If you’re used to direct deposit, mobile cash transfers, and peer-to-peer cash services, you may not have written many checks in your lifetime. However, there may be times when a check is necessary. For example, a landlord may require you to write a check for your security deposit, or perhaps you want to give someone money for a wedding present.
If you aren’t sure what to do, here’s how to write a check in a few simple steps.
On the top right of the check is a spot for the date. Write the month, day, and year — for example, September 30, 2022, would be written 09/30/2022. In most cases, you’ll write the date of the day you’re writing the check.
Next, write the name of the person or business you are paying in the field labeled “PAY TO THE ORDER OF”. Make sure you use the person’s legal name, rather than a nickname, and double check your spelling. This person is known as the payee of the check.
On the right hand side of the check, there is a small box with a “$” outside of it. In this box, write the payment amount in numerical form, and be sure to use decimal points. For example, write $50.00 rather than $50.
Under the payee’s information, there is a long blank line. On this line, write out the payment amount in words, and be sure to include cents as a fraction. For example, a check for $50.75 would read “Fifty dollars and 75/100.” You should print the words on the check, rather than cursive, to minimize the risk of the bank mis-reading this line.
There may be extra space on the line next to the written words. If there’s blank space left over, there is a potential risk of someone altering the check and payment amount. To prevent that from happening, draw a line across the extra space after the written words. For example:
Fifty dollars and 00/100𑁋𑁋𑁋𑁋𑁋
Tip: When it comes to checks, your words are more important than numbers. According to state laws, if a check has contradictory information in the payment amount fields, the bank will honor the written words rather than the numeric values. So, if you write “Five hundred dollars” but put $50.00 in the numeric field, the bank will pay it out as $500.
The memo portion is below the written payment amount. Financial institutions don’t reference the memo line. Instead, think of it as a helpful reference for you or the payee. You may want to use this section to keep track of what each check is for. For example, you could write the invoice number for a utility bill or note that the check is for the security deposit on a new apartment.
On the bottom right of the check is another blank line. This is where you sign the check. This should be your handwritten signature. Once the check is signed, it’s ready to be mailed or delivered to the payee.
In many cases, it’s easier — and safer — to use electronic payment options or mobile deposits rather than writing checks. However, there may be cases where a check is unavoidable. If that happens, here are a few ways to help you keep your accounts safe.
If you make a mistake while writing a check, you have two options. For relatively minor errors, such as writing the wrong date, draw a line through the mistake. When crossing out the mistake, make one clean line through it — don’t scribble it out completely because banks will want to see what the error was. Write your initials next to your mistake, then write the correct information.
For more significant issues, such as the wrong payment amount, it’s better to void the check and start over with a new one. To void a check, write “VOID” in large letters across the check.
Try to keep your signatures consistent so your bank can more easily spot fraudulent activity. You should also use a dark-colored pen to help keep it legible.
A blank check is a check that has your signature but other crucial pieces of information are left blank, such as the payee, or even the amount. It’s probably best to avoid writing blank checks just as a general rule — anyone who gets their hands on a blank check could theoretically write it to themselves for any amount.
When you post-date a check, you write a date in the future in the date field. Some people post-date checks for rent for their landlords to cash, or to repay payday loans. However, post-dating checks can be risky. Banks aren’t legally obligated to refuse checks that are cashed before the date listed on them, so you risk the payee cashing the check before you’re ready and overdrafting your account.
When you write a check for more money than you have in your bank account, it may be returned for insufficient funds. If that occurs, the transaction will be denied, and the bank will charge you a fee. When a check is returned for insufficient funds, it’s called a bounced check.
If the bank allows overdrafts, the transaction will go through despite you not having enough money to cover it. If you cash a check that bounces, the bank can reverse the funds and may charge a fee. To get reimbursed, you need to contact the person or business that wrote the check to you.
To avoid these issues, balance your checkbook and make sure you have a cushion in your checking account to cover any checks you write.
When you write a check, you have the option of writing “cash” in the payee field. But this isn’t a good idea. When you write a check to cash, anyone that finds the check can cash it, leaving you vulnerable to fraud or theft.
“Balancing a checkbook” means reconciling your checking account against money coming in and out — your credits and debits on your monthly bank statement.
Most of these transactions are probably online now, but if you’re writing checks, it’s especially important to keep careful track of your transactions and balance your checkbook to avoid overdrafting your account. There can be a delay between when you write the check and when it’s deposited, and the amount of money available in your account could have changed in that time.
If a check is a must and you’re looking for an easier way to pay, we’ll send checks for you with Acorns Banking — all we need to know is the amount and where to send it.
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