01What You'll See
Checks vary depending on who issues or prints them, but the back of a check generally has three separate sections.
The endorsement area is where you endorse—sign—the check once you’re ready to deposit or cash the check. 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 makes it harder to steal the money itself.
The security screen is not an area you’ll use as a consumer; most checks say that this area is reserved for financial institution use. Banks use this space to note the flow of events when a check is processed. This section is usually printed very lightly (possibly with a pattern of lines) so that it’s hard to photocopy and reproduce. On legitimate check stock, you’ll often find the words “Original Document” here, but you have to look closely.
The security box describes the security features on the check you’re holding. It contains a warning that might help discourage thieves from altering or copying the check, and it also provides tips to help you determine if a check is 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, at the signature line. It is possible to include instructions on the back of a check when you write it (for example, you might write, “For deposit only,” if you want the check deposited to a bank account instead of cashed), but you can never be 100 percent certain that your instructions will be honored.
If you received a check, you’ll need to sign the back to deposit or cash the check (see the endorsement area above). Along with your signature, you might include instructions that limit how the check can be used. For example, if you’re mailing the check in to deposit it, you might write, “For deposit only to account…,” and include your account number. That way, nobody can cash the check if it’s lost in the mail.
02Is a Signature Required on the Back of a Check?
You can, in many cases, get away with depositing a check to your account without a signature (if the check was made payable to you). However, it is safest to sign. Without a signature, the check might be sent back from 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 slightly better luck skipping the signature, but don’t be surprised if the bank hounds you for a signature on business checks (or large checks).
Mobile deposits. The same is true for noting that you’re making a mobile check deposit. Some checks include a check box to indicate that you’re using a remote deposit service, and 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 their requirements, you may face delays in getting your money.
03Numbers on the Back of a Check
You already know about the routing and account numbers on the front of a check, but what about those numbers printed on the back?
Numbers in the endorsement area (assuming they are pre-printed on the check and are not an account number) 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 from which the funds will ultimately come.
What You Need to Know About the Back of a Check
The face of a check gets all the attention, but the back of a check is equally important. To turn that piece of paper into spending money, you’ll need to endorse the check properly. In a world of electronic payments, paper checks are still important. They’re routinely used for important transactions like buying a home, and you may see checks in more mundane situations like short-term employment or when you move your bank account.
The front of a check contains important information, but you need to know how to navigate the back as well.