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Updated Feb 08, 2024

How to Print Payroll Checks

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Max Freedman, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst

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When was the last time you received a paper paycheck for your work? Certainly, it was before you were a small business owner. In all likelihood, it was years before that, given how ubiquitous direct deposit is now. Ubiquity, though, doesn’t make something perfect. In fact, plenty of employees still receive their wages via paper paycheck. Some of your employees might actually prefer that you print paychecks for them. Here’s how to do so.

Editor’s note: Looking for the right payroll software for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

What are printed paychecks?

Printed paychecks are employee wages that you deliver tangibly through physical paper checks instead of electronically, making them a prominent direct deposit alternative. Printed paychecks also include a paper pay stub detailing the employee’s withholdings for the pay period. Digital wage payments, however, include these pay stubs as separate documents with no checks attached. In fact, digital payments typically lack anything resembling a check; they often come with just pay stubs.

How to print payroll checks

You have two primary options for printing paychecks. You can do so manually or let your payroll software do most of the work. Either way, you’ll need the same physical materials to complete the job. Below, we’ll walk you through both options and how they overlap – and how they don’t.

Completely manual paycheck printing

You’ll need a specialized template to print your paychecks manually and generate a pay stub. It would help if you chose from templates available online instead of creating your own. If you use your own, you’ll need a special MICR font so banks can process your checks. Templates you find online should already come with these fonts.

Once your templates are in place, you must add your employees’ information to each template every time you pay them. That means adding names, paycheck amounts and deductions for each employee. Naturally, when done manually, this process is quite prone to human error. But for some employers looking to cut business expenses, forgoing payroll software for template-based paychecks could be worthwhile (though risky).

After you completely fill in all the fields on your paychecks, you’ll need a printer. You’ll then need to print your checks on check stock instead of ordinary paper. Likewise, you’ll need magnetic ink or toner to print fonts that banks can process. You’ll also need envelopes and stamps if you’re mailing your checks.

Payroll software

Employers often assume that using payroll software means paying employees via direct deposit. That’s not quite the case. In fact, several popular payroll services offer printed paychecks. These services will automatically generate paychecks and pay stubs based on your wage rate information and time and attendance records. They can save you invaluable time on manual paycheck creation and minimize human error.

Once your payroll software has created printable checks, you’ll take the same steps as above to print them:

  • Load your printer with magnetic toner or ink and card stock
  • Print your checks and pay stubs
  • Mail them if needed

Payroll software expedites the check-creation process – not the printing and mailing process. But since creating checks is the primary source of excess time spent and human errors made, automating it is priceless.

Did You Know?Did you know
Direct deposit is the payment method most employees prefer. However, some will appreciate pay cards or printed checks.

Why would some employees prefer printed checks?

According to the 2023 Getting Paid in America survey by the American Payroll Association, more than 95 percent of U.S. employees receive their wages via direct deposit. Another 2.85 percent receive their wages via printed paychecks. Often, these employees have actively chosen to receive their wages via paper rather than electronically. Here are some reasons these employees might prefer printed paychecks to direct deposit:

  • They are uncomfortable with electronic banking. Paperless payroll, which includes direct deposit and electronic wages, is a relatively new innovation. Some employees accustomed to printed paychecks may balk at these newer technologies. Other employees might not feel that transferring money electronically is secure or reliable. These employees will likely choose paper paychecks even if they are seemingly less convenient.
  • They have privacy concerns. An employer that pays via direct deposit stores its employees’ banking information in its payroll platform. Some employees feel this data storage invites security concerns and privacy breaches. Opting for paper paychecks eliminates this concern.
  • They don’t have a bank account. Approximately 9 million U.S. households are unbanked or underbanked and can’t accept direct deposits. They’ll need printed paychecks to convert into cash at your issuing bank, a big-box store or a cash-checking business. [Read related article: What You Need to Open a Business Bank Account]
  • They’re undocumented immigrants. Many banks require account holders to have a Social Security number. Undocumented immigrants lack this identifier, thus posing obstacles to accessing traditional checking accounts. As such, if any of your employees are undocumented, they might need printed paychecks. They can then convert these checks to cash, as described above.
  • They use a bank with direct deposit fees. Some banks charge their account holders fees whenever they receive a direct deposit. If your employees’ banks do this, they’ll likely prefer printed paychecks to electronic wage payments. 
Prepare a policy to handle payroll advances, including if you'll print them on paper checks or issue them as a pay card or digital payment.

Why would some employers prefer printed checks?

Employers in specific situations may prefer issuing printed checks: 

  • The business needs to save money. New businesses, businesses on tight budgets and extremely small businesses will want to cut costs whenever possible. They may want to avoid the fees involved in setting up direct deposit or using a payroll service. Printing checks might be the most economically feasible option for them – particularly when everyone works in the same office and checks can be handed out.
  • The business prefers working on its own timeline. The time-sensitivity of direct deposit may make it less preferable than printed paychecks for some employers. You’ll typically execute direct deposit through your payroll service, which means you must submit employee time sheets and run payroll by a deadline. If you miss this deadline, you’ll have to issue your paychecks late, potentially angering your employees. Printing paychecks eliminates this deadline and all of its attendant concerns.
Did You Know?Did you know
The best payroll services for one employee can help very small businesses on shoestring budgets implement accurate, timely payroll processes.

Paper paychecks and payroll software go hand in hand

As you can see, printing paper checks doesn’t mean avoiding technology entirely. Payroll software can streamline the process of getting your employees the wages they earned – whatever their preferred payment method. Plus, it reduces the pay calculation errors common with manual employee payments and is inexpensive for small teams. Invest in payroll software, and you’ll get time back for what matters most: the work everyone is getting paid for.

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Max Freedman, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
Max Freedman has spent nearly a decade providing entrepreneurs and business operators with actionable advice they can use to launch and grow their businesses. Max has direct experience helping run a small business, performs hands-on reviews and has real-world experience with the categories he covers, such as accounting software and digital payroll solutions, as well as leading small business lenders and employee retirement providers. Max has written hundreds of articles for Business News Daily on a range of valuable topics, including small business funding, time and attendance, marketing and human resources.
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