Checks can be intimidating, especially when you have to write or are looking at one for the first time. You see a lot of numbers and fields, you want to make sure it's filled out correctly but at the same time you're thinking, What do all the parts of a check mean?
I'm in my early thirties and from my experience, I've only had to write a handful of checks.
That being said, you probably won't have to write checks often but when you do, you'll want to make sure you understand each part of a check.
The great thing about personal checks (vs. a business check) is that regardless of the bank, all personal checks have the same parts so you don't have to worry about learning different parts of a check if you were to switch banks.
Parts of a Check: An Overview
All personal checks have a total of 12 parts. Half of the parts are always pre-printed and are for informational purposes only. The remaining parts, six in total, have to be filled out.
In the image above, the numbers in orange are the pre-printed parts, the numbers in red are the parts that have to be filled out.
Here's an overview of the twelve parts of a check:
- Personal Information. Here's where you'll find your full name and address. If the account has more than one owner, you'll see both names listed.
- Check Number. The check number is included twice in every check; on the top right-hand corner and after the account number.
- Bank Information. You'll find your bank information in this section.
- Routing (ABA) Number. The routing or ABA number represents your banks' geographical location. For example, I have Chase and the routing number listed on my check is the same as someone living in Chicago.
- Account Number. The account number represents your bank account number. Think of it as a social security number. Everyone has a unique account number.
- Bank's Fractional Number. This number represents your banks' routing or ABA number in a fractional format.
- Date Line. This line is the date when the check was written.
- Payee Line. This line represents the person or financial institution receiving the money.
- Written Dollar Amount Line. This line is the dollar amount you're paying the payee written in words.
- Numerical Dollar Amount Box. This box is the dollar amount you're paying the payee written in numerical format.
- Memo Line. This line provides the reason the check was written. For example, if your check is to make a mortgage payment, you would write something like, "Dec '21 Mortgage Payment".
- Signature Line. This signature line is your authorization for the bank to take money out of your account and pay the payee.
Back of a Check
Additionally, there's also the back of a check. The back of a check (which is not pictured) consists of three parts.
- Endorse Here. Before depositing a check, the payee (person or institution receiving the money) must sign the back of the check below the "endorse here" part.
- Security Space. The security space is for the financial institution receiving the check. Nothing should be written or noted in this space. The text, "DO NOT WRITE, STAMP, OR SIGN BELOW THIS LINE" is typically included to remind us to leave this space blank.
- Security Features. Your banks' security features are included in this section. It lists the precautions your bank has taken to prevent someone from altering or trying to make a copy of your check.
Parts of a Check: Pre-Printed Sections
Let's start with the pre-printed parts of a check. These are the parts of a check that don't have to filled out.
Every personal check has six pre-printed parts regardless of the bank or financial institution.
1. Personal Information
In the top left-hand corner, you'll find your personal information.
You'll see your first and last name and address. You can also choose to have your phone number listed if you request it from your bank.
2. Check Number
Every check has a check number. You'll find the check number in two places; in the top right corner and after or near the account number.
When you write a check, I suggest taking a picture of the check to reference the check information including the number if needed.
A check number is there to help you keep track of the checks written and if they've been deposited.
3. Bank Information
In addition to a check including your personal information, it also includes your bank's information. Not every bank chooses to provide the same information. Some choose to provide their address and website URL, others don't for example.
Overall, at a minimum, all banks include their name and logo.
4. Routing (ABA) Number
Every check has a routing (or ABA) number and is nine digits long regardless of the bank.
The routing number is between two unique symbols; here's a close up picture of the symbols:
The routing number identifies the financial institution, geographic location, and Federal Reserve branch that services the bank.
The routing number is not unique to an individual and someone living nearby will have the same routing number on their check.
For example, I have Chase and live in Chicago. Someone else living in Chicago who has a Chase bank account will have the same routing number on their check.
5. Account Number
The account number is used to identify which account the money is coming from. It's important to keep your routing, especially your account number safe. Every account number is unique and no one else will match yours.
