What if you won the lottery and you got one of those giant cardboard checks — could you deposit it at the bank?Yes, if the proper information were written on it.
In fact, a check doesn’t necessarily have to be written on paper. There are legends, probably apocryphal, of checks written on the backs of shirts (by tax protesters) and on watermelon rinds (by goodness knows whom — maybe madcap farmers), even on skin. If they were written in the right format, they could be cashed.
It can be written on anything. As long as it has the elements, the surface doesn’t make a difference. A check is an order to pay someone, that’s all it is.
Brian Black “It has to contain certain features, and it can be written on anything,” says Brian Black, managing director of operations and technology for the Bank Administration Institute. “As long as it has the elements, the surface doesn’t make a difference. A check is an order to pay someone, that’s all it is.”
So let’s say some smartypants decides to protest his tax bill by writing a check on “the shirt off his back” and mailing it to the IRS. As long as it has the account owner’s name, the date, the words “Pay to the order of” followed by the payee’s name, the dollar amount in numerical and in written form, the name of the bank where the account is held (along with the bank’s city and state) and the signature of the account owner, it’s valid.
Just because something is possible doesn’t mean it’s advisable. Only a moron would antagonize the IRS by writing a check on the back of a shirt: might as well request an annual audit for life. Still, the question makes the IRS nervous. When I asked an IRS spokesman whether anyone had ever sent a check written on the back of a shirt, he said he would find out. Then he called back immediately and asked if that was all this story would be about.
No. It’s also about magnetic ink, a check-printing goof that almost landed an innocent Ohio woman in jail and those big cardboard checks that lotteries and sweepstakes hand out.