Counter Checks

Need a Few Checks to Hold You Over Until Your Order Arrives?

Blank Check
Counter checks are plain-looking checks with your account number (but your name and personal information might not appear). George Manga/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

The biggest problem with writing checks is that you always need to have a check handy. That’s a tall order when you can pay for (almost) everything electronically and get instant access to so many other things. But if the need arises, your bank might “counter” checks to get you through a pinch.

What is a Counter Check?

Counter checks are checks that you get at your bank branch, usually from a teller or a personal banker.

They can be used immediately, so they’re convenient when you’ve just opened a new account (or you’ve run out of checks and you need a check pronto).

Banks print your account information on counter checks so they work just like regular checks: your ABA number and account number appear on the bottom of each check in that familiar computerized MICR font. Some banks also print your name and address as well, but for the most part these checks are very basic – merchants can usually tell when you’re using a counter check.

Counter checks are not the same as cashier’s checks – which are also checks that your bank prints on-demand. Cashier’s checks are “cleared” money, and they have payee information printed on them, while counter checks come out blank.

Pros and Cons

The main benefit of a counter check is that you’re up and running with a trip to the branch. Instead of waiting for a shipment of checks, you can start writing checks right away.

What’s the cost? Banks usually charge a small fee to print checks at the branch – generally around two dollars per check – and you can only get a few at a time (don’t expect to walk out with 50 checks).

If you’re planning to make a payment with one of these checks, be aware that they aren’t always accepted.

Even if your personal information is printed on the check, a counter check usually doesn’t have a check number – and this is a signal that the check is a counter check. Merchants might fear that you’ve opened a brand new account (which means greater risk for them), or that you’re using a poorly-made counterfeit check.

How to Get Counter Checks

Before you go to the branch, call your bank and ask if you can pick up a few checks. Find out what the process is, and if you need to use any particular branch. Of course, if you use an online-only bank, you can’t get counter checks because there is no branch to visit.

Ask the teller or personal banker at your branch to print checks, show your ID and complete any other steps required by the bank, and you’ll have checks in-hand in just a few minutes.

How to Fill Out Counter Checks

Writing a check with a counter check is the same as using any other check (see a visual tutorial):

  1. Write the date in the upper-right corner
  2. Write the name of your payee on the line next to “Pay to the order of”
  3. Write the amount of the check in numeric form in the box on the right
  4. Write the amount using words on the line under the Payee line
  5. Include a “memo” or any reference information if you like
  1. Sign the check near the bottom-right corner

Running out of Checks?

If you’re out of checks, and you find yourself in this situation often, try to use fewer checks. Although counter checks are helpful, it takes time to go to the branch, and it’s less-expensive to order checks from a printer.

To use fewer checks, take advantage of technology: