checking

Buying checks? To save money, avoid your bank

Check closeup © Waxen/Shutterstock.com

For most people, running out of checks probably doesn't happen as often as it used to. The number of checks written fell by more than half between 2000 and 2012, according to a Federal Reserve study released last summer.

But when you finally do rip that last check out of the book, you may be hit with sticker shock. A box of checks ordered through a bank can cost $25 or more.

Fortunately, it's OK to search the Web for cheaper checks (and cooler designs) -- as long as you take some basic precautions.

Better deals on checks outside banks

A quick survey of online prices for standard blue checks finds that you can easily save big by ordering through a third-party printer, although, surprisingly, ordering from your bank may not be the most expensive option.

Buying checks from a third party pays

CompanySingle checks
Checks in boxCost, 2 boxesCost per check
Sam's Club240$9.32$0.019
Costco246$14.18$0.0288
Wal-Mart150$12.92$0.0431
Checks.com125$11.90$0.0476
Vistaprint150$15.74$0.0525
Promise Checks125$13.90$0.0556
Bank of America (provided by Harland Clarke)120$16.97$0.0707
Checks Unlimited125$27.98$0.1119
Checks in the Mail125$29.98$0.1199
CompanyDuplicate checks
Checks in boxCost, 2 boxesCost per check
Sam's Club180$10.06$0.0279
Costco174$14.41$0.0414
Wal-Mart150$14.92$0.0497
Checks.com100$13.90$0.0695
Vistaprint150$20.23$0.0674
Promise Checks100$19.90$0.0995
Bank of America (provided by Harland Clarke)120$24.53$0.1022
Checks Unlimited100$35.98$0.1799
Checks in the Mail100$35.98$0.1799

Prices retrieved online April 20, 2015

The cheapest provider we could find was Sam's Club. The Wal-Mart-owned buying club sells single checks for about 2 cents each, less than one-third the price you'll pay ordering them through Bank of America's check reordering service.

Of course, price isn't everything; you don't want to give your checking account information to a sketchy, fly-by-night site. If you've never heard of the site you're thinking of ordering checks from, it's a good idea to check up on them via a Better Business Bureau search before you give up any sensitive information.

Safe to shop around

If going outside your bank to get checks makes you nervous, keep in mind that banks typically don't print checks themselves anyway. They send your check order off to a third-party printer, such as Deluxe or Harland Clarke, so all you're really doing is cutting out a middleman.

The padlock icon

Padlock icon

One easy way to tell if you're ordering checks from a reputable company whose products meet basic security standards is to look for a little padlock icon on the right side of their checks under the "amount" box. If it's there, you know the check and the company itself have been vetted by the Check Payment Systems Association, or CPSA.

"The padlock icon is a way of letting people who are handling checks know that the checks that are in their possession have at least a minimum number of security features that would protect against alteration of a check and duplication of a check," says Steven Antolick, CPSA executive director.

You can find a list of all CPSA authorized printers on the organization's website.

Everything you need to make a check order

If you decide to take the plunge, everything you need to order new checks online can be found on one of your old checks (or a temporary check, if it's a new account).

  • Your checking account number.
  • Your bank's routing number, which you can also find on the bank's website.
  • The check number on your last check, so you know which number your new checks should start with.
  • In some states, the date you opened the account.
Sample of a personal check

You'll probably also want to double-check your order before making it final. While printers typically verify your account details with the bank before printing, checks with the wrong account information on them aren't very useful.

Security the most important feature

If you're going to spend more than the bare minimum on a check, the best bang for your buck is probably additional check safety features, says Magnus Carlsson, manager for treasury and payments at the Association for Financial Professionals.

"Checks are the payment method with the most fraud," Carlsson says. "So anything you can do to have more security is a big thing."

Top-of-the-line security features such as additional hard-to-copy microprint, hologram foil, heat sensors or hard-to-duplicate watermarks can double the cost of checks, so they're not cheap.

But unlike businesses, which write thousands or even millions of checks a year, for consumers who write checks occasionally, the costs are probably manageable compared with the potential fallout from fraud, says Carlsson.

OK, they can look cool, too

Another benefit of going outside your bank for checks is you might find a larger selection of colors and styles. In fact, you can find checks online with almost any image or theme you can imagine, from fine art to college sports teams to cats doing yoga.

If you can't find a particular design, you can always make your own. Many check printers give customers the option to use their own designs or photographs as a background.

You may also find an opportunity to do a little good with your check order. Many charitable associations, including the ASPCA, the National Park Foundation and the National Breast Cancer Foundation, raise money by putting their names and logos on checks.

Expect to add $3 to $6 more to the cost of two boxes for fancier checks incorporating better designs.

Bankrate Audio

Buying checks? To save money, avoid your bank

Transcript

Are you coming to the end of your supply of checks? You might want to avoid ordering from your bank next time.

You're probably using far fewer checks than you used to. But when that day eventually arrives and you find yourself running out, your bank can charge $25 or more for a new batch. You could pay half as much if you order from a major retailer, such as Wal-Mart and Costco, or an outside printing company.

You want to be safe, so if you're thinking about buying checks from a website you've never heard of, search for it on the Better Business Bureau's site. Another simple way to be sure you're ordering from a company on the up and up is to look for a padlock icon on their checks, on the right side under the "amount" box. That means both the check and the printer have been approved by the Check Payment Systems Association.

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