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How to Write a Check

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Writing a personal check has almost become as obsolete as using a floppy disk or folding a paper map. In today’s digital age, whether you are buying milk or a pair of shoes, paying bills or giving back money you owe to a friend, you typically pay for it all using a debit card, credit card or a money app. They are faster and easier to use than writing out a paper check, and sometimes come with rewards.

However, there are certain circumstances where personal checks are preferred. “Some landlords ask for the rent to be paid by check and some people do not have access to apps or smartphones,” said Erin Lowry, author of “Broke Millennial Takes On Investing: A Beginner’s Guide to Leveling Up Your Money.”

“Most people also write a check when they are gifting money at a wedding or graduation, even though at those events you can still use apps like Venmo or PayPal.”

If you do not know how to write a check, or the last one that you wrote was back in 1992, here are the step-by-step instructions you need:

Date: Write the date that you wrote out the check. “You can also post date a check for it to be cashed at a later time,” said Kara Stevens, founder of The Frugal Feminista and author of “The Happy Finances Challenge.”

“Just make sure that no matter what date you write on the check, the funds are available [that day],” she said.

Pay to the order: On this line, write out the name of the person or business whom you are paying. For example, let’s say Aunt Mabel fronted you $50 for movie tickets, you would write out her full name, Mabel Smith, on this line. Paying for groceries at Walmart? Then write “Walmart” here. Sending your dentist a payment for your root canal? The dentist’s full and legal business name must be written out. Ask what it is if you are not sure.

In some situations, you may not want to put a name on this line. Instead, you can write the check out to “cash” so it can be cashed or deposited by anyone. It’s convenient, yes, but it comes with the risk that someone you didn’t intend to can find it and deposit or cash it.

Amount in numbers: In the box next to the dollar sign, write in the numeric amount of the check. For example, if you are paying back Aunt Mabel, you would write the amount as $50.00 or $50.—. How to write a check with cents? If the amount has dollars and cents, write it like this: $105.93.

Amount in words: On the long line in front of “dollars,” write out the dollar amount of the check in words and the cents as a fraction. For example, Aunt Mabel’s $50 would become “Fifty and 00/100.” The price of those cool shoes as dollars and cents would be written as “One hundred five and 93/100.”

Then, draw a line from the end of the fraction to the end of the line. “Drawing this line prevents someone from fraudulently changing the amount,” said Stevens.

Most importantly, the numbers in the box must match what’s written out in words. “When my husband and I got married in 2018, we received a check that had $100.00 written in the box, but ‘Two hundred and 00/100’ written out. We couldn’t cash it because of this discrepancy,” said Lowry.

Signature: Every check must be signed legibly by you. Some stores have machines that will automatically fill in everything on the check for you except your signature. Only do this at the store and watch that the check has been completely filled out. “Do not sign a blank check,” said Stevens. “Anyone can fill in their name and cash it.”

“Once you are done, record the date of the check as well as the check number, amount and who you wrote it out to in your checkbook register,” said Stevens, who said that to stay organized, you should write out your checks in numerical order.

Memo: Stevens said that the memo section is often overlooked, but should be used every time you write out a check. “Write a reminder for yourself here that you bought a gift for mom or repaid a friend,” she said. It’s not necessary to write out a memo, but over time, you may not remember what the check was for. Since banks no longer send copies of the check back to you once they are cashed or deposited, you can still see a picture of the check and your memo electronically.

Learn more

Voiding checks: When setting up a direct deposit or automatic bill payment, an employer or bank may need a voided check from you. To write a void check, simply write the word VOID in big capital letters across the entire face of the check. “It prevents someone else from cashing it,” said Stevens.

Account numbers: On the bottom of your checks, there are two sets of important numbers that you should memorize. The one on the left is your bank’s routing number and the number on the right is your personal checking account number. Knowing these numbers is important in case you lose your checks or must call the bank.

Stevens also suggests keeping your extra checks in a safe location inside your home. “If someone does break in, they can steal your checks and use them to take money from you,” she said. “Treat your checkbook as you would your credit or debit card.”

Keep in mind that when you write a personal check to pay for items, you may be asked to show identification.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Lisa Iannucci |

Lisa Iannucci is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lisa here

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How to Spot a Fake Check

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

With so many forms of electronic payment available today, you probably don’t write many personal checks anymore. Nevertheless, checks are an increasingly popular vehicle for scammers trying to swindle people out of money.

According to the National Consumers League (NCL), fake check schemes were the third most popular scam committed in 2018. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that reported check fraud cases in 2018 represented a loss of $75 million. The FTC reported a median loss of $1,214 per fraud.

“Fake check scams have been a serious consumer issue for years, and it’s one that continues to be with us with the nature of the scams evolving,” says John Breyault, NCL’s vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud.

Scammers use counterfeit personal checks, cashier’s checks and even certified checks for fraudulent activity. So even if you trust a person you’re doing business with — and the check they hand you looks legit — it’s important to look beyond the dollar signs and verify that any check is legitimate.

