How to write a check (and avoid fraud too)
Checks may feel like a thing of the past thanks to electronic transfers that can be done online or through your mobile apps. But at some point you may need to write a physical check. For example, some apartment complexes still require rent checks. If you do need to write a check, there are steps to ensure it’s done correctly while also limiting fraud.
How to write a check
Learning how to write a check is a skill that can be learned, like any other. Here’s a breakdown of the 10 steps:
- Step 1: Make sure you have physical checks from your bank. Checks typically withdraw funds from your checking account and are used as a form of payment. If you don’t have them, you can place an order with your bank and you’ll receive them in a few business days.
- Step 2: Make sure you have and use a black or blue ink pen. There are sections to fill out on the check, and permanent ink is best, so the check can’t be erased or modified.
- Step 3: Write the current date in the upper right hand corner. Checks have different parts to them. On the upper right, you’ll see a section for the date. Numerically write out the current date, such as 12/01/2022.
- Step 4: Fill in the “payee,” or who you’re paying, in the “Pay to the order of” section. Whether you’re paying an individual or business, make sure you include the full name or business name, spelled correctly. Print the name, rather than writing in cursive, so it’s legible.
- Step 5: Fill in the dollar amount numerically next to the dollar sign. On the right, middle part of the check you’ll see a dollar sign symbol ($). Next to that part, include the amount of payment numerically. So for example, if you’re paying your rent you may put $1,350.
- Step 6: Include the payment amount written out. You’ll see a long line and the word “Dollars” on the right side underneath the “Pay to the order of” section. On that line, write out the payment amount–this time with words. So for example, you’d write out “One thousand three hundred and fifty.” If the payment amount doesn’t include any cents, then add 00/100 to denote that it’s a flat dollar amount. If it does include any cents, such as $1350.75 then include 75/100 at the end of the written amount. Make sure the amounts written out and with numbers match up. It’s important to note that if there is a mismatch, the written amount is the legal amount that will be used.
- Step 7: Sign your name in cursive on the “Signature” line on the lower right hand side. This helps authorize the transaction.
- Step 8: Include a description in the “Memo” or “For” line in the lower left corner. This part is not required but can be useful. You can write a note about what the check is for, for example “December 2022 Rent.”
- Step 9: Give or send to the intended recipient. Once you’ve double-checked the payment amounts, the spelling of the payee name, and confirmed you’ve signed and dated the check, you can give or send the check to the intended recipient. This may be handing it over in person or putting it in the mail with a stamp.
- Step 10: Keep a record of the transaction. If you have a checkbook, you can write down a record of the transaction via your check register. This can include important information such as the check number, date, and payment amount. While not a requirement, it can help you keep tabs on what’s going out of your account. Whether you do this step or not, you want to ensure you have enough funds in your account for the check to clear.
Tips for writing and paying with checks
Learning how to write a check is fairly straightforward; however, there are some best practices to consider.
For one, you absolutely don’t want to use a pencil, which can easily be erased. Instead use a pen. Another major point is making sure the check is completely filled out and finalizing the process by authorizing the check with your signature, including your full legal name.
“Many young adults will print their name or ask if they have to use cursive to sign their name. We’ve even seen someone just sign their first name,” says Laura Sterling, vice president of marketing at Georgia’s Own Credit Union.
Make sure you have the full name of the individual or business that you intend to pay. “Avoid writing checks out to “cash,” as those can easily be redeemed by someone other than the intended target,” Sterling adds.
Some additional things you can do to help limit the chance fraudsters alter your checks include:
- Drawing a line after the amount to avoid any blank spaces
- Write a note in the memo so you know what the payment is for
- Include the current date, and not a date in the future, which is referred to as post-dated
How to endorse a check
Now you know how to write a check—but what do you need to do if you receive a check? The first thing to do is include your signature on the back of the check. This is referred to as endorsing the check.
“Endorsing a check is authorizing the check—as the intended payee—often by signing it and is done on the back of the check. Endorsements can include instructions on how the check should be handled whether it is cashed or deposited,” explains Rahkim Sabree CFEI®, RFC®, and financial coach with a decade of banking experience.
You may see a line that says “Endorse here” which is where you should put your signature. There may also be some language about not writing anything underneath the line. When you endorse a check, you’re verifying that you’re the person the payment is being made to.
“Endorsing a check seems fairly simple, but with the younger, digital generation having little to no experience with checks, we’ve seen some recurring patterns. We’ve had some young adults sign the entire back of the check horizontally, while some forget to endorse the check at all,” says Sterling. “While it may not seem like a critical step to someone not used to writing checks, checks that are not endorsed could get returned.”
There are many different types of endorsement, including:
- Blank endorsement. This refers to the standard way of endorsing a check which is with a simple signature on the back of the check. This can be an easy way to endorse mobile deposits or if depositing through your bank’s ATM.
- Restrictive endorsement. This refers to a secure endorsement where the recipient includes “For deposit only.” For even more security, you can include the bank account number where it can be deposited or for mobile deposits via your phone write “For mobile deposit only.” This is a step up from a blank endorsement as the check can get into the wrong hands and potentially be cashed. Going this route has more specific measures that are restrictive and more secure.
- Third-party endorsement. This type of endorsement is not typically advised and may not be available at all financial institutions. But in theory, you could take a check you receive and pay someone else—a third party—and endorse it by writing “Pay to the order of” and insert that person’s name and including your signature.
- Mobile deposit of check endorsement. If you’re going to use your mobile phone to deposit a check, your financial institution may require an additional step to endorse the check. You may need to write “mobile deposit” or “for [bank’s name] mobile deposit.”
- Business endorsement. Checks to a business require an individual who has authorization to sign on behalf of the business to endorse the check. This includes putting the company name, signature, and job title when endorsing.
- Multiple-payee endorsement. You might get a check with two names on it, such as for an anniversary or wedding gift. In this case, one or both parties may need to endorse the check and it depends on a one-word difference. “Checks made payable to one individual or multiple individuals separated with the word “or” can be cashed or deposited by either party,” says Sabree. “Checks made payable to multiple individuals separated by the word “and” require that both parties sign the check in the presence of a bank representative or deposit it into an account that has both parties’ name on it.”
How to deposit a check
Receiving a check means money is coming your way, but you need to deposit it first. To deposit a check, take the following steps:
- Confirm the accuracy of the check. Confirm that the payment amount is correct, it’s intended for you, and it’s from a legitimate company. “I had a situation when someone provided a fake business check as payment for services from my business,” says says Tiffany Grant, MBA, AFC® at Money Talk With Tiff. “Luckily, I did not deposit the check first. If you deposit a bad check, the bank will reverse the funds, which could spell disaster if you have already used some funds.”
- Endorse the check. Turn over your check, sign it, and for more security you can include “For Deposit Only.”
- Deposit the check in person or through mobile deposit. You can head to a local bank branch or use your bank’s mobile app to deposit a check into your account. “You can deposit a check at a bank branch where you bank, at the ATM, or via their mobile app,” says Grant. “You can also typically cash a check at the bank the check is written from. You can find that information on the front of a check you received. Be wary of check-cashing places, as they charge fees in order to use their services.”
Given the advancement in technology and array of payment choices, learning how to write a check is becoming less common. However, it’s a good skill to have and can come in handy in a variety of situations like paying rent or paying a contractor.
But with any financial skill, you want to take measures to lessen the likelihood of fraud such as filling out all sections, leaving no spaces, and including a restrictive endorsement. Writing a check the right way can help prevent any errors or delays.
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