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

Image shows a personal check made out to acme grocery shop for $8.15, signed by jane doe. Text reads: "The anatomy of a personal check: current date, payee, amount (numeric form) amount (in words), memo, signature"

The Balance / Marina Li

While less common than they once were, checks are still widely used, even in today’s digital world. Paper checks are an effective and inexpensive tool for moving money, but you probably don’t write a check every day (or maybe you’ve never even done it before).

Writing a check is easy, and this tutorial shows you exactly how to do it. Move through each step one-by-one, or just use the example above as a model for the checks you need to write. You can complete the steps in any order you like as long as you sign last and the finished product isn't missing any vital information. In this example, you’ll move from the top of a check to the bottom, which should help you avoid skipping any steps.

Key Takeaways

  • Before you write a check, ensure you have the funds to cover the purchase and consider alternative payment methods such as electronic transfers or debit card payments.
  • You should write the payment amount in both words and numbers, and you should carefully fill out other fields such as the data line, signature, and memo line.
  • Recording details in a check register can record more information than your bank statement will show, such as who you paid and why.

Before Writing the Check

A check that has been altered from $8.15 to $8,159
Justin Pritchard

Before writing a check, make sure that it’s really something you need to do. Writing a check is cumbersome, and it’s not the fastest way to move money. You might have other options that would make your life easier and help you save money. For example, you can:

  • Pay bills online, and even tell your bank to send a check automatically each month. You won't need to write the check, pay for postage, or get the check in the mail
  • Get a debit card and spend with that instead. You'll pay out of the same account, but you'll do it electronically. There’s no need to use up checks (which you'll have to re-order), and you'll have an electronic record of your transaction with the payee name, the date of your payment, and the amount.
  • Set up automatic payments for regular payments like utility bills and insurance premiums. There's typically no charge to pay this way, and it makes your life easy. Just be sure that you've always got enough cash in your account to cover the bill.

No matter how you choose to pay, make sure you always have sufficient funds available in your checking account. If you don't, your payments may "bounce" and create problems, including hefty fees and potential legal issues.

How To Fill Out a Check

A check filled out with labels showing where to complete each section
A completed check. Use this as an example or move through the steps below (View larger). Justin Pritchard

Here's an overview of the perfect check.

  1. Current date: Write this near the top right-hand corner. In most cases, you’ll use today’s date, which helps you and the recipient keep accurate records. You can also postdate the check, but that doesn't always work the way you think it will.
  2. Payee: On the line that says "Pay to the order of," write the name of the person or organization you’re paying. You may have to ask "Whom do I make the check out to?" if you're not sure what to write, because this information needs to be accurate.
  3. Amount in numeric form: Write the amount of your payment in the small box on the right-hand side. Start writing as far over to the left as possible. If your payment is for $8.15, the "8" should be right up against the left-hand border of the dollar box to prevent fraud. See examples of how to write in the amount.
  4. Amount in words: Write out the amount using words to avoid fraud and confusion. This will be the official amount of your payment. If that amount is different from the numeric form that you entered in the previous step, the amount you wrote with words will legally be the amount of your check. Use all capital letters, which are harder to alter.
  5. Signature: Sign the check legibly on the line in the bottom-right corner. Use the same name and signature on file at your bank. This step is essential—a check will not be valid without a signature.
  6. Memo (or “For”) line: If you like, include a note. This step is optional and will not affect how banks process your check. The memo line is a good place to add a reminder about why you wrote the check. It might also be the place to write information that your payee will use to process your payment (or find your account if anything gets misplaced). For example, you could write your Social Security Number on this line when paying the IRS, or an account number for utility payments.

After You Write the Check

An example of how to copy information from your completed check to your check register
Make a note of the transaction in your check register. Copy everything from your check so you know what happened later. Calculate your running balance so you know how much money you have right now. Justin Pritchard

After you write the check, make a record of the payment. A check register is an ideal place to do this, whether you use an electronic or paper register. Recording the payment prevents you from spending the money twice—the funds will still show as available in your account until after the check is deposited or cashed, and that could take a while. It’s best to make a note of the payment while it’s fresh in your mind.

