What is a Counter Check? Definition & Example

Article Summary:

A counter check is a blank form you can get at a bank or credit union. Counter checks, also called starter checks, are most often used when someone opens a new checking account. They can be printed and used instantly, and function as a personal check. However, this check does come with a fee and is less likely to be accepted by merchants than regular checks. Alternatives to counter checks include cashier’s checks, certified checks, a money order, and online banking.

Most people don’t associate checks with “fast money.” They must be ordered through your bank and often take several weeks to arrive. Counter checks buck that trend. If you need checks and don’t have any at your disposal, counter checks provide immediate access, and can be printed and issued in just a few minutes.

If you need to pay for something that requires a check, or need to withdraw money, a counter check can provide you with that ability while you wait for regular checks to arrive. However, because it doesn’t contain as much identifying information as a regular check, counter checks are not as widely accepted due to the increased risk of fraud. These are basic, blank form checks that are intended for temporary use.

What is a starter or counter check?

A counter check, also known as a starter check, is a blank form provided by a financial institution that is most often used when someone opens a new account. You can get them from tellers or personal bankers, and they can be printed and used immediately. Counter checks are also given to bank or credit union customers when they run out of checks.

Counter checks don’t contain the check number, account number, name, or address of the account holder. They do, however, have the bank’s ABA routing number at the bottom.

What is required for a counter check?

You have to visit your bank or credit union’s branch to get a counter check. You can ask the teller or personal banker to print counter checks for you. Most financial institutions will request your ID or other verification documents before processing your request.

If you have an online-only bank, you cannot receive counter checks because there is no physical branch you can go to in order to request them.

Counter check fees

Fees for counter checks vary, but you typically have to pay for them. For example, Wells Fargo charges $3 per page of three checks, and Chase charges $2 per page of three checks.

Pro Tip

Before you visit your bank or credit union, call ahead to see if they have counter checks available and what the process is for receiving them, as you may need to bring additional documents with you.

How do you fill out a counter check?

The process for writing a counter check is the same as it is for writing a regular check, just with some additional identifying information written in.

  1. Fill in the date in the upper-right corner.
  2. Write the name of your payee on the line that says “Pay to the order of.”
  3. List the dollar amount of the check in the box to the right.
  4. Write out the dollar amount in words on the line under the payee line.
  5. Include something on the “memo” line, or any reference information if you prefer.
  6. Sign the check in the bottom-right corner.

Once you’ve filled out the check in this way, you can then write your name in the upper-left corner, if your bank hasn’t already printed it there for you. You can also add your address or phone number underneath your name. Some retailers also require your driver’s license number.

Blank sample check

Can you pay someone with a counter check?

Counter checks function as regular checks and can, theoretically, pay for any goods or services a personal check could buy. However, many places are suspicious of counter checks because they don’t contain as much identifying information as official personal or corporate checks, such as your checking account number.

Pros and cons of counter checks

Though counter checks are useful for new account owners or when you run out of checks, this payment method comes with a few drawbacks as well.


Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.

  • Instant access. A counter check is the fastest way to get access to checks if you don’t have any. They can be printed and issued at cashier’s booths in just a few minutes, and provide an account holder with immediate access to funds.
  • Order what you need. You can also get counter checks based on your needs. Instead of ordering a surplus number of checks as you would under normal circumstances, you can receive one at a time.
  • Fraud risk. Counter checks have a high risk of fraud, and institutions may be wary of accepting them. Because they don’t contain information such as check numbers or the customer’s account number, vendors tend to consider counter checks as not “real” checks. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how a merchant could think the check or associated account was counterfeit or fraudulent.
  • Not yet established. Counter checks are most often given to people who have just opened a checking account. This could make recipients fear that the account hasn’t been established yet and that the check will bounce.

Pro Tip

You can ask your bank or credit union to print your personal information, such as name and address, on the counter check to make it appear more like an official check.

How long is a counter check good for?

Counter checks are considered temporary and typically are only used until a customer’s official checks arrive in the mail. A bank will only issue a few counter checks at a time, and many banks also charge fees for them.

Once your official checks arrive from your bank or credit union, you’ll want to destroy any remaining counter checks in your possession. Even though these checks do not technically expire, using a counter check after obtaining personal checks may look suspicious.

What can I use instead of a counter check?

Since there are not many merchants and institutions that accept counter checks, there are alternatives available that are more widely accepted. Although most of them still require fees, they offer fully guaranteed funds that are more attractive to recipients.

Cashier’s checks

A cashier’s check is directly issued by the bank, which means the funds are fully guaranteed. This makes cashier’s checks more secure for the payee, but also for the payor as these checks do not list the client’s account information.

Similar to counter checks, cashier’s checks come with fees. For example, Bank of America charges $15 for a cashier’s check. They are also typically only used for high dollar transactions, and for those between businesses. You will need to go to your bank or credit union branch to obtain the check.

IMPORTANT! Remember, unlike a counter check, a cashier’s check guarantees the funds listed on the check. This is a huge difference from a counter check, which does not guarantee the amount listed.

Certified checks

A certified check is a check in which the bank certifies the funds available to cover the amount the check is written for. They are more likely to be accepted because the bank has provided assurance that the money is in the customer’s personal account.

There are fees associated with certified checks, however. For example, PNC Bank charges $10 for a certified check.

Money orders

Money orders act like certified checks in that the funds are guaranteed from the issuer. You can typically get money orders in increments up to $500 or $1,000 from banks, credit unions, grocery stores, and certain retail places. You can pay for money orders using cash or debit card.

Although they are much cheaper than counter checks, money orders still require fees. For example, Walmart charges $1 for a money order, but banks and credit unions tend to charge higher fees.

IMPORTANT! Technically, you can’t buy a money order directly with a credit card. However, there are other options available to you. Check out SuperMoney’s article Can You Buy a Money Order with a Credit Card? for more information.

Online banking

The rise of online banking and electronic payments has made checks a less popular method of payment. Online banking allows you to send electronic checks, or make direct payments that deposit directly into the bank account of another person.

Most forms of electronic payment are free of charge and the funds can be transferred instantaneously.

Key Takeaways

  • A counter check is a check that is most often used when someone opens a checking account. You can get them from a teller or personal banker, and they can be printed and used immediately.
  • Fees for counter checks vary, but you will typically have to pay for them. For example, Wells Fargo charges $3 per page of three checks, and Chase charges $2 per page of three checks.
  • Many merchants and institutions are suspicious of accepting counter checks because they lack much of the information as regular checks include. However, they do contain your bank’s routing number.
  • Cashier’s checks, certified checks, money orders, and online banking are more widely accepted alternatives to counter checks.
View Article Sources
  1. § 609a.15. Redemption of Counter Checks. — Pennsylvania Code
  2. Checking Accounts: Understanding Your Rights — Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
  3. How to Void a Check — SuperMoney
  4. How Long Does It Take For A Check To Clear — SuperMoney
  5. 10 Powerful Things You Can Do with the Check Money Management App — SuperMoney
  6. Bounced Check: What To Do When You Write Or Get One — SuperMoney
  7. Best Checking Accounts | May 2022 — SuperMoney