Even with all the electronic alternatives that are available today, checks are still a useful way to pay for goods and services. They represent one of the most common payment methods when it comes to paying rent, paying wages or buying a vehicle.
If you want to learn how to write a check in the United States, you’ve come to the right place! This practical guide covers all the necessary steps to help you write checks with confidence.
What is a Check?
A check is a signed document that allows the beneficiary to withdraw a specific amount of money from the issuing party. This payment method is considered safer than cash and a good way to record your financial transactions.
When you hand someone a check, this document is considered a bill of exchange. By depositing or exchanging a check, the beneficiary withdraws a predetermined amount of money from your bank account. This withdrawal takes place without you being there at the time of deposit.
What Makes Up a Check?
Have you ever wondered how the bank obtains the information they need to cash your checks? Even though checks may vary from one financial institution to another, they all have a similar format and must include the same information. With this information, your beneficiary’s bank can get the necessary details on your bank account, the check beneficiary, and the funds to pay.
This is what makes up a check:
- Personal information: This section includes the name and address of the account holder. The information is printed on the check.
- Date: This is a line where you write the date when you signed the check.
- Check number: The check’s identification number is printed on the document.
- Fractional routing number: This is part of your ABA routing number, which identifies the bank where the funds are held.
- Pay to the order of: The name of the person or company who will receive the money.
- Dollar amount box: The space where you write the payment amount in numbers.
- Check amount: The line where you write the check’s dollar amount using words.
- Bank information: This section may include your bank’s logo or just the name and address of the financial institution.
- Memo: A short line where you describe the purpose of the check.
- Signature: The line where you sign the check.
- Routing number: Your bank’s routing number.
- Account number: Your bank account number. With this information, the beneficiary’s bank can identify the account where the funds must be withdrawn.
- Check number (repeated): For security reasons, the check number appears in two different places. This helps prevent fraud and duplicate payments.
Keep in mind: The back of a check has a special area for endorsing. This is the section where the beneficiary signs and writes down their own account number in order to deposit or cash the check.
Steps to Writing a Check
Now that you’re familiar with the parts of a check, it’s time to write one. These are the steps to follow to complete the process:
1. Write the date
The first step to writing a check is to enter a date. Usually, you’ll use the date in which the payment is being made.
Keep in mind: It’s important to point out that checks in the United States are valid for a six-month period. After this time, the beneficiary can no longer cash or deposit the check.
2. Include the beneficiary’s name
Write the first and last name of the person who will cash or deposit the check. If the beneficiary is a company, this is also the spot where you’ll write the complete name of the company.
Keep in mind: If you’d rather not specify the name of a person or company, you can make a check out to “cash.” However, this is a risky practice because it means that anyone who is in possession of the check can exchange it for cash.
3. Enter the exact amount using numbers
Use the dollar amount box to enter the exact payment amount. For safety, we recommend:
- Using the entire box space to enter the numbers and avoid alterations.
- Clearly mark the decimal point.
- Include the number of cents.
- If there are no cents, add “.00” at the end of your dollar amount
Keep in mind: The dollar amount written out in words indicates the check’s legal value. The dollar box is a way to verify the amount. In case of discrepancy, the amount in words takes precedence as the valid amount.
4. Use words to write out the dollar amount
This is where you specify the dollar amount that you wish to pay, using a combination of words and fractions. The fraction represents the number of cents, per 100 cents.
For example, if your check is for $20.50, you’ll need to write “twenty and 50/100.” To write a check for $100.28, the written out amount should read “one hundred and 28/100.” If the check is for $50 even, you can write “fifty and 0/100” or “fifty and no more.”
Keep in mind: You don’t need to include the word “dollars” when writing out the amount of your check. This is already printed in the check. If you have extra space between the written out amount and the word “dollars,” it is customary to to cross this out with a line to help prevent alterations.
5. Sign clearly
The signature on your check authorizes payment. As such, it is verified by banks and requires clear printing. To avoid confusion, remember to use the same signature that is registered with your financial institution.
6. Add a note
The “Memo” section allows you to add a short note to your check. This is an optional step and does not represent official information. However, it’s commonly used to keep your own records and let the beneficiary know what the payment is for.
Some of the information you can add to the memo line include:
- The account number where your payment should be credited.
- The invoice number that you are paying.
- The reason for payment.
How to Use Your Check Register to Record A Payment
Once your check is ready, it’s important to record it in your check register. This is a booklet where you can enter the following important information:
- Check number
- Payment date
- Description of payment or the beneficiary’s name
- Check amount
Aside from helping you keep track of your expenses, this register allows you to calculate the available balance once your beneficiary has cashed their check. In some cases, beneficiaries can take several days or even months to cash a check. By keeping your check register up to date, you will be able to track your account balance regardless of how long the other person takes to deposit their check.
How to Cancel a Check?
