Much like cursive, fewer people are learning the ins and outs of check writing, thanks to advances in direct deposit, online autopay for bills and payment apps like Venmo and PayPal.
But that doesn’t mean paper checks are going the way of the dodo (not yet, at least).
In fact, to set up automatic payments from your bank account for bills, set up direct deposits to your bank account from your employer and complete automated clearing house (ACH) transfers, you’ll need to know how to void a check.
What Is a Voided Check?
Voided checks are real checks that can no longer be used as legal tender. The moment you void a check, you’ve rendered that check useless for actual payment purposes.
How to Void a Check
- Get a blue or black ink pen.
- Write the word “VOID” in large letters across the front of the check, or you can write “VOID” in capital letters on the date line, payee line, payment amount box, amount line and signature line.
- Avoid writing “VOID” over the routing number and bank account number at the bottom, as these are what will be used to set up your bank account for direct deposit or withdrawals.
When voiding a check, you should not sign your name on the signature line. You also do not need to date it.
After you void the check, make a note of the check number and the reason for voiding in your check register. (This is the record of all your payments from and deposits into your bank account. While most banks provide this for you nowadays via an app and/or online banking site, it’s smart to record checks manually as well and compare that against the digital bookkeeping your bank or credit union offers. Remember: Honest mistakes happen.)
Again, once you’ve voided the check, you can no longer use it, so be certain you’re ready to void that specific check before doing so. There’s no going back.
Keep your voided check or take a picture and/or scan it and save it so you can use it in the future. That way, you don’t have to waste a clean check each time someone asks for a one.
What to Do If You Don’t Have Checks
Nowadays, people depend on a mixture of mobile wallets, payment apps, debit cards, direct deposit and electronic bill payments to handle their finances, rendering checks useless for many. As such, there are people out there with bank accounts who simply do not have a checkbook.
So what happens if you don’t have a checkbook but need a voided check? You have a few options:
- You can order checks. Many financial institutions give you your first set of checks for free, and still others give you a number of checks a year free of charge. These typically take seven to 10 business days to ship, so if you need to void a check quickly, this isn’t an ideal solution, though it still might make sense to do this now for the next time you need a voided check. Does your bank charge for additional sets of checks? You can order checks from companies outside your bank — with fun graphics and (often) cheaper prices.
- You can request a starter check. If your bank charges for checks or will take a week or more to send them, you can see if your local branch can print you a starter check to void. They should be able to print this in-house for a much faster turnaround. These are also called counter checks, and they sometimes may be offered for a fee.
- You can get a deposit slip. The point of voiding a check for direct deposits or autopay is to give an institution a verifiable copy of your routing and account numbers. A deposit slip contains the same information as a voided check, and most banks offer these to members.
- You can request other documentation. If all else fails and you’re in a hurry to provide someone with your account number and routing number on something official from your bank or credit union, request other documentation, like a note on your bank’s letterhead. This may suffice when setting up direct deposit or ACH information.
- You can set up details online. Voided checks aren’t the only way to get set up with a new account. Many utility companies and other recipients of your monthly payments don’t request voided checks when you sign up online. Some will make inconsequential withdrawals (and almost immediately return the funds) just to verify that you’ve set up the account correctly to pay bills online, so make sure your checking account is adequately funded before trying this out to avoid overdraft fees.
Why You Might Be Asked to Void a Check
- Direct deposit: Often, employers will request a voided check to set up direct deposit for your paycheck, meaning the money will go straight into your bank account. In fact, 93% of Americans receive their paychecks this way. The voided check allows your employer to see your account information, including your bank account number and routing number, and ensure they’ve been accurately entered into your employer’s payroll system. This can be a blank check.
- Automatic electronic payments or general money withdrawals: Similarly, companies that automatically withdraw money from your checking account, like your mortgage company, will want to ensure they have your correct bank account information. They’ll use an actual, legal check to set up bill payments from your account. You may also need to provide a voided check for other bill pay scenarios, though this is not as common. You should use a blank check for this purpose as well.
- Mistakes: You can also cancel a check if you make a mistake while writing it. For example, if you are writing a $100 check but accidentally tack on an extra zero (making it $1,000), it’s safer to cancel the entire check so that no one accidentally withdraws $1,000 from your account before you can stop them.
How to Cancel a Check
So what do you do if you need to cancel a check payment when you’ve already handed the check over to someone else? Are you out of luck? Not entirely.
Please note: Canceling a check is different from voiding a check and is typically accompanied by some urgency.
Let’s say you have sent a check and realized afterward that you have made an error, such as overpayment. You must contact your bank quickly to cancel it. You will need the following information:
- The check number
- The amount the check was made for
- The date of the check
- The check recipient’s name or business name
- The reason for the stop payment
You should have a carbon copy of the check in your checkbook that you can reference. You can also review your check register to get this information.
Some banks will allow you to do this via app or online banking, but you can also visit your bank in person or call to cancel the check. Tell them you need a stop payment order, but be prepared to pay a fee for this service.
If the recipient of the check has already cashed or deposited it, do not try the stop payment online. Visit the bank in person or give them a call.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are some commonly asked questions about voiding checks. See if these answer any of your questions:
How Do You Void a Check Sent to You?
If you have received a check and the payer has asked you to void it, first ensure that you will receive all money owed to you in some other form (cash, Venmo, a new check that will clear, etc.). Once you are sure you will still receive proper payment, you can void another person’s check made out to you; simply write “VOID” in large letters across the check. For good measure, you should shred or burn the check.
Can You Void a Check That’s Been Mailed?
If you have accidentally mailed a check to the wrong person or in the wrong amount, you can attempt to cancel it before it is cashed or deposited. Some banks allow you to do this online or via their mobile apps, but you can also call your bank or visit a branch in person to issue a stop payment order.
A stop payment typically comes with a fee. You should also warn the payee that you have issued a stop payment.
Do You Sign a Void Check?
If you have already signed a check and then want to void it, you still can by writing “VOID” across the front of the check. However, you do not need to sign a void check to cancel it. The large “VOID” will suffice in voiding the check, no signature needed.
Contributor Timothy Moore is a writer and editor in Cincinnati who covers banks, loans insurance, travel and automotive topics for The Penny Hoarder.