How to Write a Check: A Step-by-Step Guide

By Emily Greenhill Pierce · May 21, 2024 · 8 minute read

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How to Write a Check: A Step-by-Step Guide

The basic steps of check-writing sound pretty straightforward: Fill out the date, amount, payee name, and add your signature.

There are, however, right and wrong ways to complete this process. And, despite the current age of online banking, there may still be times when you need to write checks and want to do so correctly. Make an error, and your check may not be cashed, which can lead to hassles and fees.

By learning the simple step-by-step process, you can fill out a check properly when you need to.

Key Points

•   Writing a check involves filling out the date, amount, payee name, and your signature.

•   Errors in check writing can lead to uncashed checks and potential fees.

•   Postdating a check allows it to be deposited at a future date.

•   Writing the dollar amount in words and numbers helps prevent fraud.

•   Signing the check is crucial as an unsigned check is invalid.

1. Date the Check

First things first: Write today’s date on the space provided in the upper right-hand corner of the check. Putting the date on your check will provide evidence of when you wrote the check.

You can also postdate a check and request for the recipient not to deposit the amount until on or after that future date.

filling out date on a check

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2. Add the Recipient’s Name

In the line, “Pay to the order of,” write the name of the individual or company you are paying. Be sure to double check the spelling of the person’s name and the official vendor name to avoid any payment mishaps.

You can also make a check out to “cash,” but this poses a security risk. If you or the payee loses the check, anyone who finds it will be able to cash it. You can also write a check to yourself if you need to transfer funds from your checking account to another personal account.

adding recipients name to check

3. Write the Payment Amount in Numbers

Write the dollar and cents amount in the rectangular box, located to the right of the payee line. (Example: $156.99.) It’s essential to write the payment amount clearly for the ATM or bank worker.

filling in payment amount on check

4. Write the Payment Amount in Words

To help prevent error or fraud, write the check amount out in words on the line provided.

How to Write a Check with Cents

To write a check with cents, you’ll express the cents amount as a fraction. For example, $156.99 would read as “One hundred and fifty-six and 99/100.”

How to Write a Check with No Cents

If the dollar amount is whole ($156.00), it should read “one hundred and fifty-six and 00/100.” A banker or ATM will check that your numerical amount matches the spelled-out amount.

Recommended: What Is an Outstanding Check?

writing payment amount on check

5. Sign the Check

One of the biggest mistakes check writers make is forgetting to sign the check. Neglecting to do so makes the check invalid and uncashable. Be sure and write your signature on the bottom right-hand line of the check.

adding signature to a check

6. Add a Memo

Adding a note in the memo line on a check is optional, but it’s a good idea. Doing so will help you remember why you wrote the check in the first place: “July 1st rent” or “Beyoncé tix reimbursement.”

Some payees may require additional information which you can put on the memo line on the bottom-left corner. The IRS, for example, will ask you to write your Social Security number on your check.

adding a memo to a check

Example of Writing a Check

Now that you’ve read about writing a check, here’s what a properly filled out one looks like:

example of a filled out check

Tips for Filling Out Checks

The steps on how to write a check are pretty clear. But there are additional tips that can help protect your account and ensure a successful transaction.

Use a Pen

Protect your money. Always fill out a check in ink — preferably blue or black ink for easier readability. Using a pencil is a recipe for theft. You don’t want your payee and dollar amounts being erased and rewritten (aka an altered check).

Don’t Sign a Blank Check

Don’t sign your name on the bottom of the check until it is completely filled out. If a check has your signature, but no payee name or dollar amount, you are leaving yourself wide open for any thief with a pen to fill in the blanks.

Keep Your Signature Consistent

Maintaining a consistent signature can help a bank teller or ATM detect signs of identity fraud. You’ll be better able to prove someone other than you signed your check if you have clear signature samples.

Save a Copy of Your Check

Having a copy of your check can act as proof of payment. You can take a picture of it with your cell phone. Some banks will issue checkbooks with carbon copies—a duplicate check attached to the back of a paper one. If you press down hard enough, your writing will transfer onto the duplicate check.

Recommended: Overdraft vs Non-Sufficient Funds Fees: What’s the Difference?

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How to Protect Your Accounts When Writing Paper Checks

After mailing or handing over a check, it’s wise to keep tabs on its path and your bank account. Here are some smart moves that can help keep your records straight.

Record the Payment

Most checkbooks come with a check register — a place to record your check usage and current bank balance. It’s important to dot down:

•   The check number

•   The date you wrote the check

•   The payee information

•   The dollar amount

Doing so will help you balance your checkbook and avoid ending up with a negative balance.

Monitor for Fraud or Lost Checks

Having a record of your checks will help you avoid overdraft fees and keep track of any outstanding checks that payees have yet to cash. When you receive your monthly statement, compare it against your check register to catch any suspicious activity.

This can reveal a check that might have been cashed for a different amount than what you filled it out for. This could indicate a kind of fraud called “check washing,” in which a criminal gets a hold of your check, erases information, and fills it out to themselves.

Or you might spot that a check hasn’t been cashed in a timely manner, indicating that it’s a lost check, worth following up on.

Check Your Available Balance

You don’t want to write a check for more money than you currently have, so keep an eye on your bank balance to avoid bouncing a check. Whether you have a traditional or online checking account, you should be able to easily monitor this on your financial institution’s website or app.

Consider Automated Payments

While checks can still have their time and place in your financial life, online and mobile banking can make it easy to pay bills and otherwise send funds to other accounts. This can be accomplished quickly, easily, and securely by automating your finances.

For example, instead of writing paper checks, you could set up recurring transfers to pay bills online every month or make one-off payments as needed. These actions can be done safely and simply, and they eliminate the need for envelopes and postage stamps, too.

Recommended: ACH vs Checks: Key Differences

The Takeaway

It’s possible that check payments could eventually become a thing of the past. Until then, it’s important to know how to write a check and avoid making little errors that could result in big headaches.

Most bank accounts come with checks, but that’s not the only feature to consider when shopping for a new account.

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What makes a check invalid?

Banks can refuse to cash a check due to a missing signature, insufficient account funds, invalid or illegible account numbers, or if too much time has passed since the check was dated (typically six months).

Can someone steal your identity with a check?

It is possible for criminals to use the information on your check — your name, your address, your routing number — to steal your identity. They might be able to apply for loans in your name or open bank accounts.

Where is the bank routing number on a check?

The bank routing number is at the bottom of the check, to the left. Just to the right of it is your account number, and then at the far right, the check number.

Who signs the back of a check?

The payee endorses the back of the check in order to make a deposit or cash it.

Photo credit: iStock/payphoto

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