A check register helps you keep a personal record of your checking account. This allows you to see and continually update your account balance, any withdrawals from or deposits to your account, and transactions that have not yet hit your account.
Even if you trust your bank, it’s wise to keep your own records, because you might be better informed than your bank about upcoming transactions.
What Is a Check Register?
A check register is a list of transactions in your bank account, along with a running balance that tells you how much money you have available to spend. You can use paper, apps, or spreadsheets to keep these records. As you spend money or add funds to your account, you update the list. It's also best to compare your register with your bank records periodically.
Check registers usually accompany every order of checks and typically have several columns or fields that allow you to track your transactions and balances. Check registers can also be electronic or homemade, which allows you to customize your system and track your account without buying new registers.
How to Obtain a Check Register
If you didn’t receive a check register with your checkbooks and would like one, you have several options, some of which are free:
- Download a free template for Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.
- Order a new register from an online check printer or your bank.
- Buy a register from an office supply store.
- Grab a check register from the back of an old checkbook.
- Build a simple register in your favorite design or spreadsheet tool.
Print or Create Your Own Check Register
Paper checkbook registers have worked for years, and some people prefer to record this information by hand. You can also print a basic register that is available online.
Designing your own register on paper or a spreadsheet is fairly easy and can be customized to fit your needs such as size, format, and column heads. To make a check register, create a document with the following columns across the top:
- Checkbox: Check items that have cleared your bank
- Check number or category: Record of check numbers
- Date: Date of a transaction
- Description: Helpful notes about a transaction
- Payment/Debit (-): Payments, fees, and withdrawals
- Deposit/Credit (+): Deposits and interest
- Balance: Current account balance after a transaction
Why Use a Check Register?
A check register helps you stay on top of transactions in your account. Even if you check your account balance online, your available balance might give you misleading information. Banks sometimes make mistakes, and you also might occasionally forget about transactions.
Your check register will help you:
- Identify bank mistakes: These are rarely in your favor and should be reported as soon as possible.
- Catch identity theft: If you see something you didn’t expect, report it as quickly as possible to get full protection under U.S. law.
- Avoid bounced checks: These are expensive and create a ripple effect on your finances.
- Know how much you can afford to spend: You'll know whether you need to transfer money to your checking account to cover expenses. For example, you can avoid overdraft fees by moving funds from your savings account to cover upcoming expenses.
- Know what you've paid off: Keep track of all your paid debts, the amounts, and the dates in case you need proof of payment.
- See spending trends: Entering your spending manually forces you to pay attention to what your spending and make changes if needed.
Online account information can be misleading if you've forgotten about outstanding checks or automatic withdrawals. A check register helps you know how much money you really have to spend.
When to Use Your Check Register
It is important to be diligent about updating your check register with every transaction so it serves as a reliable source of your financial activity. When you write a check or use your debit card, you should record the transaction in your check register immediately. At the very least, save your ATM and debit card receipts and enter those transactions weekly. The more problems you’re having with insufficient funds, the more often you need to update your check register.
You should also compare your check register to recent bank statements to look for any discrepancies. Also, bank statements show items that may not yet be in your check register, including:
- Fees you paid the bank
- Interest payments from the bank
- Automatic/ACH transactions, such as direct deposit of your paycheck or bills that get paid automatically from your bank account
Check registers help you to keep track of all your transactions to avoid penalties such as overdraft or late fees. They can serve as an accurate record of your financial situation to help you manage your money more efficiently.