A check is simply a written form of authorization that allows a bank to initiate a transaction from your account. The check needs to contain the bank's routing number, your account number, the amount authorized, the name of the payee, and the name and signature of the payer. Nowadays, you're more likely to use a debit card or mobile payment app than hand-write a personal check. Still, you may encounter an occasional bill that requires a written check. While writing checks is fairly simple, there are a few practices you should follow to make the process as secure as possible.
- How to Fill Out a Check
- How to Void a Check
- How to Endorse a Check
- Finding Information on a Check
How to Fill Out a Check
There are five separate fields that you must fill out to write a valid check. If your handwriting is particularly messy, this is the time to go slowly and write as clearly as you can manage.
1. Date: Write today's date in order of month, day and year. The clearest method is to write the name of the month and use numbers for the day and year.
2. Pay to the Order of: Write out the official name of the person or organization you're paying. If there's any doubt, it never hurts to double-check this information with the recipient.
3. Numerical Amount: Fill the box in with the number value of the payment. Make sure to include a decimal point and the cents, even with a whole-dollar figure like "45.00". This prevents anyone from changing "45" to "450" or even "4,500".
4. Amount in Words: Now write the same amount, but with words for the dollars and a fraction for the cents. If there are no cents, write "00/100" or draw a line over the remaining space so that no one can change the amount afterwards.
5. Memo: This optional field can be left blank, but it may help to identify the payment later on. Examples include notes like "March rent" or your account number with a utility company.
6. Signature: Put your signature on this line to complete the check. Some checks have the letters "MP" printed on this line, an abbreviation of manu propria —Latin for "signed with one's own hand".
How to Void a Check
To write a voided check, all you need to do is to write the word "VOID" in letters large enough to cover the face of a blank check. Make sure not to write over any numbers printed along the bottom edge. It's best to use a bold permanent marker when you do this, so that the letters can't be erased.
You may be asked to provide a voided check so that your employer or another company can establish direct payments to your checking account. This is a relatively secure means for such organizations to obtain the information on the check, such as your account number and your bank's routing number, discussed below.
How to Endorse a Check
Occasionally, you might find yourself being paid with a check. These days, mobile check deposit options have become widespread, meaning you won't need to visit a branch office to deposit checks made out to you. However, you still need to endorse the check with your signature on the back.
Make sure not to make any marks below the printed warning on the check. There are several blank lines available for your signature, as well as any additional instructions you might want to add. For example, if you want to restrict the deposit for a specific account, you can add "deposit to account #" and include the number of your checking or savings account.
Of course, adding your account number is unnecessary if you're endorsing the check just before making the deposit at the bank or by taking a photo with your phone for mobile check deposit. The extra step is just an easy way to make sure that losing the check won't allow someone else to deposit the check into a different account.
Finding Information on a Check
Although you have to provide most of the information on a check each time you write one, there are a few numbers already printed on each check that can be useful to know.
The routing number, also called the ABA number, is the nine-digit number printed on the bottom-left corner of all your checks. You'll want to know this number for things like setting up direct deposits, paying bills and ordering new checks. Your routing number may vary by the bank and region where you opened your account.
To the right of the routing number you'll see your account number. This is the number that your bank uses to identify your individual bank account. While routing numbers are tied to banks, this number is unique to the account that the check is connected to. This is typically a checking account, although certain money market accounts also allow for check writing.
The shortest number is the check number, which is unique on each check you write. You'll find this number in two places: at the top right corner and at the bottom of the check, to the right of the account number. The check number can help you distinguish between which checks your bank has already accepted and which have yet to clear.