How to Write a Check

A check gives you an easy way to move money from your checking account into another person’s account. A check can also be used to give someone access to cash from your checking account. Unlike other payment options, such as credit card, debit card, Venmo, or Zelle, a checkbook gives you a paper trail for your bookkeeping records. Many landlords prefer a rent check to other forms of payment, so it’s helpful to know how to fill out a paper check properly.

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A Step-By-Step Guide

Step 1 | Write the current date in the upper right corner. The date you provide should match the day when you sign the check. 

Step 2 | In the “pay to” field, provide the full name of the person you want to pay. If you’re paying a company, make sure you write the full company name in the payee field. 

Step 3 | On the right side of the check, fill in the numerical payment amount. Be sure to include a decimal point and the exact change. 

Step 4 | In the center of the check, write out the dollar amount in words. Be sure to write the dollars and the cents. You may write the cents out in words or include a fraction. To write a number without small change, you have a few different options. You can write “and 00/100,” “even,” or you can draw a line after the dollar amount that covers the remainder of the field. 

Here are examples:

Twenty-one dollars and 00/100
Twenty-one dollars even
Twenty-one dollars ——————————————
One hundred dollars and three cents
One hundred dollars and 03/100

Step 5 | Sign the check in the lower right-hand corner.

Step 6 | In the memo line on the lower left, write a note to describe the purpose of the check. For example, you might write, “October rent.” 

Other Information on a Check

A check contains a lot of personal financial information, so it’s important that you keep track of all your checkbooks. Your name and address, or the name and address of your business, are printed on the upper left-hand side of the check. At the bottom of the check, you’ll see a series of numbers. The left-most grouping of numbers details your bank’s routing number. The next grouping describes your account number. The last set of digits indicates the check number. The check number is reprinted on the upper right-hand side of the check. The name of your financial institution usually appears in the center of the check.

How to Order a Checkbook

To order checks, you can find a reorder form within the checkbook you received when you opened a checking account. Alternatively, you can order more checks in person at the bank or through your online banking portal. You may also order customized checks through retailers like Walmart and Costco. Remember that you may be entitled to free checks through your bank, so be sure to check with your financial institution before ordering checks from another retailer. 

Can you Backdate or Postdate?

Sometimes people write a future date on a check in the hopes of delaying the payee from cashing the check right away. This is also called “post-dating.” Unfortunately, this technique does not always work as intended. A payee can cash the check at any time, even before the date written on the check. If the payer does not have sufficient funds, the check will bounce, which may result in delayed payment and overdraft fees. As the payer, you’d be better served by writing a check when you know you will have sufficient funds, even if that means negotiating a later payment. 

As for “back-dating”—writing an earlier date on a check—it’s a crime. For tax purposes, some individuals and businesses try to use this technique as a way to make their expenses seem larger in a given tax year. If audited, you would need to be able to substantiate any large discrepancies between the payment date and the date written on the check. 

To avoid these problems, we recommend writing today’s date on any check you write; in other words, the date provided should reflect the date when you sign the check. 

Writing a Check to Cash

In some cases, rather than addressing the check to a person or business, you may want to write a check made out to “cash.” When writing checks to cash, you should be aware that anyone who finds the check could cash it. Effectively, the check should be treated as if you had a stack of bills in the amount of the check. Whereas a check made out to a particular payee can only be cashed by an account holder with that name, a check made out to cash can be cashed by anyone. 

How to Deposit a Check

When you receive a check addressed to you, you can use an ATM to deposit it into a savings account or a checking account. Also, you can deposit it into a pre-paid card account. With ID, you can also cash the check at a check-cashing retailer or at the bank that issued the check. Simply sign the back of the check to endorse it. The ATM, retailer, or bank teller will keep the check, and you will receive either a receipt for your deposit or cash. 

How to Balance a Checkbook

Within each checkbook, you’ll find a check register. This provides a useful tool for keeping track of your outgoing checks, especially the ones that haven’t yet been deposited. Even if you stay up-to-date with your online bank account, your bank has no way of knowing about the checks you’ve written before they get deposited. For this reason, it’s essential that anyone using a checkbook records all transactions. Not only will this record help you double-check your bank statements for accuracy, but it will also keep you from overspending. 

When any disputes arise, having a balanced checkbook will help you to quickly identify a check number and the date you issued a check. Of course, your bank teller and online banking platform should also be able to provide more information about any checks that have been issued. Banks keep records for large check deposits (over $100) for at least five years. Regardless, having a balanced checkbook can come in handy, helping you to avoid overdrafts and resolve disputes quickly.