When you open a bank account such as a checking account, you will likely receive a box of checks to go with it. Writing a check is a convenient way to pay for groceries, bills, rent and other needs. Use this guide to understand how to write out a check and read one — at least until checks are phased out of common use.
How to Read a Check
Reading a check is straightforward. Here’s a diagram detailing the anatomy of a check, followed by more in-depth descriptions for each section.
- Name and address: In the upper left-hand corner of your check you’ll see your name and address. Verify the information shown in that area is up to date.
- Check number: In the upper right-hand corner you’ll find a check number, which falls in line chronologically with other checks in your checkbook. The check number helps you identify each check after it has been paid to a person or business.
- Date: Below the check number is a space to write down the date the check was written.
- Pay to the order of: Just below your name and address, you’ll write in the name of the person or business you are writing the check to. This section is also called the payee line.
- Dollar sign: On the right-hand side of your check, you’ll write in the dollar amount you wish to pay out of your checking account. For example, “$62.00.”
- … Dollars: Below the “Pay to the order of” section, you need to write out the dollar amount you are paying. For example, “Sixty-two dollars.”
- Bank address: Your check might also contain your bank’s address, but it’s not a problem if the address isn’t there.
- Memo: At the bottom left-hand corner of your check, you can write what the check is being written for, such as rent, groceries or to pay someone back.
- Signature: In the bottom right-hand corner, you’ll need to sign your check. Without your signature, the check is invalid.
- Bank routing number and account info: At the bottom of your check are various numbers. The first nine digits are your bank’s routing number. The 10-digit series in the middle is your personal account number. The last four numbers represent your check number.
How to Write a Check
Whether you’re cutting a check for rent or checking out at the grocery store, writing a check is fast and easy. Follow these basic steps for writing a check:
- Fill out the date.
- Write in the name of the person or business you’re writing the check to.
- Fill out the amount you’re paying.
- Write out the amount once more.
- Write down what the check is for.
- Sign the check.
Answers to Common Questions About Writing a Check
Check writing can be confusing, whether you’re trying to learn how to write a void check or write cents. Follow these tips to get it right.
1. How Do I Write a Check With Cents or No Cents?
If you’re not sure how to write cents on a check, follow these steps. When filling out the check amount, include the cents after a decimal point, even if you’re writing a check for zero cents. If you’re writing a check for zero dollars, include a zero before the decimal point. For example:
When writing out the amount, indicate cents with a fraction. If you’re writing a check for zero dollars, don’t use a fraction for cents. For example, avoid writing numbers like this:
- No dollars and 75 cents
- Forty-six 50/100
- One thousand seventy six 00/100
2. Can I Write on the Back of the Check?
If you’re writing a check, don’t write on the back of the check. If someone writes you a check, you’ll need to sign the back of the check if you want to cash or deposit it.
3. Can I Write a Check to Myself?
In rare cases, you might need to write a check to yourself. The most common reason you would need to write a check to yourself is if you want to move funds from one bank account to another. Oftentimes, banks will charge you for electronically transferring funds from one bank to another. Writing a check and depositing it lets you avoid this fee.
4. How Do I Write a Check to Cash?
If you want to write a check and get cash for it at your bank, simply write your name on the payee line. In the memo section, write, “Cash.” Then, visit your local bank branch and ask them to cash your check. You’ll need to provide identification.
See: How to Cash a Check
5. How Do I Void a Check?
If you need to void a check, write “VOID” in dark lettering across the check. As an alternative, you can write “VOID” across the payee line, dollar amount and your signature. In your checkbook, write down a note on why you’ve voided the check.
One common reason people void checks is because they wrote down the wrong dollar amount or misspelled the payee’s name. If you need to set up direct deposit, you might be asked for a voided check, as well.
6. How Do I Void a Check Already Sent Out?
If you already mailed out a check and need to void it, gather the following information:
- The check number
- Check amount
- Date you wrote the check
- The payee
- The reason you need to void the check
Once you have this information, contact your bank and ask them to cancel your payment. You’ll also want to contact the person or business you sent your check to, so they don’t attempt to cash or deposit the check. Note that by cancelling your check, you might incur a penalty fee.
7. What Are International Checks?
An international check is a check for a foreign bank. If you want to deposit an international check, your bank might charge you a processing fee. If you wish to deposit the check, you might need to visit your local bank branch. Bank of America, for example, will not accept foreign checks at ATMs.
8. How Much Do Checks Cost to Replace?
The cost of new checks from your bank varies based on your account type and bank. However, although ordering checks from your bank is easy, you can typically order checks for less from retailers like Wal-Mart, Costco and Vistaprint. A box of 150 checks from Vistaprint, for example, will cost you $8.99.
Checks can be a convenient way for you to make payments on the fly. They can be used to pay bills, get cash and set up direct deposit. When using checks, make sure you only sign one when you are ready to make a payment.
Stacey Bumpus contributed to the reporting for this article.