Step-By-Step Guide on How to Balance a Checkbook

How to Balance a Checkbook

Do you know how to balance a checkbook?

One of the first money lessons my Dad taught me was how to balance my checkbook (i.e. check register).

This is definitely one of those skills everyone should have, regardless of the fact that many of us don’t write more than one check each month.

When you balance a checkbook, what you are doing is reconciling the balance that you have in your checkbook with the bank’s balance. If your latest statement with the bank says that you have $1,000 in your account, and your running checkbook says that you have $1,100, then you need to reconcile the two amounts and determine what’s causing the difference.

Balancing your checkbook helps you achieve three goals: identify the bank’s errors, identify your errors (more likely), and it tells you your true balance so that you don’t write a check for more than you have in your account.

Today, however, we can understand our money situation in easier ways: by logging on to our bank’s online account access page, or by viewing our bank’s mobile phone app, or seeing all of our accounts at one time using a service like Personal Capital (review link). Since we don’t write as many checks these days, there isn’t much of a worry that we’ll not have enough money to cover a check that’s still out there.

I would argue that we can also achieve the three goals above using a more simple method. First, you can simple keep a sizable cushion in your checking account so that you’ll never have to worry about an overdraft.

Next, you can simply keep your debit card receipts and deposit receipts and periodically check them against your bank records using your online account access.

But I’m not here to explain why this isn’t a good idea. Everyone should be able to perform this simple financial exercise. Here’s how to balance a checkbook…

Preparing Your Checkbook Register

It goes without saying that to balance your checkbook, you need to have a checkbook register with a running balance. If you aren’t doing this, and you want to be able to balance your checkbook at the end of the month, then you need to start keeping track.

If you didn’t keep track, but you have all of your debit card receipts, deposit receipts, and carbon copies of your checks, then you can play catch-up and get your checkbook register up to speed.

Simply take the ending balance from last month’s bank statement and jot it down as the beginning balance on your register. Now take those receipts and carbon copies and make a note of each transaction. Total it up and you now have a checkbook balance.

Balancing a Checkbook

Okay, now that we have a completed checkbook to work with, break out your latest checking account statement and let’s reconcile the two. Remember, this is all you are doing: accounting for the differences between your checkbook (i.e. your own record) and the bank statement (i.e. their record).

Step one is to record all of the transactions from the bank statement. Place a check mark next to all of the items in your register that are on your statement. Make note of the correct dollar amount.

If there are items on your statement (checks, deposits, ATM withdrawals and debit card purchases) that you neglected to write in your register, then do so at this time. Your register should now be up-to-date with all of the items that your bank is aware of.

Step two is to determine what your bank doesn’t know. Take a blank sheet of line paper and write down your bank statement ending balance.

Next, list out all of the checks, deposits, and other transactions that are on your checkbook register, but not on the bank statement. This should be all of the items that you didn’t place a check next to in step one. Subtracting the checks and adding the deposits should give you a new balance, which should equal the balance in your register.

If there is still a difference, go back and double check your math. If your difference is divisible by nine (e.g. $118.80), then it’s likely that you have transposed a number (e.g. 35 instead of 53).

Can you balance a checkbook? How are you balancing your checkbook in this age of the debit card, credit card, and soon to be mobile payment?

Photo by Betsssssy

Avatar About Philip Taylor, CPA

Philip Taylor, aka "PT", is a CPA, blogger, podcaster, husband, and father of three. PT is also the founder and CEO of the personal finance industry conference and trade show, FinCon.

He created Part-Time Money® back in 2007 to share his advice on money, hold himself accountable (while paying off over $75k in debt), and to meet others passionate about moving toward financial independence.

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  1. Avatar Investing says

    I had a super high amount of money in my account yes I did spend money here and there but goin from thousands to hundreds in 3 months ??? Makes it hard to believe but what makes it even harder is the savings and checking account please help

  2. Avatar Greg Bateman says

    Sounds incredibly time consuming but as you say quite necessary. I used to do something like this but so many outgoings that I think I would lose the will to live!

  3. Avatar Glen Craig says

    The dividing by 9 rule is magic! I don’t know how many times I was balancing some report at work, then remembered the 9 rule and was able to find my mistake.

    Technology makes things easier for us but in many cases, like balancing a checkbook, we should still understand why something works.

  4. Whatever way you use, it is good to keep track of your payments. We use online banking for the most part now.