I write a handful of checks each year. It’s far easier to use a credit card but some places don’t accept them because of the fees.
Once you learn, it’s hard to forget how to write a check but if you’ve never written one before it can be a little intimidating.
Don’t worry, I have your back.
Follow these simple instructions and you’ll have a properly written personal check that will be accepted by any bank without problems. And you’ll be done in a minute without having to worry if you forgot anything.
Table of Contents
Avoid Using Personal Checks
Before we get into how to write a check, I implore you to avoid using them in the first place.
A personal check contains a tremendous amount of your personal information. The standard personal check will have your name, address, bank name, and bank account number. Once signed, it’ll have your signature too.
(and even if you “void” a check, the information is still on the check even if the check can’t be “used” in the traditional way)
Take a look at your check — those little numbers at the bottom are for the issuing bank’s ABA routing number (your bank) and your account number. It’s usually the account number first then the ABA number but sometimes checks switch it around. The ABA number is the 9 digit one and you can confirm it using the FDIC’s Bank Find tool.
There’s also a minor financial reason – you’re going to have to mail the check. That’ll cost you a stamp. You’re better off paying with a credit card, saving yourself a stamp and the (very small) risk the check gets lost in the mail and calling it a day.
How to Write a Check
Time needed: 3 minutes.
Here are the steps you need to complete to properly write a personal check that your recipient can deposit or cash without any issues:
- Find a personal check – this is how you will fill it out:
- Write in the date of the check
Typically today but you can also “post date” a check, which is to write a future date.
- Write in the name of the payee on the “Pay to the Order Of” line
The payee is who you are paying.
- Write in the amount in numbers, with dollars and cents, in the square box.
- Write in the amount in words including cents.
$1,234.56 would be “One thousand, two hundred thirty four and 56/100”
- Write in a description in the memo, following any instructions provided by the payee.
This is partially for your records but also for the payee – this may include adding information like your account number, ID, or other identifying information.
- Sign it.
When the bank looks at the check, it’s really only checking a few things.
For example, when the person deposits the check the bank will check that the date isn’t in the future (known as “post dating”) or more than six months into the past. Under the Uniform Commercial Code, banks aren’t legally obligated to pay checks that are dated older than six months… but they can if they want to.
They will confirm that the name on the check (in the “Pay to the Order Of” field) matches the name on the depositor’s account. Then it checks the amount in the small box to know how much to withdraw. Finally, it makes a quick check that #1025 (the number on the example check) wasn’t already used.
The rest exists for security purposes if you, or someone else, have a dispute with the check. For example, if you check your balance and see that your check was cashed for more than what you expected, you can talk to your bank.
They will then manually check that the amount in numbers (in the box) matches what you wrote out in full words. Finally, they’ll confirm your signature matches the one they have on record.
How To Avoid Check Scams
I’ve never been the victim of check fraud. in fact, I don’t know anyone who has been the victim of check fraud… but it happens.
The most common situation is that a check is doctored so the amount is larger than originally intended. This is a tricky scam to pull off because if the amount is too large, the check will bounce and the scammer gets nothing. If it’s too small, it’s almost not worth it! The best way to prevent this is to leave no room for adjustment.
To avoid this, make sure you write checks in permanent ink. Don’t use a pencil as it can be erased and easily changed.
When I write checks, I use all the room in the amount rectangle and the line used to write it out in full words. No room for additions or changes, no room to scam me.
Finally, I write very few checks.
It’s really not something to ever worry about… but it’s a minor precaution.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Yes, you can write a check to anyone and that includes yourself. Simply write your name in the payee section and you’ve done it. To cash the check, you just sign the back (endorse it) and deposit it into your account as you would any other check. You can do this through an ATM, mobile deposit, or at the teller – to the bank, it doesn’t matter that the check is to yourself.
You should only sign the front of the check after you’ve written in every other piece of information. Signing the check makes it “official” and leaving areas blank means the person receiving it can write in whatever they want and cash it. This is the origin of the term “blank check.”
Now you know how to write a check. Easy peasy. 🙂
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I write personal checks to pay bills – utilities usually do not accept credit cards (or there’s a fee).
Adrian - Investor Tuition says
Now I feel really old. Having grown up with checks, it seems second nature about how to write them. Good on you for the explanation. And yes, always use all the space where you write the amount in words and figures. You can also draw a horizontal line to stop anyone adding anything. There are also Bank Cheques available which avoid the personal information reveal of standard checks but with these, you charged a fee.
I was going to regale you with the complexities of the ‘bills of exchange act’ but I will keep that for a later time I think. (just kidding, stick with Mogadon to put you to sleep!)