The occasion: Your birthday or another annual event in your life. The source of confusion: A piece of paper slightly larger than "paper money" but less visually appealing. The sender: Most likely an older relative who has been banking for decades and is loath to stop. And why should she – just because you're staring at this vaguely business-like document that looks like it tumbled out of a time capsule. And in a way, it has. But even if you don't have your own bank account, you won't be stuck "holding the bag" – or the check in your hands. You can endorse it and treat it as a "pay to the order of" check.
Checks Make Sense of Cents
A check may be a foreign entity to you, especially if you pay bills online and you're in the habit of paying for store purchases with a credit or debit card. But 20 years ago, adults with a bank account considered checks the preferred – and safest – way to make most types of payments, Checks Unlimited says. Checks are not nearly as common as they once were, but they still provide peace of mind for people who like the idea of creating a paper record, particularly for important bills like mortgage, car and tuition payments.
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As prehistoric as it may look, a check is arguably one of the most straightforward business documents ever invented. Imprinted with the name and logo of the payer's bank, it calls for a specified amount of money to be paid to a person, company or other recipient. In this case, the recipient is you, the payee. For a check to be valid, U.S. News says it must include four elements:
- The date.
- The name of the payee (which usually follows the words "pay to the order of").
- The amount of the payment.
- The signature of the payer (the owner of the account from which the money will be withdrawn).
One Check Offers Three Options
Once a check lands in your hands, you can fulfill the transaction in one of three ways. Making it a "pay to the order of" check is just one of them:
- You can deposit the check in your bank or credit union account (if you have one). All you have to do is turn the check over and on the two or three lines prefaced by the instruction to "endorse here," write "for deposit only," sign (not print) your name and provide the account number you would like the money deposited in. Depending on the bank or credit union's policy, you may also have to fill out a short deposit slip that consists of similar information.
- You can cash the check at your bank or credit union, the payer's bank, a currency exchange or the customer service department of a store that offers check-cashing services. In all cases, expect to provide a photo ID; in the latter two scenarios, you probably will be asked to pay a fee, which is often a sliding percentage of the check's value.
- You can sign the check over to someone else so that ownership reverts from you to the third party, which explains why a check in this scenario is known as a third-party check. Now this third party is free to do with it whatever he wishes.
Pay to the Order of Checks Are Simple to Execute
The third option may be appealing if you don't have your own bank account or want to save yourself the time (and, some people would say, the hassle) of finding a place to cash the check. You might even consider this option a convenient way to cancel out a debt if you owe someone money and they're willing to accept a third-party check as payment. Just be aware that not everybody is, and not every bank or credit union wants to be involved in a third-party transaction. It's perfectly legal, but its indirectness can raise a red flag. Being risk-averse, banks and credit unions would prefer that you deposit the check in your own account and then write a new check.
Still, when everybody is on board, a "pay to the order of" check can be a viable, efficient option. And as Huntington points out, the steps are simple to execute:
Verify that the recipient is willing to accept your check. (If he is hesitant, you may be thrust in the role of expert and explain these steps to him.)
Assuming the recipient agrees, ask him to call or visit his bank to confirm that it will accept the check.
Assuming, too, that the bank agrees, turn the check over and endorse it. Take care that you sign your name exactly as it appears on the check. For example, if the check includes your middle initial, you too should include your middle initial in your endorsement. Use a blue or black pen – not a pencil that can be smudged.
Write "pay to the order of" below your signature, followed by the recipient's name.
Give the check to the recipient so he can cash or deposit the check.
This process may give new meaning to the expression "... and that's all she wrote" because third-party checks are far simpler to execute than many people think (or fear). And you can take that assurance to the bank.