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Updated on Friday, July 30, 2021
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.
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.
Balancing a Checkbook: When using checks as a form payment, it’s important to manage your spending by keeping track of your balance. Your online balance will take time to adjust the balance for any checks you may have used (especially depending on how quickly a recipient may cash that check). You can use your checkbook to manually register your balance to make sure you aren’t in danger of overspending or bouncing a check.
Canceling a Check: If a check has been stolen or lost it’s important to cancel a check. You’ll want to start the cancellation process as soon as possible, especially if a check was stolen. Contacting your bank or requesting a stop payment order online are the quickest ways to handle cancelling a check. Be cognizant that most banks will charge a fee for cancelling a check.
Expiring Checks: Personal checks are usually valid for 6 months, after that a check becomes “stale” or expired. However, the expiration date varies depending on the type of check. If you have written a check that goes uncashed try contacting the person to whom you wrote the check and make sure you have enough funds to cover the check to avoid any overdraft fees. If the recipient hasn’t cashed your check in over six months reach out to your bank to inquire about their check expiration policies and associated fees.