Making a record of every check you write in a check register will allow you to:

  • Track your spending so you don't bounce checks
  • Know where your money goes (your bank statement may only show a check number and amount—with no description of whom you wrote the check to)
  • Detect fraud and identity theft in your checking account

You should have received a check register when you got your checkbook. If you don’t have one, It’s easy to make your own using paper or a spreadsheet.

Copy all of the essential information from your check:

  • The check number
  • The date that you wrote the check
  • A description of the transaction or whom you wrote the check to
  • How much the payment was for

If you need more details on where to find this information, see a diagram showing the different parts of a check.

You can use your register to balance your checking account. This is the practice of double-checking every transaction in your bank account to make sure that you and the bank are on the same page. You’ll know if there are mistakes in your account, and if anybody has failed to deposit a check you wrote them (thereby making you believe you have more money to spend).

Your check register can also provide an instant view of how much money you have available. Once you write a check, you should assume that the money is gone—in some cases, the funds are drawn from your account quickly, because your check is converted to an electronic check.

Tips for Writing a Check

When you write a check, make sure it gets used the way you intended—to pay the amount you expected to the person or organization you intended.

Thieves can alter checks that get lost or stolen. Checks have multiple opportunities to get lost after they leave your hands, so make it difficult for thieves to create headaches for you. Whether or not you lose money permanently, you’ll have to spend time and effort cleaning up messes after fraud.

Security Tips

Develop the habits below to decrease the chances of fraud hitting your account.

  • Make it permanent: Use a pen whenever you write a check. If you use a pencil, anybody with an eraser can change the amount of your check and the name of the payee.
  • No blank checks: Don’t sign a check until after you’ve filled in the name of the payee and the amount. If you’re not sure whom to make the check payable to or how much something costs, just bring a pen—it’s much less risky than giving somebody unlimited access to your checking account.
  • Keep checks from growing: When you’re filling in the dollar amount, make sure you print the value in a way that prevents scammers from adding to it. Do this by starting at the far left edge of the space, and draw a line after the last digit. For example, if your check is for $8.15, put the “8” as far to the left as possible. Then, draw a line from the right side of the “5” to the end of the space or write the numbers so large that it’s hard to add any numbers. If you leave space, somebody can add digits, and your check might end up being $98.15 or $8,159.
  • Carbon copies: If you want a paper record of every check you write, get checkbooks with carbon copies. Those checkbooks feature a thin sheet containing a copy of every check you write. As a result, you can quickly identify where your money went and exactly what you wrote on every check.
  • Consistent signature: Many people don’t have a legible signature, and some even sign checks and credit card slips with humorous images. But consistently using the same signature helps you and your bank identify fraud. It’ll be easier for you to prove that you’re not responsible for charges if a signature doesn’t match.
  • No “Cash”: Avoid writing a check payable to cash. This is just as risky as carrying around a signed blank check or a wad of cash. If you need cash, withdraw from an ATM, buy a stick of gum and get cash back using your debit card, or just get cash from a teller.
  • Write fewer checks: Checks aren’t exactly risky, but there are safer ways to pay for things. When you make electronic payments, there’s no paper to get lost or stolen. Electronic payments are typically easier to track, because they’re already in a searchable format with a timestamp and the name of the payee. Use tools like online bill payment for your recurring expenses, and use a credit or debit card for everyday spending.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I write a check to myself?

You can write a check to yourself and then deposit it in an ATM, at a bank branch, or through your mobile banking app. Use the same process outlined above, and put your name in the "Pay to the Order of" area of the check. You will need to endorse the back of the check when you deposit it.

When should I sign the check?

Do not sign a check until you have filled in the "Pay to the Order of" section, as well as the numeric and written amount. Signing a blank check leaves your bank account exposed if you accidentally lose it or if it is stolen.

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  1. "Do Banks Pay the Numeric Amount or Amount in Words on Checks?"

  2. P&G Mehoopany Employees Federal Credit Union. "Check Writing 101."

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