A whole generation has grown up in an age where online banking, debit cards and mobile apps have significantly reduced the popularity of paper checks. Yet the Controller of the Currency Administrator of National Banks shows there are times when only a paper check will do. Therefore, it’s helpful to have a step-by-step guide showing you the right way to fill one out.
Check Anatomy 101
Pictured is a check torn from a checkbook containing a pack of 25 bound checks with consecutive numbering. You usually order checks (typically two or four packs) when you open a new checking account (or savings account), accompanied by a separate check register to record the details of each check you write. The check has preprinted information, including your name (Callout #1), address (optional), check number, bank account number, name of financial institution (e.g., bank, brokerage, credit union, etc.) and bank routing number.
Write a Check (Step-by-Step)
Suppose you had to write a personal check, number 1001, to "The Electric Company" for $85.45. These are the steps you’d take to fill out the check. Banking rules dictate that you use a pen to write the check.
Date the Check
Callout #2, in the upper right-hand corner of the sample check, is where you enter today’s date. You can write a post-dated check in the top right corner, but if the recipient (the “payee”) cashes the check sooner than the future date, you might not have the required funds in your account, causing the postdate check to bounce unless you have overdraft protection. The current date on the sample check is 7/14/2022.
Name the Payee
The payee is the name of the person or organization receiving the check. You’ll use this check to pay the monthly bill to The Electric Company, the payee name. Write the recipient’s name on the line labeled “Pay to the Order of” (Callout #3). You could write “Cash” on this line, allowing anyone to cash or deposit your check (including yourself), but beware – that person could be someone who finds or steals your check.
Enter the Check Amount
You enter the amount of the check in two places. In one case, you write the payment amount as numerals (Callout #4, the amount box): Enter “85.45” in the small box to the right of the dollar sign ($). On the following line (Callout #5), you spell the dollar amount in text.
The rules are a bit strict when writing check amounts: Write the dollar portion first, followed by “xx/100” to indicate the cents (even if zero). In this example, you would enter “Eighty Five 45/100”, followed by a line extending to the preprinted “Dollars” (to prevent unauthorized write-ins).
Memorialize and Sign
Callout #6 is the memo line, starting with the word “For.” Here you can enter a reminder of why you wrote the check (“electric bill”) and perhaps an account number (such as your Electric Company customer number).
Look over your check carefully and if everything is correct, sign your full name in cursive at the bottom right-hand corner of the check (Callout #7). To prevent forgeries, your bank may compare your signature against the one on record. If it finds a discrepancy, it may contact you or return the check unpaid.
If You’re Wondering…
What happens if you write and issue a check incorrectly? It depends. The payee’s bank may object if critical information is missing or contradictory (such as a mismatch in the check amount between the text and numerical amount). Alternatively, its policy might be to pay the amount written in words.
A missing date usually will not stop the check from going through (and the memo line is optional). However, a missing signature will halt the process.
You can stop payment on a check until the payee cashes or deposits it. The Corporate Finance Institute explains your bank will charge a fee for the stop-payment service.
- Never give anyone a signed check without filling in all the spaces.
Eric Bank is a senior business, finance and real estate writer, freelancing since 2002. He has written thousands of articles about business, finance, insurance, real estate, investing, annuities, taxes, credit repair, accounting and student loans. Eric writes articles, blogs and SEO-friendly website content for dozens of clients worldwide, including get.com, badcredit.org and valuepenguin.com. Eric holds two Master's Degrees -- in Business Administration and in Finance. His website is ericbank.com.