Friday, 15 December 2017

Had the captains of sailing ships carried checks instead of gold doubloons, pirates would be out of business.

Checks—or at least early forms of them—have been used in place of money or gold since the 300s BC, gaining popularity in the 1500s. The check as we recognize it today in its standard-size rectangle with printed account numbers across the bottom has been in play since 1959. 

Over the last 50 years, checks  have been eclipsed by other forms of payment—credit cards, debit cards, wire transfers, and online payment systems. Some places won't even accept personal checks, but there are instances when you can't just get out of pulling out your checkbook. Maybe there's a household emergency and you have to pay the repair person, or you're at a charity event and asked to make a donation right then and there. And an online payment indicated by the ping of an email will never, ever replace the thrill of getting a check tucked inside a birthday card.

Writing a check is as natural as pouring milk in coffee for most people over a certain age, but surprisingly, “how to write a check" has more than 1.2 billion results on Google, which says that there are still a lot of people who want to know how.

Here's the anatomy of a check, and how to make it work for you:

1. Date: You can abbreviate the date or spell it out.

2. Person or institution's name. In this case, “Mom and Dad" won't fly. 

3. Amount (numbers). Write down the dollars and cents. If it is a round dollar amount with no change, make sure you have “.00" or “00/100" to avoid any confusion, and to make it harder to forge extra zeroes.

4. Amount (spelled out). This is an extra layer of understanding in case the numerals above are unclear. Spell out the dollar amount, and for cents, add “and 25/100," if there's change, and “XX/100" or “00/100," if there's not.

5. Your signature. You don't have to think too hard about this one.

6. Memo line: This is optional. It's the place you can add a note for the recipient (“happy birthday!") or for yourself (“sink repair") 

What do numbers on checks mean?

1. Check number: This is how you can track down the check after it's been written and cashed in case you need to reference it.

2. Bank routing number: This tells a scanner which bank the money is coming from.

3. Account number: This is your checking account number.

4. Check number: This is the same as the number on top.

Pro tips

You can write your check out to “cash" and you or anyone else can take it to a bank and deposit it or cash it. It's a risk, though, because if it gets lost, it could get into the hands of the wrong person. Some banks also put a hold on these kinds of checks. Best advice: Have a full name on this line.

In January, we're all vulnerable to automatically writing the old year down, which might cause the check to be sent back. Make sure you have the right year.

Handwriting counts: If a scanner can't read your check, it may be sent back to you and you could be dinged for non-payment or late fees. Make sure each line is legible.

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how to write a check