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Maybe the following scenario has happened to you. You stop to pick up your car at the garage. You left the house in a hurry, and are rummaging through your purse when you realize you forgot your debit card at home! Well, that’s all right, because at least you have your checkbook. But you can’t find a pen in your purse, either. You never tried before, but you wonder for the first time – can you write a check with a pencil? We’ve checked with banking experts to bring you the official answer.
There is, technically, no official policy that says you can’t write a check with a pencil. However, the bank cashing the check has the final authority on what they will accept. As they must stand behind any funds they authorize, they can refuse any check that does not meet their banking policy. Most banks have a policy to not accept any check written in pencil – it’s easy to commit fraud on a money instrument written in erasable pencil, after all. So, while technically, you can write a check in pencil, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone to accept the check once you’re done.
Continue reading for more reasons why you should never, ever use a pencil to write a check. Then we’ll cover what kind of ink and pen, you should use. And finally, this article will also cover what to do when you make a mistake while writing a check (since, of course, you’re writing in ink that can’t be erased…right?). Let’s get into it!
Why You Should Never Use Pencil For A Check
The banking industry is full of rules and regulations. Everything, from how checks must be dated, to how funds are disbursed, must follow a strict set of guidelines. Some policies are even mandated at the federal level by agencies such as the FDIC.
But, there’s no official rule on the books that says you can’t write a check with a pencil. Technically, you can – but it’s a terrible idea. The first and most obvious concern is simply that pencil is easy to change. Imagine writing a check for 100.00. But it’s as easy as erasing (or covering) one tiny little dot to make that hundred look like ten thousand.
Sure, you say, but what about the line where you write the amount? It’s hard to make one hundred dollars, spelled out, say ten thousand dollars, right? If you write in pen, that’s true. But in pencil, all someone has to do to commit bank fraud is literally just get an eraser and write any amount they want. And that, right there, is the number one reason why basically no bank will take responsibility for, or authorize payment on, a check written in pencil. It’s simply too great of risk or potential for fraud.
What Kind Of Pen Should You Use To Write A Check?
For the absolute best security, gel pens by Uni-ball are recommended by many financial institutions. These pens use special inks that contain pigments that travel into the paper. Many inks simply sit on the paper’s surface. This makes check-washing a very real threat.
A thief can, literally, pull the ink off the paper and steal the check for their own purpose. With Uni-ball gel pens, the writing can’t be removed from the top layer. This leaves you, and your checks, less vulnerable to fraud.
Of course, the fact still remains that your banking institution can enforce its own policy on checks. If they have a scanner that does not read gel pens, for example, they may ask you to use another kind of pen (or refuse to accept your check at all!). While this is uncommon, it’s always best to follow your banks’ personal policy.
Can You Write A Check In Blue Ink?
Writing a check in blue ink is not only acceptable – sometimes it is actually preferable. Many people think black is best, and as a general rule, black ink is fine. But checks are often deposited or scanned electronically nowadays. With some systems, blue has more contrast and is actually easier to read in electronic copies. You can ask your bank to see if they have a preference.
Black ink is also easy to duplicate or copy, and it can be hard to tell an original from a scanned copy when black ink is used. This is more likely to come up for applications, such as when you open a bank account. Often, they ask you to sign in blue ink so that your original signature is clear and unmistakable. If there are any future concerns about your authentic signature, they’ll use this blue-ink version to compare. For just a regular check, either black or blue ink is pretty much always acceptable.
Avoid using red or light colors (such as fun pastel ink pens). The electronic scanning equipment mentioned above generally can’t read them. And if you try to do an electronic deposit, chances are the bank will have processing issues -if the system can’t read the check, they can’t deposit it. This means putting a hold on the funds while they work it out, which delays the release of the money. Stick to regular black or blue ink and save everyone the headaches.
Is It Okay To Cross Something Out On A Check?
In short, it depends. Ultimately, it comes back to the same issue as before – your bank is taking responsibility for any checks they agree to redeem. As a result, they can refuse any check. This mostly only occurs, however, if they have reason to believe fraud or something suspicious is occurring.
If you make a simple mistake, such as accidentally writing last year’s date in January, you can simply make one single cross out through the incorrect number. Write the correct number next to it, then initial. This is typically acceptable – it’s a common mistake that many people make and not an obvious indication of anything fraudulent.
Don’t, however, scribble over a mistake. Again, this looks suspicious. It’s better to see the original mistake and correction. For example, the wrong year-now crossed out but still legible. This leaves a clear trail of what it said, originally, and how it has been amended. Scribbles and illegible spots on a check spell trouble for a cashier, and the odds are high that your check will be returned or refused.
Can You Cross Out the Wrong Amount On A Check?
There are two places to write an amount on a check. The line beneath the “to” field on a check is the legal line. This is, officially, what the check is worth. This line should always be filled out with a spelled-out word value for the check. For example, you would write one thousand dollars, as opposed to $1,000.
The small box where you write $1,000, in numerical value, is simply meant to make it easier to read. This is called the courtesy box. It’s a fast way to see what the check is worth, but it’s not the legal line. If there’s a discrepancy, the check is only worth whatever is written in the legal line.
As a general rule, it’s best to ask for a new check if you receive a check with two different amounts. If the amounts don’t match, the cashier may refuse the check altogether if either line seems altered or tampered with. Remember, they don’t want to endorse anything that turns out to be fraudulent.
If, however, you are the check writer, you may be able to correct it. If it’s in the courtesy box, and it’s a small error, you can simply cross it out with one single line. As always, don’t scribble or make it illegible – this raises red flags.
When the problem is in the legal line, it can be tougher to fix. If it’s simply a spelling error, a cross-out will typically be accepted by the bank. On the other hand, if there’s any real confusion as to the amount of the check, just write a new one. And if there’s more than one spot to cross out, again, just start over with a new check. For more information on correcting checks, see this article.
Always write a check in black or blue ink. Other ink colors may not be read correctly by the electronic scanning equipment at the bank, which may delay the processing or release of funds. Never use a pencil, which puts the check writer at high risk for fraud, and will most likely be refused by banks anyway.
For the best security against fraud, use a gel pen, which prevents check washing. Ultimately, each bank has its own policy on what checks they will accept and refuse and they can refuse to honor any check which violates their policy or seems at risk of being fraudulent.