Check your Bank Balance Online

Going over the paperwork / Getty Images

It’s crucial to know how much you have in your bank account, and how much of your total account balance is available for immediate spending. Checking your account regularly helps you understand where you stand and which transactions have cleared your account. You can also spot problems (like fraud and errors) before they get out of hand.

So how can you keep an eye on your bank account? Here are a few ways to make it easy enough that it’ll actually happen.

Once you know your balance, be sure you understand the difference between the account balance and your available balance.

6 Easy Ways

Login online: Do you work at a computer or sit down at one often enough to keep up with email and social networks?

If so, you’ve already got everything you need at your fingertips. You can check your bank account balances online anytime — and you can do much more than look up that number. To get started, go to your bank’s website and figure out what it takes to access your account information online. In most cases, you’ll look for an option like “Login” or “Account Access” (on your first visit, look for options like “Register” or “First time user”).

If the idea of online banking is new to you, see why 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. For a complete rundown on the options available, see How to Start Banking Online.

Mobile banking: Mobile phones, tablets, and other devices make it easy to check on accounts from just about anywhere. Most banks provide apps (or websites designed for mobile devices) that allow you to see your account balance online, and some apps allow you 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 making trips to the branch and get 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 just request a quick balance update if your bank offers that option.

Ask an ATM: ATMs offer another way to check your balance.

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’re not withdrawing funds. Your bank may even charge an additional fee for using a “foreign” ATM, so that balance inquiry will cost you.

Call the bank: If you prefer a more traditional approach, you can always call your bank to find out what your balance is. To speak with a real person, you’ll need to call during live customer service hours, 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 establish a PIN, among other things), but once you’re up and running, it’ll become routine.

In fact, at some institutions, you might need to make an initial phone call just to set up online access — sometimes the process doesn’t work until customer service sets up self-service features on your account.

Set up alerts: Instead of checking your bank account balances manually, you can have your bank push information out to you when something happens. Perhaps you 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 often 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 you hear from your bank, but it’s still wise to log in and review your account periodically. If there are any errors or fraudulent transactions, you’ll need to report them promptly to get full protection under federal law.

Talk to a teller: If all else fails, you can always talk to somebody in person (assuming you use a brick-and-mortar bank with local branches). Unfortunately, it’s getting more and more difficult to speak with a teller, and some banks even charge additional fees when you do so. 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. With shared branching, you can visit branches of other credit unions at no cost.

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, from almost any location.

What do you See?

When you check your bank balance, pay close attention to the type of balance that you get. 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 basic 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 cleared yet. Those funds may become available in a few days, but until then, those funds are frozen.

You Know More Than Your Bank

If you balance your account, you almost never need to check your balance (although it’s a good idea to do so, just to verify and find any problems before they get worse).  In fact, you’ll probably know where your balance is going 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 the bank’s. For detailed instructions, see how to balance your bank account.