The rising popularity of debit cards, direct deposit and mobile banking has reduced the number of people writing paper checks. In years past, check writing was a major feature of personal finance, providing a safer alternative to cash, especially when a credit or debit card payment processor is not available.
While writing checks has become a less prevalent payment method, it is still a widely accepted method of payment. Therefore, it's important that you know how to fill out a check.
Writing Paper Checks
The majority of personal checks are drawn against a checking account. Checking accounts allows convenient access to liquid funds to manage regularly occurring payments and expenses. Checks can also be drawn from savings accounts.
A check is a draft that's payable on demand and drawn on a bank account. The payor is the person writing the check. The payor can restrict the payment amount to the name of the person receiving the check, known as the payee, and keep a record of the check as proof of payment.
Personal checks are quite useful for large purchases because a paper check is safer than carrying cash from an ATM. There is enough identifying information on a check to trace a check deposit in order to locate funds, if necessary. A checkbook will also have a check register to keep track of the account balance.
There are multiple parts of a check which makes issuing checks a bit different from swiping a debit card. The account number and routing number will be printed on the check, along with the full name and address of the payor. The name of the bank or credit union will also be on the check.
The payor will fill out the current date or use the option of postdating the check for a future date. Many people find the memo line to be useful for recording details of the transaction. The amount of the payment will also be recorded twice on the check. A check will also require the payor's signature. One particular concern is filling out the "Dollars" line.
How to Fill Out the Dollars Line
The proper way to fill out the dollars line is to write out the dollar amount of the check in words and to use a fraction for the cents. If the amount of the check is $35.76, for example, you would write “Thirty-Five Dollars and 76/100” on the dollars line and the numerical amount in the dollar box with a dollar sign.
American Express stresses that even if the check amount contains zero cents, write out “and 00/100” on the dollars line for the sake of clarity. Both the words and numeric payment amounts must match.
For security, it is advisable to write out the payment information as far to the left as possible, to avoid leaving space or crowding the written amount on the dollar line and the numeric amount in the dollar box. A common method of fraud is for criminals to add value to the payment amount on these lines.
Scribble a line after the cents towards the word “Dollars” printed on the check to fill in any extra space. If the amount is for something less than a dollar, such as a check for 50 cents, write “Only fifty cents” and cross out the remainder of the space on the line as well as the word “Dollars” on the check.
Writing Checks to a Payee
The check's dollar line helps resolve any conflicts regarding the actual amount of the check. For example, a problem exists if a payor writes “$40.50” in the dollar box but “Forty-two and 50/100” is written on the dollar line. Double-check the information on a personal check to reduce such errors.
Before the payee can cash the check, the payor must have signed the signature line. Be wary of signing blank checks, as someone may find the check and fill it in for any amount they choose. While this constitutes fraud and is illegal, recovering stolen money can be a hassle.
According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC), various check fraud scams exist. NPR also reports that check fraud is rising in the U.S. and is facilitated through the dark web. Exercise caution when filling out personal checks and mailing check payments.
Based in Traverse City, Mich., George Lawrence has been writing professionally since 2009. His work primarily appears on various websites. An avid outdoorsman, Lawrence holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in both criminal justice and English from Michigan State University, as well as a Juris Doctor from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, where he graduated with honors.