Paper checks have some key identifying features that are required by entities such as the FDIC and American Bankers Association (ABA). Standards are necessary to ensure payments are legal and binding. These standards also make it possible to balance your checkbook for personal finance.
Checks are still necessary for payments that are too large for cash without the processing requirements of a credit card. There may be some minor differences based on the type of check, but the universal features must appear on all checks to cash or deposit the payment amount.
What Are the Parts of a Check?
Looking at the front of a blank check starting from the upper left corner, we can immediately identify the different parts of a check. Most of these elements exist for security purposes. Even the paper on which a check is printed contains security features such as watermarks.
- The check issuer’s name and address will be printed first thing on the upper left side of the check. On a personal check, this will be the account holder’s name and will match the signature line.
- The next item at the upper right-hand corner of the check will be the check number and then the date line. These two pieces of information are important for keeping payment records.
- Moving downward, you will find the payee line, dollars line, dollar box, memo line and the signature line.
- The bank a check is drawn from will be branded somewhere on the front of the check.
- At the very bottom of the check, you will find the ABA routing number, account number and check number again. This part of the check provides a security measure and is printed in MICR (magnetic ink character recognition) ink that can be read by check scanners.
Why Is There a Signature Line?
The signature line must be signed by the payor after filling out the rest of the check. The signature must match the name of the person on the check. The signature line is actually a string of text in micro print and not a solid line for security reasons, according to MyCreditUnion.gov.
The dollars line and dollar box must be filled out exactly as required with the same amount of money appearing in words on the dollars line and in numbers in the dollar box. If these dollar amounts do not match, the check may not be accepted by a bank or credit union.
On the back of the check, there will be an area for endorsing the check and more security features printed on the paper. Since facsimiles of checks are not accepted by financial institutions, these features make it difficult to copy the check.
The full name written for the recipient of the check must match the signature endorsement. The check should also contain a date since checks are considered void between six months to a year after issue. The memo line does not need to be filled out on a check, but many people find it useful for their financial recordkeeping.
Which Bank Information Is on a Check?
All pertinent and required bank information can be found on a check. Usually, the bank's name will be printed somewhere prominently on the front side of a check. There will also be proprietary identifying security markings throughout the check.
Most notably, the savings or checking account number and bank routing number will be printed along the bottom of a check along with the check number. As previously mentioned, this string of numbers is printed in MICR ink, which can be mechanically scanned. The routing number is a critical piece of information.
The routing number can be likened to a bank account number for a financial institution. There are 12 Federal Reserve Banks that determine the eligibility for independent banks to conduct business in the Federal Reserve system.
Hashaw Elkins is a financial services and tax professional, as well as a project management consultant. She has led projects across multiple industries and sectors, ranging from the Fortune Global 500 to international nongovernmental organizations. Hashaw holds an MBA in Real Estate and an MSci in Project Management. She is further certified in organizational change management, diversity management, and cross-cultural mediation.