Note: This article is part of our Basic Banking series, designed to provide new savers with the key skills to save smarter.
From paying rent to sending a wedding or Sweet 16 gift, there may be a time when you need to know how to write a check.
Fortunately, writing a check is fairly easy. Even some of the best high-yield online checking accounts offer checks to their customers for those instances when they are necessary.
Here are the six steps you’ll need to follow when filling out a check.
1. Write the date
Write today’s date in the upper right-hand corner on the date line. Financial institutions aren’t particular about how you do this. If it’s April 30, your options could include:
- Apr. 30, 2019
- April 30, 2019
If you don’t have enough money in your account, you could postdate the check. Just make sure the person or organization receiving the check knows you are postdating it so that it’s not cashed or deposited before that date. Financial institutions are allowed to cash or deposit postdated checks before the date listed, so you need to be careful.
A check would be returned if there’s not sufficient funds in the account when it’s cashed or deposited. This can lead to fees for the payer and the payee. It can also be a stressful — and embarrassing — situation.
Know that banks are not obligated to cash a check if it’s six months past the date listed.
2. Fill out the ‘Pay to the order of’ line
This line shows who you are paying. This could be an organization, individual — or even two people.
Make sure you spell the payee’s name right. If it’s a business, double-check that you have the correct name. For instance, you may know the person who fixed your sink as Joe the Plumber, but his full business name — and the name on his business checking account — might be Plumbing by Joe LLC.
If you’re writing a check as a wedding gift to a couple getting married, make out the check to their names before marriage. Use “or” between the two names so the check can be deposited by either person.
Another option is writing “Cash” as the payee. But keep in mind that anyone can cash or deposit the check now, which is risky.
3. Write the amount in numerals
This part is pretty simple. In other words — or numbers, as the case may be — write the amount of the check, such as 103.59. You don’t need to include the dollar sign, which will already be printed on the check.
It’s best to include two decimal points even if no cents are involved, such as 103.00. This prevents someone from altering the intended amount.
4. Write the amount in words
Below the payee line, write the dollar amount of the check in words, including cents as a fraction. Say you’re writing a check for $103 — here’s how it should look:
- One hundred three and 00/100 -------
Remember to draw a line after the fraction to prevent anyone from changing the amount on the check. Also, make sure the amount in words matches the amount in numerals so the payee can cash or deposit the check.
5. Add your signature
Next, sign your check legibly with the name you use on your checking account. Remember to include any middle initials — or Jr. or Sr. designations — if they appear on your account.
Once a check is signed, it can be cashed or deposited. Never sign a blank check. If you lose it, anyone can fill out the remaining sections and try to cash it.
If you lose a signed check, you should cancel the check or stop the payment. Financial institutions generally charge between $20 and $30 for this, but it will prevent anyone from wrongfully getting their hands on your money.
6. Fill out the memo (optional)
Lastly, on the memo line, you could leave a note. If it’s for a wedding, birthday or graduation, you can write a short (two- or three-word) message to the recipient, such as “Best wishes,” “Congratulations” or “Happy birthday.”
The memo line is there to remind you why you wrote a check if the name isn’t immediately recognizable. For instance, if you are constantly writing checks for school fundraisers, sports or activities, you may want to recall why you paid Cherry Grove Elementary School $40 last week — and another $10 this week.
What to do next: Balance your checkbook
It’s entirely possible you don’t keep a handwritten checking account ledger. If you do, you’ll want to fill out the following information in the appropriate sections:
- Check number
- Transaction description
- Amount (in the relevant withdrawal or deposit section)
If you receive monthly statements from your bank, you can match your records against those of the bank. If you use online banking, you can log in to your account to see if a check has been deposited or if it has cleared. Just know that a check won’t appear in your history until it has been cashed.
If you forgot how to write a check or you’ve never written one, you can now be more prepared.