In today’s world where you can completely automate your finances and pay your bills online, many people never even learn how to write a check.
But there are some times where a check is required to pay your rent or other bills, and that’s why we created this simple guide to writing out a check.
First, let’s take a look at an example of a blank check. There’s lots of information on a personal check and some of it is almost like a secret code. But once you understand what it all means, you’ll see that learning how to write a check is a piece of cake.
The Parts Of A Check
Here’s an example of a blank check before it has been written out:
Account Open Date – This just shows the month and year your checking account was opened. Some states and some banks require this, but others don’t. So don’t panic if you don’t see it on your check.
Check Written Date – Pretty self-explanatory, this is typically the date you are writing out the check. Some people post-date a check when they want people to hold off on cashing it for a little while.
For example, your account might be running a little low of funds and you don’t want them to cash the check until you get paid again.
But this can be a dangerous game because there is no guarantee the bank won’t cash the check despite the future date. And if they do and your account doesn’t have enough in it to cover the check amount, you’ll be hit with fees for bouncing a check.
Recipient – This is the person or business you are sending the money to. So if your landlord’s name was, I don’t know…Dwight Schrute then that’s the name you’d fill in here.
Amount – This one is pretty obvious, it’s just the amount of money you are transferring to the recipient.
You’ll need to enter the amount twice when writing out a check, once in numbers and again in words. This may seem silly but it’s actually an important precaution.
Writing out the amount helps avoid fraud because the bank can verify that the two amounts match. If the amount was only written in numbers it would be awfully easy for a dishonest person to change the amount.
Just imagine if they slipped in a zero and changed your $100 check to $1,000!!
Memo – This part is optional, but it lets you add a note to yourself as a reminder of why you wrote out the check.
Routing Number – Every bank has its own set of routing numbers (sometimes called an ABA number) to identify itself to other financial institutions. This isn’t needed in knowing how to write out a check, but if you ever want to have money direct deposited into your account number you’ll need this number.
Account Number – That’s your own personally identifiable account number. Together with your routing number, it’s like an address where your money is located.
Check Number – If you flip through the checks in your check book, you’ll notice each one has a number on it. Your checks are numbered sequentially (101, 102, 103, etc) to help you stay organized.
Signature – Without your signature, a check can’t be cashed.
Seems pretty easy right? Now let’s take a look at a few examples showing different ways to write out a check.
How To Write A Check For $1,000
So let’s say you’re renting a room on Schrute Farms and you need to write out a rent check for $1,000 payable to Dwight Schrute.
Here’s how to write a check for $1,000 (I used red to highlight the parts of the check you’d fill in).
- Step 1: Date the check. Write in the date you are filling it out.
- Step 2: Write in the recipient’s name. This is the person or business who will be cashing the check.
- Step 3: Write in the amount. You’ll actually do this twice…first in numbers and then again in words. It’s smart to draw a line after the amount so no one can add more words and change “One Thousand” to “One Thousand Nine Hundred” after you’ve sent the check.
- Step 4: Add a memo code. This step is optional but it is helpful for keeping your finances organized.
- Step 5: Sign the check.
That’s it! Now let’s look at another example…
How To Write A Check With Cents
The process of writing a check with cents on it is almost exactly the same as the one above. You just need to write in the amount of cents as a fraction of 100.
In the example below, let’s pretend you’ve bought a bushel of beets from Schrute Farms. You’re out of cash and Dwight doesn’t trust credit cards so you write him a check with the amount written in as Twenty Five and 75/100 dollars.
By the way, you can also add cents on a check that is written for an exact amount.
00/100 = zero cents
How To Void A Check
Sometimes you might need to know how to void a check. Maybe you made a mistake by writing the wrong amount or something like that, and you want to be sure no one can cash it.
Or sometimes you need to supply a voided check when setting up direct deposit or automatic billing with your bank or employer.
Voiding a check is simple to do. Just write “VOID” in big letters across the check so anyone can see that it shouldn’t be cashed.
Here’s an example:
Common Questions About Checks
Now let’s take a look at some common questions people have when it comes to writing checks.
Can You Write A Check To Yourself?
With ATMs all over the place, writing a check to yourself has become almost obsolete. But if you can’t find a no-fee ATM then you can always write a check payable to yourself. Just write your own name in as the payee and then you’ll be able to cash it yourself.
How Do You Write A Check Out To Cash
Most of the time you fill out a check with a recipient’s name after the part that says “Pay to the Order Of:” and that means only that person can cash or deposit it.
But you can also make out a check payable to “Cash” and that means it can be cashed or deposited by anyone. If the check gets lost anyone who finds it can use it.
One occasion you might write a blank check is when you give a gift to a child who doesn’t have a bank account of their own and so can’t cash the check. Sometimes people who do under the table jobs will ask you to make a check out to cash.
You might also write a check payable to cash when you want to cash it yourself or move it from one bank account to another. In this case it would be safer to just make it out to your own name.
Can You Write A Check In Pencil?
If you need to fill out a check and you just can’t find a pen anywhere, can you write a check in pencil instead? Bad idea.
Think about it. Pencil is easily erased and someone could simply erase what you wrote and write in a new amount, and it would still have your signature on it. The bank cashing the check would have no way of knowing it had been tampered with.
