I’m about to date myself here, but when I was a teenager, everybody knew how to write a check. In fact, I used to carry my checkbook everywhere I went. Now, this was obviously a few years ago – or, as my 7-year old says, way back in the 19s! – so I’m clearly old. At the time, though, I filled out a check for almost every purchase I made.
Then came things like debit cards, online bill pay, and quick pay programs. These new technologies made filling out a check a relic of the past. With that said, there are still certain situations where using a personal check may be your best payment option, which makes knowing how to write a check an important skill to have.
Maybe you’ve never learned how to write a check. Maybe your check writing skills are a little rusty. Either way, we’re here to help.
In this piece, we’ll teach you how to fill out a check the right way. We’ll also explain the different parts of a check, teach you how to record a payment in your check register, and cover some situations where writing a personal check may be beneficial for you. Let’s get started!
How to Write a Check in 6 Simple Steps
If you’re like me, you don’t just want to read about how to do something; you learn faster by seeing how it’s done. To help you get a handle on how to fill out a check, we’ve included some visual aids with each step.
For starters, take a look at the image of the check below. This is how a typical blank check looks. We’ve taken the liberty of adding numbers to each section of the check, and those numbers correspond with each step we outline in the process.
Step 1) Fill in the Date
To write a check, start in the top right-hand corner and fill in the date. Although there may be certain circumstances where you want to “postdate” a check, in almost all cases, your entry should correspond to the date you are actually writing the check. As with all of the steps, you’ll want to write your answers directly above the line provided.
It doesn’t really matter how you format the date on a check. What matters is that a date is written and that it includes the correct day, month, and year.
Let’s assume the date is August 1st, 2018. I prefer to date my checks using numerical values. So, I would date the check 08/01/18. You could also use the longer 08/01/2018.
If you prefer to spell things out, August 01, 2018 is also acceptable. You can even use an abbreviation for the month, like Aug. 01, 2018. As long as you have the month, day, and year written on the line, you should be good to go.
Step 2) Identify Who You are Paying
Next, you’ll need to identify who you are paying with the check. In the vast majority of circumstances, this will either be a person’s name or the name of a business. After you’ve determined who it is you’re paying, write the correct name on the line marked “Pay to the Order of.”
For our example, let’s assume we are writing a personal check to Home Depot. As you can see below, we’ve legibly written the name “Home Depot” on the “Pay to the Order of” line.
Step 3) Fill in the Amount of the Check
Do you see the empty rectangular box directly to the right of the “Pay to the Order of” line? Once you’ve identified who you’re paying (i.e. – the payee), this is where you’ll write in the amount you are paying them.
In this box, you’ll show the amount of the check using numbers. Again, it is important to write neatly so that there are no issues reading the amount of the check. Be sure to include both dollars and cents inside the box. For this example, let’s say we’re paying Home Depot $125.75.
Now, there are several ways to show the amount of cents you’re paying in this box. The easiest way is just to use a decimal point to designate cents. Out of habit, however, I’ve always shown dollars and cents like this: $125 75⁄100. In my opinion, this clearly designates cents and avoids a decimal point being confused with a comma.
Step 4) Clearly Write the Amount of the Check Using Words
In addition to showing the amount of the check using numbers, you’ll also need to write the amount of the check using words. This provides a sort of “double-check” for the bank when they pay out the check. So, if the numbers are not clear or readable, the words provide back up. It’s also worth noting that if the words and numbers are different, it will be the written words that are used to pay the amount of the check.
If you look at the check, there is a blank line directly below the “Pay to the Order of” line. This is where you’ll write the amount of the check.
Again, legibly fill in the amount on this line, including both dollars and cents. If you prefer, and to save space, you can use the same fraction formatting for cents as I described above. So, in our example, the proper entry would be One hundred twenty-five dollars and 75⁄100.
After I write the cents on this line, I also like to draw a line from there to the edge of the check. This helps prevent anybody from adding more words to the line after I’ve completed the check.
Step 5) Complete the Memo Section (Optional)
Next, it’s time to fill out the memo section. This area of the check is a good spot to add extra information so that all parties know what the payment covers. It can also help you track your spending according to your budget categories. For example, if you’re paying your monthly utilities, you may write something like “August Gas Bill” on the line.
You can also include things in this area like your account number, your tax ID number (for federal income taxes), etc. Should your check somehow become separated from your bill or tax form, this helps ensure that your payment is applied to the correct account.
Keep in mind that this section is completely optional. Your check will clear regardless of whether anything is listed in the memo or not. It’s merely a section that is used to help both parties stay organized. For our example, we’ll use the term “Paint Supplies.”
Step 6) Sign the Check
Finally, to complete a check, you’ll need to sign your name. While this step is often the easiest to forget, it’s also the most important. Although a check may still be processed if you make a mistake in another area, a check that isn’t signed will not make it through the bank.
The signature line is located in the bottom right corner of a check. Simply sign your name, and you’re good to go. (On the example below, we’ve marked the space with “Your Signature Here.”)
Again, don’t forget to sign your check before you send it off. If you do, it could actually end up costing you money in late fees, returned check fees, and more.
That’s it! You have filled out your first check! It should look something like this:
How to Fill Out a Check Register
Even though you’ve learned how to write a check, you’re not done quite yet. To keep your finances organized, you still need to track what you’re doing.
Tracking your spending and income is one of the most important pieces to living a financially healthy life. While there’s more to track than just your checking account, entering the checks you write into a check register is a good start.