You can either void a check before submitting payment or stop payment once you’ve already handed the check to someone. As long as the check hasn’t been deposited, there are two ways to cancel a check. These are the steps to follow, depending on your situation:
How to void a check before making payment
If you start to write a check and make a mistake, you can void the document. For example, if you wrote the wrong amount or misspelled the beneficiary’s name, it’s best to start again with a new check.
However, it’s important to void the check that you started writing to avoid confusion or fraud. In order to do so, you just have to write the word “void” in large print across the area where you write the check amount. If you want to be extra careful, you can also write “void” in the signature field.
Remember to also add this information to your check register. This allows you to make note of the voided check and the reason why you voided it.
How to stop payment on a completed check
There are times when checks get lost in the mail and don’t reach their destination. It’s also possible that the beneficiary loses the check or that your checkbook gets stolen. When these situations occur, you can call the bank to stop payment on one or more checks.
You’ll need to have the following information available when stopping payment on a check:
- Your account number
- The check number
- The exact dollar amount that the check was written for
- Payment date
- The beneficiary’s name
Many banks allow you to cancel a check by simply logging in to your account. In other cases, you may need to request this by phone or in person.
If the check hasn’t been deposited, payment is stopped immediately and the check is canceled for a period of six months. After this time has gone by, the check will expire on its own.
Keep in mind: Your bank may charge a fee of up to $30 to cancel each check. In some cases, financial institutions can waive this fee if it’s the first time you request this service.
Safety Tips For Writing a Check
Since checks are legal documents, we recommend that you take certain safety precautions when writing them. With these tips, you can avoid confusion or fraudulent behavior.
Use a pen to write your checks. This ensures that all the information that you write is permanent and cannot be erased.
Sign at the end
Avoid signing a check before having written the beneficiary’s name and the payment amount. This ensures that all the information is correct before making the check official with your signature.
Avoid signing blank checks
A blank check with your signature allows anyone to enter any dollar amount and beneficiary. If you must make a payment but don’t know the name of the person who will receive the funds, wait until you have all this information to sign or hand the check over.
Most monthly bank statements include a copy of any check that was cashed from your account in the previous month. Some institutions also allow you to view a copy of the check when you log into your account online.
If you prefer to keep copies of each check that you write, the best way to do so is by requesting a checkbook that includes carbon copies. They provide immediate copies that you keep with you at all times, without having to wait for the beneficiary to cash the check or for you to receive your bank statement.
Frequently Asked Questions About Checks
Do you have more questions on how to use or write checks? The following are some of the most frequently asked questions on this subject.
Can you use a pencil to write a check?
Although there is no rule that bans the use of pencils to write checks, it’s always best to use a pen. Remember that what you write in pencil is easy to erase. This means that someone else could alter the beneficiary name, payment amount, or any other information that you write on your check. To avoid fraud, it’s best to use indelible ink every time you write a check.
How do you write a check in English?
Checks written in the United States must include the dollar amount written in English. If you use words to write the date, you should also do so in English. Other than that, the process is the same as when you write a check in Spanish.
How do you write “50 dollars” on a check?
To write a check for $50, you must first use numbers to write the amount in the proper box. Although this is an even amount, remember to include the decimal point and write zeros for the cents. You won’t need to add the dollar symbol, because this is already printed on the check. The right way to write it is “50.00”.
In the amount field, you will use letters to write the dollar amount and will also include the number of cents as a fraction. In this case, you will write “fifty and 0/100” or “fifty and no more.” Keep in mind that you don’t need to include the type of currency here, because the word “dollars” is already printed on the check. If there is space left over, you can cross a line across this area to make sure no one adds more information or alters the check amount.
What are insufficient funds?
When you write a check for an amount that is greater than your available balance, this may result in insufficient funds. It can also happen when you use your debit card to pay for a transaction that is greater than the balance in your account.
If your account has overdraft protection, your bank may cover these expenses to avoid bounced checks or payments that don’t go through. However, this protection comes at a cost. Banks usually charge a fee of $25-35 for each of transactions that puts your account on overdraft.
To avoid insufficient funds, it’s best to confirm your account balance before writing a check or making a payment with your debit card. With your check register, you can keep track of your balance at all times.
Can you write a check to yourself?
Yes, you can write a check to yourself and deposit it at a different bank account. This helps you avoid using cash and allows you to keep record of money movements from one account to another.
What happens if I make a mistake on a check?
Depending on the type of mistake that you made, you can fix it or void your check. If you have an error on the beneficiary name, date, or dollar amount you can simply correct this information and add your initials next to it. This lets the bank know that you made these changes and authorize the payment.
Keep in mind: The dollar amount written in words and your signature are the two official parts of the check. If you make a mistake on either of these fields, it’s best to void the check and write a new one.
Write Your Checks With Confidence
Although electronic transactions are very popular, situations sometimes come up where you need to write a paper check. In these cases, it’s important to understand how to write a check properly. This helps you process your payments and keep record of your expenses.If you have more questions or need assistance to write a check, don’t hesitate to contact the team at SABEResPODER. We are here to help you take control of your finances and feel confident in all your transactions!