Beware common fake check schemes

“Check fraud used to entail someone stealing checks out of the mail and forging them,” says Jim Wilcox, assistant vice president of risk operations for Affinity Federal Credit Union, in Basking Ridge, N.J. “But with the internet and the passing of remote deposit captures, the opportunities and means by which people use fake checks to commit fraud has grown exponentially.” These are the four most common fake check schemes:

Foreign lottery scams

With the foreign lottery scam, you get an email or letter that informs you that you’ve won a foreign lottery or received an inheritance from a distant relative. The scammer sends you a check and asks that you deposit it in your bank account and wire back money to pay fees or foreign taxes. The fake check eventually bounces, but you’ve already sent the scammer some of your own real money.

Internet auction scams

This scam targets people selling cars or other high-priced items via online classified ads. The scammer replies to your post and sends you a check, but it’s for more than your sales price. The scammer will claim they made an error in filling out the fake check and request that you deposit it anyway and refund the extra via wire transfer. Their check bounces, leaving you missing the amount you “refunded.”

Check repayment scams

The check repayment scam is similar to the internet auction scam, but this time the scammer who wants to purchase your item says that they’re owed money from a third party who will send their money directly to you in repayment. However, the fake check is for more than the purchase price, and you’re instructed to wire them the difference.

Secret shopper scams

With this gem, scammers tell you that you’ve been hired as a mystery shopper to evaluate the services of a money transfer company. You’re sent a check to deposit into your checking account, then asked to withdraw the money and wire a portion to a specific person. You’re told to “keep” a portion for your services. The fake check bounces and you’re liable for the money withdrawn, which can be several thousand dollars.

How to protect yourself from a fake check

Protecting yourself from fake checks and check fraud means being cautious about accepting checks from anybody you don’t know. There are several steps you can take to ensure you don’t fall victim of a check fraud scam.

Examine the check

First, look very closely at any check you receive — personal, cashier’s or certified. Cashier’s checks used to be as good as gold, says Wilcox, but they’re one of the most common forms of fake checks today. Scam artists often use sophisticated technology to create checks that look real, but here’s what to watch for:

a

Confirm that the payee’s name and the person giving you the check match.

b

Look for security features, such as watermarks.

c

Check for a perforated edge, such as where it’s been torn from a checkbook or register. Counterfeit checks often have smooth edges because they’re printed on a computer.

d

Make sure the check includes the bank logo and address, and that both are correct.

e

Look at the magnetic ink character recognition (MICR) line on the bottom of the check, which will include the bank routing number, the account number, and the check number. Match the routing number to the issuing bank by searching the American Bankers Association website.

f

Look at the paper. Real checks are printed on matte sturdy paper.
  • Confirm that the payee’s name and the person giving you the check match.
  • Look for security features, such as watermarks.
  • Check for a perforated edge, such as where it’s been torn from a checkbook or register. Counterfeit checks often have smooth edges because they’re printed on a computer.
  • Make sure the check includes the bank logo and address, and that both are correct.
  • Look at the magnetic ink character recognition (MICR) line on the bottom of the check, which will include the bank routing number, the account number, and the check number. Match the routing number to the issuing bank by searching the American Bankers Association website.
  • Look at the paper. Real checks are printed on matte sturdy paper.
  • Rub a damp finger over the printed areas of the check to make sure they don’t smear.

Ask yourself if the check source is legit

If you receive a check in the mail or from someone you didn’t contact, take time to investigate who’s giving you money and why. Research the person or company to see if the payment makes sense and check any emails you had with them. Mystery shopping is a legitimate working opportunity, but companies that hire shoppers don’t send checks in advance. Verify that the mystery shopping opportunity is real by checking with the Mystery Shopping Professionals Association.

Do not spend the money before the check is verified

Don’t cash the check right away, but if you need to cash it, hold on to the money and do not spend it. If the check is fraudulent and bounces, your bank has the right to withdraw the funds from your account, which can leave you with a negative balance and overdraft fees.

Under federal regulations, banks must make funds available within one to five days, depending on the type of check. A government or cashier’s check, for example, must be cleared one business day after you deposit the check, which is why they’re commonly used in check fraud. Unfortunately, fake checks can take weeks to be identified.

“The account number and routing number might not jive, and the check could be bounced around in an attempt to be routed to the right bank, adding time to clearing,” says Wilcox.

Report suspected fraud

If you have been the victim of check fraud or you think you’re being scammed, report it. It’s embarrassing to admit you’ve been duped, but scammers won’t be caught if no one reports the activity. Take these steps:

Who’s responsible for a fake check?

It’s bad enough to have fallen victim to a scam, but ultimately you’re responsible for any check you accept and deposit, says Breyault.

“If you wired money, it’s gone and practically impossible to get it back,” says Breyault. “The bank will want to be repaid, and that will fall on the consumer to shoulder the cost.”