That check for just a few dollars could be altered and used to clean out your bank account. You should always use permanent ink when writing out a check.
How Do You Cancel A Check?
If you discover you’ve lost a check or mailed it out with a mistake on it (like the wrong amount), you need to know how to cancel a check.
Fortunately, canceling a check is simple. Most banks allow you to stop payment on a check online. If you can’t do it online you can always call your bank or stop in and do it in person.
Many banks will charge a fee to stop payment on a check. But as long as you don’t do it often they’re usually willing to waive the fee for a good customer.
How Do You Update A Check Register?
Filling out a check is only part of the process. You’ll also need to update your check register to keep track of any checks you’ve sent out.
Don’t think you can skip this step! Tracking your spending and knowing how much you have available in the bank is a crucial part of managing your money.
Here are the steps for updating your check register:
- Step 1: Enter your starting balance on the first line. This should be whatever amount is currently in your bank account.
- Step 2: On the next line, write in the check number for the check you are writing out.
- Step 3: Next, fill in the date of the check.
- Step 4: Fill in the name of the payee and/or a description of the transaction.
- Step 5: Write in the amount of the check.
- Step 6: Subtract the amount of the check from your starting balance and write in that amount. That’s now your new balance and the starting point for your next transaction.
You’ll need to update your check register for any transaction made in the account, including deposits, ATM withdrawals, debit card transactions, and fees.
Keeping your check register up to date will ensure you always know how much cash is in your account and avoid overdraft fees.
Can You Postdate A Check?
Generally you use the current date when writing out a check, but there are times when you may consider postdating a check. Postdating is when you use a future date on a check.
This is typically done when you don’t have enough money in your account to cover the check. Postdating gives you additional time to add more money into account so the check doesn’t bounce. For example, you might postdate a check until after your next pay day.
But be careful. If you’re postdating checks regularly it could be a sign that you’re spending more than you can afford. You should consider cutting your spending and building up a buffer in your bank account.
Also, there’s no guarantee the check won’t be cashed before the date you filled in. The payee may try to deposit it anyway and a bank teller might not notice it is postdated. If the check bounces you’ll be stuck paying additional fees.
How Long Is A Check Good For?
One time my son was cleaning his room (finally!) and he found a birthday card that had fallen behind his dresser. Inside the card was a $50 check he had received as a birthday gift from his aunt.
Fortunately the check was only a couple of months old and we were able to cash it without any trouble, but it made me wonder how long is a check good for anyway?
It turns out that most checks are good for a minimum of 180 days.
So even if it takes you 6 months to cash a check, you’re still good.
But what happens after 180 days?
Well, it depends.
After 180 days, banks are no longer required to cash a check. But that doesn’t mean they won’t.
It’s possible the bank wouldn’t even notice the aged date on the check and they could cash it anyway.
Or they might just cash the check anyway as a service to their customer. People forget all about old checks all the time so bringing one in to be cashed likely won’t set off any red flags.
Now, if you bring in a bunch of checks from 2003, that might be questioned!
Long story short (I know, too late) most checks are good for at least 180 days. After that, a bank may or may not agree to cash it. If they refuse you’ll have to contact whoever issued you the check and ask them to send a replacement.
How Do You Cash A Check?
If someone has given you a check, you need to cash or deposit it before you can use that money. All you have to do is sign your name on the back of the check and take it to a place that cashes checks.
Your best bet is your own bank or credit union. Most have smartphone apps that allow you to deposit a check with just a quick picture. But if you need to take some or all of it out as cash you’ll need to actually go to the bank.
There are also places that cash checks including many retailers and grocery stores. You’ll definitely pay a fee for cashing a check at any of those places.
What Are Some Alternatives To Checks?
In today’s world there are plenty of alternatives to writing a check:
- Money orders: For certain transactions, such as paying off a loan, you’ll often need a money order instead of a personal check. You can get a money order at a bank, the post office, or even at Walmart.
- Online bill payments: Most banks provide online access where you can set up automatic bill payment. Your bills get paid automatically and you never have to write out a check.
- Debit and Credit Cards: Almost any retailer accepts payment via debit or credit cards. They’re super convenient and provide instant access to your money.
- Peer-to peer payment platforms: Services like Venmo, Paypal, Zelle, and Apple Pay allow you to send money to friends and family, and usually for free.
- Cash: When all else fails, there’s nothing like cold, hard cash.
Where Do I Get New Checks?
The most obvious place to get personal checks is from your bank. They generally give you some when you first open a checking account, and you can always order more when you run out.
But banks usually don’t offer the best deal on checks. I get mine from Costco because they charge less than half of what I’d pay at the bank.
If you prefer something more creative, you should check out Checks Unlimited. They have all sorts of checks to choose from. You can get checks with animals, wildlife scenes, cartoon and movie characters or sports teams on them.
What Is A Blank Check?
A blank check is one where you’ve signed the check but left some of the other parts blank. Maybe you leave the payee section blank because you don’t know exactly who to make it out too. Or you might leave the amount blank because you’re not sure what the final amount will be.
For obvious reasons, a blank check can be very dangerous. If a dishonest person got their hands on it they could write in their own name and fill in any amount they want.
I hope you found this article om how to write a check helpful. IS there anything we missed? Let us know in the comments below.