How can I balance a checkbook that has not balanced for several months?

Personal Finance December 08, 2013 Print Friendly and PDF

Balancing or reconciling a checkbook each month is a task many of us avoid. If you have tried balancing your checkbook but can find no agreement between the last number in your check register and the ending balance your financial institution has stated is in your account, you do have some alternatives:

  • Even if you have done so before, try balancing your checkbook using the form provided by your financial institution. Simply subtracting or adding each entry in your checkbook entry does not allow for outstanding checks or deposits. The forms vary, but the basic steps are checking off checks, ATM withdrawals, automatic deposits and withdrawals, and other deposits that have cleared on your statement. Total all outstanding checks (the ones not found on the statement yet). Subtract this total from the ending balance your bank/credit union is showing. Total all outstanding deposits. Add this to the number you arrived at after subtracting the outstanding checks. By following the form provided, you are more likely to notice either deposits or withdrawals you previously overlooked and to find errors.
  • Check the accuracy of your entries and the basic math in your checkbook register. Work your way through each transaction to see if you recorded it accurately and did the appropriate subtraction or addition correctly. Did you write a check for $54 but entered it in the checkbook register as $45? Did you subtract that $100 deposit instead of adding it? Do not look for outstanding checks or missed deposits. Concentrate only on the accuracy of the entries and the math associated with them.
  • Allow all outstanding checks to clear before writing any more checks. In other words, stop using your checkbook. Pay with cash only, or use cash to purchase money orders to pay bills. If you have checks that have been outstanding for three or more months, contact the person or business the checks were written to and ask for the current status of the check. Has the individual/business lost or forgotten the check? Encourage them to cash it as soon as possible. If it has been cashed, review your monthly statement to confirm that it was deducted from your account.
  • If there is another person on the same checking account? a spouse or a child? ask him or her for information on all transactions he or she may have made on the account. Were those transactions recorded on the checkbook register? Are there any double entries?
  • Be certain that all deposits have been credited to your account, especially if you have more than one type of account with the same financial institution. Was a cash deposit erroneously credited to your savings account or to a loan instead of to your checking account? When making a deposit, always use a deposit slip, and keep your deposit receipt until the deposit is shown on your checking account statement.
  • Use a computer program such as Quicken to manage your checkbook. Accurately enter all the information from your checkbook register and then run the reconciliation segment of the computer program.
  • Set up an appointment with a financial consultant at your bank/credit union. Inform them in advance that you are having difficulties balancing your checkbook. Bring with you all current checkbook registers and statements. You may need to give them written permission to access your account information online so the two of you can compare information.
  • View your account online and compare transactions. Many financial institutions now send monthly statements via e-mail, and some even allow daily access to your account information. Some sites have financial calculators that do the math for you after you enter your information.
  • Balance your checkbook more often. When your checkbook is not balancing in the first place, that may sound contradictory, but by attempting to balance your checkbook more than once a month, you are more likely to find an error early and before it costs you overdraft fees. If you have direct deposit of your paycheck or other funds, consider balancing your checkbook every pay period, which is often every two weeks.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.