How to write a check in 6 easy steps

If you are new to banking and handling your personal finances, you may ask yourself, “How do I write a check?” 

With debit cards, credit cards, online banking and direct deposit, paper checks may not be as common as they once were. But they can still be useful—if not required—at times. So if you need to write a check and find yourself wondering how to properly fill out each field, use this guide. 

Key takeaways

  • Writing a check is easy, and it only takes a few steps. 
  • Before you get started, it’s important to learn everything you need to fill out, such as the recipient, date, amount, signature and memo fields.
  • Knowing your checking account balance can help you avoid bouncing a check or overdrawing your account.

Understanding a check’s format

It’s not complicated, but it helps to know a check’s format and everything that’s on it prior to filling one out for the first time. The parts of a check include preprinted information and empty fields. 

Preprinted information typically includes the:

  • Account holder’s name and information: The name and address—and sometimes phone number—of the checking account holder linked to the check are usually printed in the upper left corner.  
  • Check number: The check number is typically in the top and bottom right corner of the check. It can help account holders keep track of how many checks they’ve used.   
  • Bank routing number and account number: The routing number and account number are a series of numbers usually on the bottom of the check, with the routing number on the left side. 
A check shows where the account holder, check number, routing number and account numbers are located.

The rest of the empty fields are used to write out a check. These include the:

  • Date 
  • “Pay to the order of” line for the recipient
  • Dollar amount in numbers
  • Dollar amount in words 
  • Memo line
  • Signature line

How to fill out a check

It’s important to fill out your check accurately and without mistakes. Filling one out improperly might hold up the payment process.

Before you write a check, here are a few tips to consider:

  • Use a pen.
  • Use print—except where you sign—so it’s easy to read.
  • Don’t sign a blank check. Always fill in the name of the recipient and the amount prior to signing.
  • Ensure everything is correct before you’re finished.
An example of a check shows where the date, recipient’s name, amount, memo and signature lines are.

1. Date the check 

Make sure your check reflects the current date—and write it in the top right corner. Backdating a check occurs when a previous date is listed. It’s typically not allowed, and it may even be illegal in some situations. 

A postdated check, which has a future date, might be legal in some instances, but it could be deposited before the date listed on the check. And that can result in a bounced check or overdraft.

2. Fill in the recipient’s name

The recipient, also known as the payee, is the business or person to whom you’re writing a check. The field for the recipient’s name usually begins with “Pay to the order of.” 

Make sure this field is filled out correctly with the recipient’s full name. Spelling the name of the person or business wrong or leaving off part of a payee’s name could result in your check being returned. 

3. Write the dollar amount in numbers

There are two places where you need to list the dollar amount of your check in both dollars and cents. The first location for the payment amount is to the right of the recipient’s name. It typically is a small box for numerals only. It usually begins with a dollar sign, so you don’t need to write one in.

Here’s how to write a check with cents:

  • Use a decimal point in the small box—for example, if your check amount is $100, write 100.00.
  • Here’s how to write $1,000 on a check: 1,000.00. Don’t forget to add the comma and the decimal point.

For the amount box, write in numbers large enough to fill the entire space to help prevent fraud.

4. Write the dollar amount in words

The second location for the dollar amount is directly below the recipient’s name. This larger field often ends with the word “dollars,” and the amount should be spelled out in words in this location. For example, if the amount of the check is $1,000, write “one thousand.” 

To include the cents, use a fraction with “100” on the bottom. So if the check amount is $44.99, write “forty-four and 99/100.” Even if the dollar amount has no cents, it’s typically best to include a “00/100” for clarity. For example, if you’re writing a check for $1,500, write out “one thousand, five hundred and 00/100.”

When writing out the dollar amount in words, write the amount as far to the left as you can. Then draw a line through any remaining space to the right of the amount listed. That will help ensure the entire field is full, which can help prevent someone from changing the amount of your check.

5. Include a memo

Filling in a check’s memo line may not be required, but it can be helpful to write what the check is for. If the check is for a specific month’s rent or a particular service you’ve received, you can list that in the memo field. 

6. Sign the check

Lastly, you’ll sign the check on the line in the bottom right corner. Your signature is one of the most important parts of a check. Without it, your check generally can’t be cashed or deposited.

How to write a void check

Mistakes happen. And if you make an error when writing your check, you may want to void it. To void a check, write “VOID” across the entire check and start over with a new check. 

There are other reasons to void a check besides making a mistake. For example, you may need to provide a voided check to set up direct deposit for your paychecks at work.

How to write a check to yourself

You can write a check to yourself in a couple of ways. You could write your name as the recipient and deposit the check into another bank account. Or you could make the check payable to “cash” and cash the check. 

While it’s possible to write a check to yourself, be aware that banks and credit unions may charge a fee or refuse to cash the check if you don’t have an account with them. To avoid these issues, you might want to consider using other ways to move your money, like ACH transfers or money transfer apps.

Tips for using your checkbook

Now that you know how to write a check, here are a few tips to consider following:  

Know your checking account balance

You can avoid bouncing a check or overdrawing your account by keeping tabs on your checking account balance. While there are digital tools available to help with balancing your checkbook online, it’s not a bad idea to keep a paper copy as well. 

Most checkbooks come with a checkbook register—also called a balance book. A checkbook register is a way to stay up to date on your account balance. Every time you write a check, update your checkbook register. You can then compare the paper copy to your online balance and ensure there are no discrepancies. 

Keep your checkbook safe

A lost checkbook can lead to problems, including check fraud, so it’s important to keep your checkbook in a safe place and protect it like you would a debit or credit card. If you ever lose your checkbook, it’s a good idea to contact your bank or credit union immediately so they can help you protect your account.

Writing a check in a nutshell

Checks might not be as popular as they used to be, but knowing how to write a check is helpful. And keeping a checkbook handy can be a good idea in case you need to fill out a check for bills and other expenses. 

Now that you know how to write a check, you can explore more financial literacy concepts. And if you’re looking for a checking account, compare bank accounts Capital One has to offer.

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

Related Content