Posted on by Anastasia

One question many people have when they open a checking account is: what exactly is a check? Not so long ago, writing a check was a common way to pay for goods and services. But with the rise of debit cards, this has become a less common practice. Still, knowing how to properly use and write checks is still important. 

A check is a little blank contract that you fill in. When the recipient takes a check to the bank, they exchange it for the amount the check was written. If the recipient goes to cash your check and you don’t have enough money in your account to cover it, you will be penalized with large fees. Remember that sometimes checks take several days to “clear” (that is, for the money to be moved from your account to the receiver’s account) and sometimes the one who receives your check may not take it to the bank right away. That is why it’s important to never write a check for more money than you have available in your bank account.

The checks you receive for your checking account will most likely have your name and mailing address printed in the top left or center. At the top right, you’ll find a number, which is the unique number of the check tied to your account. These numbers typically begin at “001” and work their way up in succession.

You’ll also find three series of numbers printed at the bottom of every check. The first number is called the “routing number.” Every bank has a distinct routing number and it is printed on the check so the recipient’s bank knows from where to draw your money. The second number is your checking account number. This is your individual identification number within your own bank. The final number printed at the bottom is the check number, which should match the number that is also printed at the top right.

If you’ve never written a check before, here is an easy step-by-step guide to take you through the process. 

  1. The first line of the check you need to fill out is the date. Usually, you simply fill the line with the day you write the check. However, there may be times when you want to “post-date” a check; that is, write a later date on the line. When you do this, the recipient may not submit a check to the bank until that date. In general, most banks will honor a check for up to six months past the date of the check. After that, they may not agree to accept it.
  2. The next line of the check is usually marked “Pay to the Order of.” This is where you write to whom you are giving money. This could be an individual, or the name of a business. Always make sure you have the name exactly as the recipient requests it. Otherwise, their bank may not accept your check.
  3. Following the “Pay to the Order of” line, there is usually a small box, marked with a dollar sign ($). This is where you write the amount you are paying in numbers (for example “100.00”). Always include both the numbers before and after the decimal point.
  4. The next line of the check is a blank line that ends in the word “dollars.” This is where you write out the amount of the check in words. Taking the above example of $100.00, you would write on this line “One hundred dollars and 00/100.”
  5. Beneath this line you will find two shorter lines. The line on the left side will likely be marked “Memo.” This line is optional. You may want to write a note about what you were paying for, or an account number you are submitting your check to. 
  6. The line on the right is your signature line. This is where you sign your name, just as you would on any other contract. Never forget to sign your name as a bank will not accept a check without signature.

Once you hand your check to your recipient, remember to make a record of it (most checkbooks include a register to keep track of the checks you write). And that’s it! Once you become comfortable with writing checks, the process is very easy, and will probably take you under a minute to complete.

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