When it comes to the banking and financial world, writing checks is not really a popular pastime anymore.
We live in a world where we can pay with a debit card or credit card for just about everything — and in some cases, simply swipe a phone over a payment terminal to access your cash before whooshing out the door. Sitting down every month with your checkbook to write out paper checks for your utility bills? A thing of the past.
But while we don’t exactly expect a resurgence of check writing, chances are good that the time will eventually come when you need to write a check.
Maybe it will just be a monthly rent check. Maybe it will be a down payment for something exciting, like a car or a house. Maybe you’ll be feeling benevolent and want to write up some snazzy-looking birthday gifts.
So we would still advise you to learn the process or format of how to write a check. Many people don’t learn how until college, so don’t feel bad if you’re reading this while shielding your computer screen from passersby.
Need some physical checks? Read our how to order checks guide to help get a new checkbook without excessive fees.
Here Are the Parts of a Check
What are all these lines, boxes and numbers? Stop guessing. We’ll tell you!
- Your info, including your address and sometimes your phone number
- The check number for your reference
- The date line
- The recipient line
- The payment amount line
- The payment amount box
- Your bank information
- The memo line
- Your signature line
- Your bank’s routing number
- Your checking account number
How to Fill Out a Check
Writing a check is easy if you know these steps.
Step 1. Write the Date in the Upper Right Corner
Note the month, date and year in the top right corner. Usually, this will be the date you are writing the check.
If you want the recipient to wait until you have money in your checking account before depositing the check, you might post-date the check.
You might post-date a check if you’re paying ahead of time for a service. For example, if your rent is due on the first of the month, but you mail your check on the 15th of the previous month because you’re going on vacation, you would postdate the check for the first of the next month.
Step 2. ‘Pay to the Order of’ Means the Person or Business You’re Paying
Write the name of the name of the person, company or payee in the field labeled “Pay to the Order of.”
If you’re not sure of the correct title, organization or business name, make sure to ask before writing out the check to ensure they can deposit it. Never leave this line blank when you write a check — you risk someone taking the liberty of finishing writing that check out to themselves!
Step 3. Write the Dollar Amount You’re Paying by Check
Write the cash amount in words directly below the payee name (including dollars and cents). You might write “twelve dollars and eighteen cents,” or “twelve dollars and 18/100” — either is fine as long as it’s clear how much you’re paying. If your words do not take up the whole space, draw a straight line through to the end of the field so no one else can edit what you wrote.
You’re doing this in pen, right? Pencil is too easy to alter. We used to be advised to write checks in cursive, but now, writing in pen is enough to indicate legitimacy.
Step 4. Write the Same Amount in the Box on the Right Side of the Check
Now write the amount of the check again, this time in digits. Noting the amount in two ways ensures it’s correct.
Be sure to fill the whole box so the amount can’t be altered. It’s more important to align your dollar amount all the way to the left side of the box so no one can change your $12.18 to $112.18.
Step 5. Write a Memo, if You Choose
In some situations, the recipient may ask you to provide identifying information on your check, like a billing account number.
Step 6. Sign the Bottom Right Corner of the Check
Here is where you need to sign your name. Your recipient can’t deposit the funds unless you’ve signed it!
P.S. Be sure to keep track of the times you make payments via check in your checkbook’s ledger. This way you can keep track of your spending cash and counterbalance with your checking account to avoid any accidental overdraft fees from banks or financial institutions.