You’d be right if you consider cheques archaic: Arabian cultures have used them for millennia and the first person to write one in the UK, merchant Nicholas Vanacker, wrote it out in 1659. If you’re interested, it was for £400, a princely sum back then.
Cheques aren’t the most popular way of paying for things these days. But knowing how to write a cheque remains a worthwhile skill. Here are a few potential reasons why you might want to use a cheque:
You need to use a cheque to pay a bill
You want to send someone money in a card for their birthday but don’t want to post cash
You need to make a payment but require a few days to ensure you have enough funds in your account
A cheque is a bill ordering a bank to pay money from the signee’s account to the person named. Once filled out, a cheque becomes a legal document.
When writing a cheque, you need to include the same information every time to make sure it goes through.
UK cheques require:
The payee's name (the payee is the person you’re paying)
The date that the bank should process the cheque
The amount you’re paying – written out in words
The amount you’re paying – written out in numbers
Aside from the essentials, there are a couple of pointers to bear in mind when writing a cheque.
You should always use permanent ink when filling out a cheque. Never use a pencil or an erasable marker. Permanent ink prevents anyone from changing the details later.
If you make a mistake when writing a cheque, it’s best to rip it up and start again. Although some people cross out mistakes and add their initials, this can lead to the bank becoming suspicious and refusing to cash the cheque.
If you’re making the cheque out to an individual, you’ll need to ensure their surname is included. For example, you’d usually write ‘Joe Bloggs’. You may get away with ‘J Bloggs’, but a full name is better.
If you write a cheque to more than one person, it can only be paid into their joint bank account (so you need to check that they have one).
If you’re paying a company, it’s important to find out exactly how to write their business name. This information is usually on your bill, statement or invoice.
The basic steps for writing out a cheque are as follows:
Write the date
Write the amount in words
Write the amount in numbers
Add your signature
Fill out the memo stub (optional)
The date is usually the day you’re writing the cheque. You need to include the day, month and year so there’s no confusion.
You can also choose to post-date your cheque by writing a date in the future. Doing this will prevent the recipient from cashing it until that date. This can be helpful if you’re waiting for money to go into your account.
You could also post-date it if you’re giving someone money for their birthday. However, be aware that the recipient might succeed in cashing it before this date, so it’s best to ensure you have enough money in your account, just in case.
Under UK law, cheques don’t expire for six years. However, some banks reject cheques over six months old to prevent fraud.
You’ll need to write the amount you're paying in full, followed by the word “only”. Adding the word only prevents people from tacking figures onto the end of what you’ve written.
For example, £56.23 would be written as Fifty-six pounds and twenty-three pence only.
It’s also common to draw a line through the rest of the amount box after the word “only”.
There’s a small box on the right-hand side where you need to write the amount you’re paying in numbers, including pounds and pence. The amount in here must match the amount you’ve written in words.
You must write the amount in both letters and numbers for your cheque to be valid. And you should write the first digit close to the pound sign. These steps help minimise the risk of fraud and confusion.
Finally, you’ll need to sign your cheque in the space at the bottom right-hand corner.
This signature must match the signature on record with your bank, or your cheque will bounce. Unsigned cheques are rejected.
This step is optional, but it’s a good way to help you stay on top of how much you’ve spent and how.
When you tear a cheque out of your cheque book, you’ll leave behind a memo stub. On here, you can make a note of how much the cheque was for, its date and to whom it was made payable. It’s worth noting here if you didn’t send the cheque but ripped it up, so you don’t wonder later why there’s a mystery stub left in your cheque book.
Left-handers sometimes struggle with the stubs on a standard chequebook, but left-handed versions are available and failing that, you could always try writing it with the stub upside down or sideways or flip it over and write on its back.
If you don’t fill out a cheque correctly, it will bounce.
By learning exactly how to fill in a cheque, UK residents can ensure their payment goes through as planned. It’s a simple process and could save you the hassle and embarrassment of your cheque bouncing.
You’re probably wondering what happens after writing your cheque and giving it to the payee and how long it takes for the payee to receive the money.
The short answer is that it could take up to one working week, depending on what time of the day they deposit the cheque with the bank and whether they do it over the counter or via an envelope in a drop off box.
Some banks now allow people to pay in cheques electronically by uploading a photo of it via their bank’s app, which means it could clear more quickly than five working days.
To find out more about this, read how cheque clearing works.
And, if you don’t feel a cheque is the right payment method for you to use at any point, here’s how to use internet banking to send money instead of writing a cheque.