Writing checks is a vital skill for managing your finances and making payments. While payment apps and online banking have become more common, checks are still required for certain situations like paying rent or contractors.
This comprehensive, step-by-step guide will teach you everything you need to know about properly filling out and writing paper checks.
What You’ll Learn in This Guide:
- The different parts of a check and what information goes where
- How to correctly fill out the date, payee, amount, and signature fields
- Tips for double-checking your work to avoid errors
- What to do with the check once it’s filled out
- Extra precautions to take for security when storing and mailing checks
Follow these steps and you’ll gain the confidence to pay bills and invoices with checks when needed.
Why Do We Still Need to Write Checks?
In today’s digital era, you may be wondering why checks are still necessary. Can’t you just use your debit card, credit card, or an online payment for everything?
While it’s true that checks are less common than they used to be, there are still many situations where a paper check is required, such as:
- Paying your rent to landlords or management companies
- Paying contractors, housekeepers, or service providers
- Donating to charities or nonprofits
- Sending personal payments to friends or family
- Purchasing money orders or cashier’s checks from a bank
Landlords and small businesses often prefer checks because the funds are directly drawn from your bank account. Checks also leave a paper trail as proof of payment.
Knowing how to properly fill out and write a check is an important life skill you’ll need as an adult even in the digital age.
Understanding Check Basics
Before we get into the step-by-step process, let’s go over the key components of a standard check:
- Date: The date the check is written
- Pay to the order of: Who the check is being paid to
- $Amount: The payment amount in numerical format
- Amount in Words: The amount written out in words
- Memo: Optional notes about the check
- Signature: Your signature authorizing the check
- Routing Number: Your bank’s routing number
- Account Number: Your checking account number
- Check Number: The check sequence number
Having an awareness of what each section is used for will help when it comes time to write out your own check. The blank check templates provided by your bank should have these clearly labeled.
Step 1: Fill in the Current Date
The first step is to write in the date on the line at the upper right corner of the check. The date should be the day that you are actually writing the check.
You’ll want to write the date in this format:
Month / Day / Year
Be sure to use the full four-digit year to avoid any confusion. Writing the date prevents the check from being cashed before intended.
Step 2: Identify Who the Check is Going To
Next, move down to the “Pay to the order of” line. Here you will write the full name of the individual, business, or entity that the check is being paid to.
For personal checks, use the payee’s full legal name, which includes their first and last name.
For business checks, write out the full, proper name of the company or organization. Avoid abbreviations.
- Pay to the order of Jane Smith (for an individual)
- Pay to the order of ABC Company (for a business)
Make sure the payee name matches any invoices or billing statements to ensure accuracy. Spelling matters, so verify any complex business names.
Step 3: Write Out the Payment Amount in Numbers
The next step is to write out the payment amount in numerical format on the line next to the dollar sign. Be sure to align the numbers with the dollar sign.
Don’t add commas to separate thousands. Just write out the full amount:
Be extremely careful that the amount matches the amount due. Double check bill statements or invoices to confirm.
Step 4: Write Out the Amount in Words
On the line below the numerical amount, you will now spell out the check amount in words.
Writing it out in words acts as a protective measure in case the numeric amount is tampered with.
Here are some examples:
One hundred twenty dollars
Three thousand five hundred dollars
Make sure to spell out the amount clearly and fully. Do not abbreviate the words.
The amount in words should match the numerical amount exactly to avoid any discrepancies. Do not round up or down. Extend the written words all the way to the left margin.
Step 5: Add Any Notes or Memo
The memo section at the upper left area of the check is for any additional notes or reminders about what the payment is for.
Adding a memo is optional but can be helpful for your record keeping. For example:
Office supplies reimbursement
Chrissy’s birthday gift
Keep memos brief and related to the transaction. They legally do not determine where funds go but provide context on payments.
Step 6: Sign the Check
You’re almost done! But before you finish, it’s critical to carefully double check that:
- The date is correct
- The payee name is spelled properly
- The amounts in numbers and words match
- All handwriting is legible
Once you verify all fields are filled out properly, sign your name on the signature line. Make sure your signature matches the one your bank has on file.
Some people also add their middle initial or write “See ID” next to the signature for added security. But this is optional.
Step 7: Tear Out and Send the Check
Finally, tear or cut the completed check out of your checkbook or detach it from the top sheet if it has a perforated edge.
You can then either:
- Place the check in an envelope to mail to the payee
- Deliver the check in person
- Deposit into the payee’s account with your phone via mobile check deposit
Never sign blank checks in advance or leave filled out checks laying around. Only sign when you are ready to send payment. Store checkbooks securely when not in use.
