How to Write Checks

Writing checks allows you to pay bills, send money, or purchase goods and services securely.  Checks eliminate the need to carry large amounts of cash, and relieve you from incurring fees that come from purchasing cashier's checks, money orders, or wire transfer services such as Western Union.

Parts of a Check

parts of a check

Regardless of who your financial institution is, checks have the same essential elements - check number, routing number, account number, etc.  It is important to fill out all parts of your check so you can always trace where you money has gone, how much, to whom, and when.  The check number located in the upper right hand corner allows you to easily identify a check in a registry, on your statement, etc.

Along the bottom of the check is a long series of numbers.  The first nine numbers on the left make up your bank’s routing number.  The routing number identifies your bank and allows financial institutions to process the check. 

Next to the routing number is your account number.  This bottom series of numbers serves as a road map to process the check telling the financial institution which bank (using the routing number) and which account (using your account number) to pull money from.

Writing a Check

1.  Write the date in the upper right hand corner on the date line.  A check cannot be cashed prior to the date written here.  

2.   “Pay to the order of” – this is where you indicate who the check is going to.  If you are paying a bill, the bill will usually specify “Make checks payable to…”. If you are ever confused about whom to make a check out to, always ask.

3.  Write the numerical amount of the check in the box to the right of the "pay to the order of"

4.  The second line is where you write in words the amount the check.   For example, if you are writing a check in the amount of $43.98, you would write “Forty-three dollars and 98/100”.  If there is any remaining space after the amount is written – write a line through that space.  This prevents anyone from altering the amount. 

5.  On the bottom left of the check, there is a line that says “Memo”.  Filling out this line is optional.  If you write checks frequently, it might be helpful to write a small note telling you who the payment was made to, what service or good it was used to purchase, etc.  This could come in handy later down the road.

6.  Sign the check on the "Signature" line.

Your finished check should look something like this:

completed check

Receiving Checks

In addition to writing checks, you might also receive checks as payments or as gifts for special occasions.  It is important you know how to go about endorsing and depositing checks so you can receive the right amount of money in a timely fashion.

Endorsing a Check

The first thing you should do when you receive a check is to endorse it.  Endorsing a check acknowledges that you and the check writer have agreed to exchange the funds indicated on the second line of the check. 

To endorse a check, simply turn the document over and sign your name on the top line next to the “X”.  Signing the check acknowledges that you have received the check and have deposited it. 



Cashing a Check

Cashing a check and depositing a check are two different transactions.  Cashing a check refers to receiving cash for the full amount of the check.  Depositing a check refers to placing the amount of the check into your bank account.  

In order to cash a check, you must first endorse the check and take it to your financial institution.  If you do not use a bank, you may take it to the issuer’s bank to obtain cash – however, they may charge you a fee.

Once you have provided adequate identification, you will receive the funds in exchange for the check.  Please note, however, that in the event your account does not have sufficient funds to cover the check, some financial institutions cannot “cash” checks until the funds has cleared.

Depositing a Check

The emergence of mobile applications has changed not only the way we live, but the way we bank.  Nowadays, most banks have apps that allow you to deposit checks without leaving your house – utilizing smartphone technology, camera-ready mobile devices, etc.  However, the safest way to deposit a check is by visiting your local branch.

If you are going to your local branch to deposit a check, you generally need identification and you will also need to fill out your deposit slip.  Once you have done both, you can approach the teller who will deposit the funds into the account indicated on your slip.

Direct Deposit

Another benefit of the technological advances of today is that you can stop depositing checks altogether.  Ask your current employer if your company offers a direct deposit option.  Direct deposit allows your employer to electronically deposit your paycheck into your bank account – thus eliminating the need for a paper check. 

Check Cashing Centers

Check cashing centers, or any other financial service center, allow customers to manage their financial needs without the use of a bank.  They provide numerous conveniences such as money transfers, money orders, prepaid debit cards, and, of course, check cashing services.  However, despite these benefits, there are serious downsides and dangers to using a check cashing center for your personal banking.

Check cashing centers allow customers to conduct their personal banking, such as cashing checks, at their facility for a fee.  This fee can range anywhere from 3-5% of the check being cashed.  Check cashing centers also charge fees for money orders, transfers, etc. that are often more than that of what you would pay at a bank.

In addition, cashing a check at a facility of this nature means you will be leaving the premises with a large amount of cash.  Such a situation is dangerous and far outweighs the convenience of using a bank.


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