The Parts of a Check and How to Write One

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    As life becomes more digital, it’s less likely that you’ll have to continue to write checks. However, there are still some specific instances when writing one is essential, whether for security or to avoid credit card fees. Let’s talk about the different parts of a check, how to write one, and how to cash a check.

    When you first open a checking account, your financial institution gives you a debit card and starter paper checks until your pre-printed checks come in. 

    Starter checks are similar to a pre-printed personal check but have blank spaces where your personal information and account information are. You can then write your specific account information in and use these as standard personal checks.

    What are the 12 parts of a check?

    Below, you’ll find the names of the parts on a check labeled:

    parts of a check labeled

    There are 12 parts to a check and each is vital to help banks or credit unions (and yourself) avoid fraudulent mistakes that could drain your account. Every section of the check is mandatory to fill out, except for the memo line (which is handy, but I’ll cover it in a bit).

    I get it – at first glance, it seems like a lot of information. However, let’s break it down into more digestable chunks.

    The Front of a Check

    the personal information section of a check highlighted

    Personal Information

    This block of text in the upper left corner of the check is the personal information of the check writer. A person or a business can issue it. This section often has the business’s or person’s name, address, and sometimes the phone number. 

    the date area highlighted on a check

    The Date of the Check

    You’ll write the full date you’re issuing the check on the date line. For example:


    One thing that some people do is to “post date” checks. This means that they write it for a future date hoping that the payee or bank will wait to cash it.

    While it sounds good in theory, a check is a legal document that banks honor as soon as it’s signed. So, if you want the payee to wait to cash it until after payday because you’re living on a tight budget, you’ll have to ask them nicely rather than try post-dating the check. 

    Note: I might be overly cautious, but I always write the entire year out so that no one will question or mess with the date. I’m sure that’s overkill, but as usual – better safe than sorry!

    the payee is highlighted on a check

    The Payee

    This area is where the person the check is written out goes. You’ll see “Pay to the Order of” and a blank space. 

    You’ll want to put the recipient’s first and last name on the line that follows. If the check is to a charity or company, you’ll put the company’s name here, such as “United States Treasury.”

    A final option is to write the check out to “Cash”, which works well if you’re budgeting through cash envelopes. This choice can also be used when you’re not sure of the name of the person or company that the check should be issued. However, a word of caution – this also means that anyone can cash the check. If you drop it or someone else snags it before its intended recipient of the check, you’ll be on the hook for the payout.

    dollar amount box highlighted on a personal check

    The Dollar Amount Box

    This dollar amount box is at the end of the payee line. You’ll see a dollar sign here, and this is where you’ll write in the amount of money you’re writing the check for in a numerical format. 

    For example, you’ll write $150.75 in the box. 

    When writing an amount in the dollar box, you’ll always want to add the decimal and cents to the number. Never leave it out. Otherwise, someone can adjust your number from $150 to $15,000!

    Make sure that you write clearly and leave no room for someone to adjust your numbers. While it’s not likely to happen, it’s better not to leave any room for error.

    the written amount highlighted on check

    The Amount

    Underneath the payee line is another line, which is the amount line. Here, you’ll write out the amount of the check in words, such as:

    One hundred and fifty dollars and 00/100 ——–

    Always add the cents in a fraction, such as 00/100 for zero cents or 85/100 for eighty-five cents. Also, add a line from the end of your writing to the end of the line. Adding this line keeps anyone from adjusting your numbers and trying to cash the check for more than intended.

    Note: If there’s a discrepancy between the number in the dollar box and the amount line, banks will always use the text written out on the amount line. The written amount takes precedence, and it’s the final say in how much the check has been written for. 

    the issuing bank's information highlighted on a check

    The Bank’s Information

    This section lists the issuing bank’s information. It includes the bank name and potentially its address, logo, and even phone number. 

    memo area of a check highlighted

    The Memo

    The memo line is the only optional part of the check; however, it’s very beneficial. You can write a note to yourself as a reminder of what the check was for, such as “Donation,” “School Raffle,” or whether the check is for state or local taxes and which quarter and year.

    While the bank doesn’t care what’s written in this area, it’s helpful for your records. I often don’t remember what I write checks for, so the memo is very helpful in categorizing when budgeting.

    the signature line is highlighted on a personal check

    The Signature

    Once you’re entirely done writing your check and have reviewed it for any issues, you’ll sign your first and last name on the signature line to verify that the check is legit. 

    If the check isn’t signed, it cannot be cashed. Plus, the bank can use this to compare to your signature on file if they’re concerned that there’s an issue with potential fraud. 

    This next section along the bottom of your check are groups of numbers in a unique font called “magnetic ink character recognition” or MICR line item. This font came about in the 1960s, and the numbers can be processed by computers rather than manually.

    highlighted ABA routing number on a personal check

    The ABA Routing Number

    The ABA (American Bankers Association) number is also known as the routing number. These nine-digit routing numbers tell everyone which bank the check originates. These numbers can change based on the state or location of the bank and can be easily found online. They are public knowledge, so it’s unnecessary to keep them private. 

    the highlighted bank account number

    The Bank Account Number

    The number listed in this section is the account holder’s specific account number and should be kept private. 

    highlighted check numbers

    The Check Number

    The last number on this line is the check number. This number is usually a 3 or 4 digit number (depending on how many checks you’ve written by this point) and is sequential. They help the bank identify fraudulent activity or missing checks between cashed ones. 

