How to Write a Check - A Step-by-Step Explanation
Checks are still surprisingly common, even in today’s digital world. Paper checks are an effective and inexpensive tool for moving money, but you probably don’t write a check every day (or maybe you’ve never done it before).
Writing a check is easy, and this tutorial shows you exactly how to do it. Move through each step one-by-one, or just use the example above as a model for the checks you need to write (view a larger image). 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.
Here's an overview of the perfect check.
- Current date: Write this near the top right-hand corner. In most cases, you’ll use today’s date, which helps you and the recipient keep accurate records. You can also postdate the check, but that doesn't always work the way you think it will.
- 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.
- Amount in numeric form: Write the amount of your payment in the small box on the right-hand side. Start writing 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.
- 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.
- 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 step is essential—a check will not be valid without a signature.
- Memo (or “For”) line: If you like, include a note. This step is optional and will not affect how banks process your check. The memo line is a good place to add a reminder about why you wrote the check. It might also be the place to write information that your payee will use to process your payment (or find your account if anything 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. A check register is an ideal place to do this, whether you use an electronic or paper register. Recording the payment 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 best 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 move money. 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 spend with that instead. You'll pay out of the same account, but you'll do it electronically. There’s no need to use up checks (which you'll have to re-order), and you'll have an electronic record of your transaction with the payee name, the date of your payment, and the amount.
- Set up automatic payments for regular payments like utility bills and insurance premiums. There's typically 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 sufficient funds available in your checking account. If you don't, your payments may "bounce" and create problems, including hefty fees and potential legal issues.
Record the Payment in your Check Register
Make a record of every check you write in a check register (view a larger image of this step). Doing so 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 and amount—with 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. It’s easy to make your own using paper or a spreadsheet.
Copy all of the essential information from your check:
- The check number
- The 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 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 you believe you have more money to spend).
Your check register can also 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, the funds are drawn from your account quickly because your check is converted to an electronic check. In the example above, we might 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.
Tips for Writing a Check
When you write a check, make sure it gets used the way you intended—to pay the amount you expected to the person or organization you intended.
Thieves can alter checks that get lost or stolen. Checks have multiple opportunities to get lost after they leave your hands, so make it difficult for thieves to create headaches for you. Whether or not you lose money permanently, you’ll have to spend time and effort cleaning up messes after fraud.
Develop the habits below to decrease the chances of fraud hitting your account.
Make it permanent: Use a pen whenever you write a 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.
Keep checks from growing: When you’re filling in the dollar amount, make sure you print the value in a way that prevents scammers from adding 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 large that it’s hard to add any numbers. If you leave space, somebody can add digits, and your check might end up being $98.15—or $8,159.
Carbon copies: If you want a paper record of every check you write, get checkbooks with carbon copies. Those checkbooks feature a thin sheet containing a copy of every check you write. As a result, you can 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 free images for a month or two. Your carbon copies can stay around for years if you want to keep them that long.
Consistent signature: Many people don’t have a legible signature, and some 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”: Avoid writing a check payable to cash. This is just as risky as carrying around a signed blank check or a wad of cash. 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 technology by using checks. Electronic payments are typically easier to track because they’re already in a searchable format with a date stamp 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.