How to fill out a check

1. Enter the date

Date section of a check
Steven Twigg / MoneyWise

Directly below the check number in the top right-hand corner of the check, you'll see a blank for the date.

Most likely, you'll want to write the date when you're filling out the check. But if you don't want the check to be cashed right away, you'll write in a future date. The check will be invalid until that day arrives.

Follow the month-date-year format when entering the date. In other words, the date should appear as "February 12, 2021" or "02/12/2021."

2. Enter the recipient's name

Payee section of a check
Steven Twigg / MoneyWise

The language "Pay to the order of" may seem a little strange or formal. It simply means you enter the name of the person or entity that will be receiving and cashing the check.

Checks can be issued to individuals or businesses, and the rules are a little different for each.

For individuals, write out both the first and last name: "John Smith." For businesses, make sure you use the full, formal name of the company: "Johnson Heating & Air Conditioning Inc."

You can make a check out simply to "Cash," which means you're allowing anyone to cash the check. This option should be used only in rare instances, because it's obviously not very secure.

3. Enter the amount in number form

Amount section of a check
Steven Twigg / MoneyWise

In the little box to the right of the recipient's name, fill in the amount in numerals (dollars and cents) for how much you want to pay.

Make sure you accurately enter the dollar amount, down to the penny.

When you’re writing a check, always be sure you have the funds in your bank account to cover the payment. It’s not just embarrassing to bounce checks — you will also face an NSF (insufficient funds) charge that your bank will withdraw from your account.

In some cases, writing a large NSF check is a crime.

4. Enter the amount in word form

Amount (in words) section of a check
Steven Twigg / MoneyWise

The line below the recipient's name is where you enter the amount again. This time, you’ll have to write out the amount in words. That means $50 becomes "Fifty" and $436 becomes "Four-hundred thirty-six."

You enter the cents as a fraction: 25/100, 50/100, 82/100, and so on.

Don't write in the word "dollars" because that will already be printed on the check. So, if the amount is $2,176.83, you would write in "Two-thousand one-hundred seventy-six and 83/100."

5. Fill in the what the check is for

Memo section of a check
Steven Twigg / MoneyWise

The memo line at the bottom of the check is optional, but it helps explain the purpose of the check.

For example, if you're paying a certain invoice, you might write "For Invoice 1010." If you're paying your rent, you might say "March 2022 rent."

6. Sign the check

The last — but possibly most important — step is to sign the check.

An unsigned check is invalid and cannot be cashed. So don't ever forget to scribble your name on the signature line (which is on the bottom right corner on many checks) as you finish.

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How to get a checkbook from your bank or financial institution

If you don’t already have a checkbook, don’t worry — it’s a very straightforward process. You used to have to go directly into your bank or financial institution in person to order checks, but now you have a few options:

  • Visit your bank. Just let the teller know you want to order some checks for your checking account.
  • Order through mobile/online banking. If you use your bank's mobile app or online banking, you should find a tab in your settings that will allow you to order checks. Look for "Order Checks" or "Check Orders."
  • Call your bank. If ordering checks online makes you uneasy but you can't make it to your bank in person, you can place an order by phone. You'll need your account number for this, but you can easily find it on your most recent bank statement.

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About the Author

Doug Whiteman

Doug Whiteman

Former Editor-in-Chief

Doug Whiteman was formerly the editor-in-chief of MoneyWise. He has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and CNBC.com and has been interviewed on Fox Business, CBS Radio and the syndicated TV show "First Business."

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