What Does a Real Check Look Like? Decoding the Basics.

A check is a widely accepted mode of payment across the world. However, with the advent of online transactions, it appears that checks are becoming outdated. Nevertheless, many people still use checks for numerous transactions every day. If you are a new check user, you might have doubts regarding what a real check should look like. In this article, we will discuss the basics of what a real check looks like, including its features and essential details.

Knowing and understanding the primary components of a check is important whether you are running a business, signing a contract, or settling debts. The intention here is to help you recognize a genuine check to avoid fraud while simultaneously educating you on the use of checks.

1. The types of checks

A check is a type of document, which instructs banks on how to pay for transactions. Four main types of checks are prevalent based on their purpose and design:

  • Bearer checks: These are checks, which are payable to cash, bearer or whoever has the check, and hence cannot be traced or tracked when lost.
  • Crossed checks: They are generally not payable to cash, as two parallel lines are usually drawn across the face of the check, which means any check with such markings have to be credited to the payee’s account.
  • Order checks: These are checks, which are issued to pay specific people or organizations, and are payable only to the person named on the check.
  • Certified checks: These checks feature a guarantee by the bank to the payee that the check cannot bounce because of insufficient funds or any other reason

2. Identify a genuine check

A genuine check is one which follows certain necessary regulations of the banking institution to prevent fraud, ensure security and accuracy in the transactional process. Some typical features of a genuine check include:

  • Check number: This is a unique serial number that identifies each check and is usually printed in the upper right-hand side of the check.
  • Date: All checks must include a date. The date refers to the day the check was filled out and not the day a payee will receive the funds.
  • The banking institution name and address are usually printed at the top left of the check.
  • The payee’s name: The name of the person, organization that the check is made out to appear on the line marked ‘pay to the order of’
  • The payor’s name: This is the name of the person who drew the check, and is usually located in the top left section of the check.
  • The legal line: This is the written amount of money that the check represents, usually in both numerical and word form in case of any mistakes.
  • MICR line: This is a row of numbers and symbols written in magnetic ink that can be decoded by a computer or financial institution to identify the routing number and the account number for the check.
  • The signature line: This is where the payor signs to confirm agreement to transfer funds from his account to the payee.

3. The importance of a check’s memo line

The memo line is usually located at the bottom left of the check and is used to give the payee an insight into why the check was written. The line is essential as it serves as a reminder to the payee and the payor why the transaction took place, and can also be used for reference purposes in the future.

4. How to fill out a check the right way

Filling out a check correctly is crucial in ensuring payments are processed quickly and accurately. Here are the steps to fill out a check correctly:

  1. Fill in the legal amount of the check in the box marked ‘amount’ using numerals- round to the nearest dollar.
  2. Write the payee’s name in line one, usually marked “Pay to the order of.”
  3. Write the numerical amount in the dollar and cents box, found to the right of the legality line.
  4. Write the written amount of the check, known as the legal amount, next to the dollar sign.
  5. Add a note in the memo line to indicate the check’s purpose or details about the transaction. It is not mandatory; however, it helps the payee when filing or referencing the check in the future.
  6. Finally, sign the check in the lower right-hand corner, following a line labeled “signature.”

5. Bank verification procedures

After receiving a genuine check, the bank will verify it based on the payer’s account balance to protect against fraud. A check can be declined for several reasons: Lack of sufficient funds, a check being put on hold, wrong personal account information, among others. The bank can place a hold on the check to prevent fraudulent or bad checks from going through. It, therefore, is important to ensure that the signature matches the bank’s records, and the check does not serialize any warning messages to prevent payment cancellation.

6. Electronic check payments

Currently, electronic checks use mobile or internet banking on computerized software to process check transactions. This ensures faster and secure payment options for customers across the world, eliminating the need for physical checks. Nevertheless, the aspects regarding the information highlighted on the check remain consistent and remain essential for bank transactions. Therefore, it is imperative to understand the critical aspects of a check to ensure secure and authentic transactions online.


A check is a simple piece of paper that acts as a payment mode for businesses and personal transactions. In essence, it reduces physical cash handling while providing payment traceability. It is essential to understand the fundamental features of a check, including its types, how to identify a genuine check, the importance of a memo line, how to fill out a check correctly, bank verification procedures, and electronic check payments. This knowledge can help users detect fraudulent checks, file or access payment regarding specific services rendered, and save time and effort in manual payment processing systems. Going forward, banks have to ensure that the systems in place are fortified enough to curb fraud, improve payment processing speed and fairness, and provide enhanced customer satisfaction

Common questions people ask about checks

  • Q: Can checks expire?
  • A: Yes, after a maximum of six months, some banks may refuse to accept a check as valid.
  • Q: Is the check holder the same as the payee?
  • A: No. The person, organization, or party that is authorized to cash the check is the holder. The payee is the entity that is authorized to receive the payment.
  • Q: Can an unsigned check be cashed?
  • A: No, checks must be signed to be processed or deposited into an account.
  • Q: Can a check be canceled or stopped?
  • A: Yes, you can request your bank to stop payment on a check. You must provide the check number, the amount, and payee’s name.


American Bankers Association. (2021). What is a check? Retrieved from https://www.aba.com/advocacy-issues/community-programs/consumer-resources/checks-101/what-is-a-check

Chase. (2021). How to write a check. Retrieved from https://www.chase.com/digital/resources/personal/how-to-write-a-check

Investopedia. (2021). How do checks work? Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/how-do-personal-checks-work.asp

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