How to Write a Check for Cents Only

Emphasize cents in checks that you write for less than a dollar.
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Writing a check to someone when you only owe them 50 cents and no dollars might have you scratching your head. Why not just reach in your pocket for some change instead? In 2020, at least, that might not be an option.

The Federal Reserve System announced in the summer of 2020 that the coronavirus pandemic has "significantly disrupted the supply chain and normal circulation patterns for U.S. coins." A U.S. Coin Task Force was formed and it came to the conclusion that a repressed economy and so many business closures are to blame. So good luck getting your hands on two quarters these days.

This might put you in a position where you have to write a check for cents only, maybe for the first and only time in your life. It's nearly – but not quite – as easy as swiping your debit card.

The Number Box

Writing a check for cents only involves two critical sections of your check: the number box and the number line. The number box is near the top, to the right side of the line that says, "Pay to the order of." It should have a little dollar sign printed inside it or right next to it.

You're only going to enter numbers here. You don't have to enter another dollar sign because that's already taken care of for you. Do include a decimal point because this indicates that you're writing the check for only cents when the numbers appear directly to the right of the dot. For example, you would enter, "0.50" using the example of that 50 cents you owe.

Of course, that zero to the left of the decimal point could easily be changed to an 8 by adding another circle on top of it, or even to 8,000 if someone wants to add an 8, 0 and another 0 to the left of the entry and you left ample room for this. This could be a recipe for disaster, so it is recommended that you write the number as close as possible to the left side of the box.

The Number Line

The number line acts as an added precaution to ensure that the amount you're writing the check for can't be altered. You'll enter the number again here, but in words and numbers this time. The number line is right beneath the "Pay to the order of" line and runs from side to side across the whole check. The word "Dollars" should be printed at the end of the line on the right side.

You would write "Eight and 50/100" or "Eight dollars and 50/100" if you were writing a check for $8.50, but you're only writing it for 50 cents. In this case, write "ZERO and 50/100," or "NO dollars" followed by the appropriate fraction. You could also write "Only 50 cents" or "Only 50/100."

Any one of these options makes it clear that no dollars should be transferred with this check. You should also draw a line after your words to the other side of the check to ensure that no one can write anything else in there.

Some Helpful Tips

Of course, the whole point here is to guarantee that only cents will leave your bank account when the payee cashes or deposits this check, so you might want to take a few other precautions as well.

You should see a short line at the bottom left corner of your check that says, "Memo." This is basically intended to trigger your own memory as to why you wrote the check, but you can also use it to write your intention yet again to avoid any confusion, such as by entering "zero dollars and 50 cents" one more time. This is an unofficial part of the check, and the bank or banks involved in the transaction won't care what you write there.

It's also recommended that you print the information on your check rather than write in cursive. This, too, can avoid confusion. And make sure your handwriting is neat and legible.

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