The account number is between 3-17 digits long and is located near the bottom center of every check. The account is before a unique symbol. The check number is typically listed after the account number, what separates the two is the symbol.
Remember, the account number is before the symbol.
Here's a close-up of the symbol (notice it's different from the symbol around the routing number):
6. Banks' Fractional Number
Near the top right-hand corner, you'll notice a number that looks a bit different. The number is your banks' routing number in a fractional format.
The fractional number is simply another part of a check that's referenced to identify your banks' information.
Parts of a Check: Fill-Out Sections
Next, we'll review the parts of a check that have to be filled out. There are six parts of a check that have to be filled out.
7. Date Line
The date line is the date the check was written.
Tip: If you want to delay when the money is debited from your account. You can write a future date and notify your bank of the date. If you write a future date and don't notify your bank, there's no guarantee your bank will honor the date. So, if you do have to write a future date, make sure you notify your bank by either written or verbal notification.
8. Payee Line
The payee line is the person or institution that is receiving your money. If you're writing a check to someone, be sure to include the person's first and last name.
The payee is the only person (or institution) that can deposit the check. For example, I can't deposit a check (and get the money) that has someone's name in the payee line.
There is one caveat to that statement, however. If a check is signed by the payee (the person that's supposed to receive the money), someone other than the payee can deposit the check to their bank account.
For example, I have a friend who doesn't have a bank account and therefore can't deposit his check. He asks that I deposit the check into my account and provide the money in cash. If he signs the back of the check (considered "endorsing" the check), I can deposit the check into my bank account even though I'm not the payee.
If you receive a check, it's best practice to sign it right before depositing it. You don't want to sign a check, keep it for a few weeks and then lose it as someone else could deposit it.
Tip: If you're not sure who the payee is, make sure to call either the person or institution to confirm.
9. Written Dollar Amount Line
You'll find the check amount in two parts in every check. The amount is written in words and numerical format. We will start with the written dollar amount line.
The written dollar amount line is below the payee line.
The whole dollar amount is written in words and the decimal is written in "x/100" format. For example, if the decimal was $.50, it would be written as 50/100. If the cents were $.34, it would be written as 34/100.
Read, How to Write Out Numbers Using Words, if you need a refresher when you're ready to write your check.
Tip: If the written dollar amount (including the decimal format) does not take up the entire lines' space, be sure to write a line until the end of it. See the picture above as an example. It's important to take up all the space to ensure someone doesn't try to alter the amount.
10. Numerical Dollar Amount Box
The dollar box is where you write how much you're paying the payee in numerical format. When you write the amount, make sure there's no space between the dollar sign and the first number. If there's space, you provide the possibility of someone altering the amount.
For example, you write a check for $100.00. You leave space between the dollar sign and the first digit. Someone adds a 1 at the front and the amount becomes $1,100.00.
Although it's important to be careful when writing the amount in the dollar amount box. Note that the written dollar amount in words takes precedent over the dollar box if the amounts were to differ.
Tip: If the check amount is a whole dollar amount and does not include a decimal, it's still good practice to write ".00".
11. Memo Line
The memo line is a note to yourself and the person (or institution) receiving the money. It helps clarify the purpose of the check.
Tip: You're not required to write anything in the memo line however I encourage that you do. It's important to write something in the memo line because it will help you clarify the purpose of the check and perhaps distinguish from another that was for the same amount and to the same payee (i.e., mortgage payment).
12. Signature Line
The signature line represents your authorization to take money out of your account. A payee (the person or institution) cannot deposit a check without the bank owner's signature.
Tip: Before you sign a check, in addition to making sure each part is filled out correctly, make sure you have the money in your bank account. If the payee (the person or institution) deposits the check and you don't have the money in your bank account, the check will "bounce" and you could be charged a penalty fee from your bank.
Parts of a Check FAQ
Lastly, let's review frequently asked questions.
Here's a free parts of a check test.