What Is a Counter Check?

counter-check Credit: Bruce Laurance/Digital Vision/Getty Images

A counter check is a blank check with only the bank information printed on it. Prior to 1967, when the Federal Reserve required banks to begin imprinting the routing number using special magnetic ink, banks often provided customers with counter checks, according to Wikipedia.

In addition to counter checks provided by banks, merchants also have a history of providing counter checks to customers. These checks had spaces for the customer to fill in the appropriate information, including the name of the bank. Wikipedia indicates, such checks were kept on the counter for the customer's convenience.

Since having checks printed requires some time and most businesses today are reluctant to accept a check not imprinted with one's personal information, institutions such a Cheney FCU provide personalized starter checks with the customer's information, including name, address and phone number.

According to Wikipedia, prior to the 1940s, clerks processed checks manually at the clearing houses, so the clerks were able to sort counter checks. However, as volume increased, the time to sort checks became a major expense to banks. Stanford Research Institute and the General Electric Computer Laboratory developed the first device for reading magnetic numbers. By 1959, the first checks using this technology were printed. These fonts rapidly became a model of modernism and futurism during the 1960s.