What You Need to Know About the Back of a Check

Custom illustration of the back of a check

The Balance

Just as you should understand how to read the front of a check, the back of the check is equally important. That's where you endorse it—an all-important step toward converting it to cash. After all, even in a world of electronic payments, paper checks are still routinely used for important transactions such as paying rent, getting paid, or moving your bank account.

Once you've learned the important information contained on the front, here's how to navigate the back of the check.

What You'll See

While checks can vary depending on who issues or prints them, the back of a check generally has three separate sections.

Endorsement area: This is where you endorse, or sign, the check when you’re ready to deposit or cash it. This might be as simple as adding your signature, but it’s safest to use an endorsement that restricts how the check can be used. If the check is lost or stolen after you endorse it, your restriction (such as adding "for deposit only") makes it hard or even impossible for someone to steal the money.

Security screen: This area is reserved for financial institutions use and is not an area you’ll use as a consumer. Banks use this space to note the flow of events when a check is processed. You'll notice that this section is usually printed in very light ink (possibly with a pattern of lines) making it hard to photocopy and reproduce. When legitimate check stock is used, you’ll often find the words “Original Document” written in this space—but you have to look closely.

Security box: This is a security feature that contains a warning that helps discourage thieves from altering or copying the check. It also provides tips to help consumers determine if a check is actually legitimate. For example, it might suggest that you look for microprint or watermarks on the check.


Who Signs the Back of a Check?

There's a lot of confusion about where signatures go. Do you sign the back of a check when you write it or is that the recipient's job?

When you write a check, the only place you need to sign is on the front—right on the signature line. However, it is possible to include instructions on the back of a check when you write it. For example, “Hold for deposit until December 30, 2020.” The caveat is that you can never be completely certain that your instructions will be honored.

If you receive a check, you’ll need to sign the back to deposit or cash it. Along with your signature, you might include instructions that limit how the check can be used. For example, if you’re mailing the check because you want to deposit it to another account, you might write, “For deposit only" and then write your account number. That way, no one else can cash the check if it’s lost in the mail.

Is a Signature Required on the Back of a Check?

If you're receiving instead of writing the check, you may, in many cases, get away with depositing it without a signature if the check was made payable to you. However, it is safest to sign the check. Without a signature, the check might be sent back to the issuer, resulting in fees and delays in getting your money. Even if your bank deposits a check without a signature on the back and you see the money added to your account, that check might get rejected a week or two later.

With personal checks, you’ll have a better chance of skipping the signature, but don’t be surprised if the bank hounds you for a signature on business checks or large checks.

The same is true if you’re making a mobile check deposit. Some checks include a checkbox to indicate that you’re using a remote deposit service, while some banks instruct you to write something about mobile deposits on your check. You might be able to get away with ignoring those instructions, but it’s best to ask your bank for guidance. If you don’t meet your particular banks' requirements, you may face delays in getting your money.

Numbers on the Back of a Check

You're probably familiar with the routing and account numbers on the front of a check, but what about those numbers printed on the back?

Pre-printed numbers in the endorsement area are often reference numbers used to track checks. They are especially helpful for businesses that print checks on blank check stock.

Numbers outside of the endorsement area are added by banks that handle the check when it is cashed or deposited. Those banks print their information on the check and then send it on to the bank that will ultimately release the funds.