Win a golf tournament, a sweepstakes or the lottery, and you usually get two things: One regular check for your winnings and one oversized cardboard one for photo opportunities and framing above your fireplace. What if you wanted to take the big one down to the bank, though? Could you deposit that behemoth?
Hypothetically, yes, if it’s got the right stuff on it.
A valid check has to have certain information right on it: the account owner’s (payer’s) name and account number, the name of the bank where the payer’s account is held (along with the bank's state), the date, an instruction to pay another party (e.g. “pay to the order of”), the payee's name, the dollar amount of the check in numerical and in written form and the signature of the account owner.
Beyond that, there’s a little bit of wiggle room as far as the material and dimensions of a check. There’s no standardized size (my checks from mental_floss, for example, are several inches longer and taller than the ones I get from some other publications). There’s no special check paper, and plain old printer paper is fine. You can buy software to design and print your own checks at home.
Paper might not even be a necessity. There are plenty of stories out there, no doubt some of them apocryphal, of people writing checks on cocktail napkins, doors, human flesh and the shirt off their back (that one supposedly got sent to the IRS), and having them accepted.
The Fine Print
The big cardboard novelty check seems tame, even downright normal, compared to some of these, but don’t push your luck too much. While an oversized check, shirt-check or door-check is valid in theory, many banks have rules (often included in the agreement you sign when you open an account) about the form of documents used for an account. These include what they will and won’t accept as a check, and usually enable them to reject a check or other document that doesn’t meet their standards. One bank might require that you must use the checks issued to you by the bank or a printing company it partners with, while another might regulate the material documents can be written on.
If your bank doesn’t have any such rules, your giant check, with the correct info, should pass muster. Just don’t try and deposit it at an ATM.