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How to read a check

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Most checks look the same. But if you haven’t seen one in a while or have never received one before, it can be tricky to know what each part means.

You’ll need to know how to read a check, before you cash it . Our guide will run through a check writing example, plus we’ll give you some hints and tips to avoid cashing a fake check.

Understanding the different elements of a check

Checks aren’t used as much as they used to be so it’s easy to be confused about the different banking and account information on checks. Use the check example below to see what’s included:

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  • Personal information – this is the name and address of the person or company who wrote the check. Sometimes, it may also include their phone number.
  • Date line – this will usually be the date the check was written. It may be postdated (set as a date in the future), to tell you when the money will be in their account and available to deposit.
  • Check number – this is usually shown in two places, the top right corner and bottom bar, and is the number of that particular check. Checks with a number under 100 may be from new checking accounts, so be careful accepting these from people you don’t know.
  • Bank’s fractional number – this is the issuer’s routing number and helps your bank or supermarket process your check.

First line

  • Payee – who the check is written to, i.e. you. This usually starts with ‘Pay to the order of’ and includes your full name or business.
  • Dollar Box – how much the check is for, in a numbered format. This should match the amount on the line below.

Second line

  • Amount of check – the official amount the check is for. This is written in words, apart from cents – which is displayed as a fraction over 100. If this is different to the dollar box, this is taken as the actual amount that’s being sent. There may be a line through the remaining space, to stop anyone editing the amount.
  • Bank info – just under the written amount will be the name and address of the bank the funds will come from. If you’re unsure about any of the information on the check, you can get in contact with the bank displayed here.

Third line

  • Memo – this is optional but can include a word or two on what the check is for, such as rent payment or birthday money. You can also include an account number.
  • Signature – for the person giving the check to sign. This needs to be filled out for you to deposit the check or stated as ‘no signature required’.

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  • ABA routing number – this is a nine-digit number to track which bank the funds will be taken from. It’s also used for direct deposits and recurring payments. Bigger banks may have more than one routing number.
  • Account number – the account number for the account the money will be taken from.
  • Check number – this is written on the bottom line of a check, to help the owner keep a record of their sent checks.

5 tips to avoid check fraud

Check fraud has spiked in the US. So be wary of any checks you receive from a third party or someone you don’t know.

If you accidently deposit a fake check, the bank will credit your account immediately. Then, when the check later bounces, you’ll have to pay the money back to the bank. This can put you out of pocket if you’ve already spent the money.

Instead, follow these five tips to help prevent check fraud:

1. Buy and cash your checks at a trusted place

You can get checks from just about anywhere now, but we recommend sticking to the brands you know, such as your local supermarket, credit union or bank.

It’s the same for cashing your checks. You can usually deposit a check at your bank’s ATM or local credit union. If you want a cash return, visit your local Money Services in the Kroger Family of Stores.

2. Examine the check to see if it’s fraudulent

There are some telltale signs that a check may be fake. This includes:

  • No MICR this is the number on the bottom bar of a check that can be read by the bank’s machines.
  • Spelling errors – if some of the details are wrong, such as the company name or bank address, it could be fake.
  • Evidence of editing sometimes it’s obvious when a check has been tampered with, such as using different ink or erasing some information.
  • Cheap quality – of the paper feels flimsy in your hand or the color runs when smudged, take caution.

3. Store your checkbooks in a secure location

If fraudsters get ahold of your check book, they can use the information to take money from your account. Instead, store any checks in a safe place and destroy any old or voided checks.

4. Only endorse the check when you’re ready to cash it

A check cannot be cashed or deposited until you endorse it. This can be done by signing the back of the check.

Once signed, anyone can deposit the check. By delaying your signature, if the check is lost or stolen, it can’t be altered or cashed in.

5. Never send money in return for a check

A common trick for check fraud is to pay for something with a check for a higher amount. Then, they’ll get in contact with you to admit their mistake and ask you to transfer over the extra funds.

Once you do that and the check bounces, you’ll unfortunately lose money that you might not be able to get back.

Summary

Most of the time, checks are a super safe way to pay for something or send money to a loved one. As they’re addressed to one specific person, they’re often safer than sending cash. But in the wrong hands, they can be used for fraud.

Checks can still be cashed in if the person giving the check doesn’t have that money in their account. And even if there’s money in the account, it can take a few days for the check to clear.

If you don’t know the sender personally or you want your money fast, it may be better to ask them to send a money order or make a direct money transfer.

Find your local store to cash in your checks quickly and easily with Money Services.

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