Understanding Your Checks: The Components of a Check

by Linley B. Marcum

Have you ever had a problem with a check that you have written, or that someone has written to you, and when you called the bank to inquire about it, you found yourself lost when the customer service representative began to ask questions about the check? This article is designed to help you better understand the banking instrument known as “the check”, and to explain the components of the check.

Sample check illustration

1. Depositor, or maker of the check
This is the person to whom the bank account belongs, also known as the “maker”. Information included in this section includes the name and address of the check writer; sometimes, other information such as driver’s license number or telephone number is also included here.

2. Check Number
This is the sequential number of the check, used to help with personal bookkeeping as well as with bank tracking of debits.

3. Date
The date the check was written.

4. Pay-to Field
This is where the check writer indicates the payee, or recipient of the check. The payee for a check does not have to be a person or institution; checks made payable to “cash” or “bearer” allow funds to be paid to the person, business or organization that presents the check for payment.

5. Check amount fields
These fields are used to indicate, in both numerical form (in the box, in the style of “$10.00″) and in written form (on the line provided, in the style of “Ten dollars and no/100 cents) the amount of money the check represents.

6. Name of financial institution
This field informs the payee which financial institution guarantees the funds represented by the check. Typically, the bank’s name and address appear here, but information such as telephone number or web site may also be displayed.

7. Memo
For the aid of both payee and check writer; this space may be used to indicate the intended use of the check, such as “Loan”, or to convey a message to the payee, such as “Happy Birthday!”.

8. Bank routing information, bank account number and check number
The numbers presented across the bottom of the check represent important bank information. The bank routing number, located on the far left bottom of the check, represents the bank or financial institution branch which holds the check writer’s account. The center number is the bank account number, which is used to identify your personal bank account and indicates to the bank from which account to draw funds. The check number, on the far right bottom of the check, indicates to the bank the sequential check number for this transaction.

9. Signature line
The signature line is where the checking account holder, or “check maker”, signs the check to validate a transfer of funds from maker to payee. Without this signature, the check is not valid and cannot be redeemed.

Sample check back side

10. Endorsement lines (back of check)
These lines are where the payee endorses the check, indicating that the check has been presented for payment.

11. Bank information (back of check)
This space is reserved for bank use, and neither the payee nor the check writer should mark in this area. Often, the bank uses this area to print cancelled check information, indicating the check has been presented for payment and approved by the bank, and funds have been supplied to cover the check amount. Near the bottom of the check in this section, banks often choose to print information regarding check fraud and its penalties for check fraud.

Armed with this information, writing checks and discussing disputes with your bank should be a simple task. If you understand what information the bank requires, you can help yourself and the financial institution to better serve you when dealing with a problem that revolves around a check.

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