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In the USA, do checks(also known as cheques in some parts of the world) have the same format across all banks and financial institutions?

Adding on, is there a standard format followed across the world, for checks?

  • In the UK there are (a least) a couple of standards, e.g. this one for printed cheques; chequebooks are clearly different from this – Chris H Jul 31 '17 at 15:00
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    Interestingly, until anti-fraud legislation came into place in the UK, cheques have been written on a number of things - including the side of a live cow, and even toilet paper (paying fines and / or taxes naturally)... The old UK rules simply required an account number, payee and dated signature. – Rycochet Jul 31 '17 at 15:41
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    FWIW, if your checks have L.C. Tan and Other Tan on them, they must be signed by both you and the Other, at least in the US. – Wayne Werner Jul 31 '17 at 18:38
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Legally, a check just needs to have a certain list of things (be an instruction to one's bank to pay a specific amount of money to bearer or to a specific entity, have a date, have a signature, etc.) There are anecdotes around of a guy depositing a junk mail check and it accidentally qualifying as a real check (which he turned into a live show), or of writing a check on a door, cow, or "the shirt off your back". What kind of checks your bank will process is technically up to them.

Generally, if you get your blank checks printed up by any reputable firm, they'll have similar information in similar places, as well as the MICR line (the account and routing number in magnetic ink on the bottom) to allow for bank to process the checks with automated equipment. As long as it's a standard size, has the MICR line, and has the information that a check needs, your bank is likely to be fine with it. So, there are some standards, but details like where exactly the name of the bank is, or what font is used, or the like, are up to whoever is printing the check.

For details on what standards your bank requires in order to process your checks, you'd have to check with your bank directly. Though, it wouldn't surprise me if they just directed you to their preferred check printer provider, as they know that they accept their check format fine. Though as I said, any reputable check printer makes sure that they meet the standards to get processed by banks without trouble. Unless you're a business that's going to be writing a lot of checks and pay a lot of fees for the privilege, a bank is not likely to want to make exceptions for you for your own custom-printed octagonal checks written in ancient Vulcan.

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    To underscore, read what the check says: "Pay to the order of XXXX the sum of $YYYY". That's an order to the bank to pay money to someone from your account. A hundred years ago, when people didn't have pre-printed checks, it was simply a note that you wrote and signed. Today it still is, but we have a large infrastructure for processing checks that's designed to handle checks in a particular form. The legality of the underlying order hasn't changed, but the mechanism for routine handling of checks demands uniformity. – Pete Becker Jul 31 '17 at 13:25
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    For anyone wondering how the fake check story ended (assuming its not in the youtube clip I didn't watch), the recipient eventually decided his ethics wouldn't let him keep the money and he gave it back; but turned his 15 minutes of fame into a well paying job as a motivational speaker. sfgate.com/news/article/… – Dan Neely Jul 31 '17 at 16:07
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    @Heisenberg Sure, you can do that. Since they're not in the form that works with their automated equipment the bank is likely to look at them rather suspiciously. And when they ask me about it and I say that I had nothing to do with it, they start investigating for fraud. (A prank may or may not be fraud, depending on intent, but if they catch you I'd bet you've have a lot of paperwork headache to deal with too.) I'm guessing there are more "efficient" methods of harassing somebody than handing out fake checks in their name. – Peter Cooper Jr. Jul 31 '17 at 16:50
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    @DanNeely I loved reading the story on Combs's site years ago. Looks like he took it down at some point, but the Internet remembers a lot: Try web.archive.org/web/20060325193146/http://www.patrickcombs.com/… and web.archive.org/web/20041204212635/http://www.man1bank0.com:80/… (Click through the links at the bottom of each page; there are quite a few to the story.) – Peter Cooper Jr. Jul 31 '17 at 17:18
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    Offtopic, but +1 for the edit: yes Sanskrit is still in use today. :-) I'm right now reading a book in Sanskrit, recently written and published. – ShreevatsaR Jul 31 '17 at 20:52
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Many years ago, I worked on software that had to print the date, payee, and amounts on pre-printed checks. Other than the MICR line (which had a particular placement with respect to the bottom edge and required a particular font in a particular point size), most aspects of the check layout and format were up to the particular check provider.

Then there was a desire to start using optical character recognition to further automate check handling. A standard came out, that most checks I see now seem to follow. The standard dictated the exact dollar sign glyph to be printed to the left of the amount box. This glyph was used by the OCR to locate the amount. There were specific tolerances for where you could print/write the amount relative to that dollar sign. There were also some requirements for the box containing the amount to have some clearance from the noisy backgrounds pre-printed on many checks. But what font you used inside the amount box was, as far as I could tell, unspecified. After all, customers could always hand-write the amount.

Interestingly, the part of the check where you spell out the amount is known as the "legal amount." If the amount in numerals and the amount in words don't match, the spelled version takes precedence, legally. (The theory being that it's easier to doctor the numerals to change the apparent value of the check than it is to change the words.) I always found it ironic that the layout standard to enable OCR standard was focused on reading the numerals rather than the legal amount. OCR has come a long way since then, so I wouldn't be surprised if, nowadays, both amounts are read, even on hand-written checks.

A little search shows that current (voluntary) standards are put out by the ANSI X9 group.

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No, there is no standard. I see all kinds of paper sizes, and the amount, date, etc. is all over the place. They are all rectangular, but otherwise there seems to be a lot of freedom.

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    There are generally two sizes of checks. "Business" checks are the same size as pre-1929 US currency, and "personal" checks are the same size as modern US currency. These are not coincidences; making checks the same size as money means that all of the cash-register trays etc. built to hold money can also hold checks. The IBM punch card was sized to match older currency for similar reasons. While other sizes do exist, they account for a tiny fraction of the checks handled by most banks. – Monty Harder Jul 31 '17 at 18:54
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Nope, anything is that has the required information is fine.

At a minimum you need to have the routing number, account number, amount, "pay to" line and a signature.

The only laws are that it can't be written on anything illegal, like human skin, and it has to be portable, not carved on the side of a building ( for example)

https://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-20434,00.html

http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/12/people-actually-cash-big-novelty-checks-even-possible/

That said, the MICR line and standard sizes will make things eaiser for they bank, but are hardly required.

You could write your check on notebook paper so long as it had the right information, and the bank would have to "cash it". Keep in mind that a check is an order to the bank to give your money to a person and nothing more. You could write it out in sentence form. "Give Bill $2 from account 12344221 routing number 123121133111 signed _________" and it would be valid.

In practice though, it would be a fight. Mostly the bank would try to urge you to use a standard check, or could hold the funds because it looks odd, till they received the ok from "the other bank". But.... If you rant to fight that fight....

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