Learning how to write a check is a rite of passage for any new banking customer, or for the first time you're paying rent.
It's important to get the process right, and avoid having a check returned for missing or incorrect information, or even having your check compromised by fraud artists.
Steps for Writing a Check
You may feel the need to fill out fewer checks as digital-based financial payments rise, but sooner or later, you'll likely need to pay by check.
Here is a step-by-step guide to writing a check correctly the first time and every time.
Step 1: Give the current date
In the upper right corner of every U.S. check is a space to include the date the check is written. The check writer can opt to write the date in letter form (i.e., January 1, 2019) or take a short-cut and write date numerically (i.e., 1/01/2019.)
Step 2: Write the name of the check recipient
In the middle of the check, you'll see a larger space entitled "Pay to the Order of" - that's the line where you include the name of the check recipient. On that line, write in the name of the payee - individual, business or organization - and double check to ensure you've spelled the name correctly. If not, and the check is sent, the check may not be honored for payment once the recipient tries to cash or deposit it.
Step 3: Write numerical cash amount
You must fill in the cash amount on the check in two places, and in two ways. First, on the right side of the check is a box preceded by a dollar sign ($). To the right of that dollar sign, write the amount of the check numerically (i.e., $29.95).
Step 4: Write letter form cash amount
Under the check recipient's name, fill in the check amount in letter form (i.e., "Twenty-Nine Dollars and Ninety-Five Cents"). Banks ask you to write the check amount twice, and in different forms, to make sure you have the correct amount included on the check. Also, when including any extra change (in "cents") on your check amounts, fill the amount out separately on the right side of the dollar amount.
Step 5: Add optional memo
On the lower left-hand side of the check, you'll find a line that you can use to record the reason for the check. Think "rent" for payment to a landlord or "lawn care" for a landscaping purchase. While the "memo" space is optional, it's also a good place to record any pertinent information.
Step 6: Sign the check
On the lower right-hand side of the check is a space to sign your name. That essentially clears the check for payment (without your signature, the check is invalid, even if all the other sections are completed).
Once the check is completed and given to the recipient, the check will be deposited and the amount of the check will be deducted from your checking account.
It's a good idea to check your checking account balance beforehand to ensure there is enough cash in your account to cover the amount. If not, the check could bounce and you'll likely incur fees and penalties. Plus, the check recipient won't be happy, either.
What To Do After You've Written a Check
Once you've completed the task of writing a check, record your check either physically in your checkbook, or by using an online check register or mobile banking app.
Basically, balancing your checkbook allows you to better track your personal money flow, uncover any checking account errors or discrepancies, and steer clear of bank account overdrafts.
Simply record your incoming and outgoing checking account payments as they occur (it's fine to use a paper register but there are plenty of great mobile banking apps that help you balance your account.) Include any digitally made bill payments and debit card purchases, as well. Then, at the end of every month, when your monthly bank statement is made available to you via mail or online, match up your records with the bank's records to ensure your checking account is in balance (banks call this process "reconciling" your bank account).
If you're looking to learn different ways to cash a check, read here: How to Cash a Check and Get Direct Access to the Cash You Need.
Safety and Security Tips When Writing a Check
Take these action steps to properly secure yourself when writing a check:
Use black ink instead of other colors
First, use black ink in writing a check. Black ink is resistant to check-washing - a scam that eliminates the ink off of written checks.
Be tight when writing dollar amount
While recording the digit amount, place the check amount as close to the dollar sign as possible. That keeps fraudsters from "squeezing" the space and changing the check amount.
Draw the line after check amount
In the space where you write out the check amount, draw a straight horizontal line on the right side after the amount. That, too, makes it harder for anyone to change the check amount.
Void any mistakes
Chances are you'll make a mistake writing a check. In that event, you'll want to avoid having the check deposited or cashed, especially if the check winds up in the hands of a fraudster. To keep that from happening, simply write the word "VOID" in large, capital letters across the check and rip the check in half or run it through a shredder.
Don't share personal information
Never include your Social Security number or any personal financial data on a check, even when requested to do so. If the check falls into the wrong hands, you run the risk of falling victim to identity theft.
Alternatives to Paper Checks
There are plenty of ways to pay bills and issue other payments from your bank checking account in addition to paper checks. Try these alternative check payment methods:
Automated Clearing House payments
Banks offer automated clearing house (ACH) payments to send and receive bank payments from and to your checking account. If you're paying via ACH, expect to pay a nominal fee of several dollars. If you're receiving an ACH payment, there is no fee.
Similar in many ways to ACH payments, bank wire transfers can send money directly from your checking account and land in the recipient's bank account often in the same day. You'll need to include your checking account number and bank routing number to send and receive wire payments. A small fee, higher than an ACH payment, will be needed, as well.
Online and mobile payments
Banks are increasingly offering ways to issue payments from your checking account via online or mobile apps. You'll need to sync your account online to make digital payments, but the process is easy and only takes a few minutes. Also, online payment sites like PayPal and Venmo make it simple to issue payments from your bank account. Again, you'll need to link your bank account to these sites to activate your third-party payment accounts.
Learning how to write a check is a financial practice every adult should master. Use the tips listed above to get that job done in the right way.