    When you review your bank account transactions, you’ll be able to see which of your checks have been cashed by their check number and which are still pending. 

    The check number is repeated in the top right corner and is a security measure to ensure no one’s messed with the numbers. 

    ABA fractional number highlighted

    The ABA Fractional Number

    This short number is a fraction of the routing number, repeated in the check’s middle to upper right corner in smaller print. Again, it’s to verify that the check isn’t fraudulent and make it harder to create a copy.

    The Back of a Check

    If you are the payee, you’ll need to pay attention to the back of the check so that you can cash it. At first glance, it doesn’t look exhilarating, but there’s actually a ton of interesting safety features on it:

    The area for endorsement

    If you’re raking in the dough with some side hustles and are ready to deposit your checks, you’ll sign your name in this area. If depositing the check online, your bank will have you write an additional note, such as “For online deposit online at XYZ bank.” This additional information can keep someone from trying to cash the check twice.

    You’ll only want to write in this area because the rest of the check’s back is used for security purposes, as you’ll see below.

    Security space (middle of the check back)

    The security space will have a watermark or symbols for additional security and make duplicating or falsifying a check as difficult as possible. This area is also where the receiving bank will sign or add a stamp to show they’ve endorsed the deposit.

    Security features (box at the bottom of check back)

    If you look closely, you’ll see explanations at the bottom of the check. This text tells you (and the bank) more about avoiding fraud. For example, mine say:

    • Microprint line: Small type in line appears as a dotted line when photocopied
    • Chemically sensitive paper: Stains or spots may appear when chemically altered
    • Security screen: Absence of “Original Document” verbiage on back of the check

    Additional Feature: Duplicate Checks

    There’s a final part of a check that I’d like to mention: duplicate checks.

    Duplicate checks, or carbon copies, are an easy way to keep track of what you’ve written, especially if you’re reviewing your budget. It’s essentially a physical copy of the check you write, so you have your version of the check. 

    Duplicate checks have a second sheet behind them, so you’ll write the check once, and the same information ends up transferred onto the copy. If you pay many bills or don’t keep meticulous records, these can be a great way to keep track of what you’ve spent.

    Why use a check?

    In the age of technology, why choose to use a check still? There can be several great reasons to still use checks, including:

    1. Some companies only allow payment via check.
    2. Some companies will charge you extra fees if you use a credit card and don’t accept cash. For example, if you have to make a payment to the IRS, you’ll want to send a check rather than get hit with a hefty additional transaction fee for using a credit card.
    3. Checks are easy to grab the info you need to set up direct deposit or ACH deposits. You’ll need the ABA routing number and account number, which are both right there!

    Tips for Writing or Cashing Checks

    Whether you’re writing a check or cashing one, you’ll want to follow these tips to ensure a smooth transaction:

    1. Write clearly, including your signature. You don’t want the bank to misread the check amount or question if your signature is a fraud. Write legibly so that there’s no room for error.
    2. Initial any mistakes. If you make a mistake and cross it out, write the correct information and add your initials with it. This signifies to the bank that you are aware of the change.
    3. Void checks. If you mess up big time (like writing the wrong name), write “VOID” across the check with lines, and tear it up. You want to make sure it’s very unusable if anyone finds the pieces.
    4. Take up the entire lines. It sounds weird, I know, but don’t leave room for someone to mess with your amounts. Add that line after the written-out amount. Make sure there’s no space for someone to squeeze in another round of zeroes (or twelve!).
    5. Include the decimal and cents in the amount. You’ll want to add the “.00” in the dollar box so that it’s harder to adjust your numbers.
    6. Add a memo. Let’s face it. We’re all crazy busy, and chances are you won’t remember what the heck that check was for anyway. If you run a business or itemize your taxes, writing notes in the memo can help you categorize your spending at tax time.
    7. When cashing checks, don’t forget to sign the back. You must sign the back of the check to cash it, and failing to do so will result in another trip to the bank and more work than it should be.
    8. Deposit checks quickly. Some banks won’t accept checks older than six months, at which point you’ll have to ask the person (or business) to issue a new one. Cash or deposit your checks promptly so they don’t get lost or rejected by the bank. Or, use Cash App or Walmart to deposit your checks.

    Now that you know all the parts of a check, you can get fancy and order some at Costo, Walmart, or even Amazon!

    Looking to open a new high yield checking account? Try CIT Bank’s eChecking. No ATM fees, debit with an EMV chip, member FDIC – and a great mobile app to boot! 

    Text that reads welcome to Debt Free Forties

    A forty-ish web designer/developer by day, a budget & financial fanatic by night. I’m a mom, wife, avid reader, and DIY enthusiast who’s tracking our journey to debt freedom. Read More

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