What information is on a check and why is it there?

Young man sitting in cafe, looking at check information as he makes a mobile deposit on his phoneImage: Young man sitting in cafe, looking at check information as he makes a mobile deposit on his phone

In a Nutshell

When you write a check, you’re sharing a lot of important information — with your bank, the person receiving the check and their bank, too. Properly filling out all the needed check information can help ensure your payment goes through smoothly and on time.
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When you’re writing a check, it’s important to write the check information legibly and accurately. A mistake could cost you money if it causes a bank to reject your check.

So much information goes on checks that even people who have been writing checks for years can get confused about all the numbers. Let’s break down your check information, so you know what to write on your checks, where it goes and why it’s important.

What information is on a check?

For such a small piece of paper, a check contains quite a bit of information about the person who writes the check, the person who receives the check and the issuing bank where the check comes from.

On the top of the check, you’ll find the check writer’s information. If you’re writing the check, this is where you’ll see your name and address, the date you write the check, and the check number.

In the middle of the check, you’ll find information about whoever is receiving the check. This is where you write the payee’s name and how much you’re paying them.

At the bottom of the check, you’ll find information about your bank, which issued the check. This includes your bank’s name, address, routing number and the account number it gave you. The check number it uses to track your checks might also be repeated down here. You’ll also see a signature line, where you authorize the bank to make the payment on your behalf, and a memo line where you can note why you’re making the payment.

All this information is important to make sure your payment goes where it’s supposed to and is for the correct amount.

Line by line: A walkthrough of your check information

Let’s take a closer look at what information goes on your checks.

Account owner information

Your personal information may be printed at the top of the check.

That’s where you’ll find your name and mailing address in the upper left-hand corner of your checks. But if you’re concerned about your privacy, you can use a P.O. Box or work address instead of your home address.

Each check you write has a different check number. This number will also be at the top of your check to help the bank differentiate from other checks you’ve written.

Payee information

The middle of the check contains information you fill in about the person you’re paying.

On the line that says “pay to” or “pay to the order of,” you write the recipient’s full name.

Transaction information

The transaction date goes in the upper right-hand corner of your check. This should be the date you write the check. If you’re sending a payment in advance, you might post-date it, so the person you’re paying doesn’t cash it before you have enough money in your bank account to cover it. But keep in mind that banks and check recipients may not wait for the written date to cash your check. And if the recipient tries to cash or deposit the check when you don’t have enough money in the account to cover it, your check could bounce.

To the right of the recipient’s name, you’ll see a box with a dollar sign. This is where you write how much you’re paying them in numbers. Even if it’s a flat dollar amount with no cents, you still want to end it with “.00” to help prevent someone else from filling it in for more than you intended.

Below that, on the next line, you repeat how much you’re paying, but spell out the dollar amount in letters instead of numbers. Then write any change that comes after the dollar amount as a fraction. This is the legal amount the bank will pay, so it’s important that this amount matches the number you wrote in the dollar box above. If for some reason the numbers don’t match, the bank will pay the amount that you’ve spelled out instead of the different amount you wrote in the dollar box.

All about the bank

Your bank’s information might be printed at the bottom of your checks.

This is where you’ll find your bank’s name and address, which can help your recipient’s financial institution know which bank to request the money from.

Your bank’s ABA routing number and your account number will also be found at the bottom of the check, so the recipient’s financial institution knows which account to pull the money from at your bank. In addition to using your name, this information provides another layer of security for your bank to verify that it’s taking the money from the right account.

You’ll also find a memo line on the bottom left-hand side of the check. This is where you can write a small note about what the payment is for, which can serve as a reminder for you and the payee as to why you’re writing the check. If you’re writing the check to pay a bill, you might want to include your account number with the company you’re paying here (not your bank account number), so it knows who to credit the payment to in its systems.

Last but not least is the signature line. This is where you sign to seal the deal, authorizing your bank to take the money out of your account.

What information should I never put on a check?

While your check must include certain personal and financial information, such as your name and bank account number, there’s certain information that you probably shouldn’t put on your checks due to the risk of identity theft.

Here are a few things that aren’t necessary — and that you shouldn’t write or have imprinted on a personal check.

  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth
  • Mother’s maiden name
  • The username and password you set up for your online bank account
  • How much money you have in the account

Fraudsters who get hold of this type of information could use it to steal and use your personal information, so it’s best to leave it off your checks.

What’s next: Check out these general check-writing tips

To protect against fraud, here are a few tips for writing checks.

  1. Always use a pen to write checks. If you use a pencil, someone could change the recipient’s name or make the check out for a higher amount.
  2. If you make a mistake, you should void the check and start over with a new check. You void a check by drawing an X or writing VOID in big letters across the front of the check.
  3. Whatever you do, you should never sign a blank check. Your signature should always come last after the rest of the check is filled out. If the wrong person gets their hands on a blank check that’s already been signed, they can fill in the dollar amount and make it out to themselves.
  4. Need cash but don’t have your ATM card handy? You can also write a check to yourself. This can serve as an alternative to taking money out of an ATM (and paying an expensive ATM fee). It’s also a good way to move money between two accounts you own at separate banks.

About the author: Tim Devaney is a personal finance writer and credit card expert at Credit Karma. He’s a longtime journalist who prides himself on being a good storyteller who can explain complex information in an easily digestible wa… Read more.