Balancing Your Checkbook

Barefoot man balances on slackline

Balancing just takes a little practice!

Most Americans don’t know how to balance a checkbook… gasp! If you’ve never balanced your checkbook before, you may think it’s too tedious or too late to start. You’re in the majority since most people don’t do it. Unfortunately, those are usually the ones who end up having overdraft charges. (Which is a pretty lousy way to spend your money, don’t you think?)

We don’t want you to have that problem, so let’s figure out the best way for you to keep track of exactly how much money is in your checking account. Here’s the key… use the checkbook register to write down every penny that goes into your checking or comes out of your checking. If you hate carrying a bulky checkbook around, ask us for a debit card register. It’s like a mini checkbook register.

Whether you’re starting a new checking account or starting to balance an old checking account

If you are just starting out with a brand new checking account, this process will be easier. You can add in your first deposit, and subtract checks you write, fees you incur, and ATM withdrawals you make. You’ll add in deposits you make, debit card returns you take back to the store and interest you earn. Keep reading… all the stuff below will apply to you except the “I-don’t-know-exactly-what-balance-I’m-starting-out-with” stuff.

If you’ve never balanced your checkbook before, and you’ve had your checking open for a while, start writing all your transactions in your register today. (Go grab it… it’s in the box with your checks and we always have extras at our branches.)

How to use a checkbook register:

  • In the check number column of the register, write down the check number from the upper right corner of your check. (If you’re using a debit card to pay for something just write Db in this area.)
  • Write the date
  • Write who you’re paying on the white line and use the shaded line below it to keep a record of what you’re buying.
  • If the money is coming out of your account (you’re writing a check, buying something with your debit card, taking money out at an ATM, or if you have an overdraft fee) you write the amount in the “Payments or Other Subtractions” column and subtract it from the balance in the far right column. (If you don’t have an exact balance, skip this part for now.)
  • If the money is going into your account (all deposits put in checking, all refunds from debit card purchases that you’ve returned to the store, or interest earned) you write the amount in the “Deposit Amount” column and add it to your balance in the far right column. (Again, if you’ve just made the resolution to start keeping track after years as a non-balancer, you won’t yet have a balance to add it to.)

If you are balancing a brand new account for the first time, skip to #1 below. If you’ve just turned over a new “I’m-gonna-balance-my-account leaf” read on…

After you’ve been recording your transactions for a month or two, come back to this page and we’ll start balancing. We’ll wait for you at the balancing section! (You’ll need your old checks and debit card transactions to clear – the ones from before you started recording your transactions).

Here we go, it’s time to balance your checkbook.

  1. Grab the most recent statements we mailed you (all of them since you started diligently keeping your checkbook register). Or, if you’re using online banking, pull up the history of your checking account and scroll back to the date you started keeping track of your transactions.
  2. Go through each item on the statement or history since then and check that same transaction off in your checkbook register. (There’s a handy little checkmark column for this!) Verify that the amount we show for each transaction is exactly the same amount you wrote down and make sure it’s in the right column. If you forgot to write a transaction down, you can record it today. Just write down the date it cleared and we’ll add it to or subtract it from today’s balance.
  3. If you see a transaction that you know you didn’t make, contact us. This is one reason why you should balance your checkbook… you can find errors or even identify if someone is fraudulently using your checking account. (If you didn’t balance your checkbook, you wouldn’t know about these issues until your money is gone!)
  4. Once you have checked off all the transactions that the Credit Union showed, look at your register and make a little circle in the checkmark column for each transaction that you didn’t check off. These are your “outstanding checks and deposits” that haven’t cleared your account yet.

Now you can use our CHECKBOOK BALANCING CALCULATOR to see if you balance. It’s going to help you by taking the balance Linn Area Credit Union shows you have at the end of the time period you’re balancing (type it in the “Balance on statement” box). It will subtract all the checks and debit card transactions you haven’t checked off yet; add in all the deposits since your statement was created, and give you a new balance. This is the balance we’re going to use in your checkbook register. Write it in on the balance column at the end of the month (if you were using a paper statement) or after the last transaction that you checked off or typed in as a “outstanding” item.

Here’s a little hint… draw a line in your checkbook register underneath the last item you balanced. This is where you’ll pick up next time you balance. Write down today’s date, jot down each outstanding check, outstanding deposit and the balance the credit union said you had. The next time you balance, you will start right here and will check off all the new transactions as well as any outstanding transactions that clear.

Then you can use the CHECKBOOK BALANCING CALCULATOR again and see if the balance you show in your checkbook register is the same as the amount the calculator shows. It will add up all your outstanding checks and deposits when you type them in the little boxes.

Whew, you did it!

You’re well on your way to taking control of your money. We’re proud of you! It can be tricky to balance your checkbook if you’re out of practice and we’re here to help if you have trouble. If your checkbook doesn’t balance, our people will help you try to balance it once for free. You may have to drop off your register and let us work at it for a while but we’ll do our best to give you a good balance to start with.

Once you balance, do the happy balancing dance. Go ahead… shake it!