In today’s world where you can completely automate your finances and pay your bills online, many people never even learn how to write a check.
But there are some times where a check is required to pay your rent or other bills, and that’s why we created this simple guide to filling out a check.
First, let’s take a look at an example of a blank check. There’s lots of information on a personal check and some of it is almost like a secret code. But once you understand what it all means, you’ll see that learning how to write a check is a piece of cake.
Here’s an example of a blank check before it has been written out:
Account Open Date – This just shows the month and year your checking account was opened. Some states and some banks require this, but others don’t. So don’t panic if you don’t see it on your check.
Check Written Date – Pretty self-explanatory, this is typically the date you are writing out the check. Some people post-date a check when they want people to hold off on cashing it for a little while.
For example, your account might be running a little low of funds and you don’t want them to cash the check until you get paid again.
But this can be a dangerous game because there is no guarantee the bank won’t cash the check despite the future date. And if they do and your account doesn’t have enough in it to cover the check amount, you’ll be hit with fees for bouncing a check.
Recipient – This is the person or business you are sending the money to. So if your landlord’s name was, I don’t know…Lady Gaga, then that’s the name you’d fill in here.
Amount – This one is pretty obvious, it’s just the amount of money you are transferring to the recipient.
You’ll need to enter the amount twice when writing out a check, once in numbers and again in words. This may seem silly but it’s actually an important precaution.
Writing out the amount helps avoid fraud because the bank can verify that the two amounts match. If the amount was only written in numbers it would be awfully easy for a dishonest person to change the amount.
Just imagine if they slipped in a zero and changed your $100 check to $1,000!!
Memo – This part is optional, but it lets you add a note to yourself as a reminder of why you wrote out the check.
Routing Number – Every bank has its own set of routing numbers (sometimes called an ABA number) to identify itself to other financial institutions. This isn’t needed in knowing how to write out a check, but if you ever want to have money direct deposited into your account number you’ll need this number.
Account Number – That’s your own personally identifiable account number. Together with your routing number, it’s like an address where your money is located.
Check Number – If you flip through the checks in your check book, you’ll notice each one has a number on it. Your checks are numbered sequentially (101, 102, 103, etc) to help you stay organized.
Signature – Without your signature, a check can’t be cashed.
Writing Out A Check
Now let’s take a look at another check example, this time one that has already been filled out. Then you’ll learn how to write a check in 5 simple steps.
- Step 1: Date the check. Write in the date you are filling it out.
- Step 2: Write in the recipient’s name. This is the person or business who will be cashing the check.
- Step 3: Write in the amount. You’ll actually do this twice…first in numbers and then again in words.
- Step 4: Add a memo code. This step is optional but it is helpful for keeping your finances organized.
- Step 5: Sign the check.
So that answers your question of how to write a check, but here’s another common question about personal checks:
How Long Is A Check Good For?
One time my son was cleaning his room (finally!) and he found a birthday card that had fallen behind his dresser. Inside the card was a $50 check he had received as a birthday gift from his aunt.
Fortunately the check was only a couple of months old and we were able to cash it without any trouble, but it made me wonder how long is a check good for anyway?
It turns out that most checks are good for a minimum of 180 days.
So even if it takes you 6 months to cash a check, you’re still good.
But what happens after 180 days?
Well, it depends.
After 180 days, banks are no longer required to cash a check. But that doesn’t mean they won’t.
It’s possible the bank wouldn’t even notice the aged date on the check and they could cash it anyway.
Or they might just cash the check anyway as a service to their customer. People forget all about old checks all the time so bringing one in to be cashed likely won’t set off any red flags.
Now, if you bring in a bunch of checks from 2003, that might be questioned!
Long story short (I know, too late) most checks are good for at least 180 days. After that, a bank may or may not agree to cash it. If they refuse you’ll have to contact whoever issued you the check and ask them to send a replacement.
Mike Collins has been working in the financial industry since 2002 and is a self-proclaimed money nerd. He’s written for numerous personal finance websites and been featured on sites such as MarketWatch, Fortune, and Business Insider. Mike created Wealthy Turtle to give readers the tools and knowledge to manage their money like a rock star.