Can I print my own checks?

My aunt worked at a bank and she had a text that I read when I was younger that basically said that anything (e.g. paper napkin) was considered a legal check if everything contained within the 4 corners was accurate and on the up and up, and assuming you could get someone to take it, I presume.
As an artist, with an intaglio printer, could I print my own cool art checks and legally pass them? Or are there federal regs against it?


With no malice intended, I think I’ll give it whirl…

Thanks, 3waygeek

It is perfectly legal to make your own checks. HOWEVER, in order to insure they are accepted, you must duplicate the appropriate key elements in the proper areas and the encoding at the bottom of the check (ABA#, account #, check #) must be in magnetic ink (might not be true anymore with new technology) in the proper font so it can be read electronically.

Preprinted checks started as a convenience (that’s why they are called pre-printed) that has almost become a necessity. I can’t see any merchant accepting a “check” written on a brown paper bag these days. Even preprinted checks come under scrutiny and often require you to produce numerous other forms of identification in order to have one accepted.

It is to your advantage that, even if you decide to design your own checks that you use “safety paper” which is available at any office supply store.

I read something similar once, and tried to pay my rent on standard lined paper. The landlord tried it just for fun, but was told that the bank wouldn’t deal with.

Just one piece of actual experience…

Bank of America apparently used to be less picky.

I print my own checks all the time and have done it for years.

Yeah, read that story already. And it’s First Interstate, not BofA. Which doesn’t really matter, except that FI doesn’t exist any more.

sailor, just curious…what method do you use and do you include all the info suggested by Cillasi?

Slight hijack… re the column 3waygeek linked to. The “cheque on the side of a cow” story got debunked - well, I noticed on the way into work this morning that Barclays are using that story in its adverts on the Tube (at Bank station, I think, for any other Londoners that wanted to look). There’s even a photo of the cow cheque, whether real or not I don’t know, and Barclays claim to be the bank that cashed it - they even name the branch, I think. I wonder if Barclays are perpetuating an urban myth… or whether there actually was a (different) occasion where this happened.

Come to think about it, I definitely remember reading about it in an old (1971 I think) Guinness Book of Records, too.

How would you “cancel” such a check on a cow, after cashing it?

I think the answer is obvious…

Hmmmmm… Cancelled cow check…arrgghhhhhhh

I heard the story back in college, so take it back another 10 years. This gets it back to the days, when people did things without worrying about whether they fit the norm or were politically correct.

I printed my own checks for a long time, and then suddenly my bank account was frozen so I couldn’t access my money at all. After some investigation, it turned out that my checking account number was off by one digit on the last set I printed. They had also suggested the regular Hewlett-Packard printer’s ink I used could be to blame, but it turned out to be the number.

So if you do, make sure every number is perfect. I always proof-read the checks, but mistakes can still happen!

I print them to look like regular preprinted checks, that is, they include the special font routing digits etc BUT not in magnetic ink, just regular ink. The magnetic ink has never been a problem for me. Either they have optical readers or they just input the digits by hand when the magnetic reader fails.

Never had any problems with the numbering of the checks either. I do number them correctly in sequence but one time my signature crossed through those digits and they were read incorrectly to duplicate another check which had already been paid. The check was paid anyway and when I called the bank to tell them they had paid the check correctly but the number they recorded was wrong, they said it didn’t matter as those numbers are just for my convenience and they didn’t care what numbers I gave my checks. I could give them all the same number for all they cared.

I also print my own background which is just a graphic of my name in tiny type repeated a billion times in very light blue color but I have also used plain white paper or other backgrounds I have found. For example, some notepads can have backgrounds which work pretty well.

I used to print my checks with a matrix printer and then it was obvious they were home-made but I only had one or two rejected in those years. One of them was TIME magazine who had accepted them for years and then one year they returned it. On the phone I told them they had accepted them before and everybody else accepted them and I was not about to have checks printed just for them so they could accept it or cancel my subscription and they finally accepted it.

There are lots of software packages for sale that let you print your own checks, either on plane paper (not a good idea) or on safety paper.

Some examples are “VersaCheck” (I could never get that one to work) or “CheckMagic” (works much better). Just do a web search and you will find lots of them.

You can also try doing the same thing with your word processing program, but it can be difficult to get things to print in exactly the right spots. And they are getting more stringent on requiring specific markings (like the numbers on the bottom of checks) in specific locations relative to the edge of the paper.

Most banks use standard OCR equipment which reads them fine, so magnetic ink isn’t needed. If you do run across a bank using older equipment that won’t accept your checks, you can either buy a toner cartridge of magnetic toner (expensive) or just switch to another bank.

You can certainly save money doing this, at the cost of a bit of your time. But you can have fun, too. Paying your Wal-Mart bill with a check all covered with tiny background printing saying “Wal-Mart sucks!” can be quite an enjoyable way to fight back.

Sigh – I meant plain paper, not “plane”.

Don’t know what plane paper would be, but it might be interesting.

>> You can also try doing the same thing with your word processing program, but it can be difficult to get things to print in exactly the right spots. And they are getting more stringent on requiring specific markings (like the numbers on the bottom of checks) in specific locations relative to the edge of the paper

I print my own checks with everything in place and I do it just with MS-WORD. I have it set up to print 4 checks on a regular letter size sheet.

Most checks I print are for payments to companies (utilities, magazines, etc) and there’s practically no risk they’d be altered so I have no problem printing on white paper. But, as I say, I most often like to print my own background or use paper with any suitable background, if only because “it looks more like a check”.

BTW, when I printed with the dot-matrix printer I had to create the bank font myself. After I switched to windows I had some trouble finding that font. You need that for the routing characters along the bottom of the check.

Thanks all.
A couple of comments;
As I said I’m an artist so the idea would be more a merger of art and finance. Each ‘run’ would be a limited edtion (I suppose if I were to get famous enough, the ‘art’ might be worth more than the check causing people to keep not cash them. But this is not the intent as it wouldn’t save me anything unless I was writing some pretty big checks)., plane paper…isn’t that what you use for paper airplains (wink)?

It is still true, magnetic ink is still the standard in the banking industry.

Yes, they have to re-encode the checks to go through (or put them into sleeves and encode the sleeve). That’s why many banks won’t accept non-preprinted checks. It means they actually have to DO something instead of dumping them into a machine and moving on.

Most banks don’t use OCR, YET. There is new regulation going through saying that an optical image of a check is as good as the physical check in a legal sense. That means that most banks will eventually be scanning the checks and then trashing them (the law says they CAN, but if it saves them money all banks probably WILL). The electronic image of the check is what will be transmitted to the Federal Reserve, issuing bank, etc. The law is expected to go through without any hitches and will have an effective date of about a year after the law passes. It is known as POPS or Check Truncation Act. See here for a brief summary and a link to the FRB discussing it in more detail. Also, this is the U.S. Senate’s info on the bill (with typical overinflated wording, legaleze, and everything else you would expect from the government). I forgot what the House of Representative’s calls their act.