A visual representation of how to read a check and what each line item means.

How to Read a Check


Here’s what the numbers mean on your paper checks.

Now that many businesses and individuals use online payments, paper checks are not often seen. But this form of payment is hardly obsolete. You may receive a tax-refund check from the government or a rebate payment from a business or even a paycheck from your place of employment. In addition, when you electronically transfer funds into or out of your checking account or establish automatic withdrawals to pay recurring bills, you’ll need to provide the details written on the bottom of your check. Here’s what you need to know about how to read a check.

A. The Routing Number

There are a series of block-shaped magnetic numbers at the bottom of every check. The routing number is the first set of digits on the left side. These nine numbers are unique to your bank and identify where you have your checking account. You will be asked to provide a routing number for electronic transactions, such as transferring funds, setting up direct deposits, and online bill payments. You can also find the routing number from the American Bankers Association’s ABA routing number lookup tool or from your bank’s website.

B. Account Number

The account number follows the routing number. These numbers indicate the checking account from which funds will be withdrawn or deposited. You can also find your account number by logging in to your online account or on your bank statement.

C. Check Number

The check number appears in the upper right-hand corner of your check. It may also appear after the symbol at the end of your account number on the bottom of the check. As you write checks, record their numbers in your check register so you can keep track of the amount that is being withdrawn from your account—and avoid overdraft fees for insufficient funds.

D. Payee Line

This is where the name of the person or business being paid is written. When you receive a check, it should have your name clearly spelled. When endorsing the check on the reverse side, be sure to write your name as it appears in the payee line. If the check is made out to you and another person, both will have to endorse it. When a check is made out to “Cash,” anyone can cash it.

E. Date Line

This is the date the check was written. People may postdate a check—write a date later than the day they issued the check. The intent is usually for the payee to cash the check at a later date when sufficient funds are available. But a check becomes valid as soon as it’s signed by the issuer and can be cashed immediately, regardless of the date.

F. Payment Box

The value of the check is written in numbers in this box. The dollar amount is also written in words on the line below the payee line; cents appear as numbers. For example, $250.50 is written as “Two Hundred Fifty and 50/100.” The written amount must match the amount in the dollar box. If they aren’t identical, the check is still valid, but a bank will only honor the amount that is written out.

Need to open a checking account? Find out which Fifth Third Checking Account is best for you.

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