How to Read the Numbers on a Check

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

You may think that reading a check has got to be about the most boring exercise you could think of. If so I’d have to agree with you. Just the same, there is a lot of information on your checks, so learning how to read the numbers on a check is a smart move. This is important if you’ve been writing checks for 30 years or if you are just starting out with student banking accounts.

Fortunately, it’s not all that complicated. Let’s take a look at a sample check below:

how to read the numbers on a check

There are three numbers you need to understand. The first is the number of the check itself. That number is located on the top right. You should write checks in numerical order and record them on your register so it will be easy for you to track them. If you write checks out of order and/or fail to track them in your budgeting software like YNAB (You Need A Budget), you run the risk of overdrawing and incurring steep bank charges. That’s a no-no.

The second number you are interested in is on the bottom left. This is the nine-digit routing number. If you ever wire money into or out of your checking account, you’ll need this routing number. Rather than waste time calling the bank, now you know where you can always find that number. Sweet.

The third series of numbers you are interested in is your account number. You will find it right after your routing number. Every bank has a different number of digits, but you can always find your account number right after the routing number.

Other information of interest on a check:

On the top left, you’ll see the account holder name(s). Have you ever written a check from the wrong account? You won’t do that again if you pay attention to this information.

Often, the bank information is also printed on your checks. That comes in handy if you are wiring money in or out of your account. The other institution will need that information.

The memo section is also extremely helpful. Make sure to jot down what your check is in payment for. This will help you later on when you track your budget.

Last, checks often have a fractional code. This is usually found right underneath the check number on the top right. If your check has a fractional code, it’s not some secret code. It’s just the routing number reprinted.



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