For the first time in my life, I have a personal checking account but no paper checks. I have been burned multiple times due to ACH fraud and want to avoid having any thing to do with this 20th century technology. However, I need two checks today to send to the IRS and to my IRA by July 15. How do I print out checks from my computer without buying any software? Is it okay if I just type in my routing number and account number in Photoshop and print it out on plain paper? What about check numbers? Can I just start with 100? Is there any thing else I should be concerned about with printing my own checks without using specialized software or paper?

  • As Donald Knuth can attest, using a check does not protect you from ACH fraud. – Brian Jul 14 at 20:24
  • So ACH is "20th century technology", but checks are not? Very interesting to see from an European perspective. – glglgl Jul 15 at 11:39

How do I print out checks from my computer without buying any software?

You don't. Check printing software is required for properly printing checks, as well as special-purpose blank check paper.

People often hear stories about handwritten checks written on blank paper or even on a cow and think that they can do that. The problem, however, is that, while such a check is legal, banks (and consequently, people you want to pay that have to use a bank) understandably do not want to accept checks like this, because of rampant fraud. They like checks to look legitimate and have lots of security features. When you are up against a deadline, as you are, you do not want to take the chance that they will reject your check, send it back to you, and you will miss your deadline.

You should be able to take care of this today by going to an office supply store and buying blank check paper, and downloading check printing software.

The check printing software will ask for your routing number and account number, and put it on the check paper in the appropriate place and font.

If you've never used any checks before on your account, you can generally start the check numbers wherever you want. 101 and 1001 are common first check numbers.

There are two different types of check printing software programs:

  • One type is for starting with blank check stock paper and printing your name and address, the bank's name and address, the check number, and the MICR line, including the routing number and account number. This software turns blank check stock into blank personalized checks. Examples of this type of software include VersaCheck and ezCheckPrinting.

  • The other type of software is what you use after you already have blank personalized checks. This software fills in the payee, check amount, and memo. This software is unnecessary if you are writing these in by hand.

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  • What about MICR toner? I know it's a thing, but I have no idea how widely it's expected. – glibdud Jul 12 at 19:17
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    @glibdud Magnetic ink is the standard for checks, and magnetic printer ink/toner is available. However, it is my understanding that most modern check readers are optical, and don't actually require the magnetic ink. In the past, I have printed checks without special ink, and did not have problems. (I no longer print my own checks.) Your mileage may vary. – Ben Miller - Remember Monica Jul 12 at 19:23
  • According to MICR Requirement for Checks February 2018, "Checks and Substitute Checks (IRDs) are legally required to include a magnetic code line in order to be treated as a “cash item” for processing in the U.S. Payment System.". Whether in practice you can get away without magnetic ink I don't know. – TripeHound Jul 13 at 10:29
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    @TripeHound To be clear, this does not mean that it is illegal to use a check without magnetic ink. What it does mean is that a check without magnetic ink could be considered a “non-cash item”, taking longer to clear. – Ben Miller - Remember Monica Jul 13 at 11:11
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    @DavidTay I have added an explanation to my answer about why the software you have been using doesn't do what you need it to do. I agree that it is confusing. At this late date, you need to contact your IRA custodian/bank, because sending a check now will likely not make it there in time to count for 2019. – Ben Miller - Remember Monica Jul 14 at 23:38

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