When was the last time you wrote a check with a pen on paper that you physically took to a bank or mailed in an envelope or handed to a person? If you are an old lady like me, it was probably yesterday. It was definitely within the last two weeks because you sent checks as holiday gifts. If you are a young millennial like my kids, you probably don’t even have a checkbook. Does it matter?
Brief History of Checks
Checks have been around for awhile – like as far back as ancient times, but really getting going after clever Dutch people in the 1500s got tired of carrying heavy actual money around. My beloved Agatha Christie mystery books, written from 1921 onward reference “checques” on (usually overdrawn) checking accounts of the gentry. Cool infographic here.
Reasons You Need a Checkbook
I know we are trying to lighten and get minimalist, but I’d rid myself of Pokemon cards before I’d forgo the checkbook. The checkbook from your bank will either come in a small box or more likely in a narrow 8 ½ by 11 folder with six checkbooks glued to the sides. Slim, and not a huge hassle to store.
You might still need to write a check to a landlord, a small business, a local government for tax-related issues, as a way to save the processing fee of credit card use, if an electronic method isn’t working and you have to pay that moment, to keep a hard-copy record of something you’ve paid for, or to have something to wrap or put in a gift envelope that is more secure than cash. Not major reasons, perhaps, but for the minimal effort, it’s worth it to get some checks from your bank.
By the way, if you don’t get a checkbook, you can still go into your bank and ask them to create a “cashiers check” you can use to pay something that requires a check. And while you’re in there getting that cashiers check, you can order your checkbook!
How to Find Routing Number and Account Number
My tax clients, my children’s friends (cause my kids know now!), and random people I encounter are often confused about where the routing and account number are on a check. You need this information to set up direct deposit for your paycheck at work or to add your checking account as way to pay for many places like Venmo, Paypal, your local DMV, or anywhere else you want to use your checking account to electronically pay a bill or get paid.
The routing number is the bank’s electronic address that everyone who banks there uses. Here are some common routing numbers currently in use around me (routing number can differ by state or purpose, i.e., electronic payment vs. wire transfer, so the best thing to do is look at your checks or go online for your bank):
Etrade – 256072691
TD – 053902197
Wells – 053207766
Bank of America – 053904483
SRP Credit Union – 253278090
Everyone who uses your bank has the same routing number, but your actual account number is to the right of the routing number and is unique to you. It may or may not have a bunch of zeros before it – those are part of the account number. The very last group of numbers all the way to the right of the account number is the actual check number itself. The first checks you get from the bank will likely not be just plain old 1 – probably you’ll start with 1001 and then go up from there.
How to Write a Check
A useful U.S. government-run site for learning how to write a check (don’t be freaked out by the odd large-size font and fakey-style; not sure what’s going on there because this site has all the hallmarks of the kind of scam website I teach my Critical Inquiry students to avoid) is here.
I invite you to join the ranks of the check writers! I promise that, in exchange for the hassle of storing the checks, you will one day need to write a check using checks from that folder, and the act of doing so will save you money or achieve a purpose important to you. For example, in a complicated yet crucial apartment rent transaction last week, the details of which I will not bore you, my millennial daughter needed to write a check and drive it to the landlord that day. Being the daughter of a CFP ® , she had not one but two checkbooks from two banks to choose from, and after a quick over-the-phone tutorial on how to write said check, accomplished the mission.
Kathryn Hauer, a Certified Financial Planner ™, adjunct professor at Aiken Technical College, and financial literacy educator wrote the "11-Step, DIY, Comprehensive Financial Plan Workbook" and "Financial Advice for Blue Collar America." Her latest book covers basic concepts of money including insurance and taxes, financial traps to avoid, how to pay for college and tech school, and the bright future ahead for blue collar careers.