It’s critical to know how much money you have in your bank account and how much of your total balance is available for spending. Checking your account frequently helps you see where you stand as well as spot problems (like fraud or errors) before they get out of hand.
Six Easy Steps
1. Log In Online
You can check your account balance online anytime—and much more. To get started, navigate to your bank’s website and access your account information. You can also use a mobile app, as described below. In most cases, you’ll look for an option like “Login” or “Account Access.” If it’s your first visit, select options like “Register” or “First-time User.”
If the idea of online banking is new to you, you should give it a try. In addition to checking balances online, you can often transfer money to other banks, pay bills without writing a check, and more.
2. Mobile Apps and Text Messages
Mobile phones, tablets, and other devices make it easy to check on accounts from just about anywhere. Most banks provide apps (or at least websites designed for mobile devices) that allow you to see your account balance online and on-the-go. Apps typically enable you to do even more than you can do from a desktop computer.
For example, banks increasingly allow you to deposit checks with your mobile device, so you can quit wasting time on trips to a branch and start getting your funds more quickly.
The fastest way to use your cell phone is to set up text messaging with your bank. You don’t even need to log in—you can request a quick balance update if your bank offers that option.
3. Use an ATM
ATMs can provide updated account balances. Just insert your ATM card or debit card and follow the on-screen instructions. It’s best to use your own bank’s ATM (or an ATM network that your bank uses). Other ATMs will most likely charge fees—even if you don’t withdraw cash. Your bank may also charge an additional fee for using a “foreign” ATM, so those balance inquiries can cost you.
4. Call the Bank:
If you prefer a more traditional approach, call your bank to find out your balance. You might need to call during certain hours to speak with a person, but most banks have automated systems that provide 24/7 account information. Getting set up to use those systems might take some effort (you may need to first establish a PIN, among other things). But once you’re up and running, it’ll become routine.
5. Set up Alerts
Instead of checking your bank account balances manually, you can have your bank push information out to you when something happens. This adds an automatic safeguard for your account.
Just want a heads up when your account balance gets low or whenever there’s a significant withdrawal? If so, set up alerts so that your bank sends you an email or text message. You can typically customize the types of messages you get and what dollar amounts are relevant to you. With alerts in place, you can assume all is well until and unless you hear from your bank.
Even with alerts, it’s wise to log in and review your account periodically. If there are any errors or fraudulent transactions, you need to report them promptly to get full protection under federal law.
6. Talk to a Teller
If all else fails, speak with somebody in person—assuming you use a brick-and-mortar bank with local branches. Unfortunately, it’s getting harder to access tellers, and some banks even charge additional fees for personal service. However, if you use a credit union that’s part of a shared branching network, there may be thousands of locations nationwide available to you.
While a face-to-face talk can be helpful, it’s best to get comfortable with some of the self-service methods above. You’ll appreciate being able to get things done on your own time and from almost any location.
Your Available Balance
As you check your bank balance, pay attention to the type of balance that you see. When you go online or use the bank’s app, most banks show an available balance (which tells you how much you can afford to spend or withdraw today) as well as a total account balance.
The available balance is usually less than you think you have (what you think of as your "account balance") because of pending transactions: debit card authorizations, upcoming bill payments and deposits that have not yet cleared. Those funds may become available in a few days, but until then, the funds are frozen.
You Know More Than Your Bank
If you balance your account regularly, you rarely need to check your balance (although it’s a good idea to do so, just to identify problems before they get worse).
In fact, you’ll probably know where your balance is headed before your bank does. If you write a check or spend before the transaction hits your account, your own records will be more accurate than those of the bank.
You can monitor your account in multiple ways. Take advantage of mobile apps that keep information at your fingertips, and employ alerts to notify you of potential problems. As you track things, you’ll know when deposits clear (and when you can use the money), and you’ll have a better understanding of your finances.