The cheque is in decline. Credit and debit cards, electronic transfers and online banking long ago replaced the humble cheque as the way most people pay their bills or move money around. With a cheque in the mail now a rare event, many people find the details and layout of the little paper slip much less familiar. However, when you do write or receive a cheque, it is important to scrutinise such details carefully. A relatively minor error could cause your payment to be delayed or even refused.
Check the date written on the slip. Normally, this is in the top right corner. Cheques are only valid for six months after the date that appears on them. Your bank will refuse any cheque that you present to them after the six months have elapsed. Also make sure the cheque is not post-dated, which means it shows a date that is still in the future. Your bank may refuse a post-dated cheque.
Check the name of the payee is present. This is the person or organisation wanting payment. Typically, this name appears across the middle of the slip, after the printed word "Pay". Make sure the name is spelled correctly. If you are writing the cheque, draw a line after the payee's name, to fill up any remaining space. This stops fraudsters adding another name, if your cheque ends up in the wrong hands.
Check the amount of money written in words below the payee's name matches the amount shown in figures in the box directly below the date. If there is any discrepancy between the two amounts, the bank will refuse to pay out. If you are writing the cheque, put the word "only" after the amount in words. Draw a line after both entries, to fill up any remaining space and prevent fraudsters altering your cheque.
Check the signature matches the name printed directly above or below it. The signature typically appears in the bottom right corner of the slip. If you are unsure the signature is genuine, compare it with another example of that signature, if you can. You might find such a signature on a letter, a credit card, or an official form of identification such as a driving licence.
Check any customer account number you have added to the slip matches the bill you copied it from. Companies such as your gas, electricity or water supplier often ask you to write your customer account number onto the slip when you make a payment. This helps them ensure they credit your payment to the correct account. Typically, you will be asked to write your customer reference number on the back of your cheque.
Always start right at the beginning of a line when writing out a cheque, so there is no space in the left margin of the slip for fraudsters to make changes. If you make a mistake when filling out a cheque, cross it through neatly, write in a correction and add your initials. Keep track of your cheque payments by filling out the stub in the chequebook left behind when you tear off the slip. Record the date, the payee's name and the amount of money involved.
Your bank may refuse a cheque you try to pay into your account, if the the cashier spots any discrepancy involving the date, payee, amount or signature. If this happens, return the cheque to whoever sent it to you, pointing out the mistake and asking for a new cheque with the correct details.