How to write a check (and other check-related stuff)

When you open a checking account, you’ll usually be given or sent a box with a bunch of checks in it. Even though they are much less popular than cards or cash for everyday spending, checks are still a viable way to pay for stuff, and sometimes they are the best or only way.

They also come in handy when you need to pay someone but don’t have the money right away. You can write the check and tell whomever you’re paying to wait until a certain date (when you know you’ll have the money) to cash it. 

If you’ve never had to use or write a check, however, they can be a little scary. The first time I wrote a check I messed it up majorly. So get psyched, because today we’re going to go over everything you need to know about checks!

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This is a check:

sample-check

Some will look a little different, but the basic layout of a check is always the same.

In the top left will be the information of the person or company who is writing the check. On your checks, your name and address will be here.

In the top right corner will be a number, which represents the number of the check. The first one in your pack should be something like 001.

On the bottom of the check should be a bunch of numbers in three groups. The group on the left is the routing number for your bank account. The middle group is the account number itself, and the last group is the check number again. When you pay for things online using your account or set up direct deposit payments, you’ll be asked to provide the routing and account numbers.

Then there are a lot of blank lines for you to fill out. Let’s look at how to do that.

How to write a check:

  1. Use a pen, never a pencil. You don’t want anyone being able to change the info on the check after you’ve written it. Also, as much as I love colored or sparkly pens, stick to blue or black ink for checks. 
  2. Write the date.
  3. On the line next to PAY TO THE ORDER OF, write to whom the check is addressed. For example, pretend Pinocchio is paying Jiminy Cricket for being his conscience. He’s going to write “Jiminy Cricket”. If you’re writing the check to a person, make sure you write the name that appears on that person’s bank account. In other words, don’t make it out to Bobby if his legal name is Robert.
  4. Next, on the big line under the PAY TO THE ORDER OF line, write the dollar amount you are paying in words and the cents as a number over 100. For example, Jiminy Cricket might charge $106 for his services, so Pinocchio writes “One hundred six dollars and 00/100”.
  5. In the box or on the line that has a $ in front of it, write the amount you are paying in numbers. Don’t forget the decimal! This is $106.00 in Pinocchio’s case.
  6. At the bottom of the check are two lines. The left one should say FOR. This is where you can write a note about what the money is being given for. You can write stuff like “Birthday gift” or “Gas money” here to help you keep track of where your money’s going or to remind the person you’re giving it to what it’s for, but this line is technically optional.
  7. Lastly, sign the line on the bottom right of the check. Hooray! You’re done.

Pinocchio’s finished check would look like this:

sample-check-filled-out

How to deposit a check:

  1. Double check that all of the information on the check is correct, including who is giving it to you and how much it’s made out to. Fixing errors after the money has been deposited may be difficult or impossible.
  2. Sign the back of the check on the line that says ENDORSE HERE. By endorsing the check, you are saying you have received it and the information on it is correct. Some banks have added a box on the back of their checks that needs to be marked if you plan to deposit your check through a mobile app.
  3. Take your check to the bank, or use your bank’s app to deposit the check.
  4. NOTE: If you use an app to photograph and deposit a check, make sure you hang on to the check until it clears and the money appears in your account. If something goes wrong, you don’t want to have to go back to the check writer and ask for another check. After the money is in your account, destroy the check by shredding it before trashing it.

I’m sure Jiminy Cricket needs his money for…top-hat maintenance? Whatever. He’d endorse his check like this:

sample-check-back

What to do if you make a mistake:

If you’re anything like me, you’re going to make at least one mistake on a check. Since checks are always written in pen, correcting errors has to be done carefully. Never use white-out on a check.

If you make a mistake, correct it neatly and with as little scribbling as possible; then write your initials next to the correction. This proves that you made the change, not the person you’re paying.

