Banking » Guides » What Are The Different Components Of a Bank Check?
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What Are The Different Components Of a Bank Check?

Not all checks looks the same - but all of them have should have the same components. Here's an overview of the different check parts
Author: Baruch Mann (Silvermann)
Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Writer, Contributor

Experience

Baruch Silvermann is a financial expert, experienced analyst, and founder of The Smart Investor.  Silvermann has contributed to Yahoo Finance and cited as an authoritative source in financial outlets like Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, CNET, Bankrate, Fox Business, The Street, and more.
Interest Rates Last Update: April 15, 2024
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Author: Baruch Mann (Silvermann)
Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Writer, Contributor

Experience

Baruch Silvermann is a financial expert, experienced analyst, and founder of The Smart Investor.  Silvermann has contributed to Yahoo Finance and cited as an authoritative source in financial outlets like Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, CNET, Bankrate, Fox Business, The Street, and more.
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The banking product interest rates, including savings, CDs, and money market, are accurate as of this date.

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Table Of Content

Are you a first-time checking account holder, or have you been using checks for a long time? Whatever the case may be, understanding your check’s parts is essential, especially when something untoward happens.

For example, if your check gets lost in the mail, what information should you tell the bank so they can cancel it?

1. Address and Check Number

If you look towards the top left-hand side of a regular check, you will see the following details: full name of the account holder, street address, city, state, and ZIP code.

However, you may encounter some checks with the address of a business manager or accountant in place of the account holder’s address.

Occasionally, some banks would put a driver’s license number and a work or home telephone number in this part of the check. On the top right-hand corner of the check, you will find the check number.

The bank prints this number in sequential order so that you can keep track of the checks you write and help you identify a particular check in case it is lost.

 check structure - Address and Check Number

2. Dateline

When you write a check, this is the space where you should write the date when you supposedly issued it. In many cases, that date is the date you prepared the check, although you can also issue a “post-dated” check or one that carries a future date. The date you write on this portion determines how long the check can stay valid for negotiation. However, the date does not necessarily tell the holder when he can deposit the check.

If a check is post-dated, there’s a reason why the issuer did it. It is best to communicate with the check writer to ask why.

When determining the check's validity, it is crucial to verify that it is not too old. Look for markings like “Not valid after 90 days” or an issue date already more than six months ago.

check structure - Dateline

3. Pay to

Below the account holder’s address is the “Pay to” field (on the left side of the check). It carries the name of the person or entity for which the account holder is writing the check. This can be an individual’s name, a company name, or a business name.

If you write a check to yourself to get cash from your bank, you could write your name or simply “Cash” in this field.

check structure - pay to

4. The Amount (Written Numerically)

Use this space to indicate the amount of the check using numbers. For example, if you want to issue a check for one hundred dollars, put “$100.00” in this field. Using numbers instead of words (as shown in #5) allows for faster reading of the amount at a glance.

If there is a discrepancy between the amount in numbers against the amount in words, the bank will use the amount the issuer wrote out.

5. The Amount (Written Out In Words)

If you were to issue a check for $100, you should spell out the words “one hundred” in this line. The usual practice is to add a long hyphen after the last word so that nobody can alter the amount by adding additional words – for example, adding “fifty” so it becomes “one hundred fifty” dollars.

The amount that you write in words is the official amount of the check. This portion, with the amount the issuer wrote in words, is most probably what he intended to pay.

check structure - amount

6. Memo Line

Underneath the bank’s address is the “Memo” section where the check issuer can write a short explanation of what the check is for. This is particularly handy in your record-keeping.

For example, if you wrote a personal check to the plumber who repaired the sink, you can write “Plumber’s fee – September” in this space.

check structure - memo line

7. Signature Line

This will carry the authorized signature of the person who issued the check.

In case you are the recipient of a check with a missing signature, you might have a problem negotiating the check and your bank might charge additional fees in case the check bounces. You should go back to the person who issued the check to you to correct the error.

check structure - signature line

8. ABA Routing Number

Officially, this is the bank’s unique ABA (American Bankers Association) routing number which identifies a particular bank within the US banking system.

They use magnetic ink to print these numbers so a computer program that has a Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR) program can read and process them. This system of check processing, although several decades old, is popular all over the world even up to today.

check structure - routing number

9. Checking Account Number

This identifies the account number where the funds to pay the check will come from. This is more for the use of the bank and if you’re the check’s payee, this is hardly relevant information.

check structure - checking account number

10 & 11. Check Number

This number identifies the individual check among several pieces in one check booklet. Typically, the appearance and printed details on each check remain the identical – except the check number.

As an extra control and to avoid confusion, the check number appears in two places on the face of the check.

check structure - check number

Why Not All Check Look The Same?

Technically, any piece of paper can serve as a negotiable instrument like a check so long as it contains all the necessary information and the drawer or account holder places his signature on it.

In banking practice, banks have the liberty of changing visual designs on the face of the checks for branding – but they have to retain all the relevant details and conform to the ABA’s physical check security requirements.

If you’re using pre-printed checks that your bank gave you, chances are, every check that you have would look a lot like the example we’ve shown here. The bank would have printed all the details, such as your name and address, the check number, ABA routing number, and account number, on the face of each check.

You now only need to fill in the date, the payee’s name, the amount in numbers and the corresponding amount in words on their respective spaces – preferably without any error or alteration. To finish the entire process of writing a check, you just have to affix your signature on the line.

Why Do We Still Use Checks?

Checks are a payment mechanism that has been around for a long time. That isn't to imply they don't have a role in modern society.

In some circumstances, paying a bill with a personal check is not just the best, but the only option. Some smaller companies still accept checks (though they may not accept your credit card), and many landlords and real estate agents do as well. You can mail a check to the IRS to pay your taxes. In fact, some businesses may charge you an additional processing fee if you pay a bill with a credit card rather than a check.

Checks Are Safer Than Online Payments

Furthermore, checks are far more secure than banking or paying payments online. You write a check, pay a bill, and mail it to the postal service. There are no data breaches or hackers to be concerned about.

Because they don't enjoy placing their debit card number, expiration date, and security number in an envelope that clearly contains a payment of some type, some customers prefer to pay using a check.

Venmo, Paypal, And CashApp Is The Future?

Instead, in the United States, a patchwork of commercial companies such as Venmo and PayPal allows users to send money using their proprietary platforms, but both parties must use the same service, and there is an additional step of transferring the money back to your actual bank account.

Businesses that accept payments using these platforms usually pay a fee. A credit card can also be used, however, credit card purchases come with processing fees, and the recipient must be able to take credit cards.

Money can be transferred between any two bank accounts for free using a check. Checks will exist until there is a universal no-fee alternative for transferring money between accounts in the United States.

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Picture of Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Baruch Silvermann is a financial expert, experienced analyst, and founder of The Smart Investor.  Silvermann has contributed to Yahoo Finance and cited as an authoritative source in financial outlets like Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, CNET, Bankrate, Fox Business, The Street, and more.
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