How to Write a Damn Check – by Pip Helix (Davin’s Den)

It is truly disturbing to me to see, via my day program, that there is an unacceptable portion of the public that does not know how to write a check.   It may be a dying art, with the advent of electronic payment and debit cards, but there are still instances when being able to write a check is necessary.  And before I completely lose my sanity, by God, I am going to teach you how to do it.
First of all, parents should show their children how to properly write a check. It’s not taught in school, to the best of my knowledge, and it’s not intuitive.  If it was, I would not be sighing and rolling my eyes so hard that they are about to pop out of my head and roll down the day program hallway.  If the parents don’t know how to do it either, have them take this quick tutorial, and save me some money on my Tums budget.
First of all, pick up a blue or black pen.  Not red, not green, not purple, not marker, and for the love of God, nothing sparkly.  Blue or black.  Banks and companies hand them out for free, so go get one.  It’s not that difficult.  I’ll wait.
Back?  Good.  The reason you should use blue or black is because that is what is universally acceptable at all banking institutions, and because you don’t look like a grown up writing checks with your sparkly purple pen.  Stop that.  You can write notes, greeting cards, shopping lists, etc. with that crap, but for checks, use a grown up pen.  Can you just manage that please?  Also, not all check scanners can read your dumb third-grader choice of ink color, so it’s BLUE OR BLACK. And don’t even start me about writing checks in pencil.  Do not even start with that.  I can’t believe anyone thinks that is okay – and yet, I have seen it done.
Now that we have found the correct pen, let’s start on the actual check writing.  Let’s start with the date.  You always write TODAY’S DATE.  Not yesterday, the date it was actually due.  You are not fooling anyone with that crap, so knock it off.  Not tomorrow’s date, because that is called post-dating, and a lot of the time, the person you are writing the check to can’t accept a post-dated check.  Why, you whine?  Because the check is only payable on the date it is dated.  When you go to the grocery store, do you bag your groceries and then tell them that you will be back to pay them tomorrow, or next Thursday, or whatever?  No you do not, because you don’t want them hitting you over the head with the frozen rump roast you just tried to steal.  You have to pay them on the spot.  So, when you write a check, write the day the calendar says it is.  You are not going to make any kind of interest on the money you think you are going to hold onto for another day, because no one is making any interest on investments right now, anywhere.  Stop being a dope and PAY THE PERSON ALREADY.
Now that you have put today’s date on the check, we are at the easy part.  Write the name of the person you are paying on the payee line.  Just write their real name, not any cute nicknames, because “Lefty” can’t cash a check made out to “Lefty” when their I.D. says they are “Fred”.  Not even “Meg” when their real name is Margaret.  Think!  Use their real name!  If you aren’t sure how to make out the check, for crying out loud, ask.  ASK.  Or read the bill.  Bills usually tell you how to make the payment out.  If it is for the State of New York, for example, it might say, “Make check payable to Treasurer, State of New York”.  Just write that out.   Don’t write, “New York DMV” or whatever you think it might be.  Don’t try to be more clever than the damn instructions. 
Next, and you better sit down for this one, is the legal line of the check, where you write out the amount of the check in WORDS.  This seems to be the most challenging area by far for people, especially if they are writing a check for a relatively large amount, say, a couple thousand dollars.  Once they have that many numerical places to cover, all sense leaves their minds and stupidity sets up shop.  For some reason, with all that cash at stake, most people forget the hundredths position.  $4,353.63 becomes “Four Thousand and Fifty-Three, 63/100.”  I don’t know why this is, but it happens ALL.THE.DAMN.TIME.  Oh well, the person thinks – I got it right in the little box where you write the numbers.  WRONG.  Oh so wrong!  If the bank scans that check, and sees a discrepancy between the numbers and the words, the WORDS are what they go by.  That’s why it’s called the “legal line”.  So, you still owe someone $300 dollars, chump.
The other part that is interesting about the words portion of the check is that even when people know that they are writing a big number, they start to write in huge lettering, not even bothering to think if they will run out of room – which they always do.  Write smaller to fit it all in, folks.  Why is this hard?
You can save room by writing “Forty-three hundred” instead of “Four Thousand, Three Hundred”, but this revelation seems to blow peoples’ minds rather than be helpful, so you have to learn this trick for yourself.  Either write small, economize on the number of words, or just squish it all in there, but whatever you do, don’t whine to anyone that there isn’t enough room.  You’ve seen checks before, and you know how much you are paying.  Make room, dammit!  And you write out the pennies as a fraction, 63/100, or you say “…and sixty-three cents”.  No combinations of the two, no adding your own symbols or forgetting to write out the pennies at all. This is not a creative arts assignment.
Now, the dollar amount you write in the box.  (SIGH).  This should be easy.  It SHOULD be.  Apparently, it’s not.  First of all, you know how to write out numbers in a way that people universally should be able to tell what numbers they are, right?  Can you write them inside the box, and stay inside the lines, please?  Did you ever color as a kid?  Did you stay inside the lines?  Can you go buy a coloring book and practice, before making your way up to writing a check, PLEASE?  And practice your damn numbers? Don’t make me GUESS what amount you are paying.
Your signature.  Mother of God, this should be easy.  Please, just sign your legal name.  Don’t send people unsigned checks, trying to get away with not paying something for a few more days.  It is NOT a cute look.   And if that person is in the position of charging you a penalty for paying late, don’t think the old, “Oh dear, I didn’t sign it?  Can you imagine?” trick is fooling anyone.  Now you are going to pay a penalty, fool.
The memo line.  The line where you are supposed to write things that help the person who is getting your payment identify why the hell you are paying them.  An invoice number is great.  An account number – that helps.  A reference to a service, a date, something that will help them apply your payment.  Stupid notes to yourself, a blank line, or, the WORST of them all, complaints and nastiness, are not helpful.  Do you really think that the person applying your check to your account is the person who is going to do something about your bitterness?  Don’t think that “Paid in protest” or “Extortion” or some other stupid complaint on your check is doing anything.  The poor data-entry clerk probably hates their boss too, so all you have done is added more fuel to their bitterness, not further your cause.  Address your grievances in an adult, productive way.  It only makes you look stupid to the people who open the envelope and laugh at your impotent remarks.  Nobody bothers to show it to the person you are lashing out at.  NO ONE does this.  Workers are far too busy, and their boss will not appreciate them bringing negativity to their desk.  Write a damn letter if you are unhappy.  Your memo line is not the place to do it.  If you persist with this method, you may as well drop your complaints into a bottle and throw them into the East River, never to be seen again.
Last instruction.  When you find yourself with the uncontrollable urge to write all over the check, in every conceivable blank space, information that you think is helpful, like your phone number, your elaborate notes on what the payment is for, your dog’s license number, etc. – stop yourself.  You look like a mental patient with all that.  Knock it off.  Write a cover letter if you must get it all out of your system, but don’t plaster your check with hieroglyphics that only your neurotic mind can decipher.  It’s a check, it’s not graffiti art.
There. I hope that it’s been helpful to read this.  I hope that this will quell some of the more stupid inclinations that some people have when approaching writing a check.  Because if I keep seeing this frightening trend of people not being able to perform this simple task, I am going to have to start ripping checks up in a frenzy of misanthropic rage, and climb the building making monkey noises.  If everyone else is going to devolve, I am going to lead the charge.

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