, checks are far more secure than banking or paying payments online. You write a check, pay a bill, and mail it to the postal service. There are no data breaches or hackers to be concerned about. Because they don't enjoy placing their debit card number, expiration date, and security number in an envelop that clearly contains a payment of some type, some customers prefer to pay using a check.
One of the primary reasons is that the US financial system lacks a low-cost, ubiquitous method of transferring funds between bank accounts. Customers in most other countries can instantly transfer monies from their account to someone else's account at another financial institution. This may be done from any two banks, and everyone has access to it. There is also minimal to no cost.
Instead, in the United States, a patchwork of commercial companies such as Venmo and PayPal allow users to send money using their proprietary platforms, but both parties must use the same service, and there is an additional step of transferring the money back to your actual bank account. Businesses that accept payments using these platforms usually pay a fee. A credit card can also be used, however credit card purchases come with processing fees, and the recipient must be able to take credit cards. Money can be transferred between any two bank accounts for free using a check. Checks will exist until there is a universal no-fee alternative for transferring money between accounts in the United States.