How to Write a Check

Learn how to write and read a check in a few simple steps.

A 2016 Federal Reserve study found that although check payments fell an average of 4.4 percent per year between 2012 and 2015, people still write 17.3 billion checks annually. That’s a significant amount, and if you know how to write a check correctly, you can avoid payment issues and problems with your checking account.

How to Write a Check

Although using paper checks has become less common in this age of online banking and paperless transactions, knowing how to write a check correctly is a useful, basic banking and money skill. Here are the basic steps for writing a check:

  1. Write the current date on the date line.
  2. Write the name of the payee on the “Pay to the order of” line.
  3. Fill in the amount of the check with numbers in the box next to the dollar sign.
  4. Write out the amount in words on the proper line.
  5. Sign the check on the signature line.
  6. Add a note to the memo line if appropriate.

Find Out: How to Cash a Check

Here are the more detailed instructions for writing a check:

  1. Write the current date on the proper line at the top of the check. Be cautious about post-dating a check, as this doesn’t prevent the payee from cashing it before the date you write.
  2. Fill out the person or company to whom you’re giving the check in the “Pay to the order of” section. Always fill it in because if you don’t, someone else could easily fill in his own name and cash the check. Use a ballpoint pen to fill out the payee and all the other information. If you don’t, someone else can insert a different name or alter the check in some other way. If you make out a check to two people and want either one to be able to cash it, separate the names with “or.” If you want both to cash it together, use the word “and.”
  3. Write the amount of the check in the amount box, using numerals and starting after the pre-printed dollar sign. For example, you would write “10.50” in the box for a $10.50 check.
  4. Write out the check amount on the payment line, spelling out the words and using a fraction to indicate any cents. For example, a check for $10.50 would say “Ten dollars and 50/100.” For larger amounts, don’t use the word “and” in the dollar amount, but include it between the dollars and cents. For example, don’t write “Five hundred and forty dollars and 10/100. The correct way is “Five hundred forty dollars and 10/100.”
  5. Sign the check on the signature line in the lower right-hand corner. Fill out all the other information before adding your signature, as signing it means you’ve authorized payment. If you sign a blank check, someone else could fill out the other parts and cash it.
  6. Fill out the memo line with a note about the purpose of the check. This line is optional, but it’s useful for a reminder or as a spot to write in a company account number if your check is a bill payment.
  7. When you’re writing a check, record the check number and other information in the check register included in your box of checks. Write the current date, payee, and amount of the check. If you neglect this step, you might forget the check information details and have trouble balancing your checkbook or end up overdrawn. Carbon-copy checks automatically capture the details for you.

See: 10 Best Checking Accounts of 2017

How to Read a Check

All checks have standard information on the front and back, and reading a check is straightforward. Here’s a diagram detailing the anatomy of a check:

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On the front, you’ll find the following check information:

  • Name and address: Your full name and address is printed in the upper left part of your checks, and you might also include your phone number.
  • Check number: This number uniquely identifies each of your checks. Use it when recording them in your check register.
  • Date line: Write in the current date on which you write the check.
  • Pay to the order of: Fill out this line with the payee. This is the name of the company or person to whom you’re writing the check.
  • Dollar sign and amount box: Write the amount of the check in numerals in this space.
  • Dollars line: Spell out the amount of the check in words on this line, using a fraction for the cents. Write a line through any blank space to prevent others from altering the amount.
  • Bank address: Your check might have your bank name or address, although this is not always included with the check information.
  • Memo line: This space gives you the option to make a note about why you wrote the check or to add an account number if you’re paying a bill.
  • Signature: You sign the check on this line to make it valid and authorize the payment.
  • Bank routing number and account number: The numbers on the bottom of your check include your account number and the financial institution and state routing number to facilitate its processing.

You’ll find the following check information on the back:

  • The endorsement area: The payee signs the check here before cashing it.

Learn: How to Endorse a Check

Answers to Common Questions About How to Write a Check

You might have some questions as you get started writing checks. Here are answers to some common ones:

How Do I Write a Check With Cents and How Do I Write One With Zero Cents?

If you’re not sure how to write a check with cents, remember to use numbers in the amount box and to spell out the cents on the payment line. For example: “$10.50” in the amount box and “Ten dollars and 50/100″on the payment line.

As for how to write a check with zero cents, just use two zeros in the amount box and leave off the cents or use 0/100 in the payment line. For example: “$60.00” in the amount box and “Sixty and no/100 dollars”

What Do I Do If I Make a Mistake When Writing a Check?

If you make an error while writing a check, write “VOID” in large letters that cover the entire face of the check. This renders it unable to be used. Make a note in the check register to indicate that you voided it out.

How Do I Stop Payment on a Check?

To prevent someone from cashing a check after you’ve already given it to them, contact your financial institution to stop the payment. Many financial institutions charge a fee for this service.

Can I Write a Check to Myself?

You can write a check to yourself by writing in your own name as the payee on the “Pay to the order of” line. It’s a simple way to withdraw money from your checking account. When you cash the check, you’ll endorse it by signing your name on the back. You can also write a check to “Cash,” which allows anyone to cash it. Don’t do this unless you’re going to immediately cash it yourself.

What Happens If I Write a Check and Don’t Have Enough Money in My Checking Account to Cover It?

When you write a check and your account doesn’t have sufficient funds, your bank might pay it and cause an overdraft on your account. Otherwise, it might refuse payment and return it to the payee. This is known as bouncing a check. Doing this incurs fees, and if you do it frequently, the bank might close your checking account and you might have trouble opening a new account elsewhere.  Many banks offer overdraft protection, which protects you from this issue, for a fee, and the bank will impose a limit on the maximum amount it will cover.

Keep Reading: This Is How Long It Takes for a Check to Clear at Your Bank