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

Written by Kerri Anne Renzulli | Edited by Ali Cybulski | Published on 5/16/2024


Sending a paper check may seem antiquated in a world with many digital payment options. Still, checks are commonly used for rent, utility and tax payments, and many people choose checks instead of cash for monetary gifts.

Whether you’ve never written a check or need a refresher, you can follow this guide to understand each step in the process. Here’s how to fill out a check correctly and confidently.

On this page:

Understanding the parts of a check

Getting familiar with the layout of a check can be helpful before you try to write one. A check has printed details, such as your name and address, as well as empty fields you need to complete.

The printed information on a check typically includes:

  • Account holder’s name and address. These details — and sometimes the phone number — of the account owner will appear in the upper left corner.
  • Check number. The check number is usually in the upper right and at the bottom after your account number.
  • Routing number and account number. You’ll find this series of numbers at the bottom of the check. The routing number is the first set of digits on the left, and the account number follows it.

The empty fields that remain are used for writing the check. These elements are:

  • Date. The line to add the date you wrote the check sits just below the check number at the upper right.
  • Pay to the order of. You add the name of the person or business being paid in this space at left, below your name and address.
  • Amount of check in numerals. The check amount written in numerals goes in this box below the date and to the right of the “Pay to the order of” line.
  • Amount of check in words. You’ll write this amount on the line printed with the word “dollars.”
  • Memo line. Use this line at the bottom left, above your routing and bank account numbers, for notes to yourself or the recipient. It sometimes starts with the word “For.”
  • Signature line. This line at the bottom right is for your signature.

How to write a check

If you need help writing a check, you can review these steps to get the details right. Knowing how to fill out a check properly is important to avoid banking errors, payment delays or fraud incidents.

Here is each step to writing a check:

1. Date the check.

Start by writing the current date in the top right corner of the check on the date line. Do not postdate a check because the bank may still process it.

How you date the check is a matter of personal preference: That means you could write Sept. 30, 2024, or 9/30/24.

2. Add the recipient’s name.

Write the name of the person or business authorized to cash the check on the line printed with “Pay to the order of.” Make sure everything is spelled correctly, and do not omit part of a name. Either could result in your check being returned.

You can make a check out to two people by using the word “or” between the two names, allowing either person to deposit it. This can be helpful when gifting money, say, to a couple as a wedding gift.

If you don’t know the recipient’s name, you could write a check to “cash,” and anyone can cash or deposit it. This is convenient but risky, and you should never send this type of check in the mail.

3. List the dollar amount in numerals.

Write the payment amount in numerals — say, $151.87 — in the box to the right of the recipient’s name. Always use two decimal places to prevent fraudsters from altering the check. For example, write $50.00 instead of $50.

Double-check to make sure you’ve written the correct numerals because mistakes can lead to payment issues.

4. Spell out the dollar amount.

You’ll write the check amount in words on the line that ends with “dollars.” If the amount is $2,000, write “Two thousand.”

To include cents, use a fraction with 100 on the bottom. If the amount is $23.99, write “Twenty-three and 99/100.”

Even if the dollar amount has no cents, still include 00/100 for clarity. In the first example, the $2,000 check would be written as “Two thousand and 00/100.”

Remember to write as far to the left as possible and then draw a line after your words on the right to fill any remaining space. This can prevent someone from altering the check.

5. Include a memo.

Using the memo line at the bottom left is optional, but it can help you remember the purpose of the check. You could use this field for an invoice number or note that the check was for a specific month’s rent payment. This step provides an extra level of detail for budgeting or disputing a payment, for instance.

6. Sign the check.

Sign your name on the line in the bottom right corner. This is a crucial step because the check is not considered valid and cannot be cashed unless it is signed. Your signature should match your name as it’s printed on the check.

How to keep your checks secure

Despite the declining use of checks in the U.S., check fraud is on the rise, according to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. The number of reports related to check fraud nearly doubled from 2021 to 2022, the agency reported.

Here are some ways to protect the funds in your checking account:

  • Do not share your bank account number with someone you don’t know, especially over the phone.
  • Limit the personal information you write on checks. Do not provide your Social Security, driver’s license or credit card number on a check.
  • Use permanent black gel pens to make information on checks harder to erase.
  • Monitor your account activity to make sure that recipients and amounts match what you wrote.
  • Do not use free-standing U.S. Postal Service mailboxes. Only mail checks at the post office.
  • Never endorse a check — that’s when you sign the back in the designated area called the endorsement box — until you are ready to cash or deposit it.

Alternatives to writing a check

If you’re trying to avoid some of the risks of writing a check, here are some safer alternatives:

  • Digital banking
  • Online bill payments
  • Debit and credit card payments
  • Mobile apps, such as PayPal and Venmo
  • Cashier’s check or money order

Frequently asked questions

How should I fix an error on a check?

If you make a mistake when writing a check, you will want to void it to prevent others from using it and to protect yourself from check fraud. To void a check, write the word “VOID” using all capital letters across the entire check and start over with a new check.

Can I write a check to myself?

Yes, you can write a check to yourself to withdraw money from your bank account or transfer funds from one account to another. You’ll need to put your own name on the “Pay to the order of” line. The rest of the steps are the same as writing any other check.

What is a postdated check?

A postdated check is written with a future date on it, and postdated checks are generally legal to write in the U.S. However, the bank or credit union may require reasonable notice, according to state law, to wait to cash the check. Contact your financial institution to learn about its policies.

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