As anyone who has ever bounced a check can attest, the ability to balance a checkbook can be crucial. Banks do make mistakes occasionally, and checks may not clear your account as timely as you may have hoped. With the increased popularity of debit cards, forgetting a transaction or two is also highly possible. Balancing a checkbook on a regular basis can literally save a checking account holder from incurring returned check fees and the social embarrassment of writing a bad check or having a debit card purchase declined at a local store.
To properly balance a checkbook, you'll need some account information first. Banks generally mail out a monthly statement which lists all of the checks and debit card transactions which have cleared, along with the total number and amounts of deposits made during that period. This information can also be accessed through a password-protected phone service or a private online bank statement website. The most important number to note is the bank's ending balance. For the most part, the bank's account balance should be considered the absolute truth when you balance a checkbook. It may not include every transaction, however.
When you balance a checkbook, you are actually reconciling your personal banking records, i.e. your checkbook register, with those of the bank holding your account. You are looking for any discrepancies concerning deposit amounts, cleared checks, outstanding checks, bank fees, interest payments and so on. When you are ready to balance your checkbook, it helps to have all of the bank's statements on hand, including copies of cleared checks and deposits.
The first step when balancing a checkbook is to determine the bank's ending balance and compare that number with your own checkbook register. Sometimes the bank's end balance matches the book's end balance to the penny, but most likely the two numbers will not match at first. This is not unusual, especially if you send out a significant number of checks every month or have several authorized users of a debit card.
The next step is to compare the number of checks you have written against the number of checks which have cleared the bank. Look for gaps in the check numbers listed on the bank statement. Those missing checks may have been returned to you unprocessed, or they may still be outstanding. Subtract the total amount of any outstanding checks from the bank's stated balance in order to determine your actual balance once all outstanding checks have cleared.
The number and amounts of deposits should also be double-checked against the bank statement. This total should already be incorporated into the bank's end balance, but there could be a chance that a recent deposit had not been credited when the statement was generated. Add any deposits recorded in your checkbook which do not appear on the bank statement to the end balance.
There may be some bank charges, interest payments or other fees included on the bank statement which you did not record on your own checkbook register. Look for those amounts on the bank statement and add them to your own checkbook register. Subtract this amount from your checkbook balance and compare the bank's end balance with your own checkbook register again. The two amounts should now match, ideally to the penny. Once your checkbook register's balance is more in sync with the bank's monthly statement's end balance, you have successfully balanced your checkbook.
Any major discrepancies you may discover during the checkbook balancing process should be discussed with your bank. The bank may have made an accounting error, or an older outstanding check may have finally been presented to the bank for processing. There could also be some unauthorized use of a debit card or an identity theft issue. Proving such discrepancies becomes much easier after you have taken the time to balance a checkbook to the best of your ability.