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Financial literacy: What is a check?

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Checks provide a useful way to make a secure payment and keep track of your outgoings, even if they’re not used as commonly as they once were.

Some billers or services may only accept checks. Checks are helpful if you’re sending money to a loved one who doesn’t have a bank account. It’s much safer than sending cash through the mail and they can still cash it in at their local Money Services.

Find out everything you need to know about checks, from how to cash a check to what details to include, with our handy guide.

What is a check?

A check is a signed form that allows a bank or systems such as Money Services to transfer funds from one person’s account into another. This can be used to move money between someone’s own accounts, pay for a service or bill, or send funds to a loved one.

How do I fill out a check?

When writing out a check for the first time, there are several empty boxes you must fill in. These include:

  • Date - the date of when the check was filled in.
  • Pay to the order of – who the money is for. Can be a specific person or a company.
  • Amount – written as both a number and full text. If using cents, the written section needs to include it as a fraction over 100.
  • Memo –this is optional but lets the receiver know the reasons behind the payment – useful if paying a bill.
  • Signature – located at the bottom of the check. You’ll need to sign your name to match your checking account’s signature.

How do I cash a check?

You can cash a check at your bank or at any Money Services. There will be a fee to pay, depending on your bank and/or state, as well as a maximum amount you can cash.

To deposit a check instore, you’ll need to bring:

  • The check – the fee to cash a check will be taken from the total amount.
  • Relevant ID – driver’s license, military ID, resident alien ID or US-issued passports are all accepted.
  • Social Security or Taxpayer Identification number

You can also cash a check directly at an ATM or online through your bank or payment sites such as PayPal.

Why does a check bounce?

A check will bounce because you do not have enough money in your account at the time the recipient goes to cash it, in most cases. When this happens, the person depositing the check could face a fee and may pass the charge back to the original owner of the check.

Checks can also bounce if you’ve asked to stop the payment or if any of the details cause concern, such as a wrong or missing signature.

To avoid a check bouncing, it’s important to ensure you have enough funds in your account. If sending money to a loved one, it may be worth them letting you know when they plan to deposit the check, so you can keep on top of your balance.

Find Money Services near you

Use our handy store locator tool to find your nearest Money Services to pay your bills and send money to your loved ones with ease.

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