When somebody writes you a check, you typically need to endorse it so that you can cash the check or deposit it. To endorse a check, sign your name on the back, and include any additional details required to process the check efficiently. A signature is usually all that’s needed, but additional steps can help you control how banks handle your payment and protect you from fraud.
How to Endorse
To be endorsed correctly, the name signed on the back of the check needs to match the payee's name on the front of the check. If your name was misspelled or written incorrectly, sign it with the incorrect version, and then sign again using your correct name.
Where to Endorse
Most checks have a 1.5-inch section on the back for you to write in. This section, known as the endorsement area, is marked with lines and instructions saying "Do not write, stamp, or sign below this line." (See "Back of the check" in the example image above.) Try to keep your entire signature and any other instructions for the bank in that area.
The easiest way to endorse (but also the most dangerous) is to simply sign the check without adding any restrictions. To use that method, known as a blank endorsement, sign your name in the endorsement area. (See "Blank endorsement" in the example.) But only do this if you’re about to deposit the check or cash it immediately after you sign. For example, a blank endorsement might make sense if you’re in a bank lobby or making a remote deposit at home.
Mailing, Depositing at ATM, and More
If you plan to mail the check to your bank, deposit it at an ATM, or carry it around for a while, use a different approach. Either leave the check unsigned until you’re ready to deposit, or add a restriction to the endorsement. Blank endorsements are risky because somebody else can steal the endorsed check and potentially cash it or deposit it to a different account.
Restrictive Endorsement—Get Money Into Your Account
A restrictive endorsement helps ensure that a check gets deposited into a particular bank account. (See "Restrictive endorsement" in the example.) To use this method, include your account number with your endorsement, and provide instructions saying the money can only be deposited to your account.
To do so, write "For deposit only to account #####" (using your account number), as part of your endorsement. If the check gets lost or stolen, it's more difficult for thieves to get your money—they'll need to alter the endorsement. An alternative to including your account number is to write "For deposit only to account of payee," which would require thieves to have access to an account in your name. Depending on the situation, you might or might not also have to sign if you specify an account number.
Sign It Over to Somebody Else
You can try to sign a check over to somebody else, effectively paying that person with the check you received. However, that’s not an ideal way to pay somebody. To sign a check over, write "Pay to the order of..." below your signature, and name the new payee.
Be aware that some banks do not allow this type of endorsement because the technique is sometimes used for theft and fraud. Check with all banks involved before you try—both the checkwriter’s bank and the final bank where the check will be deposited.
You don't always have to endorse checks. Some banks allow you to deposit checks without a signature, account number, or anything else on the back. Skipping the endorsement can help keep your information private. Checkwriters can often view images online of processed checks, including the endorsement area, after checks are paid. With no endorsement, nobody can see your signature or your account number unless your bank adds the account number during processing.
For extra security, you can still write “for deposit only” in the endorsement area. Technically that’s not an endorsement, but most banks and credit unions would be reluctant to cash that check for anyone.
Who Signs to Endorse?
In some cases, it's not clear who should sign the check. Again, the person receiving the check needs to endorse it. The person who initially wrote the check already signed on the front. (See front and back of check example.)
Checks Payable to Multiple People
If a check is payable to you and somebody else, how should you endorse it? Does everybody need to sign, or just one of you? It depends on how the check is written: If the word "and" appears between names, everybody needs to sign.
Checks to Your Business
If you run a business and accept checks, endorsing is slightly different. The check is payable to the business—not to you, the individual who owns the business—so you need to sign on behalf of the business. Anybody else who endorses these checks needs to be authorized to handle funds for the company.
A check made payable to one party for the benefit of (FBO) another must be endorsed by the first payee. For example, the check might be made payable to a retirement account custodian for a rollover transaction. The custodian will handle the check, and you generally would not need to endorse it.
Why Do You Need to Endorse Checks?
When you get paid with a check, that payment is made to you. You're the only person who can legally collect money from the checkwriter's account. However, the easiest way to cash that check (or deposit money you can later spend from your checking account) is to hand it over to your bank and let them deal with it.
By endorsing a check, you authorize the bank to collect payment. The bank then has the right to act on your behalf and negotiate the check.
Again, you can potentially deposit a check without endorsing it. Assuming the check is small enough, you deposit it into an account that matches the payee name, and it's not from an insurance company or other organization that requires endorsement, this may be an option. Banks and credit unions regularly accept unendorsed checks and assume that no problems will arise.
That said, if it's essential that you get paid quickly, it is safest to endorse checks properly and thoroughly. Even if your bank allows you to deposit a check, that check could come back in several weeks, resulting in the bank removing those funds from your account until everything gets cleared up.
No matter what method you use to endorse checks, wait as long as you can before signing a check. It's best to sign while you're at the bank or you’re in the process of making a mobile deposit. If you endorse checks and they subsequently get lost, it's easier for somebody else to cash the check or try and deposit the check in their account.
How Mobile Deposit Endorsements Differ
If you deposit checks using your mobile device, follow instructions on your bank’s app. The bank may request that your endorsement indicates that you’re making a mobile deposit. In some cases, you’ll get away with ignoring those instructions, but it’s best to honor the request if a deposit is important.
Now that you know what it means to endorse, figure out the best way to deposit checks. With ATMs and most mobile devices, you can often skip the teller line. You may also be able to eliminate paper checks altogether by getting paid electronically.