can i write checks with red ink?

i did a quick search on the net, and i can’t find the answer ANYWHERE!

i turn to you. most enlightening of all true geniouses, could you please answer my boggle?

is it legal for me to use red ink on my checks? if yes, how did this whole myth of “you can’t use red ink on checks” ever come about?


Yes, I have done it many times when I could only find a red pen, and the banks honored the checks with no problems.

I have never heard of the myth.

This probably relates back to when checks were microfilmed. Red ink, like pencil, does not film well in contrast with the rest of the document. Even a fax machine has trouble with a penciled or red inked marked document. Chances are you’ll lose a lot of detail. Photocopy a penciled or red-inked document and it will fax just fine. It probably has something to do with the density of the ink in relation to the print on the rest of the document that causes the problem.

I don’t know about it being illegal, but banks don’t like it. Here’s a bank webpage that mentions it. Scroll down to the heading Pen Reminder:

It says, “…please do not use the new gel or fluorescent type pens. The ink in these pens does not image or photocopy well. If you ever have to produce a check to prove you paid a bill it may well be blank. You are always safe to use a blue or black ink pen.”

I also know from working at a bank in the 80’s that the early computer scanners had trouble reading anything but black or blue ink. Checks written in another color had to processed by hand, which the banks didn’t like.

I’ve heard it as a superstition… that if you use red ink for checks or receipts or bills or anything financial (except to denote negative balances) you’ll end up “in the red.”

thanks to everyone who’s responded so far!!!

i’ve bought all of cecil’s books, but i don’t remember ever reading about this particular issue. does anyone know if he’s ever tackled it before?

keep the responses coming, i need as much ammo as possible!!!

This is anecdotal, but I’ve written checks with red pens, sharpies and even once, in a pinch, crayon without a problem.

I worked in check processing in the late 70’s at a large bank in Minneapolis. We had some “Big Brother is Watching” customers that purchased unique checks somewhere. The paper of the check was a deep red wine color. There was proper MICR on the bottom so the checks would read thru the proof and sorter machines. Back then, maybe still today, checking deposits were filmed when they left proof and headed for the account updating phase. Those wine-red colored checks could not be seen on the film. So if proof screwed up and encoded your $20 red check for $2000 you are SOL. Bank would look at the film and could’nt see what the payor had written the check for. Not enough red tape at the bank for you when they make a mistake on your account? I’d stick to blue or black on a light background check.

I write checks all the time with red pens (on a light colored background). I’ve never had them refused or any problems with them at all.

Many people have a psychological or superstitious aversion to documents written (especially signed) in red ink. Signing your name in red or asking someone else to do the same can be offensive to some people.

Offensive? Really?

You can write a check with anything you like and on anything you like, as long as it has your signature and an account number. A piece of cardboard will work just as well as a printed check, although the bank may not care for the idea. Unless the bank has specific prohibitions about this.

The law of checks in the U.S. is governed by each state’s enactment of the Uniform Commercial Code. The portion of New York’s U.C.C. Article 3 addressing signatures does not provide anything about the color of ink, but rather provides: “A signature is made by use of any name, including any trade or assumed name, upon an instrument, or by any word or mark used in lieu of a written signature.” UCC 3-401(2).

The UCC is generally uniform in most major areas across the several states, but please consult a lawyer in your jurisdiction if you have a specific question. Also, I have not researched New York’s UCC to see if there is any court or other interpretation regarding the color of ink used.

As Billdo says, it’s a valid check under the UCC, and I’m not aware of any Federal Reserve clearing rule that says otherwise.

It’s possible that your bank might have a ink color limitation in your account agreement, but I’ve seen lots of these agreements and do not recall ever seeing such a clause.

Usual disclaimer. I’m not your lawyer, this is general info and not legal advice, etc etc. See a lawyer in your state if this is a real situation.