How to Balance a Checking Account
A Step-by-Step Guide
Balancing a checking account is a financial task that should be performed regularly to track your spending, monitor your account, and ensure that your money is actually there when you need it.
It takes just five steps to complete this essential task and rest easier about your finances. Learn why it's important and how to get it done.
What Is Balancing a Checking Account?
Balancing a checking account means comparing the money coming into the account to the money going out of the account. This shows you how much money you have for spending. It's also an opportunity to match your records with the bank's records and catch mistakes that can lead to bank charges or identity theft
Balancing a checking account helps you:
- Budget for upcoming expenses
- Avoid bounced checks and overdraft fees
- Identify mistakes that you or the bank made
- Catch suspicious or fraudulent charges quickly
- Keep track of any interest you are earning
You should plan to balance your checking accounts regularly—at least once per statement period. If you find yourself bouncing checks, however, you should balance your account anytime you're about to spend money, for example, before paying bills or going shopping.
What You Need to Balance a Checking Account
To get started with balancing a checking account, gather everything you'll need:
- Most recent bank statement (mailed or printed from your online account)
- Check register
There are templates available to help you manually do the calculations needed if you prefer to use pen and paper. If you prefer to do them electronically, you can build a spreadsheet or use accounting software.
Five Steps to Balance Your Checking Account
To balance your checking account, you want to look at how much has gone in and out, then make sure these numbers match the values you are expecting. If they do not, then your account is unbalanced and you have money that is unaccounted for.
You will be finding and comparing three numbers:
- Bank balance
1. Assess your Balance
Start by writing down your bank balance. This is the month-end account balance shown on your account.
You can check your account balance online, with an app if your bank has one, at an ATM, by phone, or by text.
2. Compare Your Check Register to Your Statement
Next, compare your check register to your bank statement. Place a checkmark (on both the bank statement and the check register) next to matching items.
Your bank statement and your check register should have all the same items listed, including:
- Debit card charges
- Paper checks
- Cash withdrawals
- ATM fees
- Overdraft fees
- Interest earned
If anything is missing from your check register, either add it (if it is a legitimate transaction) or make a note to ask your bank about it (if it looks suspicious or you can't remember making it).
Add up all the deposits and withdrawals so you know how much you should have in your account you should have.
3. Find Outstanding Transactions
Outstanding transactions generally fall into two categories: deposits and withdrawals.
To find outstanding withdrawals, look through your check register for any transaction that does not have a checkmark next to it. These transactions are items that did not appear on your bank statement.
Most likely, these are outstanding checks. Outstanding checks are checks you have written but the recipient hasn't yet deposited. Add these values to your total withdrawals.
Make a list of deposits you have made to the account, such as direct deposit from your payroll or deposits that you mailed to the bank but which have not yet appeared. Add these values to your total deposits.
4. Run the Numbers
You'll have several numbers on your sheet of paper by this point. Now, you need to use your calculator to make sure all your money is accounted for.
- Start with zero
- Add "Bank Balance"
- Add "Deposits"
- Subtract "Withdrawals"
The result should be the exact amount your check register shows.
5. Fix Mistakes and Problems
If the numbers don't match, you'll need to figure out why. If you find fraud or a bank error, contact the bank immediately to contest the problematic transaction—otherwise, you might have to live with the problem.
Most checking accounts offer protection from fraudulent transactions. But if you wait more than two months to find and report a problem, you might have to absorb the loss.
Fortunately, errors and fraud are relatively rare. In most cases, the numbers won't match because:
- You made an arithmetic mistake
- You missed a fee or an interest payment
- You listed an item twice
- You transposed numbers (345 instead of 354, for example)
Double-check that none of these common errors happened before you contact your bank.
Create a System That Works
Now that you have balanced your checking account, you'll need to keep it balanced. The key to staying balanced is creating a system you can follow easily and consistently.
If you don't record transactions from your checking account, you will need to monitor your online charges multiple times a week—even daily—to ensure that your account is balanced and free from fraud.
There's no best system for balancing your checking account. Take time to figure out which system works for you. That could be:
- Pen and paper
- Building a spreadsheet
- Using accounting software
To monitor your checking account even more closely, you can find out about transactions as they occur. Set up text alerts on your bank account to know when big electronic withdrawals hit your account.
Alerts will help you remember important transactions when it's time to balance your account, as well as making it easier to detect fraud and errors. This will both save you time and protect your assets.