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I've been writing checks this way for the last ~15 years or so:

check with amount as numbers

Namely, the amount field is written using numbers like

1,500 and 00/100

rather than the tedious, painful spelling out of

One Thousand Five Hundred and 00/100

99 times out of 100, this works fine. But occasionally you'll get certain rare human tellers who simply refuse to believe this is a valid check and you have to fight over it. I still figure the time I've saved by not writing out all those ridiculous numbers-as-words is still worth it, overall, but it's definitely irritating.

So: who's right? Is a check with the amount written in numbers valid ... or not?

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The "1" in the "1,500 AND 00/100" that you wrote looks like it could easily be "2,500 AND 00/100" to me. Maybe that's why it was rejected? –  Eric Petroelje Aug 30 '10 at 14:24
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Writing it out two different ways is for your own protection. You don't want to invite bank errors and check fraud, do you? –  fennec Aug 30 '10 at 15:00
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I feel like this is analogous to deciding to skip a CRC check if it were to fail only 1/5,000 times (numbers made up) - most of the time, you can get away with it but its not recommended. And it just takes one error to eliminate all the time you saved by not writing out the english words representing the numbers. –  CrimsonX Aug 30 '10 at 20:00
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What's a check? :P –  Jagd Aug 30 '10 at 20:12
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I can't speak to the amount field, but I'm shocked that you can get away with writing ambiguous dates like 8/12/10. –  Ether Aug 31 '10 at 3:34
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5 Answers

up vote 30 down vote accepted

The Uniform Commercial Code section 3 covers negotiable instruments.

§ 3-114. CONTRADICTORY TERMS OF INSTRUMENT

If an instrument contains contradictory terms, typewritten terms prevail over printed terms, handwritten terms prevail over both, and words prevail over numbers.

This is the only section I could find relevant to your question. A quick search of CFR didn't turn up anything relevant, though maybe someone with more familiarity will find the right reference.

Think about the person to whom you're writing the check: If it's someone you're willing to have come back to you asking for a check written out the right way, then go ahead. If you were writing a check to me that wasn't right, I'd refuse it and ask you to do it the right way so that I don't get hassled at the bank.

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I was taught by my family as a child specifically to use contradicting tems - e.g. the amount in numbers (in the box) and the amount in words on the long line. I was taught that this was to limit the ability of others to tamper with the amount, or if there was any question as to the numbers and/or words, the other can be used as a confirmation. So it seems that the rules quoted above, simple provide the operator precedence among the different notations. –  jmsmcfrlnd Aug 30 '10 at 15:56
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@arrochar pretty sure there's no such "law".. see goodthink.com/writing/view_stories.cfm?id=11&page_id=2 –  Jeff Atwood Aug 30 '10 at 21:57
    
@jeff I saw your tweet on this an hour ago, and between other things at work, I'm still reading this...I'm up to "The Waiting" - plus I upvoted the response by @John Roberts, and I upvoted the comment from @fennec (in the question) - since I simply believe it's about "not inviting" errors and/or fraud. –  jmsmcfrlnd Aug 30 '10 at 22:48
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@jeff: I think it's more an issue of practicality than right vs. wrong (in the legal sense). –  jmsmcfrlnd Aug 30 '10 at 22:51
    
@jmsmcfrlnd, in this instance contradicting terms means the two amounts don't match. That is, the numerical amount isn't the same as the written out amount. You should always use both types, but they need to be the same number... if there IS a discrepancy, the written amount prevails. –  Benjamin Chambers Jun 29 '12 at 3:05
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I think the main point of writing out the amount is to prevent fraud. It's pretty easy for someone to turn a "$1,500" into a "$7,500" but it's a lot harder to turn "fifteen hundred" into "seventy five hundred".

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my vote an awesomely concise answer –  jmsmcfrlnd Aug 30 '10 at 22:43
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Indeed, in the scanned image above, the amount in small number box looks like 7500, and the amount on the line (that should be spelled out) looks like 2500. And from the comments, it looks like some people think the amount should be 1500. –  pkaeding Aug 31 '10 at 19:01
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Changing numbers, nothing ... someone could easily add an extra digit to the left of both figures. –  mbhunter Sep 3 '10 at 2:47
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Any draft or negotiable instrument must have written on it a "sum certain" value of the instrument. Bank rules require that you write out the amount to eliminate ambiguity. I'm pretty sure that tellers who cash a check without a long form dollar amount written on it are breaking a rule and would be in trouble if there were issues with the check later.

Regarding your specific check, I wouldn't have accepted it either. Your handwriting is not so great, and one could easily interpret the number in the box as "7,500.00" or "7,300.00". The number on the line looks more like a 1, but could be a 2.

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er, and how would bad handwriting make writing out the amount less ambiguous? If the amount is unintelligible, that's a different problem. –  Jeff Atwood Aug 30 '10 at 6:00
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Agreed, the principle of writing a number in words and numerals is to ensure redundancy. A confusing number can quickly be verified in words. This cheque can be read as 7,500, 7,300, 7,200, 1,500, 1,300 and 1,200. A bank teller who knows you and your writing might cash it if you present it in person. But it is doubtful that anyone else would. This is for your safety, not anyone else'. –  Turukawa Aug 30 '10 at 6:32
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@turu is writing it as "one comma five zero zero" acceptable? that's also words.. –  Jeff Atwood Aug 30 '10 at 7:30
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Words are easier to decipher/verify, and the long form takes precedence. If handwriting was so bad that a teller couldn't tell between "one" and "seven", it's just going to be rejected. –  duffbeer703 Aug 30 '10 at 12:59
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@jeff atwood: one could think of words as a higher-resolution symbol-space for digits, which is highlighted in your comment above, using far more symbols per digit. Regarding "one comma five zero zero" vs. "one thousand five hundred" - I defer to english.stackexchange.com :) –  jmsmcfrlnd Aug 30 '10 at 16:11
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In my personal experience I believe it depends on several factors:

  1. ATM or Bank teller: Bank tellers are trained to be the first line of defense to catch fraud when it comes to cashing checks. No teller will want a mark on their record if they happen to let a poorly written check slide and later find out the customer was Leisure Suit Larry who tried to pay for his "services" using a check that wasn't properly formatted. In this case a teller can be blamed for a failure of the system, an ATM cannot.

  2. The amount of the check: a check for low dollar amounts will be looked upon will less scrutiny - however a check for $10K or higher may have a slightly higher impact on the banking system and will be addressed with scrutiny.

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Another difference in the ATM example is that you are keying in the amount of the check as a validation step. Any ambiguity at that point is your error. –  duffbeer703 Aug 30 '10 at 4:42
    
@duffbeer this was rejected from the ATM, just FYI –  Jeff Atwood Aug 30 '10 at 6:03
    
@Jeff Thats unusual -- they may have done an audit or something. –  duffbeer703 Aug 30 '10 at 13:01
    
@duffbeer703 - my bank's ATMs don't let you key-in unless they can't figure out how much the check is supposed to be for. Likewise with deposit-by-cellphone –  warren Sep 19 '13 at 19:34
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I have been an attorney for 30 years, and we learned this in class. It is valid to write a check without words, but if someone alters the check, the bank is off the hook because you in essence helped the scammer. Always think about who you're writing the check to. For example, the phone or electric company isn't going to alter the numbers to get more money, but a local merchant might not be so honest,

Confusion comes in the context of bank rules and bank policy. Banks tell people that the law backs them up on this refusal, but it doesn't. Sometimes, to simply save time, you need to write it the way the bank wants it. When I give a check to an honest/well-known payee, I always just use the numbers. It saves me time and I don't have any problems.

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