What to watch out for with checks:

  1. This may seem obvious, but make sure there’s enough money in your account to pay the full amount of the check. Checks act like debit cards in that they take the money from your account as soon as they are cashed. If you don’t have enough money to back it up, a check will “bounce”. A friend might just be annoyed by this, but businesses often charge fees of around $25 if a check you give them bounces.
  2. NEVER give anyone your blank checkbook, and especially don’t pre-sign a check for them. Once a check is authorized with your signature, someone could write any number they wanted in the money box and clean out your account.
  3. It’s also not a great idea to walk around with checks in your wallet or purse. If you lose your checkbook, it’s basically like losing a debit card. You’ll have to call your bank to freeze your account so no one can access your money, including you. Then you’ll have to go through the process of closing your account and opening a new one with a new number since checks have both the account and routing numbers on them. It’s a whole messy thing, so leave the checkbook safely tucked away at home unless there’s a very specific reason for taking it with you.

Whether or not you use checks regularly, knowing how to write them is an important skill. Now, when you go to pay your first month’s rent, split bills with your roomies, or pay your parents back for a loan they gave you, you can fill out your check with confidence and sign it with a flourish.

Snow day? Money day!(w/ Printables)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Snow Day Season!

In the winter, students all over the country wear their pajamas inside out and flush ice cubes down the toilet, hoping they’ll wake up to several inches of snow and no school.

And every so often, it works! (Not really, but it’s fun to imagine it might.)

Building snowmen and going sledding are both super fun, but after several snow days, you might find yourself looking for other things to do.

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Sure, you could binge the newest Netflix shows, play a video game, finally learn how to knit, or *gasp* finish all of your homework, but I’m going to make a radical suggestion: make a money plan.

Many money experts and companies encourage adults to set aside one weekday per quarter (every three months) to look through their money situation and change or update anything that needs attention.

Teens and college students may not have much money to manage, but it’s always good to know where you stand and have a plan in mind for the future.

So this year, I invite you to set aside at least an hour or two during a snow day (or teacher work day, or whatever) to take note of what you have, what you want, and how you’re going to get there.

To help, I’ve created a few printables that you can use (for free!) to help you get and stay organized with your money, even if all you have is a piggy bank.

Let me know if you use them and if you have any suggestions for edits or for other printables!

 

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A simple sheet with 12 steps to reaching your savings goals.

 

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For a quick round-up of your cash and accounts.

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If you just want to sketch out some of those awesome dreams and goals!

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The classic envelope system of putting aside money.

 

What is a checking account?

Checking accounts, along with savings accounts, are probably the most common types of bank accounts people have.

At first glance, checking accounts actually resemble savings accounts. They allow you to put money safely in a bank and access it whenever you want. The money in checking accounts is also insured up to $100,000, just like money in a savings account.

However, checking accounts come with a few perks that savings accounts do not.

Perks

First, they come with paper checks that you can write to pay people. Okay, so checks are certainly not used as much as they once were. When was the last time you saw someone pay with a check at the supermarket? But they are still an acceptable form of payment for most things you might want to buy. They are also useful for making big purchases when you don’t have or cannot use a credit card. Every landlord I’ve ever had has required a paper check payment for the first month’s rent and security deposit.

The second perk of a checking account is a check card, or debit card. This looks like a credit card, but will usually say “Debit” on it somewhere. This card is connected to your checking account, so whenever you use it to buy something, that money comes directly out of your checking account. This gives you the convenience of a credit card without the danger of spending way more than you have.

Two accounts?

So why would you have a savings account and a checking account? Well, one drawback of checking accounts is that they often do not pay interest the way savings accounts do. This has been changing over the last few years, but the interest rates are ridiculously tiny (as of this writing, Bank of America’s checking account interest rate is 0.01% — that’s one cent for every $100 in the account!), and you often must deposit a minimum amount to qualify to receive interest.  

The other drawback to checking accounts is how easy it is to get the money out of them. I can hear you thinking: Hold on. Isn’t that a good thing?

Yes, it is good…unless you’re trying to save money and you tend to be a spender. The fact that savings accounts make you put a bit more effort into getting your money out can help stop you from going on spending sprees, but that shiny debit card in your wallet is just begging to be whipped out every time you find an awesome outfit on sale.

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That being said, you’re going to need to build up some self control, and a debit card is often a great way to practice using a card responsibly before you get a credit card.

Your choice

In the end, the choice whether to have a savings account, a checking account, or both is up to you. A balanced approach might be to put most of your money in savings, and leave only what you’re willing to spend in the checking account. Having a little fun money never hurts, just don’t go crazy.