You check your truck, you check your gear, but did you check your check? Writing a bad check isn’t always about not having enough money. Filling out a check incorrectly – even if accidentally – can cause headaches that cost you time and money you’d rather spend on the great outdoors. Also, know how to avoid check fraud which is on the INCREASE! This article might not be guide you to a trophy buck, but it will definitely save you a few!
In the digital era we are living in, it might seem surprising that paper checks are still very common. It seems like every day there’s a new app for electronic money movement. Don’t chuckle though, checks are still a big thing!
In fact, checks are still preferred by many vendors, to avoid the high credit card fees which can drain them of 3% of revenue. Also, there are many things you still can’t pay with a credit card (such as another credit card, credit line, some utilities, etc.). These require either payment by check, or use of your checking account information (routing number and account number) in a phone or online payment system.
It may be that you are new to writing checks, or just looking for a refresher (it’s easy to make mistakes writing them, I have many times) including tips on avoiding check fraud. Either way, in this short yet comprehensive guide, we will take you step-by-step on how to write a check.
The other reason you want to write checks correctly, is that check fraud is actually on the increase. This is happening because as companies get better at preventing online identify theft, those same fraudsters are turning back to traditional check fraud – but with more sophistication. See our Special Section on preventing check fraud at the end of this article.
How To Write A Check
While the good news is writing a check correctly is straightforward to do, be certain you don’t skip any of these steps. Each line for how to fill out a check is there for a distinct purpose. Since there is money involved, the last thing you want to do is a mistake.
1) Write the Current Date
Adding the current date is the first step in the process of check writing.
At the top right-hand corner, you will see a black space above or next to the word “Date”. Because checks are treated as legal documents, the date should be the day that you sign the check. In this ‘how to fill a check’ step guide, there are exceptions to this rule. Even though you can postdate the check, it is best to use the current date, which will help you and the recipient to keep precise records.
2) Write the Recipient’s Name
Next step on the list of “how to write a personal check” is to put the name of the person or organization you are paying.
The name information should be written on the line that reads “Pay to the Order of”. It is crucial that this portion is accurate and spelled correctly. Any errors could prevent the recipient from being able to cash the check.
In a case where the recipient is an organization, you should write its full name. Acronyms should not be used unless permission is given. For individual, you should write the person’s first and last name.
You can also pay your check to “Cash”. This means the filled out check can be cashed, by anyone since a recipient is not specified. This obviously comes with a high level of risk, so we advise you to avoid writing such checks.
3) Write the Payment Amount in Numeric Form
When writing the payment amount in a numeric form, you should look for a small box on the right-hand side or a blank space next to the recipient’s name field. In the box, you would input the number the same way you would write any number.
If you are transferring a whole number amount of money, check example: twenty dollars. You should write “20.00”. If you are wondering how to write a check with cents, it is equally simple. Start writing the number of dollars first and then proceed to the cents unit by using a period (“.”). Let’s say you are paying someone twenty dollars and fifteen cents. What you should end up having inside the dollar box/blank line, is “20.15”.
Important – before you write out you checks, be sure to read our Special Section on security below, regarding the type of pen and ink that is most secure.
4) Write the Payment Amount in a Word Form
In the process of learning how to write checks, the step of writing the payment amount in words is absolutely necessary to avoid confusion as well as fraud.
To do so, write the out the check’s amount in words, in the line below the one that says, “Pay to the Order of”. When you fill out check, you must make sure that the number, especially if it contains cents, is properly written. In this case, it is a simple two-step process.
First, write the dollar amount. Then, use the word “and” to suggest that the amount includes cents, and then put the number of cents.
However, the tricky part of including cents is that you have to put the number of cents into a fraction format. In order to do it, you should write the number of cents, then put a slash (“/”), and finally write “100 cents”. This is just a technicality that shows the fractional amount of a whole dollar in cents.
Using our $20.15 example check, you should write the following: Twenty dollars and 15/100 cents.
If you are paying a rounded sum (example $20.00) you can write either “Twenty dollars and 0/100 cents”, just “Twenty dollars”, or “Twenty dollars even”.
5) Sign the Check
In the bottom-right corner, you will find an empty line. Here, you should write the same name and signature that you have on file with your bank. Be careful not to use nicknames or acronyms that the bank would be unaware of. In the practice of how to write out a check, it is essential to sign the written check. Otherwise, it will be invalid. See tips for signatures below in our special section on avoiding check fraud.
6) Fill out the Memo Section
The Memo section, even though is optional, can be helpful. This section explains what exactly the check is for.
Some examples for filling out the memo are “Donation”, “For My Rent”, etc. The more detail, the more this helps your check be unique, which will help you later (for example when doing your taxes) and is also a fraud deterrent.
In a case when the recipient obligates you to write in the memo section, discuss details with them so that you do not make a mistake.
Special Section: How To Avoid Check Fraud
To keep your funds secure, follow these tips carefully when writing out your checks!
