How to write a check in 5 steps
Maybe it’s been a while since you wrote a check, or perhaps you’re unsure what to do with your very first checkbook. In a world of money apps and instant transfers, checks may seem pretty old-school, but sometimes they’re the only option for transferring money.
Checks aren’t just still widely accepted, they’re also useful for financial transactions in many cases, especially at some larger retailers and for paying certain types of bills.
Here, we’ll break down how checks are commonly used, as well as how to write a check in 5 easy steps when the time comes.
What is a check and where can I use one?
In a nutshell, a check is a paper document that informs your bank of where you want to spend funds in your checking account. By writing a check to someone, their bank will use the information on the check to pull that money from your bank account and deposit it into their account.
Let’s say you wrote a rent check to your landlord for $1,500.00. By doing so, you are authorizing your bank to remove $1,500.00 from your checking account and either transfer it to the landlord’s account or give it to the landlord directly if they cash it.
Checks are generally used from person to person, at places like gas stations or grocery stores, to donate to charity or religious organizations, and to pay other vendors or merchants like retailers. Because vendors or merchants generally have to pay fees on credit and debit card purchases, checks are still widely accepted (like cash) to avoid them having to pay these fees.
However, some businesses won’t accept checks, as they don’t want to run the risk of being on the hook for the purchase if the check bounces.
Not all checks are printed, physical documents. These days, eChecks are widely used in lieu of paper checks, and include all of the same information as checks.
How do I write a check?
Step 1: Date
First, write the date in the upper right corner. The date tells the bank and the person who’s cashing the check when you wrote it.
The way you write the date doesn’t matter—it just needs to be clear. For example, January 1st, 2021 and 1/1/21 will both work.
If you don’t want the check to be cashed right away, then you can write a future date, and the check won’t be usable until then. This is commonly referred to as a post-dated check.
Step 2: Who the check is for
Next, write who the check is for on the line that says “pay to the order of”. This is the name of the person or organization who will cash the check.
As with the date, it’s important to write the name clearly so there’s no confusion.
Step 3: Numerical amount
The numerical amount is how much money you want to transfer with the check. The box for this number is on the right side of the check toward the center, and begins with a dollar sign.
When you write the number, make sure to include both dollars and cents. For example, if you write a check for one hundred dollars and five cents, it should look like this: $100.05
It’s important to try to fill up the entire area with the numerical amount. Doing so helps ensure no one can change the amount by adding an extra zero.
Step 4: Written Amount
Next, write out the number amount from Step 3. Using the previous example, if the check is for $100.05, then write out that amount in words like this: One Hundred Dollars and Five Cents
The line to write this information is directly under the line where you wrote who the check is for. Make sure to write clearly, and try to use the entire line. Using the whole line to write the amount ensures that no one will try to alter the check after you write it.
If you don’t use the whole line, draw a line through any remaining space to the right of the amount listed. Similar to the numerical amount, making sure the entire line is full can prevent anyone from altering the amount of your check.
Step 5: Signature
Here’s the fun part—you get to practice your signature! Your signature goes in the bottom right corner of the check.
This is the easiest step, but it’s important to remember as your signature tells the bank that you agree to pay the amount written on the check. Without your signature, the check cannot be used.
Optional Step: Memo
The memo line is for the reason you wrote the check, and is located on the bottom left corner of the check. Generally, this field will say “memo”, but sometimes there is just a blank space where you can write.
Although you don’t have to add a memo for the check to work, it’s generally a good idea.
The memo you write can be as simple as you like. For example, if the check is for your rent in October, you can just write “October Rent.”
Sometimes the memo line can be helpful for reference, too. For example, if you’re paying a utility bill, you can write your account number in the memo line.
When you review your bank statements later, many banks give you the option to view a list of the checks you wrote. If you filled in the memo lines, it can help you remember why you wrote the checks.
What else do I need to know about writing a check?
Before writing a check, it’s a good idea to check your bank account. Determine the amount of money the check will be for, and make sure that you have enough to cover that amount in your bank account.
Keep in mind that the funds will stay in your account until the check is cashed. So until the check is cashed, you’ll need to make sure that money is available.
How can you tell if the check has gone through?
These days, online banking makes it easy. Just log into your account and check your transactions. If you see the amount you wrote the check for deducted from your account, then the check has been cashed.
What happens if I don’t have enough funds to cover a check?
If someone tries to deposit your check and your account doesn’t have enough to cover it, the check may “bounce” (i.e. the check won’t clear) and the bank will often send it back, depending on their terms.
Many banks and vendors will also charge you a fee when this happens. So, not only will you owe the original amount, you may also owe the extra fees on top of it.
If for some reason you do bounce a check, the person, vendor, or organization you made the check out to will probably contact you to request the payment again, and they may ask for a cash or money order instead rather than allow you to write a second check.
As with any money you owe, it’s always a good idea to make sure your payments are covered to avoid going into credit-damaging collections. In worst case scenarios, the vendor can escalate the issue to authorities, which may lead to legal trouble.
Although checks may seem outdated, they can actually be pretty useful for bank account transactions. When it’s time to break out your checkbook, make sure to check your account funds, properly fill out the check, and then verify later via your account transactions that the check was deposited or cashed.
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