Writing a check is essentially just a way to transfer money from your bank account. When you write out a check, you must write out the check amount in both numbers and words using a decimal point and a fractional cent amount.
Though credit and debit cards have made finances more convenient, knowing how to write checks is a valuable lesson in personal finance.
Like a debit card, a traditional check will draw money from your checking account. If you have a traditional checkbook it will have the relevant routing and account number for whatever checking account it is attached to. Debit cards are far more convenient overall but if you find yourself needing to write a check to send money or make your monthly rent payment, there are a few things you should know to ensure you fill out the check correctly.
The anatomy of a typical check
There are a few key sections on a personal check that the payer needs to primarily concern themselves with.
- Date line. This is the date the check was written out.
- Pay to the Order Of line. This is where the checkwriter will specify the payee.
- Dollar box. This is a small box where you will indicate how much the check is for. Always be sure to include the decimal point, even when the check is for a round number. You may also hear this referred to as the amount box.
- Dollar line. You can find this below the dollar box and the “Pay to the Order Of” line under a straight horizontal line across the majority of the check. Here you spell out the exact amount the check is for, instead of just using the Arabic numeral system the way you do in the dollar box.
- Memo line. This is where you can indicate what the check is for. You’ll find this in the bottom left-hand corner of the check.
- Signature line. Here the checkwriter needs to sign to officiate the check and is found to the right of the memo line.
Some checking accounts charge for cashing a check. If you’re in the market for a new checking account, here are some that don’t charge a check cashing fee.
Start by dating the check
With a blank check in hand, locate the date line in the upper right-hand corner of the check. Make sure the current date has been filled out correctly using the appropriate format of month-date-year. You can write the date using the MM/DD/YYYY format or spell out the month, such as “January 1, 2022.”
It’s best practice to always spell out the month instead of using the MM/DD/YYYY format to avoid any potential confusion.
Be sure to pay the right person
Next, locate the line with the statement “Pay to the Order Of.” This is where you should fill in the full name of the person or business who will be receiving the check. When you write a check, you may need to address it to another individual or to a specific business name.
If you want to give the person receiving the check a bit more privacy you can write “cash” in the “Pay to the Order Of” line. However, addressing a check to “cash” can be problematic since it is more or less like sending cash itself. In other words, anyone can cash the check.
Specifying the dollar amount and how to write cents on a check
You’ll actually write the payment amount twice on a check, once through numerals and once through words. Let’s break it down by section.
In the dollar box, write the total payment amount in numeric form. Always be sure to include the decimal point, even if it is followed by two zeros. It doesn’t matter if your check is for $50 or $200. By including the decimal point and two zeros, you specify the check is for zero cents.
You also don’t need to worry about including a dollar sign, since the amount box should already have an applicable one.
On the dollar line, write the payment amount in words. If your check needs to include a specific cent amount, you will need to write a compound number on the dollar line using the word “and” to connect a fraction format that will indicate the number of cents all on the same line.
Just like with the dollar box, you don’t need to write dollars or include the $ symbol. Since the check should already specify that it is for dollars, you will just need to write the exact dollar amount.
Part of writing out a check amount is knowing what words to hyphenate. You must hyphenate compound numbers, such as twenty-four (24) or forty-seven dollars (47). However, you don’t need to hyphenate decades, such as ten (10), forty (40), or seventy (70). You also don’t need to hyphenate centuries like three hundred (300) or one million dollars (1,000,000).
Though not many of us need to think about writing a check for a million dollars, it’s important to keep in mind when writing out a check.
Noting the reason and signing the check
Below the dollar line, you’ll see two smaller lines. The line on the left will generally be labeled “Memo” or “For.” The memo line is where you can write the reason the money is being sent.
For example, a check that is being given as a birthday gift might include “Happy Birthday” in the memo line, while a check made out to your mechanic might be labeled “auto-repair.” Technically the memo line can be left as a blank space, but using it can really help your record keeping.
The next line generally to the right of the memo line will be the signature line. By signing that line, the checkwriter is approving the payment amount. Be sure to write legibly as this will ensure that things go smoothly when the recipient tries to cash the check.
Let’s break down an example. Say you want to write a check for $47.75 to your electric company. How would you do that?
- Write out the appropriate date.
- Address the check to your electric company for your utilities.
- Write “47.75” in the dollar box.
- Spell out “forty-seven and 75/100” in the dollar line.
- Include why you are writing the check, such as “February utilities” (though this isn’t required).
- Sign the check.
Although writing checks for even dollar amounts are more common, you can also write a check for less than one dollar. It may be unusual to write a check for only cents, but you can do it.
So, if you want to write a check for 75 cents, put “0.75” in the amount box and “Zero and 75/100” or “No Dollars and 75/100” on the dollar line.
- Writing a check is a lot like using your debit card, as it draws funds from your bank account. The main difference is that you will need to write out the payment information when you want to pay with a check.
- It is good practice to spell out the name of the month when dating a check to avoid any potential confusion.
- The dollar box should include the numeric amount for the value of the check, including a decimal and cent amount. Make sure to add these even if the cent amount is two zeros.
- On the dollar line, spell out the total dollar payment amount and use the fraction format to indicate the cent amount.
- The memo line on a check is optional. however, using it can be a great way to help with your recordkeeping.
View Article Sources
- Report a Lost or Stolen Check — U.S. Department of Treasury
- 123. Checks — Social Security Administration
- Can You Direct Deposit Into a Savings Account? — SuperMoney
- Can I Write a Check to Myself? — SuperMoney
- How to Open a Checking Account — SuperMoney
- How to Void a Check — SuperMoney
- Best Savings Accounts | June 2022 — SuperMoney
- Best Checking Accounts | June 2022 — SuperMoney