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PRINTING YOUR OWN CHECKS
What you will need and the pros/cons

Printing your own checks can make sense or cents.  Businesses and people alike are learning that there are cost and time benefits compared to buying pre-printed forms through a bank or printing company.  We will discuss what it takes to print your own check documents and if it makes “cents” for you.

Printing your own checks requires several things: Software, MICR Font (this may or may not be included in your software package) MICR toner, Blank Check Stock, MICR Placement Gauge and a Laser Printer.

Software:  Choosing a software program can be tricky.  If you are a single user operating out of your home or a small company, there are several basic programs available through on line companies or big box office supply stores.   It is important to find a solution that enables you to print the check in one pass and meets your check writing needs.  Popular accounting programs such as Peachtree or Quickbooks require that you buy pre-printed checks encoded with the MICR line however there are software interface solutions available that can enable you to print the document in one pass (ie. GC Former from Advantage Laser Products, Inc.).  For the larger company, it may not be as simple.  Larger companies typically operate out of more complex computer systems or have multiple accounts or accounting tiers.  These larger users typically need to purchase a custom software package that is written to their specifications.  These packages may be costly up front but over time absorbed as a small cost of doing business.

MICR Font:  Ever wonder what those futuristic characters and numbers were at the bottom of your checks?  Those characters comprise a MICR font, or Magnetic Ink Character Recognition font.  This is the font the ABA (American Banking Association) requires on check documents so a bank’s readers/sorters can read your checks. This font must also conform to the ANSI X.13 standards which are rules that call for proper MICR line placement and size, which lends to consistency and durability of the MICR font as it is applied to the check.  Unfortunately it is not a standard Windows font.  Most check writing software packages include this font within the software application but on rare occasions it is necessary to purchase the font separately.  It is available as a piece of hardware installed into a laser jet memory slot (this requires some programming skills) or as a downloadable Windows True Type or DOS font.

MICR Toner:  Bank scanners are sensitive pieces of equipment and check documents can be scanned over 30 times in its journey from bank to bank.  MICR toner is specially formulated with magnetic properties so the bank scanners can read the document and it must withstand being scanned repeatedly.  There are companies that claim to carry MICR ink for inkjet printers however it is unreliable technology.  Magnetic particles are heavier and sink to the bottom of the inkjet cartridge causing unreliable MICR strength on check documents.  Ink is also not as sturdy and may not withstand being scanned 30 times.  MICR toner is the golden standard for MICR printing.  There are not enough magnetic properties in regular toner and it would be a gamble to print without a MICR toner.

Blank Check Stock:  The most obvious requirement for printing your own checks is blank check stock.  It is recommended that you use 24 pound secure check stock made specifically for laser jet printers.  Laser printers can handle various media sizes but check stock is typically 8 ˝ x 11 inches, just like a normal piece of paper (there are legal forms available as well).  Check stock is perforated to allow for easy check and stub tear off.  The check itself can be located on the top, middle, bottom or in multiples on the piece of paper.  The program you are using determines what check layout you need and it is always wise to contact your software vendor to determine the exact measurements of the form, measured from top to perforations to bottom.  Security and fraud prevention is a huge issue and it is recommended that you purchase a stock that has anti-fraud measures such as a copy void pantograph, multi-color back ground,  watermark on the back and a signature box.  Economy stock if up front cost is an issue but you are risking a larger cost should your checks become compromised by an experienced check forger/scammer

MICR Placement Gauge: This is a tool which looks much like a ruler that helps you determine if your MICR line is aligned in accordance with ABA and ANSI banking standards.  Depending on the manufacturer of the gauge you either insert the check between a plastic sheath and backer or you place the clear gauge over the check document to analyze the MICR line placement accuracy.  The most common reason why checks are rejected is the MICR line is not in the right location on your check document.  Two common mistakes are the line itself is in the wrong location due to incorrect character placement or that there is printing other than the MICR line within the bottom 5/8” band from the bottom of the check up. This tool is most effective for those who have written their own check writing programs or with programs that allow you to move the MICR line horizontally or vertically.

Laser Printers: Most vendors supply MICR toner for HP and Lexmark brand laser printers. MICR toner is formulated based on a printer engine and not all printer engines are alike. Toner that works in a HP 4000 may or may not work in a HP 1012. As a result, companies that carry MICR toner pick printers where there is a high demand as there are cost and time factors associated with developing each MICR toner formula.  It is very difficult to find MICR toner for printers not made by HP or Lexmark.  If you are buying a laser printer for the sole purpose of printing checks, it is wise to first check if toner is available before you purchase the printer.

PROS:Printing your own checks can save you money.  The initial cost is high as you have to invest in all the equipment and consumables mentioned above but over time, if your check volume is high enough, the costs will dip dramatically over buying pre-printed checks.  Determining whether or not your check volume would substantiate a switch from pre-printed checks would take some number crunching and a long term forecast.  Pre-printed checks typically run anywhere from 7 to 15 cents per check.  If your check volume is high enough, printing your own checks can be 5 cents or lower.

If you or your company pays out of separate accounts for different business functions, printing your checks on an as needed basis prevents waste and frustration.  If your printer eats a bunch of pre-printed checks, they are forever gone and cannot be reproduced causing an interruption in your check number sequence. If you print your own checks, you can stay within check sequence by just reprinting the checks you lost while your printer malfunctioned.  The same can be applied to any type of user error in printing checks.  You never have to go to the supply closet sorting through different accounts to find the checks you need to write either. If you or your company moves or changes banks, you can just change the information within your program instead of having to order new checks which also reduces waste. Some programs can store signatures which also saves time, no more chasing down the president or CEO for his/her signature! Basically, printing your own checks is more efficient for those with multiple accounts.

Printing your own checks allows for more security.  By having a dedicated printer and password protected computer not accessible by the company network, you have a reduced risk of inside fraud by an employee.  Some companies go so far as having a check printing room that can be locked when not in use.  You can select who has access to this computer/room much easier than monitoring a supply closet full of live checks.

CONS:  Printing your own checks can be costly up front.  If you are just getting started in business or if you are considering printing your own personal checks, your check volume may not be high enough to warrant the initial expense of getting started or long term expense of supplies.  Printing your own checks also requires a basic knowledge of computers and program technology that you may not possess and it may end up being more hassle than it is worth.  You also need a good knowledge of banking standards as there are very precise rules for where the MICR line needs to be located on your checks. Without that knowledge, you risk rejecting several or hundreds of checks which can lead to costly bank fees. It takes time, money and knowledge to get started which may not be something you can afford.

Careful analyzing of your business or personal check writing needs will help you determine if printing your own checks is right for you. 

Article Written by Kristi Remick Advantage Laser Products, Inc.
www.advlaser.com
April 3, 2006
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