Whether you're a cash-only person now switching over to checks or a veteran check user who's always wondered what all the things written on a check mean, understanding the components of a check can be beneficial. Not only will you need to know the parts to a check in order to fill the check out, you'll also need this information if a check is lost in the mail, and you have to call the bank to cancel it, you run out of checks and need to reorder them or if you need to set up direct deposit with your employer.
Address and Check Number
On the top left-hand side of a typical check, you will find the full name of the checking account holder, street address, city, state and ZIP code. Different types of checks may have the address of a business manager or accountant instead of the account holder's home address. In some instances, a driver's license number and work or home telephone number may be included in this portion of the check. On the top right-hand corner of the check is the check number, which is usually in sequence and helps you keep track of checks you write.
Date and Pay-To
Just below the check number on the upper right-hand side of a check is the date field that you fill in on the day you write a check. When you post-date a check, this date will not reflect the date you wrote the check but rather a future date. On the left side of the check under the account holder's address is the "Pay-To" field, which is the name of the person to whom you are writing the check. This can be a business or company name or the name of an individual. In cases when you're withdrawing money from your bank, you would write "Cash" in this field.
Check Amount Fields
To the immediate right of the "Pay-To" field is the "Check Amount" box, which indicates the amount of the check you're writing in numerical form, reports TD Bank. For example, a check for $25 would be written as "$25" in this field. Directly underneath the "Pay-To" field is the "Dollars" field which is the amount of the check written in word form. A check for $25 would be written "Twenty-Five" and in many instances a line is made after the last word in this field to prevent someone from altering the amount written.
Read More: How to Open a New Checking Account
Bank Information and Memo
Directly beneath the "Dollars" field on the left-hand bottom portion of a check is the name, phone number, city, state and ZIP code of the financial institution that issued the check. The institution's logo is often displayed in this area as well. Directly beneath the bank's address is the "Memo" section where you can write a short note reminding yourself why the check was written. For example, if you wrote a personal check to your gardener, write "Winter pruning" in this section.
Routing Information and Signature
On the bottom lower left-hand portion of a check are a series of numbers that typically run about two-thirds of the length of the check. The first nine digits represent the financial institution's routing number, says the National Credit Union Administration, which is coded for your specific branch. The numbers in the middle represent your account number and the check number. The check number at the top right and the check number in this lower portion have to match. If they don't, contact your financial institution.
At the bottom right-hand section of the check is the "Signature" line, where you sign the check to make it official and ready for payment. In most cases, a check without a signature will not be paid to the recipient.
Endorsement and Safety Features
On the back of a typical check, there is a line at the top portion for the recipient of the check to sign. This usually occurs when the recipient of the check deposits the check into his account for payment. Below this signature line, many checks feature the words "Do not write or sign below this line," followed by specific safety designs to ensure that the check is valid.
- TD Bank: Check it Out! A Look at Checks and How to Keep a Register
- National Credit Union Administration: Understanding a Check and Balancing a Checkbook
- National Credit Union Administration. "Understanding a Check and Balancing a Checkbook." Accessed June 4, 2020.
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "I Received a Check Where the Words and the Numbers for the Amount Are Different." Accessed June 4, 2020.
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Can a Bank or Credit Union Cash a Post-Dated Check Before the Date on the Check?" Accessed June 4, 2020.
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "My Bank/Credit Union Cashed a Post-Dated Check Even Though I Told Them About the Post-Dated Check Before They Received It." Accessed June 4, 2020.
- Department of the Treasury. "U.S. Treasury Check Security Features." Accessed June 4, 2020.
- Federal Reserve Consumer Help. "Can a Bank Refuse to Cash My Check?" Accessed June 4, 2020.
- Georgia Department of Banking and Finance. "Check Fraud / Counterfeit Checks." Accessed June 4, 2020.
- American Bankers Association. "ABA Routing Number." Accessed June 4, 2020.
Sampson Quain is a screenwriter and filmmaker who began writing in 1996. He has sold feature and television scripts to a variety of studios and networks including Columbia, HBO, NBC, Paramount and Lionsgate. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting from the University of Southern California.