Helpful Tips for Error-Free Check Writing
- Use dark blue or black non-erasable pen so amounts can’t be altered
- Avoid signatures with pronounced loops that are easier to forge
- Keep carbon copy checks for your records to track payments
- Balance your checkbook register frequently to catch discrepancies
- Destroy any voided or canceled checks that you don’t need to retain
Following these best practices will protect your account and prevent check fraud.
What To Do if You Make a Mistake
Nobody’s perfect! Here’s what to do if you make an error while writing a check:
- If you notice before sending the check, simply write “VOID” in large letters across the check. Destroy the check and write a new one.
- If you realize after sending, contact your bank and the payee immediately and ask them to return the erroneous check before cashing it.
- If the incorrect check is already cashed, request a refund from whomever deposited it then issue a new check with the right amount.
- Update your check ledger to show that the incorrect check was voided so your records match the bank.
As long as you act quickly, you can remedy any check writing mistakes with minimal hassle.
Frequently Asked Questions About Check Writing
What if I don’t have a checkbook?
You can order new personalized checks through your bank. Temporary counter checks are also available to write at your bank branch in the meantime.
Where do I locate my bank routing and account numbers?
This information is printed along the bottom of your check. Your account number is between these two codes.
What are the pros and cons of a check vs other payments?
Checks provide guaranteed funds directly from your account but take longer to process. Electronic payments are faster but have higher fraud risk. The best option depends on the payee.
Is a debit card or credit card safer than a check?
Generally yes, since they don’t reveal your full account details. But checks offer stronger legal protections if fraudulent activity occurs.
What’s the maximum amount I can write a check for?
Check limits vary by bank but are typically under $10,000 for personal accounts. Big purchases may require a cashier’s check, money order, or wire transfer.
Key Takeaways on Writing Checks
- Always use non-erasable ink like blue or black pen when filling out checks
- Double check that the date, payee name, and amount## Storing Checks Securely
Once you’ve written a check, make sure you store any remaining blank checks or your checkbook securely when not in use. Here are some tips:
- Keep checks locked up at home in a safe, locked file cabinet, or lockbox when possible.
- If you need to transport checks with you, consider a concealed travel wallet or portable small safe.
- Never store blank checks in your vehicle for extended periods. Keep them out of sight if briefly stored.
- Only carry the minimum number of checks that you’ll need when going out. Leave extras securely at home.
- Use care when disposing of any voided or cancelled checks, shredding if possible. Don’t just toss checks in the trash.
Following basic precautions will help prevent blank checks from falling into the wrong hands. Monitor your account frequently for any suspicious activity.
Mailing Completed Checks Safely
For added security when mailing bill payments, take these steps:
- Double check the envelope has the correct payee name and mailing address before sealing.
- Consider sending payments by certified mail or a delivery service that offers tracking. This gives you proof the check was received.
- Avoid putting up the red mail flag to not advertise outgoing mail. Take checks directly to a post office box or mailbox.
- Pay bills online instead of mailing when available to lower risk of checks being intercepted.
- Only put the check itself in the envelope. Don’t enclose any other personal information.
- Ask payees about options to have payments directly debited from your account.
Being mindful when mailing checks will help deter potential mail theft leading to fraud.
Managing a Check Register
Keeping an accurate check register is crucial for balancing your account and avoiding overdrafts. Here are some tips:
- Record all checks as soon as you write them, noting date, payee, amount, and check number.
- Check off each deposit and debit transaction from your bank against the register.
- Update the running balance as you go based on your recorded activity.
- Mark any bank fees, automatic payments, or interest earned.
- Review register weekly and compare it to your bank statement each month.
- Research any discrepancies and report unauthorized checks immediately.
Maintaining thorough records makes it easier to catch mistakes and monitor for problems. Apps and online banking also help manage checking payments.
When To Order New Checks
Most checkbooks contain 25-50 blank checks attached together. Here are some signs it’s time to order new checks:
- You’re down to the final few checks in your book. Don’t wait until you completely run out.
- Your current contact information or address has changed.
- You notice checks being damaged or wearing out before you use them.
- You want to update your style for decorative personal checks.
- Your account number changed due to fraud or closure/opening a new account.
- You simply want to refresh checks for improved security features.
Many banks let you reorder checks conveniently through online banking or their mobile app.
The ability to properly write checks is an essential financial skill for paying bills, businesses, and individuals when needed. While not as widely used today, checks are still a necessity in many situations.
Following this comprehensive, step-by-step guide will teach you how to accurately fill out each section of a check and practice safe security.
Remember to always use pen, double check the amount, sign only when ready, and store checks carefully. Pay attention to the details and writing checks will become second nature!