Those little digital numbers at the bottom of your check are more important than you realize. So, what the heck are they for, anyway? Here is your quick guide to MICR and how to make sure your checks are filled out properly – whether you are using bank-issued checks, a check writing service, or printing them yourself.
What even is MICR?
Magnetic Ink Character Recognition, or, MICR, is a technology invented in the 1950s that has allowed financial institutions to streamline their check processing.
Pronounced “mick-er,” MICR is an acronym for “magnetic ink character recognition,” which refers to machine-readable text. The line is the row of numbers and symbols imprinted along the bottom of each check. Within the line are the bank routing and transit numbers and the customer account and check numbers.
Save the flourish, John Hancock
In the US, the bottom 5/8" of any check is considered a virtual "Keep Clear" zone reserved for MICR characters only. When signing or filling out the memo portion of a check, be sure to leave that space clear.
Terms of service for many mobile deposits via cell phone also require the MICR section to be readable. Not all of the MICR characters have been printed at the time you fill in the check as additional characters will be printed later to encode the amount. Your free-roaming signature may cause issues later when the rest of the code is entered, so try and keep it tame.
Treat the signature and memo lines as boundaries rather than baselines and sign above them.
Intrusion into the MICR area can cause problems when the check runs through the clearinghouse, requiring someone to print and glue an MICR check correction strip to the check. Many new ATMs do not use deposit envelopes and actually scan the check at the time it is deposited and will reject checks due to handwriting incursion that interferes with reading the MICR.
I don't have Magnetic Ink. How do I print at home?
Good news. Nowadays, MICR characters are no longer necessarily printed in magnetic ink and are scanned by optical rather than magnetic means. Most new check readers are unable to distinguish pen ink from pre-printed magnetic ink -- thus allowing checks to be printed on ordinary home and office printers without requiring pre-printed bank checks.
To write and print your own checks at home, you can use an online check writing service, like on the established and trusted site, Checkeeper.com. The site provides an incredibly user-friendly interface for you to follow MICR guidelines for official checks that will be accepted by banks for deposit.
No checks. No printer. Now what?
Luckily, Checkeeper.com also provides fulfillment services for check writing, printing, and mailing. So far, Checkeeper has proven to be the best check mailing service to date as they use both professional check stock and MICR ink, with hundreds of reviews from both individuals and corporate clients. Your checks are filled out by you online (and even sync with most accounting software) and you can sign and input your signature, then position it exactly where it needs to be. Once your bank account and routing info are entered, they appear precisely on the MICR line.
Now that the MICR line is no longer a mystery, you no longer need to pay for pre-printed checks from the bank. Print and send your own with confidence! (and a well-placed signature, of course!)