Banking » Guides » How To Write A Check: The Full Guide
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How To Write A Check: The Full Guide

Is this your first time to write a check or first time to write one after a long time? This article is for you.

You can trust the integrity of our unbiased, independent editorial staff. We may, however, receive compensation from the issuers of some products mentioned in this article. Our opinions are our own.

You might have some questions in your mind such as how to write the amount or those numbers on the bottom of the check are. While it’s true that you won’t be writing booklets and booklets of checks, it’s still important to know how to write one correctly. This article answers your questions with a quick ‘how-to.’

How Does It Work?

In the U.S., if you have a checking account, you can write a check out of that account. Generally, you can only write a check-up to the amount of money you have on your account. But if you took overdraft protection from your bank, you may be able to write a check for an amount beyond your current account balance.

Issuing a bouncing check (a check that the bank dishonors because of insufficient funds) is an offense in the USA. The payee (person or merchant) may charge you around $30 to $35, while you may also have to pay your bank another $25 to $70 in charges. If it involves a material amount, the recipient of the check may file for claims, bring you to court, and you might end up going to jail aside from paying for damages.

There’s nothing wrong if you write a check for the small expenses, like those amounting to just $2.50. Most Americans don’t always bring a lot of cash with them. They make most of their payments through credit card or check. Nevertheless, we recommend that you carry some cash (about $20) all the time for emergencies. If you are in the habit of writing checks all the time, you must have your checkbook with you each time.

how a check should look like

The Steps To Fill Out A Check

1. Address and Check Number

If you look at the top left-hand side of a regular check, you can see the following information: the full name of the account holder, street address, city, state and ZIP code. You can also encounter checks that will contain the address of a business manager or accountant and not the checking account depositor’s home address.

how to write a check - part 1

2. Date Line

Technically, this tells you when the account holder wrote the check, which is normally the case. But some people write post-dated checks by writing a future date on the line. When examining a check, this check doesn’t necessarily tell you when you can already deposit it.

how to write a check - part 2

3. Pay To

Also, on the left side of the check below the account holder’s address, you will see the “Pay-To” field. It tells you the name of the person that the check is for or who the account holder is paying. This can be a business or company name or the name of a person. You can also write “Cash” in this field if your purpose for writing the check is to withdraw money from your account.

how to write a check - part 3

4. The Amount Of The Check

This field should hold the amount that the account holder wishes to pay.

For instance, if he wants to pay fifty dollars to someone, he should write “$50.00” in this field. To make the check easier to read, the issuer should indicate the amount using numbers (instead of words, which has a special field in #5).

5. The Amount In Words

This states the written amount of the check but this time, in words. So, for a $150 check, the issuer should write “One Hundred and Fifty” and the common practice is to put a line after the last word to prevent anybody from adding anything to the amount. Technically, the amount written in words is the official amount of the check.

how to write a check - part 4,5

6. Memo Line

Underneath the bank’s name and address is the “Memo” section where the account holder can write a short note to remind him why he issued the check. For example, if you’re writing a check for this month’s country club membership dues, you can write “Club membership dues for June” in this portion.

how to write a check-part 6

7. Signature Line

This space is where the account holder places his official signature to authorize the check. If there is no signature on the check, the recipient could have a problem cashing or depositing the check and might have to pay his bank additional fees if the check bounces. In such a case, the payee should contact the one who issued the check.

how to write a check - part 7

8. ABA Routing Number

This is the American Banker’s Association routing number or how they identify a bank within the banking system. The printers use magnetic ink to print this number so that a computer can read them. In the early days of check clearing, computers could only read checks when they use the easy-to-read fonts.

how to write a check - part 8

9. Checking Account Number

This is the account number in the bank where the writer of the check will draw the funds from. This is more for the bank’s use and does not really concern the payee of the check and if you’re the account holder, you should be familiar with this number.

how to write a check - part 9

10 +11.  Check Number

It identifies the specific check that you are writing or holding. For every set of checks that a checking account depositor gets, the ABA number and account numbers are constant. However, the check numbers will appear in sequential order for each check to help the depositor and the bank keep their records organized. You can observe that it appears in two places on the check.

how to write a check - part 10,11

Check The Alternatives

Paying your bills by check is fine but you need to make sure that you are up to it. Preparing each check is cumbersome, and it’s not the most efficient way to move funds. There are other more convenient options available for you – and they are even cheaper. Here are some of them:

  • Pay your bills online or arrange for your bank to automatically send a check each month. You’ll spare yourself from writing the check, paying for postage, or getting the check in the mail.
  • Get a debit card and use it to pay bills. You’ll still be using the same account, but you can transact electronically. You can give up your checkbook (which you need to re-order from time to time), and still have an electronic record of your transactions if you want to check who you paid, when, and how much.
  • Sign up for automatic payments for regular bills like utilities and insurance premiums. This service is usually free of charge and it makes your life easy. The only catch is that you should always have enough cash in your account to cover the bills you will be paying.

In each of the options, you should always make sure that you have sufficient funds available in your checking account. In case you fail to leave enough balance on your account, your payments may “bounce” and it will create problems such as additional fees and potential disputes from your merchants. In any case, if you feel your fees are higher than what it should be, you can always replace your account and lower your fees.

Should I Sign The Back Of The Check?

When writing a check, your signature on the signature line on the front of the check is enough – it should be the only place where your signature should appear. You may use the back portion to write a few instructions to the bank or to the payee of the check.

If someone pays you with a check, you should sign the back to deposit or cash the check. Together with your signature, you can include notations that restrict how the payee can use the check.