Much like cursive, fewer people are learning the ins and outs of check writing, thanks to advances in direct deposit, online autopay for bills and payment apps like Venmo.
But that doesn’t mean checks are going the way of the dodo (not yet, at least).
In fact, to set up direct deposit, electronic bill pay and automated clearing house (ACH) transfers, you’ll need to reach for your handy checkbook because you’ll probably need to void a check.
What Is a Voided Check?
Voided checks are real checks that can no longer be used as legal tender because, well, they’ve been voided. The moment you void a check, you’ve rendered that check useless for actual payment purposes.
Why You Might Be Asked to Void a Check
Why would you ever void a check? There are quite a few reasons.
- Direct deposit: Often, employers will request a voided check to set up direct deposit for your paycheck. In fact, 93% of Americans receive their paychecks this way. The voided check allows your employer to see your account number and routing number and ensure they’ve been accurately entered into your employer’s payroll system.
- Automatic money withdrawals: Similarly, companies that automatically withdraw money from your checking account, like your mortgage company, will want to ensure they have your correct banking information. They’ll use an actual, legal check to set up withdrawals from your account. You may also need to provide a voided check for other bill pay scenarios, though this is not as common.
- Mistakes: You can also void a check if you make a mistake while writing it. For example, if you are writing a $100 check but accidentally tack on an extra zero (making it $1,000), it’s safer to void the entire check so that no one accidentally withdraws $1,000 from your account before you can stop them.
How to Void a Check
Voiding a check is easy. Grab a pen with blue or black ink (that’s important) and then simply write “VOID” in large letters across the body of the check.
Don’t write “VOID” over the routing number and account number at the bottom, as these are what will be used to set up your bank account for direct deposit or withdrawals.
Alternatively, you can write “VOID” in capital letters on the date line, payee line, amount line and signature line and in the amount box. Because this requires more effort and it is easy to miss one of the lines or boxes, most people opt for simply writing “VOID” in large letters across the check.
When voiding a check, you should not sign your name on the signature line. You also do not need to date it.
After voiding the check, make a note of the check number and the reason for voiding in your check register. (This is the record of all your payments from and deposits into your checking account. While most banks provide this for you nowadays via an app and/or online banking site, it’s smart to record checks manually as well and compare that against the digital bookkeeping your bank offers. Remember: Honest mistakes happen.)
Again, once you’ve voided the check, you can no longer use it, so be certain you’re ready to void that specific check before doing so. There’s no going back.
Keep your voided check or take a picture and/or scan it and save it so you can use it in the future. That way, you don’t have to waste a clean check each time someone asks for a one.
What to Do If You Don’t Have Checks
Nowadays, people depend on a mixture of mobile wallets, payment apps, debit cards, direct deposit and autopay to handle their finances, rendering checks useless for many. As such, there are people out there with checking accounts who simply do not have a checkbook.
So what happens if you don’t have checks and you need to void one? You have a few options:
- You can order checks. Many financial institutions give you your first set of checks for free, and still others give you a number of checks a year free of charge. These typically take seven to 10 business days to ship, so if you need to void a check quickly, this isn’t an ideal solution, though it still might make sense to do this now for the next time you need a voided check
- You can request a starter check. If your bank charges for checks or will take a week or more to send them, you can see if your local branch can print you a starter check to void. They should be able to print this in-house for a much faster turnaround. These are also called counter checks, and they sometimes may be offered for a fee.
- You can get a deposit slip. The point of voiding a check for direct deposit or autopay is to give an institution a verifiable copy of your account and routing numbers. Deposit slips contain this same information, and most banks offer these to members.
- You can request other documentation. If all else fails and you’re in a hurry to provide someone with your account number and routing number on something official from your bank, request other documentation, like a note on your bank’s letterhead. This may suffice when setting up direct deposit or ACH information.
- You can set up details online. Many utility companies and other recipients of your monthly payments don’t request voided checks when you sign up online. Some will make inconsequential withdrawals (and almost immediately return the funds) just to verify that you’ve set up the bank account correctly, so make sure your checking account is adequately funded before trying this out to avoid overdraft fees.
How to Cancel a Check
Please note: Canceling a check is different from voiding a check and is typically accompanied by some urgency.
For example, if you have sent a check and realized afterward that you have made an error, such as overpayment, you must act quickly to cancel it. You will need the following information:
- The check number
- The amount the check was made for
- The date of the check
- The check recipient’s name or business name
- The reason for the stop payment
You should have a carbon copy of the check in your checkbook that you can reference. You can also review your check register to get this information.
Some banks will allow you to do this via app or online banking, but you can also visit your bank in person or call to cancel the check. Tell them you need a stop payment order, but be prepared to pay a fee for this service.
If the recipient of the check has already cashed or deposited it, do not try the stop payment online. Visit the bank in person or give them a call.
Timothy Moore is a market research editing and graphic design manager and a freelance writer covering topics on personal finance, travel, careers, education, pet care and automotive. He has worked in the field since 2012 with publications like The Penny Hoarder, Debt.com, Ladders, WDW Magazine, Glassdoor and The News Wheel. He lives in Ohio with his fiance.