Opening that first checking account is exciting and a little daunting. To avoid the first-time jitters, these tips for writing checks explain the process. Check-writing is a rite of passage for many adults, and it is important to understand the basics of what checks are for and, most importantly, what needs to be written on those intimidating blank lines.

What is a Check?

A check is a legal document that instructs the bank to transfer a specific amount of money from the check writer's account to the account of another person or business. The person writing the check is known as the drawer, and the person receiving the money is the payee. To ensure the correct amount of money is withdrawn, the check writer needs to fill out the check carefully. It is better to print, especially if the check writer's handwriting is poor or hard to read.

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Where to Get Printed Checks

When you open a checking account, many banks will give you a small number of blank counter checks. Account holders will need their own printed checks, which can be ordered either from their financial institution or an online retailer. No matter where the checks come from, it is important to review them when they arrive to make sure the contact information is correct. If the information is wrong, it is the account holder's responsibility to contact the company to get them reprinted.

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How to Write the Date

On the top right side of the check under the check number is the word "Date," followed by a blank line. This is where you will write the date. Normally, you will write the current date in the following format:  09/12/2018 or xx/xx/xxxx. The check writer may also post-date a check, which means they will enter a later date that indicates the payee should not cash the check until this time; people often do this is the money will not be in their account until that later date. If you do this, however, you may want to contact the payee to ensure they take note of the later date and do not try to deposit the check until then. Otherwise, the money may be removed from your account before it is there.

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Writing the Payee's Name.

Below the account holder's contact information are the words "Pay to the order of," followed by a blank line. This is where you will write the payee's name. It is important to make sure the name -- whether it is a personal or business name -- is written correctly, to avoid issues when the payee tries to deposit or cash the check. If you are writing a check at a business, the company name is usually visible where you're writing the check. For example, most stores have it printed on the ledge used to write checks. If in doubt, ask the person receiving the check.

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Filling in the Numerical Amount of the Check

To the right of the payee name, you will see an empty box with a dollar sign ($) at the end. Write the amount of the check inside this box in numerals. Take care when writing in this space because this tells the bank how much money to send to the payee. If the check is for a whole dollar amount, be sure to write in the decimal and double zeros, or draw a line. For example write 12.00 or 12.--, never just 12.

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Writing Out the Amount of the Check

Underneath the payee's name and the numerical dollar amount is a blank line with the word "Dollars" at the end. Here, you will re-write the amount of the check, written out in words. For example, $12.36 is be written "twelve dollars and thirty-six cents" or "twelve dollars and 36/100." Both are correct. Draw through any blank space remaining, to prevent someone else from adding to the amount.

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What to Write on the Memo Line

Under the written dollar amount is a line with the word "Memo" written below it. Think of this as a reminder sticky. Use it to make a note of the reason for the check, such as "Rent, October 2018." This line is primarily for the check-writer, who will receive a copy of the check (usually a digital copy in your online account, these days).  

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The All Important Signature

When signing a check, or any document, try to keep it clean, clear, and uncomplicated. No fancy curly-cues or hearts dotting I's. Save those for fun notes to friends. Checks are legal documents, so keep your signature the same as the one on your passport, driver's license, student loans, or any other legal document. Do not sign the check until you're ready to give it to the payee or put it in the mail, and never sign checks that are still blank in the payee or dollar amount sections.

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Those Numbers Along the Bottom

You'll see three sets of numbers at the bottom of your checks. The first is the financial institution's routing number. It is a 9-digit code that identifies where the check writer opened their checking account. It can also be called an RTN, an ABA routing number, or a routing transit number. The second is your account number, which is unique to each checking account. The third is the check number. It is echoed in the top right corner of the check. If you get a book of checks, these numbers will increase by one.  

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Keep it All in Balance

It is crucial to keep up with the money paid through checks. Checks, like credit cards, don't involve the handling of cash; this makes it easy to forget the sometimes large amounts of money coming out of your checking account. When you open your account or buy your book of checks, most financial institutions provide a small paper notebook called a register, where you can record all the information from each check, so you have it together in a safe place for reference. If you don't like using the register, there are some other options to help you keep things in balance:

a. Use carbon checks so there will always be a copy of the written checks

b. Use an app to keep a running total of your checks

c. Use an electronic spreadsheet

d. Use all three!

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