A checking account is an important tool for managing money. It’s useful for paying bills, depositing paychecks, sending money, and making purchases using a linked debit card. Most adults in the U.S.—81%—have at least one bank account. If you’re one of them, it’s important to understand how to balance a checkbook to keep track of debit and credit transactions.
- A checking account can be used to perform a number of financial functions, including making bill payments, sending or receiving money transfers, and spending via a linked debit card.
- Balancing a checkbook simply means adding up credit and debit transactions for the month to understand how much money you have available.
- It can still be helpful to know how to balance a checkbook even if you don’t write checks.
- Mobile banking apps make it easy to see at a glance how much money is moving in and out of your checking account and what you have available for spending or paying bills.
How To Balance a Checkbook Using a Check Register
When you open a new checking account, your bank may provide you with paper checks as well as a checkbook register. This register is where you can record the various credit and debit transactions for your account, including:
- Direct deposits
- Mobile deposits
- In-person deposits (made at a teller or an ATM)
- Online bill payments
- Cash withdrawals
- Checks written
- Debit card purchases
You write your starting account balance at the top of the register. As you add or deduct money from your account, you write down each transaction in your checkbook register. Specifically, you should include the transaction:
- Description (grocery purchase, bill payment, ATM withdrawal, etc.)
You add or subtract the corresponding amount to arrive at your new account balance. This can help with balancing your checkbook at the end of the month.
To do that, you need your bank statement. Reconcile it against the information that’s listed in your check register. This simply means going through your statement and your checkbook register line by line and matching up transactions.
Transactions that are listed in your checkbook register may not show up on your account statement if they’re still marked as pending with the bank.
Assuming all the transactions from your statement and your register match, the end balance showing for each one should also be the same. If not, you need to go back and check the register for any transactions that may not have been posted to your account yet.
If you want to match your current account balance to the balance showing on your bank statement, you can do that by factoring in transactions posted after the statement date. Once you add back withdrawals or subtract deposits, your current balance and statement balance should be the same.
If you’ve combed through your account statements and still can’t get your checkbook to balance, you should call your bank to ask about any pending debit or credit charges you may have overlooked.
How To Balance a Checkbook Without a Check Register
Writing down transactions in a checkbook register is one way to keep track of them, but there are also options for balancing your checkbook digitally.
Online and mobile banking
Nearly 40% of Americans rely on mobile banking to manage their money. If your bank offers online banking and/or mobile banking, balancing your checkbook may be as simple as logging in to your account.
Once logged in you can quickly scan your:
- Current balance information
- Available balance information
- Debit transaction history
- Credit transaction history
You may prefer online and mobile banking for checkbook balancing if you don’t write paper checks or only write a few each month. Keep in mind that checks won’t show up in your transaction history until the transaction has been posted, so you still need to keep track of those amounts when calculating your current balance.
Setting up text or email notifications can make it easier to keep track of new credit and debit transactions without having to log in to your account.
Budgeting apps are another option for managing checking account activity. These apps link to your checking and other financial accounts (including credit cards and savings accounts) and automatically record new transactions for you.
You may prefer using a budgeting app if you have multiple bank accounts or credit cards, as it’s easier to see them all in one place. Relying on these apps alone to balance your checkbook can be problematic, however, if you’re not keeping a close eye on each account individually.
Spreadsheet or ledger
Using a spreadsheet or ledger can also help you stay on top of your checking account balance. With a spreadsheet, you can record deposits and withdrawals while creating formulas that automatically repopulate your current account balance. The key to this approach is making sure that you enter new credits and debits in a timely manner. Otherwise, you might forget about a transaction, which would result in an incorrect balance.
Ledgers are another way to record banking activity by hand. Using a ledger is similar to a checkbook register. You simply write down transactions as they happen, adding or subtracting the appropriate amount from your balance. At the end of the month, you compare the ledger with your account statement to balance your checkbook.
Why Balance a Checkbook?
Balancing a checkbook can seem like a tedious and time-consuming task, but it’s worthwhile for two reasons.
You know where your money is going
First, keeping a balanced checkbook means you know where your money is going each month and how much is coming in. This can be helpful for making and sticking to a budget. More important, tracking your balance can help you avoid the possibility of having an overdraft in your account. Considering that the average overdraft fee is around $35, it is better off avoided as much as possible.
The second benefit to balancing a checkbook is fraud prevention. When you’re checking your account statements and transaction history regularly, it’s more likely that you’ll be able to spot any suspicious transactions. For example, a small deposit of a few cents or a $1 debit transaction could be evidence of a scammer testing the waters before launching a larger-scale attack on your account. Taking time to balance your checkbook could help you avoid financial headaches caused by fraud.
Is Balancing a Checkbook Necessary?
Using a check register to balance a checkbook may not be necessary if you’re using other methods (online and mobile banking, mobile budgeting apps, etc.) to keep track of your account transactions and balance. Still, balancing a checkbook can be a valuable exercise if it helps you monitor your spending, allowing you to detect fraud and avoid overdrafts.
How Often Should You Balance Your Checkbook?
If you’re using the checkbook register method and comparing transactions with your account statement, you should balance your checkbook every month. If you’re using online banking or mobile banking to track your accounts, you can log in daily to view new credit and debit transactions as well as balance information.
Why Can’t I Balance My Checkbook?
If you’re having trouble balancing your checkbook, it may be because you have transactions that are unaccounted for, either on your statement or in your checkbook register. Double-checking transactions or calling the bank could help you find an overlooked credit or debit. You can also review your register for mathematical errors that would result in an incorrect balance.