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Balance your finances

Woman balancing a tightrope

In today’s day and age, balancing a checkbook has become a thing of the past. It is something we remember our parents doing.  With modern technology, many people do not bother to balance their checkbooks anymore. In fact, most of us have done away with actual, physical checkbooks entirely by paying our bills online using bill pay, with a debit or credit card, or by automatic payment also knows as ACH transactions.

So who cares if you never balance your checking account? You should!  Knowing how to balance a checking account is still important, maybe even more so in this era of convenience. It’s vital to know what’s in your account and where your money goes each month since it’s the only way you will know for sure how much money you actually have, avoid overdraft fees and completely understand your financial situation. Like most of us, we view our available balance and think we have that amount of money, overlooking all pending transactions that have not cleared.  With that in mind, here is how to balance your checkbook without having to resort to the old fashion way. You know – the way our parents did it.

21st Century check register

A checkbook register is just a running list of your debits and credits. If you are still one of the few who has an actual checkbook, you can use the pages in the back of the book. If you would like something a little more modern where you do not actually have to use pen and paper just visit your app store. Both iPhone and Android have plenty of options to pick from that are free. If you have a joint checking account, you can always use a shareable document such as Google Sheets – that way it’s always updated in real time.

Whatever you use, the process is the same. You write your current checking account balance on the first line. Whenever you make a purchase or take money out of your account (also known as a debit), enter the amount of the transaction,  the name of the merchant, and the date of the transaction ( if you’re using an app, the date is usually entered for you).  The nice thing about most apps is you can categorize your transactions into things such as shopping, restaurants, and necessities (rent, gas, etc.) This is a nice way to see how much you actually spend on Starbucks coffee each month (gasp). The next thing you do is subtract the debit (charge) from your balance. Any time you add money to your account (known as a deposit or credit), do the same thing but adding instead of subtracting.

Once a month, sit down with your checkbook register and compare it to your account statement, you know the one your credit union sends that you never open, or view your account activity using online banking. Put a check mark next to items that appear to have cleared on your account or history. This is called reconciling your checking account.

The most obvious reason for keeping your checking account balanced is to have constant knowledge of your finances. You’ll never have to worry about your debit card being rejected in line at the store. In fact, by balancing your checkbook manually you have a better understanding of your finances. Remember not all transactions clear in real time and may be pending in your account for a few days before they clear.

Keeping a checkbook register might seem like an outdated tedious thing to do, but knowing where your money goes is a timeless need and can end up saving you from paying needless overdraft fees (usually $25+ for each transaction)! That means more money for Starbucks!

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