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How to write a check

1. Enter the date

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."

Date section of a check
Steven Twigg / Moneywise

2. Fill in the recipient's name

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.

Payee section of a check
Steven Twigg / Moneywise

3. Enter the amount in number form

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.

Amount section of a check
Steven Twigg / Moneywise

4. Write out the amount in word form

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."

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

5. Add a note for what the check is for

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."

Memo section of a check
Steven Twigg / Moneywise

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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The content provided on Moneywise is information to help users become financially literate. It is neither tax nor legal advice, is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. Tax, investment and all other decisions should be made, as appropriate, only with guidance from a qualified professional. We make no representation or warranty of any kind, either express or implied, with respect to the data provided, the timeliness thereof, the results to be obtained by the use thereof or any other matter.