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.
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
Here are the steps you need to complete to properly write a personal check that your recipient can deposit or cash without any issues:
Write in the date of the check, it's usually going to be today.
Write in the name of the payee (who you are paying) on the “Pay to the Order Of” line
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 (like including your account #, etc.)
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.
Thye 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 Checks Can Be Scammed
I've never been the victim of check fraud. 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.
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, no room to scam.
It's really not something to ever worry about… but it's a minor precaution.
That's it! Now you know how to write a check. Easy peasy. 🙂