What Is a Check Register?

Check Registers Explained in Less Than 5 Minutes

Recording a deposit in a check register
•••

Karl Tapales / Getty Images

A check register is a booklet you can use to monitor your checking account and running balance, and keep track of how much money you have available to spend at any given time. 

Let’s take a closer look at what check registers are and how they work, so you can decide whether they might be a useful tool in your own financial management practices.

Definition and Example of a Check Register

With a check register, you keep track of your bank transactions such as deposits, withdrawals, checks, and transfers.  It will often come with any preprinted checks you might order. However, you can also purchase one at numerous stores, such as Walmart or online on Amazon.

Check registers are different from online bank statements because they show you on paper where your bank account balance stands in real time. This can make it easier for you to budget, keep track of how much you’re spending in different categories, and avoid overspending. Check registers might also be good ways for you to find mistakes, such as missing checks, and reconcile bank statements.

  • Alternate names: Cash disbursements journal, check ledger, balance book

Let’s say you write a $50 check and give it to your friend for their birthday. As soon as you do, you should take out your check register and log it. You’ll want to include the date you wrote the check, a short description, which may be “friend’s birthday,” the check number, and “$50” in the debit column. Don’t forget to subtract $50 from your balance so you know exactly how much money you will have left in your account once your friend cashes the check.

How a Check Register Works

Most check registers are very similar. They usually feature columns so you can organize your transactions. The main parts of a check register are:

  • Date of transaction
  • Check number or category
  • Description or notes about the transaction
  • Debits and credits
  • Account balance

You can update your check register any time you write a check or deposit money into your account. By doing so, you’ll always have an accurate checking account balance at your disposal. You don’t have to wait for an update to your online banking statement, and can peek at your check register whenever you want to know where you stand.

Some deposited funds take time to process, so when recording a deposit into your check register, be mindful of when it will be accessible.

Benefits of a Check Register

There are a number of reasons you may want to use a check register, including:

  • Avoiding overdrafts: It can be frustrating and expensive to overdraft your account, especially if you do it often. With a check register, you’ll find it much easier to avoid this issue because you’ll always know where your bank account stands.
  • Preventing bounced checks: Bounced checks can also be costly and sometimes embarrassing. You can reduce their risk if you use a check ledger.
  • Understanding your spending: If you don’t keep close tabs on your bank account, you might not know where your money goes every month. A check register can help you find trends in your spending and figure out where to cut back.
  • Catching bank mistakes: While they’re rare, bank mistakes do happen. If you rely on your bank to keep track of your account, you may not be able to identify and resolve them.

It’s a good idea to compare your check ledger with your online bank statement so you can easily find discrepancies.

Alternatives to Check Registers

A traditional check register is just one way to keep track of your transactions. If you don’t have one or prefer an alternative option, you might want to use a spreadsheet. You can include the same labels you’d see on a check register (date of transaction, check number, description, etc.). Another old-fashioned option is to manually record your transactions in a physical ledger. If you own a business or don’t mind spending some money, an accounting software will do the trick as well.

If you don’t have a check register and don’t want to buy one, you might be able to find a printable digital version online for free. Another option is to download an app such as Checkbook- Account Tracker if you prefer a digital version.

Pros and Cons of Check Registers

Before you decide to use a check register, keep these advantages and drawbacks in mind. 

Pros
  • Affordable and accessible

  • Can improve your finances

Cons
  • May be time consuming

  • Requires commitment and accuracy

Pros Explained

  • Affordable and accessible: You can get a check register for free when you buy checks. Check registers are also available for cheap at a variety of online and brick-and-mortar stores.
  • Can improve your finances: A check register may shed light on your finances and spending patterns. As long as you use it regularly and ensure all of the information is accurate, it might also save you on overdraft fees and bounced checks.

Cons Explained

  • May be time consuming: If you lead a busy life, you might not have the time to commit to a check register. You may prefer to check your online bank statement instead of recording every transaction you make.
  • Requires commitment and accuracy: Unless you use a check register to jot down all your transactions in real time, it won’t be helpful. You need to commit to using it frequently, and make sure it's accurate and free of human error.

Key Takeaways

  • Check registers can help you keep track of your personal checking account.
  • They are available for free with your checkbooks as well as for purchase online and at many stores.
  • While check registers come with many benefits, they’re only valuable if you record every transaction accurately.

Article Sources

  1. State of Connecticut Department of Banking. "Availability of Funds Deposited Into Bank and Credit Union Accounts."

  2. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. "Protecting Yourself From Overdraft and Bounced-Check Fees."