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10 check writing tips

August 24, 2009 | Alliant Credit Union

The Romans invented the check around 352 BC. The first printed checks appeared in 1762, in England. And today, even with the advent of online bill pay, credit cards and ATMs, checks are still a fundamental way to get cash, make purchases and transfer funds. To help you avoid check processing glitches and to reduce the leeway for a scammer to alter your checks, here's a refresher of basic check writing dos and don'ts.

  1. Use a blue or black ballpoint pen. (Other colors - as well as gel pens - may not image well or be readable to processing machines). Use print characters rather than cursive letters except for your signature. Write legibly and use capital letters since they are harder to alter than lowercase letters.
  2. If you make a mistake, cross it out with one line and then write your initial next to it. Don't use whiteout.
  3. Get in the habit of writing a check from top to bottom. When you scramble around, you're liable to make a mistake or leave out required information.
  4. Date the check and write the payee's name clearly - as close to the left edge as possible and then draw a line after the payee's name to avoid other names being added.
  5. Write the same check amount in numbers and in words, also close to the left edge and draw a line after the last digit. (Note: if your numeric and written amount differ, the payment will legally be for the written amount.)
  6. Keep track of what your check is for by making a note in the memo section.
  7. Make a habit of signing your checks the same way each time (this helps identify fraudulent checks). To avoid check posting delays, don't write into the MICR line on the bottom of the check.
  8. Add the check to your checkbook register. Keep up with your account balance by subtracting the check amount.
  9. If you want cash, don't make the check payable to "cash." Then, anybody could cash it. Instead, make the check payable to yourself or the institution that's cashing your check.
  10. If you must cancel the check, write VOID across it in big letters and destroy it.

Sources:,,, and

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