Everyday Math

Math and the Consumer’s Money

What is balancing a checkbook?

Balancing a checkbook is often a challenge. For some people, forgetting to enter checks written against or deposits made into the account creates the biggest balancing problems . For others, it is not depositing enough money to cover written checks. There really is no “art” to keeping a checkbook. It is just a matter of checks and balances—or debits and credits—and a little bit of simple mathematics.

To keep a healthy checkbook, there are several things a person can do. For example, keep a running balance of distributed checks in a check ledger. Whenever you write a check, write the amount in the ledger booklet most banks give with the checks. In the proper column, list the check number, who the check is made out to (and any other important information), the amount in the negative (-, or debit) column, and subtract the check amount from the last balance.


Balancing a checkbook involves reconciling one’s bank statement with the record that you yourself have kept track of in expenses and deposits. By keeping tabs on deposits and withdrawals, you will hopefully not become overdrawn on your account.

Along with making out checks (taking out money), keep a record of deposits made in the checkbook register. Deposits are usually written in the positive column (+, or credit). Don’t let the money get low—if the account balance goes into negative numbers, the account does not have enough money to cover the checks. If more money is not put into the checking account at this point, the checks will “bounce,” or not clear with sufficient funds. (This is not good!) Most banks charge substantial fees to the account owner for bounced checks, not the person to whom the check is made out.

Whenever you receive your bank statement, check to see if the balance agrees with your checkbook. This is called “balancing the checkbook.” As you compare the checks that have cleared with the listing in the register, check each off with an “X” or check mark. Also subtract any bank charges, such as ATM (Automated Teller Machine) fees. If all of the checks have cleared, and all charges have been accounted for, the balance of the checkbook and statement should agree (unless the bank gives interest on checking accounts; if so, add the interest to the checkbook under the “+” or “credit” column). If not all the items have cleared, check the bank statement and note the ones not marked; total all these outstanding transactions. Subtract the total of the outstanding transactions from the end balance on the bank statement; then add any deposits that are not on the bank statement to this new balance. The numbers should match the balance in the check register. If they don’t, go back over the addition and subtraction in the checkbook register to catch any inaccuracies, which is often the reason why a checkbook doesn’t balance.


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