How to Write a Check

1
Example

Sample - Completed Check
A completed check. Use this as an example or move through the steps below. Justin Pritchard

Checks are still surprisingly common, even in today’s digital world. But you probably don’t write a check every day (or maybe you’ve never done it before). It’s easy to do, and this tutorial shows you how. You can move through each step one-by-one, or just figure out how to write a check on your own using the example above.

Complete the steps in any order you like. In this example, you’ll move from the top of a check to the bottom (which should help you avoid skipping any steps).

  1. Current date: write this near the top right-hand corner. In most cases you’ll use today’s date. You can also postdate the check, but that doesn't always work the way you think it will.
  2. Payee: on the line that says "Pay to the order of", write the name of the person or organization you’re paying. You may have to ask "Who do I make the check out to?" if you're not sure what to write. Avoid writing checks payable to cash – it’s convenient, but risky.
  3. Amount (in numeric form): write the amount of your payment in the small box. You should start as far over to the left as possible. If your payment is for $8.15, the "8" should be right up against the left-hand border of the dollar box to prevent fraud. See examples of how to write in the amount.
  4. Amount (in words): write out the amount using words to avoid fraud and confusion. This will be the official amount of your payment. If that amount is different from the numeric form that you entered in the previous step, the amount you wrote with words will legally be the amount of your check. Use ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, which are harder to alter.
  5. Signature: sign the check legibly on the line in the bottom-right corner. Use the same name and signature on file at your bank. This is one of the most important steps – a check will not be valid without a signature.
  6. Memo (or “For”) line: include a note, if you like – this is an optional step. This is a good place to add a reminder about why you wrote the check. This might also be the place to write information required to process your payment (and find your account if the check gets misplaced). For example, you could write your Social Security Number on this line when paying the IRS, or an account number for utility payments.

After you write the check, make a record of the payment (ideally with a check register, whether electronic or on paper). This prevents you from spending the money twice – the funds will still show as available in your account until after the check is deposited or cashed, and that could take a while. It’s also a good idea to make a note of the payment while it’s fresh in your mind.

Before writing a check, make sure that it’s really something you need to do. Writing a check is cumbersome, and it’s not the fastest way to pay. You might have other options that make your life easier and help you save money. For example, you can:

  • Pay bills online (and even tell your bank to send a check automatically each month). You won't need to write the check, pay for postage, or get the check in the mail
  • Get a debit card and pay with that instead. You'll pay out of the same account, but you'll do it electronically. No need to use up checks (which you'll have to re-order), and you'll have an electronic record of your transaction.
  • Set up electronic payments for regular payments like utility bills and insurance premiums. There's generally no charge to pay this way, and it makes your life easy. Just be sure that you've always got enough cash in your account to cover the bill.

No matter how you choose to pay, make sure you always have at least enough money for the payment available in your checking account. If you don't, your payments may "bounce" and create problems for you (including hefty fees, and possibly even legal troubles).

2
Record the Payment in your Check Register

An example of how to copy information from your completed check to your check register
Make a note of the transaction in your check register. Copy everything from your check so you'll know what happened later. Calculate your running balance so you know how much money you have right now. Justin Pritchard

Make a record of every check you write in a check register. This will allow you to:

  • Track your spending so you don't bounce checks
  • Know where your money goes (your bank statement may only show a check number -- but no description of who you wrote the check to)
  • Detect fraud and identity theft in your checking account

You should have received a check register when you got your checkbook. If you don’t have one, read more about why check registers are important and where to get them.

Copy all of the important information off your check:

  • Check number
  • Date that you wrote the check
  • A description of the transaction or who you wrote the check to
  • How much the payment was for

If you need more details on where to find this information, see a diagram showing the different parts of a check.

You can also use your register to balance your checking account. This is the practice of double-checking every transaction in your bank account to make sure you and the bank are on the same page. You’ll know if there are mistakes in your account, and if anybody has failed to deposit a check you wrote them (thereby making it look like you have more money to spend).

Finally, your check register can provide an instant view of how much money you have available. Once you write a check, you should assume that the money is gone (in some cases it is drawn from your account quickly if your check is converted to an electronic check). In the example above, we assume that you woke up this morning with $100 available in your account. Now that you’ve written a check for $8.15, you only have $91.85 available.

3
Tips for Writing a Check - Security

Altered Check
Justin Pritchard

When you write a check, make sure it gets used the way you intended – to pay the amount you expected to the payee you expected.

Especially if they get lost or stolen (whether by you or the person you tried to pay), checks can be altered. It might not be your fault – and you might not be responsible for the loss – but making things easy for thieves results in a nice payday for them and some major headaches for you (while you clean up your account and get your money back).

Get into the habit of using the techniques below, and you’ll improve your chances.

Security Tips

Make it permanent: use a pen to write your check. If you use a pencil, anybody with an eraser can change the amount of your check and the name of the payee.

No blank checks: don’t sign a check until after you’ve filled in the name of the payee and the amount. If you’re not sure who to make the check payable or how much something costs, just bring a pen – it’s much less risky than giving somebody unlimited access to your checking account.

A check that can’t grow: When you’re filling in the dollar amount, make sure you print the value in a way that scammers can’t add numbers to it. Do this by starting at the far left edge of the space, and draw a line after the last digit. For example, if your check is for $8.15, put the “8” as far to the left as possible. Then, draw a line from the right side of the “5” to the end of the space or write the numbers so that it’s hard to add any numbers. If you leave space for the scammers, they can add digits, and your check might end up being $98.15 – or $8,150.

Carbon copies: checks aren’t the newest form of payment, but they’re still commonly used. If you’re going to write checks, get checkbooks with carbon copies (a thin sheet makes a copy of every check you write). This helps you quickly identify where your money went and exactly what you wrote on every check. You can also look up checks online, but some banks only provide images (for free) for a month or two.

Consistent signature: many people don’t have a legible signature, and some people even sign checks and credit card slips with humorous images. But consistently using the same signature helps you and your bank identify fraud. It’ll be easier for you to prove that you’re not responsible for charges if a signature doesn’t match.

No “Cash”: never write a check payable to cash. This is just as risky as carrying around a signed blank check. If you need cash, withdraw from an ATM, buy a stick of gum and get cash back using your debit card, or just get cash from a teller.

Write fewer checks: checks aren’t exactly risky, but there are safer ways to pay for things. When you make electronic payments, there’s no paper to get lost, stolen, or peeked at by thieves. Most checks get converted to an electronic payment anyway, so you’re not avoiding computers by using checks. Electronic payments are often easier to track because they’re already in a searchable format with a timestamp and the name of the payee. Use tools like online bill payment for your recurring expenses, and use a credit or debit card (preferably a credit card) for everyday spending. Need to send money to friends and family? You can do that too – often for free.