By filling out a check register, you’ll know what checks you have written, which checks have cleared, and what your available balance is. You’ll also have a better handle on how much money you actually have and avoid those expensive overdraft fees on your checking account. Record your transaction in the check register immediately after writing a check so you don’t mess up any of the details.
Here’s a quick rundown of how to do it:
- On the first line, enter your starting balance (the amount of money you currently have) for your checking account on the first line in the column marked “Balance.” The dollars should go in the larger box to the left while the cents belong in the smaller box on the right. In our example below, we’ll start with $1,000.00.
- Go down to the next line and fill in the number of the check you just wrote in the “Check number/code” column.
- Next to that, in the date column, fill in the date of the check.
- On the same line in the “Transaction Description” column, enter the name of the person or company you paid.
- Write the amount of the check in the “Payment/Debit” column. (For deposits, enter the amount of the deposit in “Deposit” column.)
- In the balance column, subtract the amount of the check from the balance listed on the line above. Write this amount down as your current available balance. (Please note, this may be different from the balance listed on your online account or from an ATM. This is because this check has not “cleared” yet!)
- Repeat for each transaction.
This is a great way to keep track of your checking account, but you must be sure to include all of the transactions you make from this account. This includes deposits, ATM withdrawals, ACH payments, and more. Recording all of your transactions will help you be as accurate as possible, helping you avoid any additional fees or penalties due to overdrafts.
Finally, when you get your monthly bank statement, you can identify checks that have cleared by adding a check mark in the check mark column.
Other Parts of a Check
You’ve successfully learned how to fill out a check, but what are those other numbers listed at the bottom? Generally speaking, you’ll find 3 numbers at the bottom of each check you write:
- Bank routing number – This is a nine-digit number which identifies the bank where your checking account is located.
- Checking account number – This number is your actual checking account number.
- Check number – This is the number of the check you are writing. It should match the check number in the upper right corner of the check.
When writing a check and sending it out for payment, it’s important that these numbers are clearly visible and are intact – especially the routing and account numbers. Be sure that you don’t accidentally tear them off or write over them in a way where they are illegible. Without them, your payee’s bank will not know where to draw the money from, which could result in a bounced check.
FAQs About Writing a Check
Can I write a check with a pencil?
Although you can write a check in pencil, it’s always best to write a check using permanent ink. Pencil can be easily erased and somebody with ill intentions could change anything you’ve written down. If you’re writing the check by hand, you should definitely do it with a pen.
When will I need to use a check?
That depends. These days, there aren’t a lot of situations where you’re actually required to pay with a check. However, there are still many companies that don’t allow you to make payments using a credit or debit card. In this instance, a personal check may be the only option.
In other cases, writing a check may actually save you money. While you’re not required to use a check, some companies may give you a discount if you choose to pay with a check rather than with a debit or credit card.
For example, we just bought a new furniture set for our living room. Although the furniture was already on sale, we got an extra 5% discount for paying with cash or check instead of a credit card. On $5,000, that’s an additional savings of $250 just for writing a check! Now, you know we love earning rewards on our credit cards, but – since we weren’t pursuing a signup bonus at the time – there was no way we’d get $250 worth of value in points. So, we wrote the check and grabbed some sweet savings.
Can I write a check to myself?
Yes. Although ATM cards have made this somewhat obsolete, you can still write yourself a check in order to get cash from your checking account. In this case, you’ll need to sign the front of the check and endorse the check by signing again on the back. Keep in mind, though, that you shouldn’t endorse the check until you’re ready to bring it to the bank. Should you lose an already endorsed check, somebody could cash it at the bank and you’d be out the money.
How do I postdate a check?
As we mentioned above, postdating a check means that – rather than using the current date – you fill out a check using a date in the future. This is typically done because there is not enough money in your checking account to cover the amount of the check. By postdating the check, you’ll have time to put the additional funds in the bank to cover the cost of the check.
In most cases, postdating a check is not good practice and should be avoided. It is often a sign that you are spending more than what you can reasonably afford. Additionally, the payee is not required to accept a post-dated check, so you could have issues (and possibly incur returned check fees) as well.
What if I make a mistake on a check?
Some of the most common check writing mistakes include:
- Failing to sign a check
- Entering the wrong date (typically month or year)
- Entering different amounts in writing and numbers
When you write a check, it’s important to avoid mistakes whenever possible. Although some mistakes may be forgiven, a mistake on your check could potentially cost you money. A bank or business may be unable to process your check, resulting in returned check fees that could cost as much as $40. Additionally, you may be charged late fees if a delay in processing makes your payment late.
How do I write a voided check?
In order to process direct deposits, direct withdrawals, automatic bill payments, and more, your employer or a business may request that you provide them with a voided check. This helps ensure that they have access to the correct account and that they can deposit or withdraw money without making mistakes.
Now that you know how to write a check, filling out a voided check should be easy. Simply write the word “VOID” in large letters across the middle of the check. I like to write “VOID” in a few different spots, including one large “VOID” across the middle of the check and a smaller version of the word “VOID” in a few different spots. Then, you can send it to whoever needs it. (Note: If you’re voiding a check because of a mistake, void the check first. Then, tear it up or shred it.)
Although personal checks have become somewhat obsolete, knowing how to write a check is still important for those situations where it is necessary or beneficial to you. While it’s not overly complicated, making a mistake could end up costing you money in bank charges and late fees…and nobody wants that!
We hope this guide to writing a check has been helpful. Thanks so much for reading!