The final word on fake checks

Scammers will continue to use fake check schemes as long as they can find willing victims. Don’t fall for their schemes. Scrutinize any check you receive, especially if it comes out of the blue, as with the inheritance scam, or it’s written for more than the selling price during a transaction. If the windfall is too good to be true, it probably is.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Stephanie Mialki
Stephanie Mialki |

Stephanie Mialki is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Stephanie at [email protected]

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How to Turn Coins Into Cash

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Unless you’re the world’s most devoted Scrooge McDuck cosplayer, the pile of coins you’ve amassed at home could be put to better use.

Is there a best way to cash in coins? Read on to figure out how to turn coins to cash that fits in your wallet or purse.

Turn cash into coins at a credit union or a bank

You’d think a bank would be the best place to change your coins into cash, since counting and sorting money is one of the reasons we have banks. But it turns out they don’t like having loose change any more than the rest of us. You may have better luck at a local credit union — some of which still offer free coin counting services — but you may have to be a member to take advantage.

The big banks — Chase, Bank of America, Citi and Wells Fargo — typically require you to roll your own change before accepting it. You’ll also most likely need to have an account with that bank (it’s best to confirm the policy with your local branch). That means you can’t just dump a sack of coins on some hapless teller and expect them to sort your coins while the people wait behind you in line.

One standout among the big four banks is Chase, which will accept up to $100 in rolled change from non-customers. If you have an account with Chase, you’re not limited when you change coins to cash.

You may also be able to find some ways to get the banks to exchange your loose change for paper currency, but the loops you have to jump through may make it more trouble than it’s worth.

A Wells Fargo spokesperson said “small business customers are encouraged to enroll in our coin deposit service, which does not require them to roll their [own coins].” However, that requires you to have a business account with Wells Fargo. You can only exchange up to $50 in coins for free, larger amounts will be subject to a service fee.

Since the large banks don’t advertise their coin exchange policies on their websites, the best way to figure out whether your bank will accept your coins is to call the branch you plan on visiting. Make sure to ask if you have to roll your own change or if they will do that for you.

How do you roll change?

Rolling the change means taking that pile of coins, sorting them by denomination and placing them in paper rolls displaying the type of denomination (such as nickels) and the amount of money contained in each roll (such as $5). You can purchase these rolls at a variety of big-box or office supply stores (such as Staples or Walmart) or get them from your local bank.

Depending on the amount of coins you’re planning on rolling, this task can easily eat up a few hours. If you happen to be sitting on a hoard of loose change, purchasing a personal coin sorting machine may be worth the time you save. Some of the higher-end, automatic sorters can easily top $150, though hand-crank versions are more affordable at around $30.

If you don’t feel like sorting and rolling your coins and your local bank doesn’t accept deposits of loose change, you still have another option: Coinstar.

Use Coinstar to turn coins into cash

Coinstar has more than 20,000 kiosks worldwide where you can change coins to cash. After adding your coins to the tray and guiding them down the slot, the Coinstar machine will provide a voucher that you can exchange for cash at the retail location where the kiosk is installed.

But this convenience comes at a cost. Coinstar charges you an 11.9% service fee (which Coinstar says can vary due to location) based on how much you put in the machine. In this case, if you change $100 worth of coins into cash, you’d only get $88.10.

Coinstar lets you turn coins into gift cards

Coinstar does offer another option for those who want to avoid the service fee. You can redeem the coins in the form of a gift cards for a specific business.

This fee-free option comes with a few caveats. For one, not every Coinstar kiosk offers gift cards for every business that has opted into this deal. You should make sure your local kiosk has the gift card available for what you want. Another thing to keep in mind is that each business’ gift certificate comes with its own minimum and maximum limits. You can’t trade in your coins for a gift certificate worth more than $100 at AMC, for example.

As of June 20, 2019, the following gift cards were available:

CompanyMinimumMaximum
Amazon Gift Card$5$1,000
AMC$10$100
Applebee's$5$500
Cabela's$5$500
Chili's$5$100
Domino's$10$100
GameStop$5$500
Gap$10$500
Hotels.com$10$500
IHOP$5$200
Lowe's$5$1,000
Nike$5$500
Regal$5$100
Sephora$10$500
Showtime$25$200
Southwest$25$500
Starbucks$5$500
Steam$10$100
The Home Depot$5$2,000
iTunes$5$500

Donate your coins with Coinstar

Another way you can get rid of your coins via Coinstar without paying a fee is by making a donation to a charity. The charities partnering with Coinstar as of June 20, 2019, are:

  • American Red Cross
  • Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals
  • Feeding America
  • The Humane Society of the United States
  • The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
  • The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
  • United Way
  • World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Similar to the businesses participating in the gift certificate program, not all charity donations are available at all kiosks.

Our two cents

Finding where to cash in coins for free will likely require some work on your end in the form of sorting and rolling your change. Otherwise, you can eat the 11.9% fee Coinstar charges and just dump your loose change into a machine.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

James Ellis
James Ellis |

James Ellis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here

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