You are likely familiar with personal checks, but what about counter checks? Discover what a counter check is and how to use them.
Counter checks serve as a replacement for personal checks. You may receive some when opening a new bank account or if you temporarily run out of checks. They are convenient, but they can come with additional security risks.
Learn more about counter checks, including how to fill them out and their pros and cons.
What Is A Counter Check? Your Complete Guide
Checks are becoming incredibly rare today, but some people still use them. In some cases, your landlord or service provider may even require them. If you need to write someone a check but don't have any on hand, you can go to your bank and get a counter check instead.
What Is A Counter Check From A Bank?
Counter checks are designed to overcome the fact that you typically have to order checks at least a few weeks ahead of time. They come in handy when opening a new account or if you run out of personal checks and need to write one before your new checks arrive.
Counter checks are printed out at the bank counter by the teller, hence the name. The fact that they are printed is important, as this means that the bank can include your routing number and account number on them like they would on regular checks. That said, not all counter checks will have the account number printed. You (or the teller) may have to fill this out by hand. Depending on your bank, your name and address may also be included.
Because of their appearance, it is immediately obvious to any merchant or check recipient that this is a counter check and not a standard personal check.
Advantages Of Counter Checks
The biggest advantages of counter checks are their convenience and ease of access.
Easy To Get
It is incredibly easy to get a counter check. All you have to do is go to your bank with your ID and ask for one. The teller will guide you through any information you have to provide.
You can get a counter check instantly or in as little time as it takes to go to the bank, wait in line, and ask the teller to print a check for you.
Familiar To Fill Out
Once you have your counter check, you fill it out just like you would a standard personal check. This makes them intuitive to use.
Disadvantages Of Counter Checks
Unfortunately, there are some disadvantages to counter checks. These disadvantages are why people use personal checks whenever possible and tend to only rely on counter checks when necessary.
Limits To Number
If you order a checkbook, you will get at least dozens of checks at once, if not 50 or 100. By contrast, you will only get a few counter checks at once. Your bank is unlikely to give you more than this.
Fees – What Is A Counter Check Fee?
The other important caveat is that counter checks come with fees. Writing a personal check typically doesn't cost you anything, although you may have to pay a few dollars for 50 or 100 blank personal checks. By contrast, you can expect each counter check to come with a fee of anywhere from $1 to $3, depending on your bank.
If you look at a counter check, it is obvious that this is not a standard personal check. For example, they don't have check numbers on them. This can lead to suspicion from merchants, which may lead them to reject the checks.
The lack of check number and overall appearance of the check can lead to a few specific doubts. First, they may assume that you are using a counterfeit check. Or they may assume that you just opened your bank account. A new bank account poses a greater risk to the merchant.
How To Get A Counter Check
As mentioned, it is incredibly easy to get a counter check. The first thing to do is confirm that your bank offers them, as not all will. For example, if you have an online-only bank, you won't be able to get counter checks. In rare cases, your bank may let you get counter checks via the online banking system and print them at home. However, this is rare, so you should never assume it is an option.
When you call the bank to confirm they offer counter checks, you should also ask about the process. For example, your bank may only offer this service at certain branches.
When it comes to the actual process, you just go to the bank and talk to a personal banker or teller. Let them know you need a counter check and show them your ID. Follow any other instructions they give you. You should have your check(s) within a few minutes.
How To Use A Counter Check
As mentioned when discussing their benefits, you fill out a counter check in the same exact way you would a personal check. This means:
- The date goes in the upper right corner
- Next to "Pay to the order of," write the payee's name
- Write out the check amount in numbers in the box (ex: 100)
- Write out the check amount in words on the line (ex: one hundred)
- Sign the check on the line by the bottom right corner
- (Optional) Write a note in the memo section (ex: "rent" or "happy birthday")
If your bank didn't print your address and personal information on the check, you might have to write this on the check. This information would go in the upper left corner of the check, where it would be printed on personal checks.
When using a counter check (or even a personal check), the merchant may ask you to write down your driver's license number. This is for their security, as it helps find you if something goes wrong with the payment.
Who Accepts Counter Checks?
There is never a guarantee that your payee will accept a counter check due to the increased security concerns from the lack of check numbers and other printed information. As a rule of thumb, you should never assume that a retailer will accept them; always ask first.
In most cases, loan companies and utility companies will accept counter checks. So may your landlord. However, you should always confirm that they accept a counter check instead of assuming.
What Is Required For Acceptance Of A Counter Check?
Expect the payee to require you to write your name and address on the counter check if that information isn't already there. They may also ask to see your ID to confirm your identity. It is also very common for them to write down the number on your ID, as this protects them in case the check doesn't go through or another issue arises.
Alternatives To Counter Checks
What if you need to pay for something but don't want to use counter checks? There are a few alternatives to consider.
ACH Or Automatic Payments
See if you can set up automatic payments or make the payment using ACH transfers. Both of these are common options with most banks and for most services.
Online Bill Payment
You can typically set up online bill payments with your bank. Your bank can pay electronically to save you the need to write a check. Or your bank may mail a check, preventing the need for you to do so even if the payee only accepts checks.
If you have a debit card, try paying with that instead. This will take the funds from the same place they would've come out of if you had paid with a check. This is a very good option for in-store purchases.
With an in-store or online purchase, you could also use a credit card. That gives you the advantage of potential benefits like cashback or rewards points. Then, pay off your credit card with your bank account or an ACH transfer at the end of the month. You may even have personal checks by the time your credit card bill is due, giving you the option to pay with one of those.
Mobile Money Apps
If you want a check to pay a friend, consider using one of the various mobile money-transferring applications instead. Just some options include Venmo, PayPal, Cashapp, and Zelle.
Reorder Personal Checks Early
You can also prevent the need for counter checks by keeping an eye on how many personal checks you have left, so you can order them before you need more.
A counter check is an alternative to a personal check. It is a check that your bank teller prints at the bank. They are designed for those times when you need to write a check but don't have any personal checks on hand. While they are convenient, not everyone will accept them, as they are perceived to have a higher risk of fraud.
Shawn Manaher is a former financial advisor, has founded 5 online businesses, and is a coach, speaker, podcast host, and author. He's been featured on Forbes, The Consults Corner on TAE Radio, The Writing Biz, What's Your Story, and more.