How to write a cheque

Cheques might seem quaint and old fashioned these days, but there was a time when everybody carried them around. But while cheques may have fallen out of favour, they’re still perfectly legal tender. We take a look at when you might need them and why.

Cheques might seem quaint and old fashioned these days, but there was a time when everybody carried them around. But while cheques may have fallen out of favour, they’re still perfectly legal tender. We take a look at when you might need them and why.

Written by
Alex Hasty
2 AUGUST 2021
4 min read
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What is a cheque?

A cheque is a promise to pay someone an agreed amount of money, written on a specially designed paper form. It’s a bit like a legally binding ‘I owe you’.  

Cheques work in much the same way as cash, but they’re a useful replacement in situations where cash isn’t convenient, or could potentially be stolen. In the days before internet banking, cheques were the default choice if you wanted to send someone money for their birthday, for instance. They were also a standard way to pay a bill, or even cover the cost of groceries in the supermarket. 

Do people still use cheques?

It wasn’t so long ago that everybody carried a cheque book, but they’ve fallen out of fashion in recent years. Some people still use cheques to pay bills, or to send someone money through the post.  

There are lots of easier ways to pay these days. Online banking, for example, is often quicker, while most companies offer better rates if you pay them via Direct Debit.  

How to write a cheque

If you’ve never written a cheque before, filling one in will likely be a little confusing. But it’s important you do it properly, because a mistake might well make it invalid.  
However, after doing it once, filling out a cheque will become totally straightforward. Here are the sections you need to know about:

  • Payee name 
    ‘What is a payee?’ you’d be forgiven for thinking. Well, a payee is simply another way of saying the person you’re paying. All you need to do is write their name in the space provided.  
  • The date 
    This is usually just today’s date, but occasionally you might post-date a cheque if you don’t want it to clear immediately.   
  • How much you’re paying – in words 
    Write the amount you’re paying in words, followed by the word ‘ONLY’. So, ‘One hundred and ten pounds ONLY’, for example. This stops anyone being able to alter the amount. As an extra precaution, some people draw a line after ‘ONLY’, filling up the rest of the space on the lines provided. 
  • How much you’re paying – in numbers  
    The little box on the right is where you write the amount that you’re paying, in figures (e.g. £110.00) 
  • Signature 
    Don’t forget to sign the cheque. Without a signature, it won’t be valid.  

What should I do if I receive a cheque?

If you’re sent a cheque, you should aim to deposit it in your bank as soon as possible. You can do this at a branch or via your bank’s mobile app.  

How long does a cheque take to clear?

Traditionally, cheques would take four working days to clear. This was always annoying if you were being paid by cheque, but extremely helpful if you were paying someone in the dry run-up to payday.  

These days most banks use cheque imaging, which means they clear far more quickly. Most cheques should now clear by 23:59 the next working day.

What is cheque imaging?

Cheque imaging has made the cheque-clearing process much faster than it used to be. It’s basically a mechanism that allows banks and building societies to exchange images of cheques faster and more easily.

Can I pay in a cheque online?

Yes. If you haven’t already done so, you’ll need to download your bank’s app. You can then use your phone to scan the cheque and deposit it that way.

When might I receive a cheque?

Most people find bank transfers far more convenient nowadays, but there are still occasions when you might be on the receiving end of a cheque. Friends and relatives might still send you a cheque instead of cash, for example. Businesses, too, often send cheques when paying out refunds.

How long is a cheque valid for?

Cheques are usually valid for six months from the date they’re written. 

Do cheques expire?

Yes. Banks will refuse to accept cheques older than six months, so make sure you cash yours as quickly as you can.

What are alternatives to cheques?

If paying by cheque doesn’t appeal, there are plenty of other options open to you:  

  • Direct Debit 
    Most people now pay their bills via Direct Debit, as it’s automatic. Utilities companies prefer Direct Debit as it means you won’t forget to pay, so they’ll usually offer you a better rate if you use this method.   
  • Online transfer
    Transferring money online between accounts is far more common than it used to be. This means you can make payments on the go, and the money clears almost immediately. 
  • Credit card
    Credit cards can be a useful way to pay if you don’t have the funds instantly to hand. But be sure to pay them off immediately, as interest rates are usually high. 
  • Debit card
    Debit cards are replacing cash as the preferred way to pay in shops. They’re easy, instant and – in these COVID-19-conscious times – safer. 
  • Mobile payment
    If you don’t like carrying cards or cash, you can upload your cards on to your phone and use apps like Apple Pay or Google Pay to cover your purchases. Most places now accept both, so you shouldn’t find yourself caught short. 

Frequently asked questions

What’s a bounced cheque?

A bounced cheque is one that you can’t cash. There are a few reasons a cheque might bounce, with the most common one being that whoever wrote it doesn’t have the funds to cover the amount. But a cheque might also bounce if the sender cancels it, or if the bank suspects it’s been stolen. The bank will also reject a cheque if it lacks a signature or contains an obvious error.

How can I stop a cheque?

If you send someone a cheque and then, for whatever reason, want to cancel it, you must do so in advance of the payment date. You’ll need to contact your bank and tell them the cheque serial number, payee name, amount and the reason you want to stop the cheque. You should be able to do this online.

Can I deposit a cheque that’s not in my name?

You can only deposit a cheque if it’s in your name. This can be a pain if you want to deposit a cheque on behalf of a partner or family member, but it helps prevent fraud.

How do I cash a cheque if I haven’t got a bank account?

Pawnbrokers and some retailers will let you cash cheques, but they’re likely to charge a big commission. You should try taking the cheque to the issuing bank and see if they’ll cash it for you. Otherwise, contact the person who wrote the cheque and explain the situation.  

Or, you could always open a bank account. Even if you’ve been refused credit in the past, you may well qualify for a basic bank account

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