For those who fill out checks on a regular basis, the process becomes almost automatic. However, if you haven't written many checks, it can be confusing. Here are the steps needed to correctly fill out a check and an explanation of the numbers pre-printed on each one.
Example of a Completed Check
- Date – Fill in the date on the blank line at the top right corner of the check. The month/day/year format is standard for the United States.
- Recipient’s Name – Write the name of the recipient on the blank line after the phrase “Pay to the Order Of.” This can be an individual, organization or business – whomever the check is going to. For an individual, be sure to include the first and last name. For an organization or business, use its full name.
- Amount (Numerical Form) – In the box to the right of the recipient’s name, fill in the amount in dollars and cents using numbers.
- Amount (Expanded Word Form) – The dollar amount should also be written in expanded word form on the blank line below the recipient’s name. Cents, however, should be written in fraction form.
[4a. Memo (Optional) – At the lower left is a line where you can, if you choose, note what the check is for, or write in your account number for, say, the utility company you're paying with that check. It can also be used to ensure that the recipient applies the money to what you owe and not what someone else does. For example, if you are using the check to pay for something at your child's school, you could write your child's name and grade in the memo line.]
- Signature – Sign your name on the line at the bottom right corner of the check. Your signature is mandatory – the recipient will not be able to cash the check without it.
Routing Numbers, Account Numbers and Check Numbers
The numbers running across the bottom of the check represent the following:
Routing Transit Number – The first sequence of numbers represents your financial institution’s routing transit number. This code identifies your bank, allowing the check to be directed to the right place for processing.
Account Number – The second sequence of numbers is your unique account number. It was assigned by the bank when you opened the account.
Check Number – The last sequence of numbers is the check number. It is also featured at the top of the check, beneath the date.
The Bottom Line
While the ability to pay online has greatly reduced the need to issue paper checks, there are still times when one is needed, so it is important to know how to fill one out properly. (For more, see Banking: Managing Your Checking Account.)