Use Black Gel Ink
On important documents (such as loans) some banks, mortgage companies, and other institutions say to use blue ink, because it is harder to photocopy and fake an original signature. So you might be in the habit of using a blue ballpoint pen, and thinking that is the most secure. Wrong! When writing checks, make sure instead that you use black “gel” ink whenever possible. This is because this color and type of ink is more resistant to “check-washing.” Check-washing is accomplished using a chemical such as acetone to erase certain parts of the check. The fraudster is usually trying to erase this the payee (to put in their fraudulent name) or even change the amount the check is written for. To be clear, most ballpoint pens are not “gel ink” pens. A “gel ink” pen is a specific type of ballpoint pen, which uses a pigmented water-based gel, instead of traditional ink. They tend to be used for writing or illustration. In addition to the ink that is resistant to chemical washing, they also leave a much stronger mark on the surface than regular ink. Here’s several options you can purchase from Amazon:
If you don’t a black gel pen, then instead use a fountain pen with black ink as a backup.
Don’t Correct A Mistake – Void The Check
It’s actually quite easy and common to make mistakes when writing a check. For example, in early January, how often have you written the date using the last year, just out of habit instead of the new year? If you make a mistake, and it’s really minor (such as changing a 6 into an 8 can be done legibly and clearly, as can changing a 4 into a 9), then don’t sweat it. However, if you can’t readily fix the mistake so that it is clearly legible, then don’t scribble it out. Instead, write VOID across the front – and in several places especially the amount and over your signature – and write out a new check from scratch.
Don’t Correct A Mistake – Void The Check
It’s actually quite easy and common to make mistakes when writing a check. For example, in early January, how often have you written the date using the last year, just out of habit instead of the new year? If you make a mistake, and it’s really minor (such as changing a 6 into an 8 can be done legibly and clearly, as can changing a 4 into a 9), then don’t sweat it. However, if you can’t readily fix the mistake so that it is clearly legible, then don’t scribble it out. Instead, write VOID across the front – and in several places especially the amount and over your signature – and write out a new check from scratch. When you do it like this, even if the old check is stolen or found, it cannot be (re)used. In fact, it is a good idea to run any old checks through a paper shredder (or at least tear it up several times so the account number isn’t visible) if possible before you dispose of it.
Space Out The Fraudsters
One thing that check thieves like to do, is insert a number to make the amount larger, then cash it using a fake ID. For example, if you leave them the room to do so, they can simply insert a “1” ahead of “100” to make a $100 check into a “$1,100” check. Here’s how to prevent that.
Simply write your numerals as close to the currency sign as you can. When you have done that, draw a line at the end of the amount. This is so people cannot add any numbers after the ones you have written down.
Also, which writing out the number in written form, same concept applies. Also, use large enough size text so they can’t write in the increased amount above (such as writing “One Thousand” with an insert symbol ahead of, or above the original “One Hundred” that you wrote).
Check Signing – Do’s and Dont’s
DO sign it before you go to cash it. It’s better to sign your check before you take it to your local check cashing station. This is because if you lose it before you get there, it becomes nearly impossible for someone to cash it because they don’t have your signature.
DON’T ever, ever, ever, sign a blank check! Whether you carry it yourself or give it to someone else – no matter how much you trust them! This is because someone could easily fill in the amount, forge an ID, and drain your bank account.
DON’T scrawl your signature quickly. Try make it a neat, deliberate signature that is hard to replicate. Add some swirls, unique loops and even letters of different sizes. This will make it much harder to forge. It’s critical that you keep it consistent from check to check, and the same as your photo ID card. Any details you add, no matter how small, will act as a deterrent to potential check thieves.
Check Storage and Disposal
DO keep your extra checks in a safe or locked cabinet or drawer. In fact, your gun safe is probably one of the safest place for your checks. One of the first things home intruders look for are credit cards and checks. They’ll go straight to an office, through your purse and wallet (even while you are sleeping) and look for blank checks that can be very easily written out to their own fraudulent ID, and within a day drain your bank account!
DON’T put your old checks or voided checks with mistakes in the recycling bin, without first shredding or fully destroying them.
Believe it or not, good old mailbox theft is on the rise again. This is for the same reason, that electronic money theft is getting harder as companies cyber security systems get better. Not only is your home mailbox at risk, but also mail drop boxes such as the United States Postal Service. Thieves have developed amazing contraptions to steal mail looking for checks, such as extended flexible arms with grabber clamps at the end.
Here’s how you combat this risk – avoid leaving mail overnight in mail boxes, whether at home or at the post office. Try to drop if off right before scheduled pick up times, or at least deposit the mail in the morning before you go to work, instead of the night before.
The worst thing you can do is leave it in a mailbox Saturday afternoon all the way till Monday afternoon or pickup. The best thing you can do is hand it to a mail clerk during business hours.
Now that you have come to the end of this guide, we hope we have answered the question “How do you write a check?” Well now you definitely know how to fill out a check with confidence.
Writing a check is something that is easy to learn and even easier to repeat. And yet, must be done carefully to avoid the pitfalls of returned checks, stolen identifies, and fraudsters that want to drain your bank account.
By following the steps we mentioned on how to write out checks, you can have your check filled out within minutes. For the process to become more natural to you, it needs to be practiced. The more often you practice writing checks, the better you will become at it.
However, we completely understand if the practice of how to fill out check is not something you are interested in or you simply do not appreciate this moving-money method. If you prefer to embrace new technology, rather than processing money in conventional ways you are not alone.
Today, plenty of financial apps can help you transfer money safely to your friends and family as well as save money. Click here if you are interested in checking out the money apps that we love.